I preached this on Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at the opening service of a trial phase of a new worshipping community that is being developed.  This is based on Matthew 4:18-22. If you are interested in attending of our services, please let me know.

Matthew 4:18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Not to rub it in, but this past week I was in the Mayan Riviera, on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. As you might know, there are many ruins in this area. I have a bit of an obsession with ruins and with what they tell us today about life so many years ago, I guess being an anthropology major. I went to one set of ruins, the ruins in Tulum, which had been occupied by the Maya Tulum from AD 1200 until the 16th century when they were conquered by the Spanish. The buildings that the Maya Tulum had created were large and beautiful, able to be seen from the ocean, just a few feet away. It was set on the coast, giving superior access to trading and setting sail. Overlooking the ocean, in the explanations of the history of the ruins, I found this little anecdote, told from the perspective of two parties, a Spanish captain and conquistador and the ruler of the Mayan Tulum.

Imagine yourself as Juan de Grijalva, the Spanish captain, you sail from Cuba on an exploratory voyage, you landed on the island Cozumel surrounded by reefs where people hid when they saw you. Now you are sailing down the coast near a city with large buildings and towers that remind you of far away Seville. You don’t land, you sail away. You ask yourself: Who are they? What riches do they have? Are they dangerous?

Imagine yourself as the ruler Tabab of Tulum. You gaze at the horizon and see big ships with cloth hanging from poles. They look very odd to you. They draw near and you see the sailors. They don’t land, they sail away. You ask yourself: Who are they? Where do they come from? What do they want? Are they friends?

The moment that these people came together, the Spanish and the Mayans of Tulum, these questions, and more, were brewing. These people had not encountered each other, they had never heard each other’s language being spoken, they knew nothing about each other’s traditions or practices or how they organized their lives together.

This evening we hear the story of Jesus joining a bunch of fishermen, who I imagined that day in Tulum, fishing on a coast similar to that which I saw. They were lower-class, with dirty fingernails and smelling of sea life. Because the sea is magical about any place we experience it, I imagine these fishermen living with the rising and setting of the sun, the tide, the oranges and the reds and the bright light of the moon. They had families, they had lives, they might have been content with them or they might not have.

Jesus was walking by the Sea that day and he saw Simon Peter and Andrew, and they were going about their business as usual, casting nets. And he went up to them and told them to follow him. And he made them a promise: “I will make you fish for people.” What that promise means, we still aren’t totally sure, but for sure it was a play on words and for sure it was a promise for a different life.

They dropped their nets. They followed. And then he found James and John and he told them the same and they dropped their nets and they followed.

We don’t have the dialogue that we can find snippets of through historical research as the ruler of Tulum or the sea captain from Spain. But I wonder if the followers and if Jesus too were asking the same things: Who are they? Where do they come from? What do they want? Are they friends? What riches do they have? Are they dangerous?
This common gospel story was not known—it had never happened before. Jesus had not performed any miracles as of yet, he had just been alone not long before this in the wilderness. He hadn’t taught before this, no word of his wonder had really spread on any kind of large, grassroots scale.

And so I wonder what in the world possessed these fishermen to drop their nets, to leave their families and follow Jesus. Did they know that was what they were doing when they followed him? Or did they think they might try it out for a few days and then think they could go back to their nets? And then these questions are raised for me: Were they desperate? Were they hard up? Why did they trust him? Why did they have faith in him? Did they believe he was the Messiah when they followed? For there were tons of nut jobs claiming to be the Messiah, Jesus wasn’t the only one.

This, actually, is the first miracle of the gospel. The miracle is keeping faith and following someone and a promise, a dream they didn’t know and they had no reason to trust. It is a miracle when we can follow something or someone we feel called to, with doubts, sure, but following nonetheless, trusting nonetheless.
Let me tell you one version of the end of the story between the Maya Tulum and the Spanish conquistadors. Between smallpox and violence the indigenous population was reduced by half. After Francisco de Montego founded Tulum, Catholic monks and soldiers made it their business to destroy many Mayan artifacts in an effort to suppress the culture itself. The remaining indigenous were forced to teach the monks how to survive in their climate and their world, how to make bread, how to grow things, how to harvest. My friend Manuel hypothesizes that because of the occupation, because of the colonization, as part of a protest to the violence the Mayans experienced, they taught the monks only some of their skills—and that is why bread in the Mayan Rivera is so bad.

While Jesus has been used to colonize others, countries, nations, peoples, this was not the intention of the Gospel, or of Jesus asking the fishermen to leave their nets behind and follow him. This I am quite sure does nothing but anger Jesus…but it could have gone that way. Jesus came to the fishermen with an alternative. Not as a colonizer but as a liberator. He chose them to follow him, to be his first followers. He chose them, dirty, smelly, low members of society to be the ones who would help him to bring a message of liberation from colonization into the world. Why did they have faith in him? I have no idea. It might have been because of the promise he made them, they might have been ready for a significant and serious change from the daily injustices, disrespect, forced allegiance to the government, dead-end jobs that they were living. They might have been ready for a new type of creativity. Or to use their brains and their hearts and their hands.

Why would we follow Jesus, believe his promise of changed life, leaving behind the colonization of our bodies, the habits of mis-placed allegiances? Some days I have no idea. But today I know that liberation from ourselves and from what we have been mistaught and how we have misguided is worth it. I wonder if you are ready.

Not to rub it in, but when I was in Mexico last week I was told that we were going to rappel into a giant hole, called a cenote, where there would be an island surrounded by freshwater, with an entrance into a cave. No problem. I was sure the hole wasn’t that big and I would be connected through gear. We walked to the cenote, it is just beautiful. In the midst of the hot, humid, sun-soaked, low jungle we arrive and I can see the stalactites and the moss and the colors of the water that were brilliant blue. I glance across the hole, 1/8 of a mile away, and there are some young men waiting for us with a rope that they think I am going to use to rappel. No problem. I know self-defense. I am strong. I can do anything!

We walk around the hole. I am told to give one of the young men all of my things, my valuables, my bag, any extra clothes. My friend Manuel was going to show me how to do it. He hooked himself up to the rope and swung down, 1/8 of a mile below the ground. It was my turn. I hooked myself up and was not going to come close to the edge of that cenote. I was like a dog going to the vet, feet firmly planted, not moving an inch. One of the guides told me I had to edge closer, I had to move my feet. I was going to be okay. I had to stick my rear end over the edge, feet on the ground and then let go. Let my feet off.

There was absolutely no way I was going to do this.

The tears began. Of fear. Of stubbornness—I had to show everyone I could do this. Manuel was already down and I was up and I had to follow. I cried for him and he came running up the alternative stairs to help me. I looked in his eyes. I looked and I walked forward, inching a bit at a time. I asked Jesus for help and Manuel locked my gaze. I looked and I turned my rear around. I was hanging over that cenote by a rope, with a harness and a few people who promised they wouldn’t let me drop.

And then refusing to look down I began to notice. Notice what was right smack in front of my face. I looked carefully at the stalactites just feet away from me and marveled at their beauty. I was amazed at the moss so soft. I sat confidently in the harness and allowed the rope to slip comfortably through my hands, bit by bit, with each small drop being given a new perspective on the cenote, a new view of the ceiling, the walls, the water, with each small drop leaving the humid heat and entering into the dry cool. Eventually I got to the bottom and when there, was greeted with applause. And found water that is meant only to cool our souls, ground so soft to hold my bare feet, trees that gave fruit for my palate. It was a little Eden, it had to be.

Is this what it is like, on a small level, to have faith, to drop our nets like James and John and Andrew and Simon Peter? Approaching with understandable fear, that our lives might be taken away, through colonization or through death falling into a pit? But also approaching with curiosity and a deep desire for a different way—either rappelling versus walking down steps or out of dead-end jobs into embracing the way that God calls us to serve the world.

How we find that other way isn’t only through Jesus and his promise of another way out of oppression, out of death-dealing habits and systems and structures that we create in our lives. But it is also through each other. For in each other Jesus is working, performing miracles, asking us to support each other, like the four fishermen brothers and like Manuel and my friends encouraging me along.

So let us offer ourselves to each other, and to the movement of God within us, encouraging us to leave behind that which holds us back and to live into the glory with which we were created.