The Rev. Casey dunsworth

serves as Associate Campus Pastor to the Belfry, the Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry to UC Davis

and as Program Director for LEVN, the Lutheran Episcopal Volunteer Network.

Follow and Fish—Another Sermon on Christian Unity, it Turns Out

Grace and peace from God our Creator, hope in our Redeemer, Jesus the Christ, and the promised gifts of the Holy Spirit are with you, always.

Last night, it was Christian Unity Week over at the Newman Center. It’s still Christian Unity Week over here! Don’t worry, I’m not going to preach the same sermon as last night. Well, inasmuch as I am always preaching the same good news of Jesus Christ, I suppose I am going to preach a similar sermon. And, like we talked about two weeks ago, there are some Christian Fundamentals we can tend to. But, as one of my seminary professors often said, “it is a sin to bore people with the gospel.” So! No repeat sermons. No boring—well, hopefully, no boring.

Tonight’s gospel is a classic. “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people,” Jesus says.

I know very little about fishing. I have gone fishing like two times as a child, and was not super into it. I don’t eat fish, and getting to eat what you caught is, apparently, one of the joys of fishing. Lost on me. But I do know that there are many types of fishing. There’s the kind I have done, with a mechanical fishing pole that you attach a line and bait to. And there’s fly fishing, with beautifully intricate lures, and wading into a river in your rubber boot overalls. And there’s commercial fishing, with huge ships and nets that catch thousands of fish in one fell swoop. And there’s ice fishing, where crazy people cut a hole in a frozen lake and sit outside in the freezing cold. And there’s spearfishing, which is exactly what it sounds like. And there’s even folks who use no gear but their own two hands. There are a lot of ways to fish, it turns out.

I don’t have a cool metaphor to turn each of those fishing techniques into an evangelism technique, but Jesus certainly had that in mind. He approached those men on the lakeshore, and invited them into his ministry. He didn’t give them a comprehensive job description, or a handbook, or a list of FAQs. He also didn’t interview them, ask for references, or administer a test. He said, “follow me.” He meant literally, as he asked them to put down their nets and walk. He was also inviting them to follow him in word and deed. Since we do not live in first century Palestine, we do not have the opportunity to walk around with Jesus. But we do have the opportunity follow in his footsteps, and the footsteps of all those who have walked before us.

This is where that pesky Christian Unity comes in. We all gather together under the umbrella of this man’s life, death, and resurrection, and yet we’re not always cozy. But this is not a new phenomenon. In his letter to the Corinthians that we just heard read, the Apostle Paul is admonishing the church there for being so caught up in their differences. “‘I belong to Paul,’ ‘I belong to Apollos,’ ‘I belong to Cephas,’ ‘I belong to Christ.’” He parrots them. “Has Christ been divided?” he asks. “I am an ELCA Lutheran,” “I am an Episcopalian,” “I am a Presbyterian (PCUSA),” we say. Has Christ been divided?

We know that God comes to us each in our own time and place, and we are best served and best serve others in the contexts and realities that we face. Reading and worshipping in the language of our hearts. Participating in the eucharist with accommodations for our dietary needs or in acknowledgment of our addictions. Speaking to God and about God with pronouns that reflect God’s fullness, and the fullness of our humanity. There is no one-size-fits-all Christianity in 2017.

Has our ever-splintering denominationalism undercut the wideness of the gospel, or helped it spread to every corner of the globe? How do we, each in our own lives, reflect the oneness of our common humanity?

There are ways in which all of us who bear the name of Christ have things in common: we believe that our participation in the world is for its betterment, we believe that we act in love and truth and grace, we believe that we have answered the call to follow Jesus. But from each of our varying perspectives, priorities do not align and methods diverge. There are central tenets of other churches that I do not believe come from God; similarly, there are good Christian folks who do not acknowledge my right to be a Reverend.

How did we get here?

Millenia ago, Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah when he told us where his ministry would begin: in Galilee of the Gentiles, where the people who walked in darkness had seen a great light. This announcement tells us that Jesus’ ministry is not restricted in any way. It is not just for one ethnic group, just for speakers of one language, just for residents of one place. “Jesus does his work among a mixed group of Jews, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, immigrants, and others” and he doesn’t reinvent the wheel. “Jesus advocates the same message of social transformation that was earlier proclaimed by John the Baptist (4:17; see 3:2)”. Once John the Baptist was arrested, someone else had to pick up where he left off, not let go of that momentum. Spreading the good news was not a simple task. Because “God’s message is not just one of individual conversion but one of transforming the entire social structure. It was a message that attracted others who caught a glimpse of what society could be (4:18-25).” [1]

And this is still true for us! We, too, in our many times and places and denominations, are still being invited into a community that affirms our inherent dignity, and challenges us to ensure that same thing for all people. The gospel lesson tonight casually closes by saying that Jesus got right to work, “teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.” There are thousands of words in our scripture that tell us what action to take in our Christian life. From the Ten Commandments to the Beatitudes and everything in between, we are not at a loss for instruction. There are things we can do to bring forth the kingdom, here in our own corner of the world. All we have to do is follow along.

[1] Michael Joseph Brown, “Matthew,” in True to Our Native Land: An African-American New Testament Commentary, 91.

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