Sermons

Sun, Jan 21, 2018

Fishing for what?

Series:Sermons

Ardent atheists--

especially people such as Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens--

consider religion to be a toxin... 

one that has promulgated violence and oppression throughout history...

and they demonise it as the root cause of many of the world's worst evils.

Underpinning their argument is the belief that religion is a relic of an earlier stage of human development;

a vestige of superstition... 

which is bound to diminish and dissipate as knowledge continues to increase.

According to these ardent atheists...

"the advance of science will drive religion to the margins of human life".

Dawkins, in particular, argues that the persistence of religion is-- 

fundamentally-- 

a problem of education.

He claims that religious people are, in effect, deluded and need to be enlightened. 

Once they let go of their fallacious projections and ideologies...

give up their irrational, superstitious beliefs...

and accept the world as it really is...

then... 

he asserts...

religion will die a natural death and the world will be transformed...

into an enlightened, peaceful, democratic, social utopia.

 

Now, many atheists have--

quite rightly--

raged at the excesses and evils of much dogmatic...

myopic...

unenlightened...

and fundamentalist forms of religion.

But, so too have many educated and enlightened people of faith.

And, sadly, many of the ardent atheists' criticisms rely on crass caricatures...

and naïve un-nuanced understandings of religious beliefs.

Also, interestingly, a recent study conducted by psychologists at a Belgian university found that...

while atheists think of themselves as less dogmatic and more open-minded...

"when it came to subtly measured inclination[s] to integrate views that were diverging and contrary to one's own perspective"...

atheists were less open and tolerant than were people of faith.

Sadly, many of the most ardent and vocal atheists have fallen into their own form of dogmatism...

preaching a message of paternalistic intolerance--

preaching yet another form of ideology.

Their assertion that "the advance of science will drive religion to the margins of human life"...

is nothing more than an opinion, unsupported by evidence--

although it has become, for them, almost an 'article of faith'.

And they hold this article of faith as fervently as any religious fundamentalist.

Like any other religious fundamentalist--

certainly of the Western Christian persuasion--

this conviction gives rise to a zealously evangelistic enterprise: 

which is...

in effect...

grounded in an "I'm right--you're wrong--so I need to convert you to my way of thinking" mindset.

 

If we're honest...

hasn't that same mindset been at the heart of so much of our religious tradition down the centuries?

Christians have sent out missionaries to the four corners of the globe...

in an effort to 'enlighten' the irrational, superstitious, deluded natives--

to 'civilise' and educate them.

Christians have preached on street-corner soapboxes...

and undertaken 'beach missions' to holidaying young people.

Christians have produced pamphlets, tracts, and TV commercials...

all in an effort to convince people that what they believe...

and how they live their lives...

is deluded and detrimental.

But, unlike the evangelical atheists, the church has so often gone even further--

we have condemned people to eternal damnation for not believing in our God-construct;

for not accepting our religious stories and beliefs;

for not living out our definition of a holy life.

And we have claimed a divine mandate for so believing and acting.

 

All of which brings us to this morning's reading from Mark's Gospel:

"As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew...And Jesus said to them, 'Follow me and I will make you fish for people'."

This story--

and the particular saying of Jesus that it encapsulates-

has been, historically, one of the primary justifications for Christian missionary endeavour.

Here, clearly, Jesus was inviting his would-be followers to become evangelists--

to go out...

to proclaim the Gospel...

to save the souls of the lost and the damned.

That is our great calling--

a calling that demands our all, our every allegiance.

At least, that's how it appears on the surface;

that's how it's been interpreted in the Western, protestant tradition;

that's how so many of us have been taught to understand it.

But, maybe, that's not what is going on here at all.

Maybe, that's a complete misunderstanding--

an imposition upon the text...

driven by this whole Western, evangelistic tradition.

After all, as the biblical scholar, Ched Myers, points out...

within the broader Biblical tradition, the metaphor of "fishing for people"...

does not refer to missionary endeavours or "the saving of souls".

Rather, it's a metaphor that we find not infrequently in the Old Testament--

especially in the prophets--

specifically related to the prophetic task.

And what is that task?

Jeremiah uses the metaphor of fishing for pronouncing God's judgment upon Israel for its faithlessness.

Amos uses the metaphor to pronounce God's judgment upon the rich...

for their treatment of the poor.

Ezekiel uses the metaphor to pronounce God's judgment upon the powerful...

for their oppression and tyranny.

Far from an invitation to preach a message of spiritual repentance--

of hellfire and brimstone...

with the reward of some sort of 'pie-in-the-sky-when-you die'--

Jesus' call to the would-be disciples appears to be an invitation to a prophetic vocation.

Here, in his first act of ministry in Mark's Gospel--

in his first action on behalf of "the Kingdom"--

Jesus invites a bunch of smelly, dirty, frowned-upon, working-folk...

to envision and to work for a very different world.

Jesus invites some uncommon, common folk to join with him in a socially subversive struggle...

seeking to "overturn the existing order of power and privilege".

In joining him, these humble fishermen leave everything behind--

within a traditional, collectivist society such as theirs...

leaving their jobs meant leaving their families...

potentially imperilling their family's survival...

and surrendering their only form of social security.

In effect, the story of Jesus' call and the first disciples' response...

is an enacted parable--

a symbol-- 

of the sort of reordering of the structures and relationships of society that the prophets envisioned.

Far from the call of Jesus to the disciples to follow him...

being a call to engage in some mission of individualistic conversion--

or the 'saving of souls'--

it's a call to a life of subversive protest and advocacy.

 

Today...

in a world where deregulation and corporate greed gave rise to a Global Financial Crisis;

in a world where multi-national corporations and wealthy industries--

like the Mining Industry and the Gambling Industry-- 

can fundamentally influence or even determine national policy...

to the detriment of the vulnerable and the powerless;

in a world where the gap between the über-rich and the rest grows daily...

we need to hear that call of Jesus anew.

We need to hear that call in its starkest reality. 

We need to hear that call in all of its radical subversiveness.

We are not called to convince people that they're destined for hell...

unless they accept our construction of reality.

We are not called to convert people to our way of thinking...

or to 'save souls'.

Our calling is prophetic.

It is to question our structures...

our society...

and even our religious tradition--

whenever they engage in victimisation...

marginalisation...

domination...

and oppression.

Our calling is to follow Jesus in transforming the structures of our world.

That is our fishing expedition!

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