2017-08-06 – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato – First Baptist Church Edmonton
“Jesus Fishy Business”
Jesus is a story-teller!
He’s a bit unusual thought…He speaks in these strange, mysterious parables, but he keeps on telling his hearers that they won’t get it!
He quotes the prophet Isaiah and says:
“You will indeed listen but never understand…
For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing,
And they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes,
And listen with their ears,
And understand with their heart and TURN –
And I would heal them….
(And God help us to be the people who are included after the BUT!)
Blessed are your eyes, for they see and your ears, for they hear.
Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it…
HEAR THEN…the parable of the Kingdom…
**The crowd is so big, three thousand strong, that Jesus has to push off in a fishing boat alongside the shore of the sea of galilee…and the crowd fills the natural formation ½ bowl amphitheatre that is encircled by the rolling hills…
It’s early afternoon…hot and hazy…
>>>The kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet cast into the lake which gathered all kinds;
when the net was filled and dragged up on the beach, they sat down and sorted out the good into vessels, but the worthless they threw away.
That is how it will be at the end of the world: the angels will come and separate the evil from the midst of the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire;
out there, people will wail and gnash their teeth.
–So that’s how it will end, then? Someone shouts out from the crowd.
–Jesus answers the question with a question: “Have you understood all this?”
–“Yes!” they reply.
And Jesus concludes: “Therefore every scribe who has been discipled for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
As the crowd disperses, there is both amazement and wonder.
Murmuring questions like:
“Where does this man get this wisdom?”
“Is he not just a carpenter’s son?”
“Are not his ordinary brothers and sisters with us, even today?”
I don’t suspect that many of you came to church today wondering about the end of the world but…
Let me remind us that we don’t just pick scriptures out of a hat each week here at FBC. We often follow the RCL…which lays out readings for us week to week…
And in this season of the RCL, we are in Romans…plus we are in the gospel of Matthew & John. (Now there will be some topical sermons this summer too).
But what has emerged over the past weeks in our preaching of Romans is an invitation and an exhortation to renew ourselves with this life in Christ that is also known as “Life in the Spirit” and to be encouraged that nothing, nothing, stands in the way of the children of God experiencing Christ’s presence, protection, “protaganistic-force” in our life stories…
But then we bump into these crazy stories of Jesus! Chronologically, they happened before the writings of Paul but were probably recorded after…for example, Matthew’s gospel is often dated in the early 70’s CE (vs Romans, 56-58).
And when Jesus talks of the end of the world, how do we hold this in tension with Romans 8?
Well, the RCL has done a job for us…either of helping us be critical thinking Christians…or making us crazy with the differences…
The Question for me this week was: “If the angels in Matthew 13 are going to come out and separate evil from righteous and then hurl the unrighteous into the furnace where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, then how do I hold that in relationship to Paul who promised that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor powers…will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
So what gives Jesus? What gives Paul? Are you on the same team or what?
Now remember…Parables are Jesus-stories that Jesus “lays alongside” the lives of his hearers. They are not Aesop’s fables with cute little life morals to live by (ie. why does the sower even waste seed? Isn’t the mustard tree kind of like a weed? How many of us let the weeds grow and grow and grow?)
So we can’t always logically figure these out…we need to allow ourselves time and space, and also be willing to be surprised and how the Spirit pounces on us with the truth of the parables. One preacher talks of these stories as being sneaky intrusions in our lives, catching us off guard and pushing us into places of understanding and obedience when we least expect it.
But sometimes…we still need a little “community of faith” teaching on these stories…for there have been historical “mis –uses” of the parables…and in today’s especially, it’s easy to turn it into a simple story of good fish VS bad fish…good fish get the royal bucket treatment and are carted off into a lavish kingdom kitchen (where they get cooked anyway?) and the bad fish get thrown into some unbearably hot furnace where they weep (do fish cry?) and then grind their teeth into a gristly mulch.
So…perhaps a time of clarification and extra insights…and then we’ll let this parable work it’s sneaky way into the fabric of our lives…
The dragnet. Imagine a 6’ x 100’ net dragged between 2 twenty-five foot long boats. There’s 8-10 people per boat and as they drag this net through the sea and they actually come up with all kinds of stuff…in the greek, there is no word “fish” in v. 47.
“the dragnet…gathered all kinds.”
“When it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad.”
So imagine…a 100 foot (30 M) long net. Filled with fish…but also filled with mud, sea weed, rocks, old sandals, clay jars, perhaps even few pieces of jewellery…
And “they” are sorting…and could it be possible that there isn’t a strict guideline to what gets saved and what gets tossed? Sure there’s probably some emerging patterns…but just because it isn’t a good, healthy fish, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be saved right? What if there was an alabaster jar, in virtually mint condition…would “they” toss it just because it’s not a fish? Hmmm.
[it made me think of the old tin cans I have in my garage…I keep them because they have a special place in my family memory…sometimes, beauty and favour is truly in the eye of the beholder, right?]
Then, Jesus links this sorting ritual to the end of the world!
“At the end of the age, the angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
This “fish & sort” story suddenly has big stakes.
Now it’s more than getting tossed in the refuse bucket…or hurled back into the sea.
It’s way hotter. And way gnashier.
Do you get it? Followers of my way and my stories?
Then be like the good scribes…like a wise master, bring out the treasures of good news from the teachings that are both new & old.
So…what is going on here?
Because I think I can really learn to like ACT 1…because it’s really inclusive, and a lot of people get swept up in the net…and in the end, it’s not easy to figure out who’s in and who’s out because beauty and love and affection and the longing to keep the unkeepable is in the eye of the beholder.
And I believe that the “they” of this story is the “they” of God…community of God…Gracious Father, ever-loving Son and comforting Spirit.
I believe that a whole lot of people are going to get in on the party & feast of the lamb in the great and glorious day when Jesus will truly make all things new.
BUT…what do we do with ACT 2?
If God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son…and God gave his son for the whole world…then in the end, doesn’t God get what God wants? And like I said last week, doesn’t God want the whole world?
And if God through Jesus tells us to love our enemies, won’t God take his own advice and exhortation and love his enemies until the end?
And if nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate us from the love of God…then who is the “them” that get thrown into the furnace?
Well…different churches will have different answers for you.
But I will give you the answer that I think most represents many in this church…
Perhaps you have come to this conclusion because of your “Holy Ghost inspired intuition” but today, I’d like to share some reflections from the theologian Robert Capon.
“If, at the last day, the whole world, the ALL that Jesus has drawn to himself, is accepted in the Beloved…then…
…who are the damned? It’s the eternal party-poopers!
CS Lewis talks of them as the people who are in the crevaces of heaven. They can come out whenever they want, but they can’t bear the thought of receiving God’s grace in God’s way.
Capon talks of them as being in the scar hole of Jesus’ hands as he lifts up his hands with the bread of life at the feast of the lamb.
Another way to image them is to think of them as the arm-crossed old brother in the prodigal son story…forever standing outside the doors of the party, totally welcome to come in, but eternally holding a grudge against the Father for being so darn gracious.
So how shall we live?
I hope this way of reading this parable helps you start from a place of goodness and freedom. An open place instead of a place of trepidation where you are set up to be judgy vs gracious.
I hope this way…makes you a joyful proclaimer of the good news of the kingdom. Lots of us are going to be a wedding feast of the lamb…but there is a way of life NOW that is available for us that fills us with the power and the presence of Christ so that we might yoke ourselves with the one who says: “Come to me…take my yoke…companion with me…for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls.”
And don’t forget the beatitudes! When Matthew’s gospel gets intense and overwhelming…know that the Jesus “big story trajectory” is the way way of humility and mercy…
Blessed are those who are poor, who mourn, who are meek…for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Again, hear Jesus saying:
“Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear…
Understand with your heart…and I will heal you.”