Sermon: It’s the Same Boat

January 22, 2023

1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Matthew 4:12-23

by Eric Anderson

One of my favorite moments in the 2016 movie Moana is Maui’s introduction of himself to Moana. “’Maui, shapeshifter, demigod of the wind and sea, hero of men…’ Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry. ‘And women. Men and women.’ Both. All. Not a ‘guy/girl’ thing. You know. Maui is a hero to all.”

Ever since then, I hear Jesus speaking by the lakeshore with Dwayne Johnson’s voice, saying, “I will make you fishers of men. Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry. And women. Men and women. Both. All. You will be fishers of all.”

It doesn’t work, of course, because first century Aramaic didn’t lend itself to that kind of definitional confusion. That’s a problem of English. And besides, if Dwayne Johnson is going to play anybody in the New Testament story, it’s got to be Simon Peter. You know. Peter. The one Jesus nicknamed, “The Rock”?

It’s a little further down the beach, however, that Jesus’ summons, already pretty spare (ten words in English, eight words in the Greek in which Matthew wrote), was left out entirely. Matthew told us what Jesus said to Peter and Andrew. As for James and John, “he called them.”

“Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.”

For nearly two thousand years, we have tried to imagine what Jesus said, and how it became so compelling that these four practical fishermen left their trade and followed him.

But… does that question really matter?

Does it matter what Jesus said to them? Or to the countless other “thems” across the centuries who heard something they understood as the call to follow Jesus and followed it? Does it matter what they heard, what persuaded them, what inspired them?

I don’t think so. I think what matters is that they heard, they were persuaded, they were inspired. They identified a call and they followed it. Matthew’s spare description emphasizes the central act of these four men. They heard and they followed.

They weren’t trained for it. They were educated to fish – something I’ve never learned to do, so I know it takes education – they weren’t educated to interpret Scripture, tell stories, care for the sick and injured, and lead a new religious movement that was dangerously similar to an outlawed political movement. As Eric Barreto writes at Working Preacher, “These fishers are not among the elite of ancient culture.  Though Jesus’ disciples will play a vital function in the earliest days of the church, on this day they are utterly ordinary individuals called to an extraordinary task.”

Yet they heard and they followed.

They didn’t all follow. Whatever Jesus said to James and John, somebody else heard it as well. Zebedee, their father. The one who stayed in the boat and kept mending the nets. I’ve been thinking about Zebedee this week. I’ve always pictured him as angry in his abandonment, bitter about the wandering preacher who stole away his sons. I’ve pictured him as fearful for their safety and welfare, leaving behind a steady trade to take up the uncertainty of a wandering ministry. I’ve pictured him grieving that his dreams of family and grandchildren vanished as their forms dwindled down the lakeshore.

That’s probably… all wrong.

For one thing, James and John kept in touch with their family while they followed Jesus around. Their mother turned up after some time to ask Jesus to make them powerful and important in his reign. You don’t do that if you think your sons are wasting their time. You do that if you think they’re doing something spectacular. In Matthew’s Gospel, she also turned up at the most unexpected time. She was one of the women who watched the crucifixion and saw Jesus’ burial. In Mark’s account, she was one of those who brought spices to the tomb on Easter morning.

I don’t know if Zebedee shared the full enthusiasm of his wife (and I do wish somebody had written down her name) and sons, but I don’t think it likely that he was the only one in the family who rejected Jesus. I think he stayed in the boat because… that was his call.

Melissa Bane Sevier writes at her blog:

“Yet his own call continues. He is mending, fishing, feeding. He goes home this night to his wife and his other children. He stops along the way to share food with the widows.

“Left behind?

“Yes. Of course.

“Sometimes we are left behind. For a purpose.

“To pray, to work, to love, to do.”

Two thousand years later, here we are. It’s the same boat. It’s what we knew. It’s what we know. It’s what we do. Until a moment comes that demands that we learn something new, that we do something else. “Come with me and I will make you fish for people.”

“What does that mean?” said Peter to Andrew.

“I don’t know,” said Andrew to Peter. “I know how to fish for fish.”

“Should we bring nets?” said James to John.

“Looks like we can leave them with Dad,” said John to James.

Jesus kept waving them on. He taught them about what they were now called to do in small bits. They got it. Eventually. After a lot of Jesus face-palms, I’m sure.

I know Jesus has closed his eyes and groaned a lot over me over the years.

The question, you see, is not whether Jesus has called you. The question is what has he called you to – and sometimes, what has he called you from. Four of the fishermen on that beach were called from their boats and their nets, and called to new work and new challenges. One of the fishermen on that beach – perhaps lots of the fishermen on that beach, but let’s focus on Zebedee – was not called from his boat and his nets, but was he, were they, called to something else, something that we don’t hear about as Matthew followed Jesus and his little group of friends? Did Zebedee and those fishermen go home with a better appreciation for their neighbors and their families? Did they save some of their catch to see that nobody in the village went hungry?

We don’t know.

Do we know what we’ve been called from? Do we know what we’ve been called to?

God has called everybody into discipleship, into following the Way of Jesus. The form of our discipleship will not be the same. I’m pretty clear that I was called into discipleship as an ordained minister, a preacher and teacher, and a congregational leader. On a good day I’ll admit that I’m not an outright embarrassment in the role. If I tried to be a fisherman, I don’t think that would go very well, at least not based on my history of feeding fish without catching them. Curiously enough, I discovered a few years ago that I wouldn’t be so bad as a boat-builder…

But enough about me. The question of discipleship is out there, and it’s urgent. That’s one of the things we see in Matthew’s sparse storytelling. “Follow me” – the invitation – “Here I come” – the response. There’s no gap. Jesus wants an answer – let’s be clear, Jesus wants an affirmative answer, a nice clear “Yes” – and Jesus wants it now.

I’m sure I’m not the only one to find ways of delaying that answer. But we’re here. Let’s assume we’ve all said, “Yes, Jesus, I am following you.”

From what? And to what?

It might be in the church. It might be a leadership role or it might be something like mending nets. On each Service Day I really appreciate people’s willingness to pull weeds and wash windows and clean stoves. You might take on a role with our tech crew or join the rolls of our Sunday lay leaders. You might fix louvers or plumbing. You might water plants. You might teach kids. You might consider a call to lead a congregation – my own father did that after a thirty year career in public education.

It might not be in the church. It might be in the business world, or in the public sector. It might be in medicine or social work or food service. It might be simply to work diligently and with integrity, seeing that people pay a fair price for something useful. It might be volunteering: Ku’ikahi Mediation Center needs volunteer mediators – and they’ll train you. There are service clubs and invasive species removal opportunities and Habitat for Humanity builds. There are neighbors who’d like to talk story with a familiar person.

It’s your call. It’s between you and God. I know you can put that off, too, but let me fill you in on something. God is more stubborn than I am. I can just about guarantee you that God is more stubborn than you are.

Like Zebedee and James and John, we’ve got our boat. It’s the same boat. It’s the boat of the life we knew. Our call might be in that same boat, or it might be farther down the beach, even out of sight of where we started. It’s the same boat.

And it’s the same Jesus who calls us: “Follow me.”


Watch the Recorded Sermon

Pastor Eric does tend to improvise some while preaching, so the prepared text and the recording do not match.

The image is Christus und die Apostel am See Genezareth (Christ and Apostles at the Sea of Galilee) (1553) by Pieter Brueghel the Elder – kunst für alle (siehe auch: akg-images und beide aufgerufen am 9. April 2012., Public Domain,

Categories Sermons | Tags: , | Posted on January 22, 2023

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