Epiphany 3 – Andy Philip, Chaplain – 26th January 2020

I’m going to take you back to work this morning.

Now I know this is the day of rest and for many of you it’s a blessed relief that you’re not at work, while those of you who are retired might well be more than content to have left the day job behind but I’d like you to imagine yourself in the place where you work or used to work. (It might help to close your eyes for this bit!)

Maybe that workplace is a big open-plan office or a small room with just you and a couple of colleagues; maybe it’s a shop or a warehouse; or maybe it’s your home. Perhaps it’s a-buzz with activity or perhaps it’s a slow day and everyone is quietly getting on with the tasks they don’t manage to do on the hectic days. Perhaps you’re in a meeting with clients, bosses or funders. Maybe you’re at the kitchen sink or hanging out the washing.

Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, imagine that Jesus now comes into the scene. At first, he’s simply walking through the space — alert but calm; moving in a way that suggests a deep inner stillness. When he comes near you, he stops, looks straight at you and says one thing: “Follow me.

Hold that image — the sight and sound, the feelings it provokes — as you return your focus to the here and now.

What I asked you to picture in your minds is exactly what happened for Peter and Andrew, James and John in today’s Gospel reading. They were quite simply at work when Jesus showed up and called to them, “Follow me”.

I don’t know what you felt when you pictured Jesus saying the same thing to you in your workplace. I wonder what they felt when they heard Jesus’ call, for it never ceases to amaze me that these four fishermen acted without any hesitation, dropping and leaving behind everything that supported them and their families.

This tells us that Jesus’ call to them was forceful. It was so forceful that it cut through all their busyness. The call didn’t come when James and John were enjoying a Sabbath meal at home or when Peter and Andrew were at the synagogue. No, it came when they were hauling on their nets or caught up in crucial repairs. Likewise, we should listen out for God’s call to us not only when we are captivated by the beauty of worship but when we are snagged in the daily grind of life.

For many of us, that daily grind will involve being with other people in some form. One thing we can miss too easily in our individualistic age is that these men were called and responded together. That is, they were called in community not alone. Not only were they called in community, but they were called into community, a new community created by Jesus for the purpose of spreading the Good News about God’s reign.

Presumably James and John knew Peter and Andrew. Maybe they were friends or maybe they regarded each other as competitors, but it looks from the text like they didn’t work together as fishermen. In Jesus’ community, they worked together not just in a common trade but for a common purpose.

That common purpose is nothing less than the transformation of the world. That is, theirs was a call to transformation. These first disciples weren’t asked just to carry on as they had been before and pop round to see Jesus now and again for a spiritual blether over a nice cup of tea. Nor were they invited to stroll around Galilee enjoying an endless party. No, they were called to do the work of the Kingdom and that work fundamentally involves transformation.

Just before Jesus calls the disciples, we read that he

“began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’”

Repentance is, above all else, about transformation. It’s much less about feeling bad about your behaviour than it is about changing your behaviour or, more to the point, allowing the Holy Spirit to change your behaviour.

But the point of that change isn’t to make us better people for our own individual sakes; it is for the transformation of the world. It’s the bringing near of heaven’s kingdom to the earth. The disciples are called to play their part in bringing about God’s rule of righteousness and justice — liberation, not oppression; healing, not destruction; reconciliation, not conflict. And we are called to the same.

The irony is that this message brings Jesus, and of course his disciples, into confrontation with the Empire, just as it does for John the Baptist, whose arrest is mentioned at the start of the Gospel passage. So Jesus’ call to Peter, Andrew, John and James isn’t a call to security; it’s a call to deliberate, intentional vulnerability. Not a vulnerability born out of need or their brokenness but a vulnerability of love. It’s a call to a lifestyle that will lead to the Cross as the forces of the Empire attempt to neutralise its threat to them.

A message of transformation will always bring us into confrontation with those in places of power who feel threatened. We need only look at the response from certain powerful men to the pleas for change from climate protesters to see that play out in today’s world. The change that Jesus demands presents an even deeper, even more radical challenge. It leaves no room for business as usual on any front. And if we take our faith seriously, there is no room for business as usual when business as usual means a planet ravaged by pollution and overconsumption, people forced into poverty, homelessness and slavery or the continuation and even promotion of war and violence.

Jesus’ call to James, Peter, Andrew and John is the call he issues to us. We are called to leave what is familiar; to join them on the journey; to be vulnerable; to be transformed and to live transformatively; we are called to live this way together, in community; and we are called into this way of life in the middle and muddle of our busyness.

I invite you to return in your imagination to that moment I asked you to hold on to, the moment when Jesus, in the midst of your workplace, calls you to follow him. Hear his words to you again. How will you respond?

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