A man is walking down the road in ancient Israel. He checks the voicemail on his phone, notices a message, and returns the phone call. [1]

Hi, James? It’s me, John. … No, not that one. … No, not that one. We go through this every time.  It’s John Mark, from work. … You really need to get yourself a better phone or something.

About This Sermon
Rev. Mark Schaefer
Kay Spiritual Life Center, American University
January 26, 2014
Isaiah 9:1-4; Matthew 4:12-23

So, yeah, I saw that you called. … Taxes are due? … Did I know that taxes were due?  … James, we live under Roman occupation.  The taxes are always due. … Look, I know that Matthew guy is supposed to be a pain in the neck.  All those tax collectors are. … Of course he’s skimming off the top; they all do. …Right. The whole system is corrupt. …  I know, it’s like my cousin Simon is always saying … No, not that one … No, the Zealot. … Right … It’s like he’s always saying, “The tax-collectors are merely a symptom of a wider systematic injustice that is both perpetuated by and helps itself to perpetuate the Occupation.” … I don’t know, you know how these Zealots are… incomprehensible.

Just tell Matthew to deal with Philip in accounts.  … No, it won’t accomplish anything, but it’ll be amusing to see how quickly Matthew gets frustrated. … I know: Phil’s a nut. … I don’t know how he got that job in the first place. … Must be somebody’s brother.

But, hey, at least we’re not still dealing with that Levi guy. … What do you mean they’re the same guy? … No, I thought Matthew and Levi were different people. … Same guy? You sure about that? ….I dunno. I think it’s still an open question.

Where am I? … I’m in Capernaum. … I was supposed to have dinner with Mary but I think she’s standing me up. … Mary. … No, not that one… No, not that one… No, Mary from Magdala. … The crazy one. … Look, you say ‘demon-possessed’, I say ‘a little nuts’. … Either way, I think she’s blowing me off.

It’s probably for the best anyway, there’s nowhere to eat. … Why?  Because half the restaurants are out of business: there’s no fish. … No, really. … You hadn’t heard that?

Yeah, so it’s apparently all because Jesus … yeah, that one, the one who was at that wedding in Cana a while back … Yeah, the one we heard speak a couple times. … Yeah, so, get this: apparently he’s walking along the lake and he sees Simon and Andrew fishing … Yeah, you know those guys … Yeah, Simon’s the loudmouth, always going on about things … No, don’t get me wrong: hell of a fisherman, but so stubborn.  … No, trust me: the next time you’re having an argument with him, you might as well be talking to a … rock. … I think it’s why he leaves the PR side of things to Andrew.

Illustration by Rachel Ternes

So, anyway, Jesus is walking along and sees them fishing and get this: he says, “Come, follow me, and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” And they just leave their nets right there and follow after him. … It’s crazy!

No, I’m sure “fish for people” is a metaphor. … It’s got to be; anything else would be illegal.

Oh! But it gets crazier. … So he keeps on walking down the lakefront … Jesus, yeah … he keeps on walking down the lakefront and comes upon those two brothers from Zebedee Fish & Tackle.  … Right: James and John. … Boy, you’re right, there are a lot of Jameses and Johns out there.

So, this is even better.  They’re in their boat fishing with their old man, Zebedee … Yeah, I’ve heard he’s a trip… really stormy temper though … But so Jesus sees them, makes them the same offer, and they leave right away. … No! They left the old man sitting there in the boat. … Poor guy.

So, all of this is to say that two of the bigger fishing operations in town have basically closed up shop and fish prices are through the roof. … Nah, I’m sick of lamb. … And like I said, Mary never showed, so it’s all academic.

But what were they thinking? … Simon, Andrew, James, and John.  … I mean, what a disruption their little act of impulsiveness is going to turn out to be? … No, I’m not just thinking about myself and my fish dinner.  Do they not have families? I’m pretty sure Simon is married … I’ve heard about his mother-in-law at least.  How is she gonna react when she finds out her son-in-law just quit his job running his own business to go chasing after some preacher? … Well, how would your mother-in-law react? … Exactly.

I don’t know, there’s something about this whole thing that seems just so … inconvenient. … Well, I don’t know, isn’t the whole point of this religion thing to make people feel more comfortable and happy? … Like, shouldn’t Jesus be helping Simon and Andrew be successful in their business or something?  Wouldn’t that make them happier in the long run?

Instead, we’ve got at least four families disrupted and a whole local fishing industry thrown into chaos. … I went to the market earlier—granted it was near the end of the day—but all they had available was five loaves of bread and only two fish. – I mean how many people can you feed on that?

I just don’t understand what would have made them do it. … Simon, Andrew, James, and John. … It’s just such a risk to give up everything like that. … And it’s causing a real disruption.

What do you mean, that’s the point? … Is this a political thing? … Because that won’t end well.

Yeah, I remember the story of Moses. … Well, he was a shepherd when God called him out and back to Egypt. … No, I never thought of who tended the flocks after he left. … No, I guess I hadn’t considered that he might have been pretty comfortable in that life, either.

Well, yeah, Abraham and Sarah, too, I guess. … I mean, they were over seventy when he was called to go.  … Yeah, no, I’m just trying to picture Old Mordechai in the office even leaving his chair at the age of 70. … Right.  The Romans’ll leave faster than he will.

Yeah, and Amos. … Yeah, I never wondered who tended the sycamore trees after he went up north. … No, I can see how disruptive that would have been.

But are you saying that Simon, Andrew, James, and John think they’re being called to be prophets? … Fishermen? … Come on.  The next thing you’ll be telling me is that the tax collector and crazy old Mary from Magdala can be called to be prophets. … If this Jesus is the real deal, he’ll have to be a lot more discriminating.

What do I mean? … Well, just imagine, what would it look like for him to assemble a bunch of followers made out of fishermen and tax collectors and other people who are sort of on the fringe? … How could that possibly look good, James? … Well, yeah, it would make a statement, I guess. … Yeah, it would be disruptive of the status quo, I guess …

Are you saying that that’s the point? … Well, yeah, I’ve heard him preach, same as you. … You know very well that he’s always going on about the Kingdom of God. I always assumed that he was talking about some—what do the Greeks call it—phisopholy? No, philosophy.  Yeah, philosophy.  … You’re not saying that he’s actually talking about something real, are you? … That’s nuts.

Look, James. The world runs in a very predictable way: the powerful are in charge, the wealthy get their way, the poor pay their taxes and scrape by. Fishermen fish, tax-collectors collect taxes, crazy women stay crazy. And nobody expects them to do any different. No one expects any of that to change. At least not until the World to Come. …

No, James. … No. … The Kingdom of God is not here already. Look around. You see peace and justice anywhere? … The Kingdom of God has not come.

It’s come for Simon and Andrew? … I guess, well, I’ve never thought about it that way. … No, I know how working class people are treated.  Fishing is a good business, but it’s hard work and the upper classes never pay them any attention. … No, I never thought about what it would be like to have a man of God call out to me like that … Yeah, I can imagine that that would be like the world being turned upside down.  “First will be last; last will be first,” kind of stuff.

Hey, imagine if Matthew or Mary were to get called—that would be nuts. … No, I know, that would never happen.  … Even for Jesus that seems like a bit much. … Man’s got a reputation to maintain.  Can’t be seen hanging out with tax-collectors and crazy people and still be listened to. … I know, what’s next, prostitutes?

I don’t know, James, I get your point, but can it really be that faith is meant to turn your world upside down like that? That seems awfully hard to deal with.  I mean, how do you go and have institutional religion and keep turning the world on its head? … Right, James. Sure. … No institutional religion. … Tell me how you get ahead in this world without the help from the Sadducees and the rich priests at the Temple. And their pals the Romans.  You don’t.  … Trust me, if Jesus doesn’t win their approval and work within the system, his little experiment will come to nothing. … No, take my word, if he doesn’t play by the rules like everyone else, thirty years from now no one will even remember his name.

What if I’m wrong? … Tell you what, James. … If I’m wrong, I’ll write the guy’s life story, how about that?  … Not enough? … How about this: if I’m wrong, not only will I write this guy’s life story, I’ll write it in Greek.

But fat chance. There’s a bigger chance that you’d become one of his disciples! Ha! … I’d say that you should try and join up, but he’s already got a disciple named James, so what are the chances he’d take another one?

Alright, I should probably let you go. And I need to get going myself. … The rest of the evening? … Hadn’t really thought about it. … Dinner party at Jairus’ house? … Yeah, I could go. My other plans have fallen through. … How’s his daughter doing? … Still not doing well, huh? That’s really too bad. … Yeah, that sounds like a good plan; I’ll swing by. … Should I pick bring anything? …. Other than fish? … Sure, some bread. Leavened or unleavened? … Okay, fine.  Like I said, I think they had five loaves left. … All right, James.  See you soon.

The Texts

Isaiah 9:1–4 • Nonetheless, those who were in distress won’t be exhausted. At an earlier time, God cursed the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but later he glorified the way of the sea, the far side of the Jordan, and the Galilee of the nations. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in a pitch-dark land, light has dawned. You have made the nation great; you have increased its joy. They rejoiced before you as with joy at the harvest, as those who divide plunder rejoice. As on the day of Midian, you’ve shattered the yoke that burdened them, the staff on their shoulders, and the rod of their oppressor.

Matthew 4:12–23 • Now when Jesus heard that John was arrested, he went to Galilee. He left Nazareth and settled in Capernaum, which lies alongside the sea in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali. This fulfilled what Isaiah the prophet said:
Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, alongside the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who lived in the dark have seen a great light, and a light has come upon those who lived in the region and in shadow of death.
From that time Jesus began to announce, “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!”
As Jesus walked alongside the Galilee Sea, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew, throwing fishing nets into the sea, because they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” Right away, they left their nets and followed him. Continuing on, he saw another set of brothers, James the son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with Zebedee their father repairing their nets. Jesus called them and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. Jesus traveled throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues. He announced the good news of the kingdom and healed every disease and sickness among the people.


With both sincere admiration for and profound apologies to Bob Newhart, from whom the idea for this entire sermon was stolen, yet again.

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