There was a news report this week about an abandoned ship.. It had been owned by a company which had gone bankrupt, and left in a harbor in Newfoundland, Canada. The bank had sold it to a reclamation outfit for scrap. When it was being towed to another port for scrapping, a huge storm forced the towing ship to cut the lines and leave it adrift.
Now, several months later, the abandoned ship was found drifting toward the coast of Great Britain. Now, you would think that recovering this ship would be a fairly straightforward matter of sending out a crew to go aboard and tow up towing lines. But no.
It seems that when it left Canada, there were a number of rats on board. These rats consumed everything left that was edible. They bred. Their numbers increased. Food became scarce. So they turned to cannibalism. So not, this abandoned ship, heading toward the UK, is swarming with cannibal rats. And no one seems to know just what to do about this.
In the Gospel lesson for today, we read about some other abandoned boats. Matthew tells us that when Jesus hears of the death of his cousin John the Forerunner, he sets out on his own mission. He is walking beside the Sea of Galilee, and sees a group of fishermen. Having lived and grown up in the area of Galilee, is would not be unreasonable to assume that Jesus knew these men already, and they probably already knew him.
Jesus calls to them to come and follow. Andrew is the first to follow, and he brings along his brother Peter. They are soon joined by their fishing buddies, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, they are also known as the “Sons of Thunder”. I have to wonder what kind of men they were to earn a name like that. Loud, boisterous, hard-working men. Fishing for a living is hard work, and they had to be pretty fit to be successful at it. I imagine that, if you were to get into a bar brawl, these were the guys you wanted on your side. We usually think of the saints as stained glass window images, and forget that they were real life human beings, just like you and me.
Andrew was the first-called. He responded to Jesus before anyone else had. He plunged right in and responded to Jesus. And the very first thing he did, according to Luke, was to go get his brother Peter. That is why Andrew is seen as the patron of evangelism. He doesn’t preach at him, he doesn’t twist his arm, he simply says, “Come with me.”
And Peter, Andrew’s brother. What can we say about him? You know who Peter reminds me of? My junior high school gym teacher. Not necessarily the sharpest knife in the chandelier, but hard working, loyal, impulsive, practical, and with a big heart. When Andrew invited him to come, he dropped his nets and came. Peter was the one to whom Jesus would say, “You are the rock on which I will build my church.”
I wonder about that name, Peter. When we read about him, we think of him as one who is rock steady. A firm foundation of faith. But, he was a fisherman by trade. It was something he knew and seemed to enjoy doing. On dry land, being compared to a rock is a good thing. Being out on the open sea, not so much. Do you think it possible that Peter couldn’t swim, and they called him “the rock” because he would sink like a stone? Who knows?
To these men, Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” and immediately, they dropped their nets, abandoned their boats, and followed him.
When Jesus calls the fishermen to follow, he is not just calling them to a new way of life. He is also calling them to abandon their boats, to let go of the old, to let go of the old way of living, to let go of the old certainties and grasp hold of a new way, a new life, a new outlook on the world. Jesus calls them to a new way of “fishing”. They had been casting nets for fish, in order to sell on the market. They were a vital part of the provision of food for the people. Fish, then as now, is a staple food for many of the world’s people. Now, Jesus says, they will be feeding, not just people’s bodies, but their souls.
Jesus is calling them to leave behind all that had been their security, their livelihood, and join him in what must have seemed like a wild goose chase. And Jesus calls us to do the same! What is your boat? What are you hanging on to that holds you back? What are you afraid of?
One of the ancient Celtic saints was an Irish monk named Brendan, called the Navigator. He took the opposite route, leaving dry land to set out to sea. He faced the fear of the unknown by sailing with a small crew in a tiny leather boat. Tradition says that he reached Iceland, Greenland and ultimately North America in the early 6th Century, 400 years before the Vikings discovered them. He faced terrific north Atlantic winter storms, encountered dolphins and whales, witnessed volcanic eruptions and powerful whirlpools.
But he put away his fear, and trusted the Holy Spirit, which in the Celtic tradition was symbolized by a wild goose. Like Peter and Andrew and James and John, he followed our Lord on a Wild Goose chase! And today he is remembered as one of the Twelve Apostles to the Irish.
Brendan could have held back. He could have let his fears keep him at home on safe dry land. But he let go, and followed wherever the Lord led him. Being unafraid, Brendan paved the way for future explorers who would change the world.
On March 4, 1933, (anyone here remember that date?) President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave his first inaugural speech. And while what he said was politically significant, it was also some pretty good theology. I bet everyone of you here could quote it with me from memory.
“The only thing we have to fear is… fear itself.. nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror.”
Don’t be afraid. Fear not!
Jesus called the first Twelve to follow him. Jesus called Brendan to follow the Wild Goose. Jesus calls us today to follow and he intends for us to be just as fearless as they. Abandon your boat. Leave behind your fears. Let go of that which holds you back. Follow the Wild Goose which is the Holy Spirit of God.