Dear James and John
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; January 21, 2018
3rd Sunday after Epiphany
Jonah 3:1-5; Mark 1:14-20
Often, when I begin to prepare a sermon, I sit quietly in my prayer room at home with Scripture before me. Using the ancient practice of lectio divina (or sacred reading) I read the text and then sit in silence, listening for a word or phrase that speaks to my heart. I generally read through the passage several times, and prayerfully listen after each reading. Using this process for our gospel reading today, I notice it is set at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. John the Baptist has been arrested and then Jesus sets off for Galilee. Walking alongside the sea, Jesus calls two sets of brothers to join him.
When I close my eyes to meditate further on this scene, I am taken back to a beautiful, sunny day in 2009. Walking along the banks of the Sea of Galilee with other clergy, a holy presence is palpable. I can almost hear Jesus’ voice to those would-be disciples, “Come, follow me, I will make you fish for people.” Hopefully, you noticed the photograph on the front of your bulletin. It was taken by Rev. Rachel Crumley, a dear friend who was also on the Pastoral Pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Looking at it this morning, doesn’t it suggest to you another time and place? Two men—gone fishing! Simon and Andrew? James and John?
Jesus approaches first Simon and Andrew, and then James and John. “Follow me,” he says. And they do. As simple as that! Or is it? Eventually, my holy pondering cause me to settle on one person in the scene—Zebedee. Imagine with me for a moment, Zebedee, sitting in the boat with his sons and a couple of hired hands. Then along comes Jesus and takes his sons away. What must that have been like for Zebedee? His sons’ decision surely affects him deeply.
Such ruminating compels me to invite you on a journey. Off to the Galilee we go—to the Sea of Galilee Public Library. In the room of archives, we pilfer through ancient documents. And there, on something like papyrus, we happen on a letter addressed, “Dear James and John.” Wait! Could it be our James and John? Looking closer, we realize that, yes, it is. And, lo and behold, it is written in English. (My oh my, Jesus really did speak in King James English…just kidding…) What insight might we gain from this ancient document? Let’s take a closer look.
Dear James and John,
I miss you both, still. Some evenings I sit by the Sea of Galilee and remember those days long ago when we worked as successful fishermen alongside Simon and Andrew. Even then, you had the look of wanderlust in your eyes. I knew about your visits to the Jordan River to hear John the Baptist preach. I knew you were captivated by his passionate message. I kept silent, but oh, how I worried.
Then along came Jesus. You never stopped talking about him. Of course, in due time, you weren’t the only ones talking about Jesus. Everyone was! Initially, I admit I was skeptical. Other Zealots had come through and preached hellfire and damnation, eager to take up arms to overthrow the Roman government; eager to set things right for our people—no matter what! I guess it’s no wonder then that, at first, I was concerned about your relationship with Jesus of Nazareth. I feared he might be a Zealot, too!
On the day he came along the banks of the seashore and invited you to follow him, I couldn’t believe you did it. Without hesitating, you left me sitting there with only the hired hands to keep me company. My heart was broken. We had dreams for the future of our family. We had plans to expand the business. As you well know, fishing is one of the few lucrative enterprises available for those of us under Roman rule who live by the sea. But in a moment, everything changed. When you left, I sat in that boat, with my head in my hands, fighting back tears, for what seemed like forever. What was I supposed to do and how could I do it without you?
Thankfully, as the months went by, you visited your mother and me whenever you were nearby. You kept us posted about what was going on in the life of Jesus, yourselves and the other disciples. It didn’t take long to realize that Jesus was not a Zealot, at all. Oh, he spoke his mind against evil and against the religious authorities who cared more about themselves than the people. But he showed no signs of wanting to take up arms; lead a revolution; overthrow the Roman Empire. Quite the opposite! All this humble, compassionate man wanted to do was demonstrate Yahweh’s love, call us to repentance, and offer forgiveness and new life. Abundant life! The signs were everywhere! The sick were healed, the blind gained their sight, outcasts were invited back into the fold—no Zealot here—only the Son of Man zealous to do his Father’s bidding.
As a father myself, I dreamed of grand things for your future. From the time you were both young lads, I urged you to strike out on the unpredictable seas. I wanted the best for you and I thought I knew what that meant. In retrospect, I confess I was blinded by my own ambition. On that day when you stepped out of our boat and bounded after Jesus, all I wanted to do was call you back, “Don’t go on those seas, my sons, don’t go!” I thought all was lost but nothing was lost, and everything was gained—for us and for all who have ears to hear! What you found was Jesus who first found you and called you. I thank Yahweh that you listened and obeyed. Because you did, you are part of the wonderful story of redemption—repenting, believing, following, and fishing. You have learned to keep time in a different way.[i]
Unquestionably, there have been difficult days since Jesus returned to his Abba Father’s side. But you have witnessed God’s power in ways I can only imagine. Oh, what I would give to have been there with you on the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came into the world in power and might. What a day that must have been!
For all time, for all the world, Jesus the Messiah, changed everything. I see that now. At first, when you left, I worried about you leaving the family business. I worried about having to do it all alone or ending up alone. But now I know I am never alone. Christ is with me. I have learned that the love and invitation Jesus offered you that day is now available for everyone—even me—and I praise God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit!
Words can hardly express how proud I am of you both. You followed Jesus. You followed your hearts. What courageous men you have become. No doubt, you stumbled many times along the way, disappointing Jesus and yourselves. But every time you fell, Jesus was right there beside you to pick you up and set you on the right path. He gave you strength for your journey of faith. He still does! Remember that!
Even though you have faced more than your share of challenges already, it’s not over yet. Now, more than ever, there are those who want to silence the message Jesus proclaimed. There are those who will try to silence you, too, before all is said and done. But you will not back down; of this I am sure. With all your heart and soul, you have cast your lot with Jesus who gave his life for the poor, the lowly, the marginalized, the forgotten. Because of Christ, there is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.
On Easter morning, when news began to spread that Jesus was missing, it didn’t take long for the report to reach Galilee. All seemed lost. But then we began to hear rumblings that something miraculous had happened. Jesus was not dead because no tomb could hold the Son of God. Oh, how we rejoiced! In my heart, I know that the empty tomb still speaks to you. It speaks to me, too. Jesus’ victory over death means that death is nothing to be feared. It’s only temporary—for Jesus and for everyone who believes.
So, my sons, do not fear the days ahead. Whatever you do, in word and deed, do it for the glory of God. Continue to spread the good news that new life is possible—for us, for our children, for our children’s children. It is my prayer that this message rains down through the pages of history—never to be silenced—never to be lost! To point the way to Jesus has been your vocation since that beautiful morning by the Sea of Galilee, when Jesus the ultimate fisherman, caught you in his net.[ii] And just as he said he would, he has made you fishers of people. Well done, my beloved sons, well done!
Your devoted father,
[i] Feasting on the Word, Ted A. Smith, 287.
[ii] Ibid. Lee Barrett, 286.
*Cover Art Photo “Sea of Galilee” taken by Rev. Rachel Crumley in 2009 when she, Dr. Glenda Hollingshead, and several other clergy were on a Holy Land Pilgrimage.