The Third Sunday after Epiphany, Year A, Church of the Epiphany, Lebanon

Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” (Matt. 4:20).

It’s the season of Epiphany, Church of the Epiphany, and so we’re going to talk about the call of God: one of the themes of the season, as we see in our Gospel reading today. In our Gospel, it’s the early days of Jesus’ ministry, and he’s beginning to assemble his followers, the apostolic band of twelve which he gathered around himself. He begins with two sets of brothers: Andrew, and Simon his brother; then James and his brother John.

Both sets of brothers are fishermen, working the inland Sea of Galilee. Jesus turns their occupation as fishermen into a metaphor for the work he’s calling them to. They were fisherman, but now he’s calling them to go fishing for people. They’ll be casting their nets for a new catch now, girding themselves up for the hard work of finding the fish and then pulling them in. Jesus is calling them to share his ministry, and to gather others as they themselves have been gathered.

Notice that Jesus’ call has a two-fold pattern in our Gospel reading. He begins by gathering and attracting a group of followers, people who are drawn to him by his call. Jesus begins his ministry by creating the first small group, a company of twelve who are called to spend time with him and to “hang out.” They travel with Jesus and are involved in his ministry. He’s shaping and forming them for the work that is ahead.

So, call really begins with the invitation to spend time with the Lord Jesus Christ. This is an essential part of call; a part that we can’t skip. In our reading, Andrew and Simon, James and John, have to leave their nets, their work, in order to spend time with Jesus. They have to learn the lessons that go with being Jesus’ disciples; they have to spend the time in order to be formed.

If we ask ourselves what this might mean for us, as Jesus’ disciples today, as persons who are called by him to share his life, we’ll realize that the time we spend in worship, in study, and in fellowship together in Christ is an essential part of the call. Jesus has called us to be with him, on Sunday morning here, of course, but also every day of our lives, wherever we are. This is the call to us as his disciples, his followers today.

Remember, however, that the call is two-fold. Here we come back to the life of fishermen. Fishing in the deep waters involves gathering the group, getting into the boat and being together, but it also means setting sail, going out on to the sea, casting the nets and breaking into a sweat. In the same way, call involves not only being with Jesus, being formed in the faith, but also setting forth, travelling the distance, extending ourselves to share faith with others. As Jesus says in our Gospel today, he will make us fish for people. He’s calling us so that we can call others.

I read somewhere, early in my pastoral ministry, that the average Episcopalian invites someone to come to church with him every twenty-seven years. I don’t know where they get statistics like this; hard to believe that facts like this could be produced by a survey! Still, the statistic has the ring of truth. I think the message for us is that every twenty-seven years is hardly enough for folks who are called to go fishing; folks who are called to go out into the deep waters. We have to set forth and engage in our call.

Spending time with Jesus is key. Our worship, study, and fellowship are essential. Without them, our vocation as Christians becomes hollowed out and worthless, and the church is less like a church and more like a gathering of the like-minded and inward looking. The call, however, is two-fold: not only a gathering but a sending forth. Faith is meant to be shared because it is a gift. We cannot keep it to ourselves. Jesus calls us to be his disciples, just as he called these two sets of brothers long ago. He continues to call you, members of Church of the Epiphany, and today is the day to answer the call.

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee