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Sunday 26 January 2020

Come as you are

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


By Brett Ward

Parish Priest of Holy Trinity, Eltham in the Anglican Diocese of Southwark

Context: Parish Mass in a diverse and thoughtful suburban congregation

Aim: to reflect on how the disciples’ experience of being called might resonate with our own

They were sat on the beach. Occasionally one of them would skim pebbles over the still waters of the lake. Together they watched the sunset and reminisced.

James put another bit of driftwood on the fire. John rubbed his hands as the evening chill gently began. Andrew had a swig from their skin of wine. And Simon Peter finished cleaning the fish they were about to barbecue.

It was just a few years after the events which had turned around their lives. Memories were still very fresh, the newness of everything still felt strange, and the threats to their lives – and the lives of their growing community – were powerful.

As they watched the fish cooking on their fire they talked about that moment when it had all begun, not far from where they were sat now. There’d been something about the way Jesus had called them which had felt both urgent and compelling. It wasn’t completely unexpected; at least, they’d already heard and met him, so it wasn’t as if a complete stranger was suddenly demanding they drop everything on a whim. But it was Jesus’ language that still remained strong in their shared memory.

Follow me, and I will make you fish for people

After all they’d been through, all they’d experienced, all they’d hoped and regretted and suffered, – and all they still dreamed – those words had only grown in significance.

What they’d very slowly come to realise was that Jesus’ unexpected metaphor had been right on so many levels. They were engaged in catching people for God’s kingdom. And as they talked about it, it struck them all that when they’d begun to follow Jesus, it wasn’t just a matter of dropping an old life and taking on a new.

They’d brought their old life with them. It was part of who they are. Their skills as fishermen, their confidence on the lake, their knowledge of the weather, their ability to whip up a fish supper the envy of every chef in Capernaum: all those things were still there. All those things had helped them as they’d given themselves to this new kind of fishing business: fishing that had taken over their lives, their enthusiasms and their faith itself.


Nothing that had gone before was wasted, they realized now. All those years of experience had given them a foundation which was quite different from anything the other disciples had. Yet each of them, too, had brought their own history and each of those histories had made their corporate effort richer, fuller, more effective.

They only saw that now as they looked back, but as they reflected together, they realized it was a common experience for each of them, one each of them had come to value in ways as unique as they were themselves.

Even in a thoroughly imagined reflection on a fictitious scene, the thrust of the disciples’ conversation isn’t fictitious in terms of many of our experiences. Each of us has a history. We don’t leave it at the door when we come into church, nor should we. Our working lives, our studies, our practical skills and training, our family experiences, our social life: all those things shape us into the people we are. And the people we are now are the people God has called to be here.

Our past is part of who we are. That’s true for our times of failure and our times of triumph. Our past is part of our present. Regrets and joys shape and influence us, past learning influences present learning, and it would be a mistake – perhaps even an injustice – to forget or ignore those things.

God calls and receives us as we are, just as our Lord called four fishermen, and with them a tax collector, tradesmen, a religious zealot, and on it goes. Our past is part of what makes us the people we are today. Offered to God, our past can be a gift. It isn’t something that needs to dominate our lives, but it can be something which is a creative influence on all we bring to the present.

Few of us have a past which is completely empty of what we might call shadows. But the shadows can also be a gift. Being conscious of our ‘less reputable’ moments might encourage us to less willing to judge others, less ready to condemn. Our moral belly-flops might inspire us to be more compassionate of others’ failure, more generous of heart when we fall victim to someone else’s weaknesses.

The four fishermen discovered that they had what nowadays is called ‘transferable skills,’ as they made the transition from catching tilapia and sardines to fishing for people. Our individual histories are also full of transferable skills, stories, experiences and abilities that God calls us to use to catch others for his kingdom.

The Gospel of love has an astonishing variety of expressions. And those expressions are enriched because our response to Jesus’ call brings our astonishing variety of histories with us.

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