Here’s something that I just can’t quite imagine getting along without. I make my trade with this piece of equipment, my laptop. I use it for everything. It helps me plan budgets, keeps my calendar, and is the place where I “tap out loud” my ideas and thoughts as I write sermons. It allows me to communicate with friends, family and colleagues. It is even a source of recreational activity. My life is so bound to this machine that I just can’t imagine leaving it behind and walking away from it.
I had a friend and parishioner in a previous parish who was a master carpenter. He helped us remodel our kitchen, and told us about his own experience. He had all of his tools set up in the garage of this house and would leave them there overnight and come back the next day to resume work. One night, the wife of the household he was working on came home and due to complications from her pregnancy had a fainting spell just as she was pulling into the driveway. She passed out and proceeded to pull not only into the driveway, but into the garage and then through the door plowing over and smashing all of his tools.
Now, the tools were replaced by insurance of course, but they were not the same tools.
“These were the tools that I had used for years. Some had belonged to my dad. They were the tools that felt good in my hands. I knew just how they would respond, where the cut would be, how much the plane would take off. The new tools are nice, but they just aren’t quite the same.” He was doing the same kind of work, the same quality of work, but something was different. He would mourn the loss of those tools for years to come, tell me that story over and over. He still couldn’t quite believe they were gone.
As I look at the Gospel lesson for today, it is the matter of those nets that jumps out at me. “And immediately they left their nets and followed him.” It says of Simon and Andrew. James and John leave not just the nets, but the boat and their father as well. And while that might be difficult enough, it seems all the more difficult to me when we consider what Jesus invites them to do as they follow him.
“Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”
So basically what Jesus tells these folks is that they are going to be doing something that feels similar, — you’ll be fishing — but something for which your old tools are no longer going to work. From now on, you’re fishing for people. Following Jesus means it is time for them to re-tool. And so, they walk away from the familiar and the comfortable to take up a life that will feel very different.
I tell you those two little stories up front because I want you to recognize that re-tooling is hard. It’s hard to leave behind something that you’ve been connected to your whole life, what you know best and that with which you are most familiar.
It’s hard to learn the feel and characteristics of a new tool. The feel of the old one is always so much more comfortable!
But for the sake of the task at hand, — the need for repentance because the Kingdom of God has come near, you will need to leave the nets and learn how to do things differently.
Now, as I say that, it’s really important that we all understand two things about this re-tooling process that Jesus invites folks into, otherwise we’re going to get sucked into what usually happens whenever we talk about change of any kind. The first thing we need to understand is that Jesus calls for re-tooling because the situation in the world has changed. “Repent….the kingdom of God has come near.” Or “is at hand.”
Matthew points out that the situation in this world has changed, and a number of Jesus’ teachings and saying make that clear. The waiting for the light to shine is over. The Kingdom is near. Get ready, put your hand to the plow, don’t look back because the Kingdom is coming! Is already here!
We need to hear that promise and understand it, because it helps us get past the first obstacle we often face in re-tooling. “But we like our nets! They feel good in our hands!”
I imagine that my friend picked up the pieces of his father’s broken plane after the car had smashed it through the concrete wall. I can even imagine him trying to put it to the board again, hoping it would do what it always had, seeing if it would still work, or could be tweaked to make work again. It might even have felt as good as it always did to his hand, but when he pushed it along the surface of the board, instead of smooth round curls, what he got were splinters and chunks. It was no longer aligned for the work that needed to be done.
Furthermore, (truth be told) the materials of this world were changing as well. There were things at the local lumber yard that his father would never have had to deal with. There are composites, laminates, synthetic wood, chip board, Oriented Strand Board, particle board. None of the trim in my new kitchen was actually wood at all, and running a plane over it would ruin it both the tool and the material! The practices that once worked and were cherished by past carpenters would not have the same effect or results on this new generation of materials. As much as we’d like to dip into nostalgia, or to say, “the old ways are the best ways”, we know that simply isn’t true. The trim on my house is made now of a material that will never rot or decay!
This is the surprising thing about this story, that they were actually willing to put down their nets and consider retooling. If they did that, could we?
Or maybe it is not so surprising when we realize that Jesus is also offering a gracious and great thing as the Kingdom comes near, something that was not immediately available otherwise in that culture. While we marvel at the disciples willingness to drop their nets and follow, there is also an element promise here. In a world where one usually just ended up doing whatever his parents did, Jesus offers suddenly the opportunity of choice and the possibility of something different. “Follow me, and I will make you…”
Jesus engages here in the creative and redemptive activity of God. In a world where you were often consigned to a lot in life and a position in society, Jesus suddenly offers choice to be someone, something else. You aren’t obsolete, or stuck where you are. Your best days are not behind you. The tools will need to be changed, and “I will make you….” That is what Jesus promises.
As it turns out, when you become aware of it, Jesus is doing that consistently in the Gospels.
I will make you fishers of people.
I will make you my disciples.
I will make you salt and light and leaven, a city set upon a hill.
I will make you into God’s people.
I will make you Apostles and teachers, workers with me in this Kingdom of God that is here.
To the woman by the well, and the Geresene Demoniac, to Mary and Martha, to the rich young man and to Lazarus, to everyone to whom he declare forgiveness and healing, time and again what Jesus does is introduce a new world, a new situation, and an offer, “I will make you….something else. Forgiven, loved, accepted, empowered, healed…
I want you to hear clearly in this Gospel, that movement that comes about, from what was to what could be.
“In the land of Zebulan and Naphtali – ” among the tribes of old who looked and waited and hoped for a light to shine, that light is now shining! Those who resided in that land steeped with tradition and heritage and time honored ways of doing things, of the mending of nets and casting them for fish, are being invited into this great re-tooling for the coming age.
“I will make you…” Jesus says. That is a promise. Hold to it, look for it. That task of following does make something of you. Something that is different, and yet familiar, you are re-tooled for this coming Kingdom.
I like to see this offer of Jesus to us as a continuation of what Jesus has been doing since he first issued that call to those standing at the shore of Galilee. What will it be, the old and familiar and what you know how to do, even as the world changes around you? Or will you dare to step out, drop the familiar from your hand and learn a new set of skills for the sake of this coming Kingdom? Jesus promises that he will make something of us. We will dare to let him?