Well, I can't share their names publicly on the internet. But I was so delighted to invite the Afghan couple who we are hosting here at our church over to our church's Retreat House. And when we were walking over there, they they noticed the Peace Pole that's along the side of our church. That Peace Pole has been there, I think for more than 15 years, well before I was the pastor here. It says, “Let peace prevail on Earth” in four different languages – in English, and Spanish, and Lakota, and in Farsi. The Afghan couple was so delighted to see that that they could actually read in their language, that they understood what it said.
And when we went over to the retreat Retreat House, I showed them the extensive library that we have there, filled with books of all different faith traditions. And I showed them the books that we have on Islam, which is their faith tradition. In fact, they even asked if they could borrow the copy of the Quran that we have in our church library.
And they also noted when we were over there that up on the wall, they saw this symbol of their faith, the symbol of Islam. I've shared this with you before, but hanging up in our Retreat House is the “golden rule” in all of the world's major faith traditions. So they saw the symbol of their faith there of Islam, I know it's hard to see from where you're sitting, but it's a crescent moon and star. And it symbolizes the light of the Divine. We see that as well in the Jewish star, the star of David, also symbolizes the light of the Divine. Then we have the Buddhist wheel. And we have the symbol of Taoism, that Yin-Yang symbol, both circular, symbolizing balance and harmony and oneness. And then there's the symbol of Hinduism, the only symbol which symbolizes the divine sound of creation. All such beautiful symbols of light and balance and harmony and creation.
And then, of course, there's the symbol of our faith, the cross. And I've shared with you before, the cross, of course, is an ancient torture device, which was used to brutally crucify people. I know, it seems like a really odd symbol for a faith.
But Jesus transformed that symbol for us. So it's no longer a symbol of death, but a symbol of resurrection and new life. I've shared with you how I understand the cross, I understand it to be the place where our humanity, the horizontal line, our earthly life, meets our divinity, the vertical line, our spiritual self It's where those two meet and become one. And that's why the cross is such a beautiful symbol of our faith for me.
But it's important for us to know that the cross was not the symbol of Christianity for the early Christians. The Christians, right after Jesus died, did not use the cross as the symbol of their faith, they used the fish.
Now, why did they use the fish? Well, it was a symbol for them to identify who was friendly, who was safe. You know, the early Christians were being persecuted by the Roman Empire, because after Jesus's death, they were continuing his work of bringing about the kindom, this new world order where the last are going to be first. And so the early Christians were being arrested and jailed and even killed for continuing the way of Jesus. And so they needed a way to identify one another to know who was safe. So they put a fish symbol above the doors of safe meeting places.
And when they would meet one another, one person would put one arch in the sand, and the other person would put the other arch to make the fish symbol, kind of a secret handshake.
Now, why did they use the fish? Well, we know Jesus spoke about fish often, and we know that one of his miracles was multiplying the loaves and the fish. We know that after his death, he met with two apostles, and he, he shared a meal of fish with them. And then of course, there's today's Gospel reading for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, which I just read for you, about this amazing catch of fish. Jesus
is 30 years old here. He is beginning his ministry and he is calling His first disciples. And you see that he calls Simon and Andrew, the fishermen, to be among his first followers.
Now, you know, when I was a kid, I was taught not to be a follower. I was taught that followers are people who just don't think for themselves, they just blindly follow. Jesus does not want that kind of follower. And that's why his line here, “Come follow me. I'll make you fishers of men.” Jesus is empowering them to be leaders, not to blindly follow. Now that line, “I will make you fishers of men,” is one of Jesus's most famous lines. But I believe it is also one of his most misunderstood lines.
Christians, for centuries now, have taken that line to mean, “Oh, we have to go out and “catch” people for Christ. We've got to convert people to Christianity.” But think about what fishermen do. Fishermen get a hook. They put bait on it. The bait is used to entice people. And they put that hookand that bait into a water, a natural environment for the fish. And they catch it and they take it out of its natural environment. And that metaphor sadly fits what Christian missionaries did for centuries. They went into foreign lands, where people already had beautiful faith traditions. And they baited them, they enticed them, by building homes and schools and hospitals for them. But you see, there was a catch. The people there had to accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. They had to convert to Christianity.
I do not believe that Jesus wants us to convert people to a particular religion. I don't. Jesus himself was Jewish. If you want to convert people to the religion of Jesus, then convert them to Judaism.
Jesus didn't want to convert people to a particular religion. He wanted to convert them to a new way of life, to transform their their hearts and minds to a new way of being, a new way of loving, a new way of living and serving, a way of justice.
And that's how we, as progressive Christians, evangelize. We as progressive Christians don't go out there and try to convert people to become Christian so that we can grow the membership of our church. That's not what we do. We evangelize by sharing that way of inclusive love with everyone. On the back cover of your bulletin, and today, one of our UCC pastors, Emily Heath, says this about how progressive Christians evangelize. She says, “To me, evangelism looks like marching in the local gay pride parade, growing vegetables to donate to the local food pantry, advocating for fair labor practices, working for peace, protesting racial injustice, providing good quality healthcare for those who don't have it, and so much more. All of these things, help spread the good news of God's love. All of these things are evangelism.”
I love that. And I'd love our words of integration and guidance this morning, which Chris read for us, from another one of our UCC, pastors, Carrie Nicewander, who really explains what this being Fishers of Men means, that maybe Jesus just used that term “fishers of men” for Simon and Andrew because they were fishermen. But maybe if they were mechanics, he would call them to go and fix things or maybe if they were physicians, he would call them to heal people's souls. If they were carpenters, he would call them to be builders of the Kindom.
In other words, Jesus is calling you where you are, to serve the world in a way that fits who you are. Notice when Jesus was building his ministry, and he was calling those first apostles, he didn't go into temples and rabbinical schools. He didn't say ‘Let me find the best orators, the best teachers, the best preachers, the best theologians.’ No, he just called regular, ordinary people - farmers and fisherman. And you see what Simon and Andrew do after Jesus calls them. They leave their boats and their nets on the shore, and they follow Jesus. They leave behind everything, in order to follow this new way, the way of the Lord.
Now, when we, my friends follow more closely in the way, when we walk the way of the Lord, more closely, more nearly, more dearly, we need to leave behind old ways of being, old ways of thinking, old ways of living. Now, it's not that we're becoming somebody new. We actually are becoming more and more of ourselves, more and more of our authentic selves, more and more of who God created us to be. And so that's what I want to invite you to find time to do this week. I want you to find time each and every day to go fishing.
Not literally, of course. It's cold out there. But metaphorically, symbolically go fishing. You know, Ralph Waldo Emerson said many men go fishing, but it's not the fish that they’re after.
What did he mean by that? What are they after? Well, they're after the stillness, the quiet, the peace, leaving behind everything on the shore and becoming one with all that is. So go fishing this week, put up the gone-fishing sign on your door get in that boat along along with God. Cast out your net, dive deep within, and then catch all of that abundant love, peace, and joy that is with you and within you.
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration & Guidance
Rev. Kari Nicewander, UCC Pastor
“I really don’t like fishing. My grandparents loved to fish, my dad loved to fish, and my sisters loved to fish, but always I found it ridiculously boring. So, the idea that I would give my life to following Jesus in order to learn how to be a fisher of men does not appeal to me at all. But when we emphasize the call to be a fisher of men, perhaps we are missing something critical in our scripture. Maybe Jesus did not intend for fishing to become our main metaphor for discipleship? Maybe Jesus only invited Simon and Andrew to be “fishers of men” because that’s who they already were – fishermen? If Simon and Andrew had been carpenters, would Jesus have invited them to be ‘fishers of men’ or might he have invited them to follow him and learn how to be ‘builders of the Kingdom of God?’ If they had been physicians, mightn’t Jesus have invited them to follow him and learn how to be ‘healers of people’s souls?’ Or if they had been weavers, mightn’t Jesus have invited them to follow him and learn how to ‘weave people into God’s community of love?’ Or if they had been mechanics, mightn’t he have invited them to follow him and learn how to ‘repair broken lives?’ In short, I think Jesus invited Simon and Andrew to follow him and join him in God’s work in a way that was fit for them! Now, if this is true, it suggests that Jesus calls us to follow him and join in God’s work in ways that fit who we are, too. We don’t have to become something or someone that we aren’t in order to follow him. Instead, Jesus frees us to bring the best of who we are to him and offer it up as we join him in God’s work in the world.”
What did you think?