Scripture Readings: Isaiah 9:1–4 | Psalm 27:1, 4–9 | 1 Corinthians 1:10–18 | Matthew 4:12–23
“And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” (Matthew 4:19-20).
I haven’t been on that many teams in my life. I wasn’t exactly the athletic type when I was younger… or now, for that matter. But there was a time in the years shortly after high school when I played soccer for one season in a men’s league in my hometown. Before you get too impressed, I must admit, I was the worst player on this team… which ranked the lowest in our division… which happened to be the lowest division in the league.
The crazy thing was that, apart from me, we had some really great players on our team. People who loved soccer, and had been playing it for their whole life. But we weren’t just supposed to be a bunch of great players… we needed to be a team. And that’s where we struggled.
This was our first season playing together… and although we (that is, my teammates) had lots of talent, we didn’t yet know how to work well together. And so, despite our best efforts and hard work, we couldn’t pull together a single victory.
Unity, working together with others is such an important part of life. But even more important than unity itself… is the thing that unites us. The hub that holds the wheel together… the trunk from which the branches spring.
In our reading today from the Gospel of Matthew, we hear the Apostle’s account of the calling of the first disciples of Jesus. This is the very beginning of the community that will one day become the Church: the worldwide family of disciples of Jesus, committed to His Kingdom and mission, and bound to one another in God’s holy love. It’s a pivotal moment in the story of the Scriptures, and the New Testament scholar N.T. Wright says this about it’s significance:
“The very first thing Jesus did, according to Matthew, was to call followers. The beginning of a community, the Kingdom people; the first sign, earlier even than the remarkable healings, that something new was afoot. They left jobs, they left family—both vital symbols of who they were—and became part of that something new, without knowing where it would lead.”
These first disciples didn’t know what they were in for when they left everything to follow Jesus. But as they responded to His call they were becoming something new together… a community, united simply because of Christ Himself.
Sometimes it’s easy for us to imagine the Christian life as a ‘solo sport’, so to speak. A private pursuit we take part in simply for our own benefit. In our highly individualistic culture, this can be a big temptation for us: to live as a bunch of scattered, spiritual seekers… instead of the family of God’s Kingdom that Christ has called us into. We may desire to love and learn from Jesus, but without all the mess of having to love and learn along with our brothers and sisters up close and personal.
But to follow Jesus is also to be drawn closer to others whom He has called too. No one is an island… and there really is no such thing as a solo disciple.
On the other hand, the Church is not just a collection of like-minded folk content to keep to themselves together, like a sort of religious club. In our increasingly unstable times, this temptation to circle the wagons can also be hard to resist. Understandably, we might long for security, familiarity, and a strong sense of belonging, especially if we’re feeling, like so many others today, more and more disconnected and alone.
The danger is that we transform the Church into our own social club, connected more to each other by our shared interests and tastes and natural bonds than by our commitment to Christ and His Kingdom. We might want to love each other, without having to worry about where God may want to take us… without having to actually leave our old ways behind to follow Jesus.
But Jesus didn’t just go around Galilee and Judea to start up special interest groups ,and gathering like-minded people together with no other purpose… He called people like us to let go… to leave their old life behind, and to follow Him into something new… building a new community, and drawing us closer together as we learn to follow our Lord where He will lead us… to share the Good News of God’s Kingdom with everyone sitting in darkness.
The Church is a community where we can find belonging, comfort, and peace, but it is a community centred on and united by the Good News of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is what binds us together, and leads us into God’s light. We can have nothing else at all in common, and still be united because of Jesus… drawn together as we follow Him out into the world… sharing in His Kingdom, and serving in His mission.
Is this how we imagine being a part of the Church today? Not bound together by our shared interests, or history… but by our connection to Christ Jesus and to what the Living God is doing through Him even now?
Our Scripture readings today from St. Matthew’s Gospel, and the letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians can help us remember what being a disciple of Jesus entails: what it asks of us, and what it gives us too.
St. Matthew recounts the calling of the first disciples… two pairs of brothers: Peter and Andrew, James and John… four average Galilean fishermen.
They had some similarities, of course. They shared a trade, and a hometown. But they also had their own familial and financial commitments. Personal connections that they all surrendered in order to become Christ’s disciples together… sharing now a new connection together because they were all now following Jesus. Peter and Andrew were still brothers, of course, and so were James and John. But that natural connection became secondary as they left their nets, their livelihoods, and in James and John’s case, their father, to follow Jesus, not where they wanted to go, but where He wanted to take them. They trusted Him, and that trust, that faith began to bind them to one another.
Thinking beyond our Gospel reading today, to include all of the other disciples, this becomes even clearer. At least these first four were all fishermen, and all from the same village. But as Jesus gathered more and more disciples, calling them to come follow Him, in this new community He was creating, the differences between them all grew and grew as well.
They came from all sorts of walks of life, backgrounds, and even rival political camps, but they were called to leave aside the things that separated them in order to share in the new community of the Church. Sure, they shared a common ancestry as part of the people of Israel, and a cultural heritage, but those were not the reasons they all got together and traveled from town to town. They were held together by their faith in Jesus, who drew these strangers together, to share in something greater than any of them could have imagined.
And after His crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus would turn to these same disciples and send them out into the world… into the Gentile world… a world full of Greeks, and Romans, and Parthians, Egyptians, so-called Barbarians… sent out to invite people they had absolutely nothing in common with to hear the Good News of Jesus, to trust in Him, and follow Christ along with them. Inviting everyone to become disciples of Jesus too, so that all those sitting in darkness can be drawn together into God’s light.
And this remains the mission of the Church today, and the mission of all of His disciples: to bring the light of God’s Good News, Jesus Christ, to the whole world… to those sitting in darkness even now… even here in Gondola Point. This is the ultimate goal we are working towards… the mission of Christ He has shared with us as we follow Him: to share in the life, and love, and light of God, and help others do the same.
This all sounds wonderful. But as St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians reminds us, being drawn into this new community of Christ’s disciples doesn’t mean we will all know how to get along, and work together.
As we read through the New Testament, the temptations to cause divisions and factions… to cut ourselves off from each other, and form various factions within the one body of Christ, have been with us since the earliest days of the Church… causing all sorts of grief.
Among the Christians in the Greek city of Corinth, a church community which St. Paul had played a huge part in gathering together, people had begun aligning themselves with various popular preachers and leaders, and had started turning against one another… a destructive temptation that we Christians have fallen for over and over again.
“It’s a sobering thought” N.T. Wright says, “that the church faced such division in its very earliest years. People sometimes talk as if first-generation Christianity enjoyed a pure, untroubled honeymoon period, after which things became more difficult; but there’s no evidence for this in the New Testament. Right from the start, Paul found himself not only announcing the gospel of Jesus but struggling to hold together in a single family those who had obeyed its summons.”
But St. Paul’s response to this terrible temptation for division is to remind his brothers and sisters about what truly holds them together: the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Good News of the crucified one, who has now been raised from the dead, sent to reconcile the world to God, and to one another in Him… to shine God’s light on all who sit in darkness and draw them together in His love.
For St. Paul, and for all of us who are called to follow Christ and care about the unity of the Church, the priority must always be the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Here at St. Luke’s we too have been called to trust and follow Jesus, to share in this new community that He has created called the Christian Church. We are all have some similarities, and many differences as well, but we are being drawn together by Jesus, and invited into His mission.
How are we tempted towards spiritual individualism, or forming factions within God’s family? And how might we have to ask God to save us from falling for these traps?
How can we move away from approaching discipleship as simply a private matter, and learn to lean on each other as we follow Jesus together?
How can we start to overcome the sad divisions that exist within the Church? Not simply here at St. Luke’s… but what about how we relate to our fellow Anglican Churches, not to mention our Christian brothers and sisters in other traditions and branches of the Church?
And how can we always keep before our eyes the whole point of it all: the Good News of Jesus Christ and the mission He has shared with us?
Like Peter and Andrew, and James, and John, we were not called to be “fishers of people” just for our own sakes, but because God in His great mercy and compassion longs to bring hope to the hopeless, healing to the sick, freedom to those in bondage, and love to those who are alone.
Like the first disciples, what might we need to leave behind to follow Christ in this way?
Like the first disciples, what will we gain by dropping our old nets and joining Him together?
 N. T. Wright, Twelve Months of Sundays: Reflections on Bible Readings, Year A (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2001), 23.
 N. T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: 1 Corinthians (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 8.
Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School