James, John, Simon, Andrew, the first disciples. We do not know that much about them, but we know they were fishermen. Consequently, we know they were masters of a way of living in the seaside corner towns of Galilee. They were masters of the rhythms of rising before the sun and pushing out onto lake. They knew the art of divining the weather’s inscrutable intentions and could tell the moods of the sea by its brooding blue, black whitecaps. Their fingers could repair torn fishing net as if by memory. They could handle a boat bobbing and pitching in the waves. They could handle themselves in haggling over fish prices, and they could handle the hired men they paid to help with the work. They were business owners; with the work of their hands, they helped feed people and had no one but to themselves to answer. They were good at what they did and had every reason to be proud of their work. They were fishermen.
The only problem is that they were fishing on a Galilean shore, and Jesus of Nazareth walked into their lives. The Reign of God was at hand, and Jesus called them to something new, to leave behind the work they had mastered, and to do something in which they had no experience. And oh the things they would do. With Jesus, they would establish the true meaning of the Law of Moses—but they were no scholars. With Jesus, they would heal countless people sick in mind, body and spirit—but they were no doctors. With Jesus, they would make two fish feed 5,000 people, but they were no miracle workers and,—what is more—they actually had a pretty good idea of how many fish you would need to feed 5,000.
To follow after Jesus meant being called to do all these things, and they did not think they were qualified to do any of it. They had no experience, no expertise, nothing to bring to the table. Could Jesus not find anybody better? Would some other people not be a wiser choice to do such high and hard and holy work?
But the voice of Jesus still called to them—“all we are doing is fishing, follow me, you fish for people now”. Jesus did not call them to be people they were not. They were still going to be fishermen, but they would fish for people. They would need everything they had known about repairing nets; that what has unraveled can be bound up again. They would need everything they had known about waves and weather, that when the winds are high and the waves fierce, the way back to life is to aim the prow directly at the heart of the danger. They were still going to be fishermen but they would cast their nets now in other waters, over the deep waters of hopelessness and degradation and hypocrisy. They were to cast their nets into deep waters and become the finders of lost children of God.
You might not know it, Old South Church. You might not know it, but we are fishermen too. We are masters of what we do in this seaside corner town of Boston. We have mastered the rhythms of rising before the sun to rehearse Bach or Mendelssohn or Gustafson. We have mastered the art of warming up vocal chords bumblebee by bumblebee until with our descants we overmatch the angels in their serenades. We have mastered the discipline of bible study and prayer, teaching the children to ask questions, to probe and prod the bible with the full height of the powers of our intellect because we love the bible and want to understand it. We have mastered the discipline of joyfully welcoming LGBT brothers and sisters, being healers to those who limp through our doors bearing spiritual wounds. We know how to apply the very balm of Gilead which is the love of God made real in bread and cup and brother and sister. We have mastered our sea legs and know how to be the church in fair weather or foul. When history’s winds come like a bomb blast and the waves are measured in scarves by the thousands. we know how to keep the ship right and true and on course to our guiding star. We are good at what we do, and we can be proud of who we are. We have no one but to ourselves to answer; we are fishermen.
But, the problem is that we are fishing on the Galilean shore and Jesus of Nazareth has come walking into our lives. Jesus has been calling us saying, the reign of God has come near, and it is time to do something new. Jesus has been calling us since October 8th when the bridge to Boston’s Long Island shelter was shut down without a moment’s notice leaving 700 of the most vulnerable people in Boston doubly homeless, cut off from the only stable shelter they knew without access to their belongings. Jesus has been calling us since he came walking across the Long Island Bridge as a homeless person with nowhere to lay his head for the past 106 days. Jesus has been calling us from the South End fitness center where he and 220 other men have been sleeping on a basketball court and sharing two bathrooms. Jesus has been calling us from the drab gray brutalist steps of a city hall that is deaf to the deep cries of misery rising from Boston’s streets like an unanswered prayer. Jesus is calling us, follow me, you are opening a shelter now.
But Jesus, we might reasonably say. Jesus, we do not know anything about that. We are Old South Church; we are fishermen. What do we know about running a shelter? We are not housing advocates. We are not substance abuse counselors. We are not mental health professionals. We are not social workers. We are not elected officials in high office. We are not miracle workers. We are Old South Church; we are fishermen. Can you not find anybody better, Jesus? Would some other people not be a wiser choice to do such high and hard and holy work?
But the voice of Jesus still calls to us, “all we are doing is fishing. Follow me, you fish for people now.”
Jesus is not calling us to be people that we are not; we are still going to be fishermen. We are still going to be Old South Church in Boston, and we will need every scrap of our craft if we are to cast our nets now over the deep waters of hopelessness and degradation and hypocrisy. If we are to cast our nets into deep waters and become the finders of lost children of God, then we must do so as Old South Church. We can only do this if we stay true to who we are. We are called to be Old South Church and say with perfect clarity to the LGBT youth who live on the street, God loves you to your very bones just as you are. And the ones whose hatred put you out on the street? They shall answer before the throne of God for what they have done. We are called to be Old South Church, to keep our sea-legs beneath us, to remain a people of God that knows that when the winds of history are high and a crisis crashes down like a great and terrible wave, the only way to save the ship is to aim the prow directly at the heart of the danger. We are called to be Old South Church, a ship that has an unbelievable crew. You, you converted two rooms in as many days, generously gave thousands of dollars to the interfaith effort to sustain the shelter, signed up to volunteer to be with and among God’s people living on the streets. From Old South alone, 193 of you have signed up to volunteer. 193 of you have signed up to volunteer.
Jesus has called us. Jesus has called us to open shelters, to care for the city’s most vulnerable and plead their case to the powerful. Jesus has called us to do something new, something we do not know how to do because we have never done it before. Jesus is calling us to do something new, but Jesus is also calling us to remember who we are. Jesus is calling us to be true to ourselves, to be fishermen. And fishermen, oh fishermen, follow Jesus, and you will fish for people.