Reflection: "Who Should we Follow?"
As I’m sure you’re aware, we’ll celebrate Australia Day next Thursday and I’m guessing that it’ll mean different things to different people.
Officially it marks the anniversary of the 1788 arrival of the First Fleet of British ships at Port Jackson, New South Wales, and the raising of the flag of Great Britain at Sydney Cove by Governor Arthur Phillip.
To some, that meaning has gotten a bit lost and to some, it’s just a good excuse for another public holiday.
To our aboriginal brothers and sisters, it has a much darker significance, but we don’t have the time to fully delve into that today, other than to recognise the pain that it causes them.
So, what have we, as a nation, learned in the last 235 years?
Have we learned how to stand on our own feet and not be reliant on the nation that sent those convicts, soldiers and sailors to our shores so many years ago?
We still have a tenuous link to Great Britain and the US is a great ally, but, essentially, we are self-governing and we follow the laws and statutes set down by our own politicians.
So that raises a question for me - who should we follow?
Should we follow everything that Canberra dictates?
Do we follow the state of NSW?
Prior to 1788, the aboriginal people were the only custodians of the land, but since then, Australians have come to this land from a variety of backgrounds, cultures and religions.
Today we are a mixture of all these peoples, ancient and modern and we must all learn to accept each other’s differences and embrace them.
The Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the fledgling church in Corinth, urged the people not to get distracted by following any one particular cult leader, but, instead, to focus on the gospel message - that Christ died for us.
I would hope that, as Christians today, we can see that our primary role is also to follow Christ – and all that he teaches us through the bible.
However, as we find in this week’s readings, it isn’t as straightforward as it seems.
Sometimes people can be distracted by one religious denomination or another, professing that it has the “right” message.
It can even happen within congregation, when one person, or group, seek the be the owners of “the way” to do things.
Often, like in Corinth, these groups are seeking to sway people to their brand of Christianity and are forgetting the main message of the cross – that Jesus Christ is the one we follow – and no-one else.
Reconciliation with God must surely mean reconciliation with others. Paul lived his life from the logic of that gospel.
It left room for disagreement and for diversity, but certainly not for factionalism.
Paul saw no place for loyalty towards himself, or anyone else, because it just got in the road of true faith.
In one sense it was a problem of idolatry.
The Corinthians were putting certain leaders into a place that really belonged only to God.
In that sense they were becoming 'cult figures'.
In today’s gospel reading, we encounter Jesus saying to Andrew, Peter, James and John, by the Sea of Galilea, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”
This simple, yet profound, command began a remarkable transformation in the Western World.
Like cells dividing, Jesus, the one human form of God, became the four fishermen and then the 12 apostles.
The 12 became 500 disciples, the 500 became thousands, and thousands became millions of Christians – all over the world.
Serving as a Jesus-kind of fisherman is called evangelism.
That is, sharing the Good News about Jesus by helping others find and live by the power of God’s love.
It’s helping them learn how to share, with more people, what it is that they’ve found in our joyous and meaningful faith.
But just how DO we fish for people?
Like fish, people exist as many varieties.
To become successful fishers of people, we can do well by copying good fishing techniques.
Firstly, we need to develop a plan that will attract them - because we want to share the same love that we have come to know in the Lord.
We need to recognize, and take into account, individual differences, perspectives and cultures.
We also need to remember that those of varying ages and generations were formed in distinctive historical eras and, consequently, they will often respond differently and have separate characteristic needs. Those we seek must be approached with the kind of respect and care that honours both their dignity and their differences.
We share with others the value of what we have found in following Christ, becoming conscious of where the needs of others lie, using appropriate methods, taking care about proper timing, and seeking repeatedly to learn how other people think and communicate.
Just as a fisherman cannot force a fish to be caught, we must also try to draw others into the Christian circle, not by coercion, but by loving attraction.
We must constantly study, practice and experiment, as we strive to present the gospel in such a way that it becomes clear, understandable and meaningful to them.
We need to find the best method to feed them spiritually, so they can grow within the faith.
Then, in their own ways, they can continue the process that Jesus began with Peter and Andrew and James and John - as the newest in the spiritual chain of cell division, reaching out to others and expanding the great body of Christian disciples.
Maybe for us, the best example of fishing comes from the “catch and release method,” following the principle that a fish is more valuable in the water, than on the angler’s dinner table.
Let’s imagine ourselves as Christians engaging others in the faith, helping them stay alive in the faith, caring for them and teaching them to know the Divine One who loves us all.
Then, imagine yourself respecting them, regardless of how they choose to respond to our help, in bringing them to a deeper knowledge of God, regardless of how they live out the faith we now share.
Does it seem to be what Jesus means for us to do?
Is it what he intended for Peter and Andrew and James and John?
Certainly, he didn’t want his disciples to take advantage of anyone they “caught”, but to embrace and serve them.
The church’s task – as fishers of people – is to find the best ways to invite others to Christ, offering them what we have and letting them prosper if they choose to remain in our environment.
We can follow Jesus’ call by meeting them where they are and fostering ministries and activities that are suitable for their needs. Eventually, we can offer them the opportunity to serve God and others as they deem best.
We do this because we understand that Jesus calls us into the most precious ministry there is: fulfilling the mission of the church, which we say is “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”
As fishermen for Christ, we can gain strength in this task by remembering first the needs of others and praying always the words of this prayer:
“Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Saviour Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation. That we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvellous works. This we pray in the name of the one who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.” Amen.