When I was young I loved to go fishing.
We lived on Lake Michigan
so there was no shortage of good spots
to go and put a line in the water.
I am pretty sure that in my youth,
I didn’t actually like fishing for the fishing part though.
I remember being scared to rig my line,
convinced that I was somehow going to put a hook
through my finger.
And even if I got past that somehow
I still had to bait the hook and
I was no fan of picking up worms or minnows.
But even if I got past the fear of hooks and bait,
there was the fear that I would actually catch a fish
and then have to touch the fish.
Despite all of that I loved to go fishing.
Mostly because it meant I got to hang out
in the relative peace and quiet with my mom or dad.
Those moments were rare and treasured
even at the risk of having to touch a slimy fish.
I got over those fears though. I had to.
As I got older I stopped fishing with my parents
and started fishing with my friends –
friends who had no trouble with hooks or worms or slippery fish.
It was either get over it or get laughed at and so I got over it.
And I got to love fishing for the fishing.
I even spent time working in a sports shop for a while
where my main job was to take a box full of dirt
and giant night crawlers
and break them down into smaller containers.
For me the saying became true
that “a bad day fishing was better than a good day at work.”
In fact I think the only residual worries about fishing
that remain for me are those that are common to everyone
who fishes. The snarls and snags.
Essentially, snarls are knots.
Nasty, frustrating knots.
They happen because
when you get home from fishing
you are so excited to tell everyone
about the one that got away
that you toss your gear in a corner
and it doesn’t get touched again
until you are ready to go out on the water once more.
And if that is longer than a day…
you are going to come back to snarls.
In your excitement
you left your line rigged with hook, and sinker, and split shot.
With lure or wax worm or bobber.
And in the course of time
while that rigged pole sits in the garage
or in the hall closet
those things work themselves into
a vaguely ball-shaped mass of frustration.
That will take a good long while to untangle.
And there’s probably a good sermon in that –
when we toss our faith in the corner
and forget about it for a while,
we shouldn’t be surprised to come back
and find it’s gotten all snarled…
and we need to spend some time
straightening it back out so we can use it again.
But that’s not what I want to talk about today.
Today, I want to talk not about the snarls so much as the snags.
Snags happen whenever you line gets stuck –
stuck somewhere, on something,
that you don’t want it to be.
Snags are even more insidious
because they happen after all your gear is all set
and you are ready to start pulling in the trout.
Now, you can comically snag the back of your shirt
during your cast and nearly knock yourself into the water
but those snags fraught with humor are few and far between.
But the worst snags come when your line is already in the water.
Its tough to see whats beneath the surface.
You always hope to cast into the middle of a hungry school of fish
but at times it seems your line finds its way
into an underwater junk yard.
If you are lucky you can reel in whatever you snagged.
A piece of driftwood or the proverbial old boot.
But more often than not,
you don’t know what you’re snagged on
and you can’t just reel your line back in.
And once you’re snagged, you are no longer fishing.
Your hook has become an anchor
and your line has you tied fast to that anchor
and you are not going anywhere.
Sure you can whip the pole back and forth
and walk up and down the shore
and hope to free the snag
but that almost always ends in a broken line.
So when you are fishing,
the solution for both the snarls and the snags is the same:
cut the line.
You don’t want to cut the line of course,
because rigging a new one can be difficult and time-consuming.
Or maybe you don’t want to cut the line
because that means admitting defeat.
But if you want to get back to fishing,
or move on with your life, you have to cut the line.
You get these snags in preaching too.
One comes about this time every year.
I am pretty sure the people who organized
the revised common lectionary
were having a bit of fun with us preachers…
because we pull into last week
with the typical and timely calling of the disciples passage.
Like Christmas or Easter
it is a sermon we preach regularly
and it can be a challenge to find a new take on it
so that you are not just repeating yourself.
And when we finally get through it,
we take a breath and turn to the gospel passage
for this week and lo and behold,
it’s Jesus calling the disciples… again!
And the experienced fisherman in me
wants to cut the line,
to scrap the lectionary and preach something else.
But, at least for this year,
I have decided to stand on the shore
and whip my line back and forth
and see if I can’t get that snag out without cutting the line.
And I find my hope of freeing us from this snag
because of one detail that’s caught my attention:
the first disciples Jesus call fish for a living,
and this particular telling of their calling
adds considerable depth to the story.
In this account of the call of the first disciples,
Jesus doesn’t just say, “Follow me.”
Jesus gives a bit, of a hint, of a clue,
of an idea, of what it is he is calling them to do:
to follow and learn to fish for people.
What we don’t often consider
is just how unheard of and out of step with tradition
Jesus was in calling his disciples.
Young Jewish children
spent their early childhood memorizing the Torah,
the first 5 books of the Old Testament,
so that they could all be conversant
in at least that much of God’s word.
Around the time of their bar mitzvah one of two things happened:
if they showed great promise in their understanding of the Torah they were encouraged to learn more,
to increase their studies to include
the prophets and other sacred writings.
For the elite scholars
if they felt they were called to devote themselves
to the study of the scriptures and to teaching
they would approach a prominent rabbi
and request to be made their disciple.
The rabbi did not call them,
the rabbi simply accepted or rejected their request.
And for everybody else,
everybody who was ordinary, not an elite and special case –
The rest went into the family business
or took apprenticeships in keeping with their skills.
For Andrew and Simon, for James and John,
this is what happened.
They went to Hebrew school,
the learned the Torah,
and then they went into the family business.
So, four Hebrew men,
who didn’t make the cut to be in the scholarly elite,
who had returned home to the family business,
are fixing their nets and readying their gear
for the next day when a rabbi walks by,
one who is apparently recognized as a teacher,
and looks at these fisherman and says “follow me”.
They didn’t request it.
They had resigned themselves to be who they were.
To live as common folk did.
Providing for their families
and contributing to the good of the community.
And then… this radical rabbi says “follow me” and all of that changes.
It was unheard of for a rabbi to call his own disciples,
to choose them, yet this rabbi
chose Simon and Andrew and James and John,
a strange and wonderful honor.
It must have seemed like a fairy tale for Hebrew boys.
The rabbi that seeks them out.
So without giving it a second thought,
they cut their lines,
they leave their nets and their boats and their family
to follow this rabbi and learn from him.
And this was no easy thing for them to do.
Later on in the Gospel of Mark
we are told the a young rich man came up to Jesus
wanting to know what he has to do to inherit eternal life.
Jesus tells him he has to keep the commandments.
When the young man says he has done that very thing
from his youth
Jesus says “Great! You are only lacking one thing.
Go and sell all that you have and give it to the poor,
then come and follow me.”
The rich man walked away shocked and grieving
because he had a lot of possessions.
The rich young man was snagged on his wealth
and on his stuff and was not willing
to cut the line and be freed from it.
In Matthew’s gospel,
after Jesus had begun to draw large crowds
and far more than the 12 were following him around
one of the crowd of disciples said
I want to follow you Jesus
“but first let me go and bury my father.”
Jesus responded by saying
“Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
Now that may seem harsh.
The poor fellow had just lost his father afterall?
Well, the burying of his father
that this disciple is talking about is the secondary burial.
The reality was his father had died some time ago
otherwise he would have still been home grieving.
The tradition of that day was that after a period of time,
a year or more, since a death,
a secondary burial of the bones takes place.
Jesus tells this disciple
that to follow him he has to cut the anchor line
of that tradition in order to be his disciple.
We begin to see that following Jesus
is not something one does lightly.
Yet I have known a lot of people
who thought that being a Christian,
that following Jesus,
was going to make life all puppy dogs and rainbows.
But friends that is not the case,
and if anyone has sold you on that notion you were scammed.
Jesus never says its going to be easy.
Everywhere we turn in the scriptures,
when it comes to following Jesus,
there is danger and sacrifice.
There is a cost
that goes well beyond the offering plate on Sunday morning.
In Mark and in Luke,
Jesus tells us that if anyone wants to be his disciple
they have to pick up their own cross and follow him.
Sacrifice is part and parcel with our faith.
Luke goes on to say,
“Who of you going to build a tower
does not first sit down and count the cost
to make sure you can complete it?”
In other words, there is a cost to us to follow Jesus,
and we have to consider that cost
and whether we have what it takes,
or rather the willingness to pay that cost,
to make those sacrifices.
James and John, Andrew and Simon,
left all that they knew, and all that was familiar to them
and set off on a journey whose end they could not foresee.
They didn’t know they would see and perform miracles.
They didn’t know that they would all
come to know that their rabbi
was so much more than a teacher,
but very God in human flesh.
They didn’t know that they would be witness
to his betrayal and execution.
They didn’t know they would bear witness
to his resurrection and be given the power
to build the kingdom of God on earth.
They didn’t know their words, written down,
would last for thousands of years
and make it to our ears here this morning.
They didn’t know that churches and hospitals and entire cities
would be named after them.
They didn’t know all they would see
and all they would sacrifice in their decision to follow Jesus.
But they followed him anyway.
And I am sure every single on of them,
given the chance, would make the same choice once again.
The things that we end up sacrificing in order to follow Jesus,
the things that we think we need to live
or to complete us somehow,
when we do give them up we discover the truth,
We are not cutting off a vital part of ourselves,
we are cutting the anchor line,
we are cutting free of the snags
that hold us back from experiencing
the riches of God’s grace and mercy.
From experiencing the joy
of helping those who cannot return the favor.
When we sacrifice those things to follow Jesus
we experience true freedom.
Not the illusion of freedom.
Not merely the hope of a far off heaven, but true freedom.
The freedom to see what really matters,
the freedom to experience eternal life now,
the freedom to live as God intended us to live.
Jesus invited the disciples to follow him into a bigger world,
to see and do things they never dreamed of,
to be a part something larger than themselves.
And they didn’t think twice
about leaving their old lives behind,
cutting their ties,
letting go of the snags and snarls
that anchored them, in order to follow him.
Along the way they saw wonders,
and they experienced terror and joy and grief.
And what they went through with Jesus changed them,
changed their whole lives, and they were never the same.
What is it, I wonder,
that’s got us snagged and snarled today?
What is it that holds you back from fully following Christ?
Is it your fear? Comfort? Complacency? Routine?
What is it that makes it hard for you to let go –
and can you even begin to imagine
cutting yourself free –
believing that God has greater things still in store?
Just as Jesus called the disciples,
he’s calling us, too.
May we have the courage to get up, to leave our nets behind
and, with our whole hearts,
with our whole lives, follow him. Amen? Amen.