January 21, 2024 ~ Third Sunday after Epiphany
Rev. Beckie Sweet
Many of you who know me well, know that I LOVE to go fishing. You probably also know that I am NOT an expert fisher. I have never gone fly fishing, and I have only fished in the ocean twice. I have fished in many ponds for bullheads and pan fish. I have fished in small lakes and rivers for any kind of fish that would bite. BUT, my favorite fishing experiences involve fishing in the magestic St. Lawrence River for Northern Pike. I have spent countless hours fishing on the River (although it is never enough!). My eldest son, Paul, knows that he doesn’t need to buy me anything for Mother’s Day. All I want is to go fishing together. A decade or so ago, while on a Mother’s Day fishing excursion, Paul surprised us all by pulling in a lunker of a Walleye, which he caught on an old, sticky rubber worm!!
However, I have NEVER caught a Muskie! Most folks who fish the River know that catching a Muskie is usually a once-in-a-lifetime experience! What is a Muskie? Muskie is the nickname for a Muskellunge, a name that comes from Native American tongues for “big pike.” It is one of the largest freshwater fish native to North America. The Muskie is the largest predator fish in any body of water where they occur. The adult fish is similar to the Northern Pike in appearance and behavior. But the adult Muskie is typically 38-58 inches long and weighs 26-50 pounds. Some of the trophy Muskies are longer than six feet and weigh more than 70 pounds! They are the ultimate prize for those fishing in Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence River, as well as other northern bodies of water. I would not even be able to fit one in my net, let alone lift one of the slippery giants into the boat!
And truthfully, I will likely never catch a Muskie. Because God called me, and since I have been serving in Christian ministry, my opportunities for fishing have been few and far between. The responsibility and duty of serving Christ is my main focus. I have left my dreams of catching a Muskie behind.
Events can intrude upon us to rearrange our priorities, to make us see with sudden and crystal clarity that our focus may have been misplaced, and our priorities may be out of order. What someone may have thought was in their top three priorities, may, after a life-changing transformation, be placed much lower on the list. Have you ever had your life re-prioritized like that? Suddenly, irreversibly, quite apart from any control you might have previously thought you had over events and life? It may happen when one falls in love, or loses their love. It may happen due to a diagnosis, or an opportunity. It may happen when Jesus invites you to “Follow me!”
I have a vision about that sort of urgency in scripture, especially in the reading for today. Sometimes we may think of Jesus as one who sauntered around offering teachings and parables to those who would listen. And we may think of the disciples as those who were more willing to listen than most. But the gospel writer Mark paints a very different picture.
Simon and Andrew were standing, pitching those same nets into the same old lake from which they and their family had drawn their living for years. It is what they did. They fished for a living.
You know how it goes! Engineers engineer things, physicians care for the sick, teachers teach, housekeepers keep house, taxi drivers drive, administrative assistants administrate, lawyers litigate, cooks serve up food. Some people fish. Day in and day out they would cast their nets, gather the fish, clean the fish, eat the fish, sell the fish, cast the net, gather the fish, clean the fish, eat the fish, sell the fish. Day after day it was wind, water, fish, sore muscles, tired bodies. Apart from a few occasional festivals and other distractions, there was a lot of repetition – a LOT of repetition.
But into that sort of humdrum life, there came Jesus. These would-be disciples were not looking for Jesus. They are too busy with the repetitious activities of fishing. They may not have even noticed Jesus, but Jesus not only sees them, he speaks to them. Jesus has a way of showing up in the ordinary places of life and interrupting the daily routines of ordinary folk.
Jesus’ arrival had a sudden cast to it, and here Mark uncorks one of the first of his favorite phrases from the gospel that conveys his urgency to tell the story: “And immediately…” Mark uses the word “immediately” 27 times in the shortest of the four gospels. What did Simon, Andrew, James and John do when Jesus called them to follow? “And immediately they abandoned their nets.” “They left their father, and followed Jesus.” And that’s not all they left behind. Immediately following meant that they left their livelihood, their families, their homes, and their communities. They left all sense of a secure lifestyle behind. When Jesus called, life as usual was no longer an option. Simon, Andrew, James and John realized in a flash that those famous words, “It’s now or never” applied directly to them, and applied to them NOW! There were no questions, no discussion, no good byes. They simply left and followed Jesus. Tomorrow might be too late.
Relating to my situation, they abandoned the dream of catching the proverbial Muskie, for the opportunity to be a part of the Messiah’s work of salvation. They were discovering a larger vision and purpose for LIFE.
For most of us, there are days when we long for a faith that breaks into the day-to-day routine for us – when spiritual adrenaline pushes us ahead into the future and fully energizes the present. But we fear God’s in-breaking as well. And with that fear, or even just satisfaction with our humdrum daily lives, our faith just plods along.
But every now and then we experience a spiritual lightning strike or earthquake rumble and we must think again about committing ourselves to Christ in a whole new way – today – now – ASAP!
Jesus calls us. It isn’t one more feature of life as usual. It is the feature of life to which we MUST respond. If you are feeling a tug, a need to make a response, don’t put it off. Drop the nets; seize a new dream; claim new priorities; turn onto a different path; set aside whatever else distracts you and go straight to Christ in prayer and commit yourself to that for which you know in your heart Christ is calling you. Leave the Muskie behind and follow Jesus!