I don't know about you but I find it comforting that Jesus knew what it is to move house, to leave behind the comfortable and familiar, and to begin again in a new place, just as Jo and I have done this week, and just as some of you are doing in moving to a new spiritual home here at St. Francis College. It is not easy to do this, but it is absolutely necessary to the advancement of the kingdom of God. The Spirit calls us onward, and we never know where we may end up. Had you told me thirty odd years ago as I began my ministry in London that one day I would be part of a theological college and parish community in Brisbane I think I would have been astonished!...
So how might they have known each other? Well boats were made from wood and the shaping of boats was the work of carpenters, so most likely Jesus had worked on their boats and they had talked about things a bit. The most likely topic of their conversation? The hated Roman occupation. In those times if you were a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee you were required to pay a fish tax to the Romans. I don't know the exact figures, but I know they were very unjust. Let's say that if you caught ten fish, the profit on seven went to the Romans, leaving you only three to make a living. So when Jesus offers them the chance to fish for people, he is not talking as we often assume about evangelism, about bringing people into the boat that is the church. He is talking about 'hooking a big one', about catching out some of the Roman leadership in their corrupt practices and bringing them to justice. This was an activity on the one hand much more appealing to some oppressed young Galileans, and on the other hand much more dangerous and likely to get you crucified than our usual interpretation of the text.
So these fishermen, Peter and Andrew, James and John set off on the adventure of their lives. They do not in fact stop fishing altogether. On certain occasions they continue to fish. There are significant stories later in the gospel on and around the Lake involving fishing. There were aspects to their identity as fishermen - perhaps a capacity for patience, a contemplative attitude to the forces of nature, a certain strength - that would stand them in good stead in their future ministry. But at this point in the story they choose to let go of the past and move into the new.
This is what we are doing today as a parish, and what Jo and I are doing as individuals. There is a strong spiritual dynamic that demands that this happen. Sometimes the old has to be let go, has to fall into the ground and die, in order that the new, that resurrection can happen. Such moments are risky. They ask much from us. Jo and I have thrived for the last six years plus in Toowoomba. We are going to miss our three centres with their very different characters. We are going to miss the little wooden church of All Saints with its glorious leadlight glass and peaceful atmosphere. We are going to miss the lively fellowship of the modern church of St. Mark's with its many families and children. We are going to miss the extraordinary beauty of St Luke's, with its grandeur, wonderful acoustics and the Chartres labyrinth that we enabled to be constructed in the grounds. And above all we are going to miss friendships built up over time. And I tell you this not because I have regrets, for I do not, but just so that you may realise that we are all part of the same gospel dynamic of dying and rising. Just as I must let go some very precious things in order to be with you, so some of you too in welcoming me have had to let go of a very precious place of worship, with which the identity of some of you is closely bound. For some of you Christchurch Milton is a place of very significant memory and faith and I feel for you in the pain of letting that go, in order that the parish may thrive into the future. And I want you to know that I really do appreciate the sacrifice you are making for the good of the whole.
I can only say to you as we journey through this together, that this is the pattern of our faith. Think of the example of Abraham who in later life heeded the call of God to set out, without knowing where he was going. Think of the parable of the merchant with the one pearl of great price, for which he was prepared to sell everything he had. Think of the words of the risen Jesus to Mary Magdalene, 'do not cling'. Think of the fishermen who left their nets to follow Jesus. This is the shape of our faith. Hard as it is we cannot cling to anything, no matter how good in itself, if we are to be obedient to God's call into the future.
Obedience is not a very popular word these days, because I think it has become associated with some kind of blind adherence to rules imposed from without. Yet in fact it's root meaning is quite different. The word 'obedience' means 'to listen right through to the end'. Isn't that a beautiful idea? It is hard thing to do however. Very often along our path of Christian discipleship we may reach a certain point and believe we have arrived, we have it right now and that no further movement will be required of us. Yet the wind of the Spirit will continue to coax and whisper in our ear and invite us to listen again, yet more deeply to what God is asking of us.
I know some of the things that the Spirit has whispered to me about what is going to be needed here as we move forward together. But I also know very well that the Spirit is talking to each and every one of you, and that as we come to know each other we will listen better and more fully to the call of God for our parish. God is calling each of us, just as surely as Jesus called Peter and Andrew, James and John. God is calling us so that we may be changed as individuals, and as a community, in order that we may be agents of positive change for those around us. I do not know this surrounding community yet. I look to all of you to guide me. But I am sure that here as everywhere there will be injustice and pain as well as joy and hope. Christ calls us to go and fish in these waters, and to offer love and care and inspiration to those we encounter.
So as we set out together this morning in this our new home, let's rejoice in the example of those who have set out in faith before us, and let's together attend to the gentle murmurings of the Spirit of God, seeking to listen right through to the end. For God is with us and we seek together the path of resurrection. Amen
by Penny Jones, for Epiphany 3 Year A - first sermon for Milton Anglicans