Third Sunday of Epiphany
Introduction and Call to Worship
God’s mission in the world brings good news of forgiveness, joy and fulfilment. Let us learn of this missionary way as we worship together, seeking to follow God’s Son and know the power of God’s Spirit.
Today’s Bible Readings
First Reading Isaiah 9:1-4
God’s people have left the region and shadow of death for a light, joyful land.
Second Reading 1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Baptism begins the journey of inclusion in witness to the good news and upside-down kingdom marked by the cross of Jesus.
Gospel Matthew 4:12-23
With Jesus’ withdrawal to Galilee, a new phase of the missionary Gospel begins.
HOMILY “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” (Matthew 4:19)
A poem by Raymond A Foss:
To be called to be fishers of men, casting nets, casting a single line
out into the sea, the rolling sea, to find the stocks, the untapped harvest,
to be the ones bringing them aboard, into the belly of the ship,
into the storehouses, the temple, the synagogue - into the pews of the church,
casting the words out into the multitude, to reach the urgent ear, the willing heart,
to change the life of the faithful, those waiting to be found,
hoping for a different, better way; a way out of the darkness to that way home,
gathered in by the fishers of men, to the harvest, to the flock,
to the shepherd, the carpenter, the king!
You would think that growing up in Sussex by the Sea, that I would know a thing or two about fishing. Certainly, members of my family love it and indeed, my uncle takes part in competitions. Hastings itself has a reputation for fishing – the largest land fleet of boats in Europe. And the fish market, stalls and surrounding restaurants are very appealing. However, I have to confess that I am not a big fish fan – actually I really don’t like that fishy smell that accompanies the net huts on a warm summer’s day.
Fishing at sea is fraught with all sorts of hazards. You only have to visit the fishermen’s museum or the lifeboat station to get an idea of just how many lives are saved – and lost – at sea. Fishing for fish comes with risks, but so, my friends, does fishing for people, and Jesus knew that his call to Simon (later to be named Peter – or ‘Rock/Foundation’) and his brother Andrew, together with James and John, was not going to be an easy task, indeed, their very lives would be in danger. Perhaps unaware of the risks ahead, they hear the call of the Lord: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” And they leave everything and follow him.
Like the fishing community of Old Hastings, these are ordinary men engaged in common work of the time and place, and they are accomplished at it – they know the dangers, the storms that whip up, and the challenges of the open water. Jesus recognises their commitment, and calls them to use their God given skills in a new and exciting way, for they are to “fish for people”. What did that mean? Would any of us have responded positively to the same words today?
For something made them drop what they were doing and follow him. The Gospel says they left their nets – they didn’t first hang them up, or clean them, or mend them. I know one thing for sure: fishermen really do look after their nets. They never just leave them – they are their livelihood.
Perhaps they thought they were only going off for a short while; for the rest of the day. If they did, they got more than they bargained for! But on their response hangs the success of Christianity. Without disciples to spread the Word after Jesus had fulfilled his ultimate mission to die and rise again for our salvation, generations would not have heard the Good News.
“Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Today, we hear this Gospel and the words of Jesus – and what is our response? The disciples answered the call of the Lord, left what they were doing in complete obedience to his call and went on to share with others what they knew – what they had seen with their eyes and experienced in their lives! By doing so they changed the world – but these four were insignificant fishermen, destined to remain in the obscurity of history until they met Jesus.
The disciples may have gained sainthood as Christianity became a world religion, but that was the last thought in their minds when they left their nets and followed Jesus. Likewise, they didn’t realise the real dangers that would follow or the challenges along the way. But they still followed. Since the time of Christ, countless faithful people have shared the forgiveness, joy and fulfilment that is the Christian faith. Many have heard a call to fish for people and have left everything to follow Jesus and share his love and work. You and I are called just the same, today, to proclaim that same Word and to do so even in the face of personal challenge. We all have a vocation – we are all called to serve. Of course, how we serve the Lord will be unique to each one of us. To be true to our calling, like the disciples, we need to allow the Lord to speak into our hearts. We must be willing to hear his call. We need to be open to the challenges that he has for us.
We may feel small and insignificant, we may wonder what contribution we can actually make. We may not even have ever thought before of serving the Lord. Yet his call is to each one of us – we all have a vocation and that is exactly the point, for Jesus has work for each one of us to be about – our vocation of service in his name. Amen.
Fishing communities know their work is both rewarding and dangerous. To fish out at sea requires expert knowledge.
Jesus called the first four disciples at the start of his own ministry to “fish for people”.
We are called, too! But are we open to the call of the Lord to leave our lives behind and follow him? For we each have a vocation.
We are all called to serve and we each have different gifts, talents and abilities, which is exactly how God made us.