Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Reflections from The Hill – Fishing or What?

You’ve probably seen it yourself: a 4WD spare wheel cover with the slogan: “Old fishermen never die, they just smell that way.” It’s a version of bumper-sticker humour that should be funny but isn’t.

While the vocation might be of interest to Jesus, I don’t think he would have been switched on by the sentiment. There’s something crass about it.

Mind you, those little metallic lapel badges shaped liked a fish hook, or the ubiquitous tee-shirts with “Gone fishin’” on them are in the same stomach-emptying category.

If I wasn’t already on the Jesus Team, I’m not sure I’d respond that well to someone wanting to ‘catch me for Jesus’. It’s hardly a way to tell of God’s grace, whatever way you look at it.

“Oo”, they say “there’s a new one. What kind of bait are we going to use with him?” Talk about being de-humanised.

Frankly, the fishing metaphor puts me off. I don’t enjoy fishing much anyway, but, even if I did, as the main metaphor for evangelism, it’s questionable at best.

There are no quibbles about the purpose of the metaphor: having people become followers of Jesus is The Main Game, no sweat. It’s the invitation(s) that could do with some editing.

I mean, what if Simon and Andrew were carpenters or financiers or apothecaries or camel traders? My guess is that, for them, fishing – if they were interested at all – would have been a pastime, not their core business, as they say.

Maybe one of the reasons why our efforts in evangelism are so innocuous is because we’re trying to fit two things together that don’t go, hoping to turn a pastime into a vocation.

Jesus called these two to be fishers of people because that’s what they were – fishermen. His invitation fitted who they were. Their vocation fitted their identity.

Whether we are a solicitor or a stay-at-home parent, a nurse or a nanny, a ditch digger or a detective, Jesus calls us to use the talents and strengths and knowledge and passions we have to make a unique contribution to the Kingdom of God.

We don’t have to be something we aren’t to be a follower of Jesus. Each of us knows that already. It’s nothing new. What is new is that we don’t have to like fishing to be an evangelist.

More than that, in shaking our definition of evangelism by suggesting that Jesus is more interested in who we are than in what we do, we are set free from being someone we aren’t.

When He calls, as today’s Gospel clearly indicates that He does, it means that we should quit focussing on who we aren’t and start leaning a bit more on who we are; that we should stop using our vocation as an excuse for not engaging in evangelism.

The down-side, as Max Lucado says, is that when we don’t start from who we are, we end up fighting with one other. We start looking for warts on everyone else’s face and it’s a slippery slope from there.

When energy intended to be focussed outside is used inside, the result is explosive. Instead of casting nets, we cast stones. Instead of being fishers of the lost, we become critics of the saved; instead of helping the hurting, we hurt the helpers.

“Be who you are. See what you have. Do what matters” is a slogan I read recently. It sums up what this week’s Reflection is about.

Imagine if everyone in our Church lived with that as their slogan. Imagine everyone hearing Jesus’ invitation to follow him as being about who they were and not what they do. Imagine what impact that would have on our community.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Reflections from The Hill – Making Disciples or Feeding Vampires?

We’re in survival-mode here in Oz. Leaving aside the mega-churches, of which there are mere handfuls, congregations across the country average out somewhere between 60 and 70 souls (NCLS 2001).

Mercifully, there are a few, so-called extra-ordinary, parishes that are bucking enough of that trend to give some hope to what is an otherwise starved church landscape.

Among those 60 or so, there is usually enough coin collected each week to pay the rates, phone and electricity bills, but not much more. So the Priest leaves, the Rectory gets leased out and the rent money keeps everyone happy.

People like us then turn up at the Service on Sunday to watch the visiting (or non-stipendiary) clergyperson strut his/her stuff; we put our few bucks in the plate, have communion, go home rejoicing and somehow think that’s OK.

From one perspective, this looks awfully like survival; what’s important in St Agnathena’s Parish (put your Parish name here) is getting from one month to the next with money in the bank. Nothing much else counts so long as the bills are paid.

Any new-comer who strays into one of these Sunday services straightaway becomes a target for vampires. (I pause to add that, at this time of the year, there’ll always be a few hardy souls who’ve just been transferred into town or have made a New Year’s resolution and will try anything to make a few friends, even if it means coming to church.)

Sitting in our pew, we size them up, recognise the possibility that, at last, help is at hand for our weary bones, sidle over to them at coffee with fangs at the ready and ask, “Would you like to be on the roster?”

The friendly vampire has struck again. When churches don’t know how to connect with the world around them, they become vampires. It’s an elemental survival mechanism.

Discipleship, however, isn’t about being on rosters or any other activity believed to get people in. Discipleship is about hanging out with Jesus.

Nathaniel wasn’t so sure about that. He could see that a few of his mates (Philip, Andrew and Peter) had hooked up with Jesus and he was being chary about Philip’s invitation to join them.

If Nate was a flatterer, there may well have been a different outcome to this encounter, but he wasn’t. He was honest – Honest Nate, what you see is what you get, the bloke with no bull in him.

With his customary insightfulness, a quality oft-time seen in clergy spouses on their way home from Church, Honest Nate questions Philip’s statement: “Nazareth? Can anything good come out of that joint?”

Philip asked him to check it out, to come and see for himself. It’s a significant moment because Jesus didn’t have a multi-million dollar ad campaign focused on the generational traits of the under 40s to work with.

What Jesus had was something greater than that. He had a sense that Nate was looking for something important and, in the light of the rest of the Gospel Reading for today, that something included connectivity with life itself.

Like Phil and Honest Nate, each of us could do well to belong to a mutual admiration society with Jesus, where we recognise something of worth in each other; a bond of trust, perhaps, that enables both of us to grow.

Of course, the two parties would be unequal but Jesus won’t swamp us. The recognition of someone else’s power doesn’t decrease our own, ever.

The shame would be if we continued being a vampire. Certainly the kingdom of God would be diminished and we would never get close enough to see those “greater things”.