This Sunday in the lectionary usually brings up all sorts of sermons that deal with fishing, and you’re likely wondering if I’m going to reel you in with a tall tale about the one that got away. But you’ll be disappointed. I’m not going to spend very much time talking about fish or fishing at all. Instead, I’m going to talk about hooks. Not fishing lines, or fishing nets. Not reels and boats, or bait and tackle. I’m going to talk about hooks.

Why hooks?

Because when we look at the Gospel reading today, we see that Jesus comes proclaiming the Good News of God. The Time is Fulfilled! Jesus says. But more than that, Jesus says that The kingdom of God is near! All the hearers needed to do was to repent, and believe in the Good News he was preaching.

If you want to talk about a hook, that’s one that really works. Jesus is saying to his hearers That which you have waited for, that which you have hoped for, it’s here! The kingdom of God is here! This was indeed Good News. For those hoping for an earthly kingdom and release from subjugation to the Romans, it was hope. And this hook brought people in. Then, when Jesus fulfilled God’s plan on the cross, for some people, the hope of God’s Kingdom shifted from earthly power and a temporal kingdom to the Second Coming of Christ, an event that brings with it the Hope of newness of life, the communion of the saints, reconciliation with God, and everlasting life.

We see how well it worked when we read Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. The early Christians believed very much in the hope of the return of Christ in power and glory. They were ready for it. And Paul is telling them to live as though it would be happening so soon that they could even quit thinking about their earthly responsibilities.

Over the centuries, several people have done the exact same thing as what Paul was suggesting, selling their possessions and camping out on a mountain top, waiting for the second coming of Jesus. These people made a decision that was guided by some form of hope, even within a life that is filled with daily responsibilities and duties. Partly because they saw it as a salvation from their present struggles. For them, future hope bested their present reality. And because of that, their hope came with a sense of urgency.

Some of you may have seen the recent uproar over the bubblegum pink and cherry red 40 oz double-walled vacuum-insulated stainless steel tumblers. A collaboration between Starbucks and Stanley, these cups were only sold at Target stores, and caused long lines, with people camping out for hours to try and get their hands on one of these cups. Why? Perhaps for the hope that their coffee would stay warm for up to 11 hours?

Maybe you haven’t heard of this viral sensation, but I’m sure you’ve heard of some of the others over the last several decades: Pokemon, Furby, Tamagotchi, Cabbage Patch Kids, Tickle me Elmo. The list could go on and on.

The one thing these viral trends all had in common was a sense of urgency, because of a false sense of scarcity. A fear that you would be missing out if you were not one of the first ones to get the new and latest craze. The other common factor was a false sense of hope that this product would bring with it happiness, comfort, peace, joy, you name it. If you only had this toy, or this thing, then all your hopes would be fulfilled. 

And then, months later, after each of these crazes had ended, the garbage bins started filling up because the promised hope had all been something based on dreams. Whether a parent thought it would bring a child closer to them, or restore a broken relationship between spouses, or whatever it was, the hope was built on a thing, a product, providing some form of salvation in a broken world.

There’s another bible story that we touch upon here today, though only tangentially. The story of a very big fish, and a very little man named Jonah. He himself did not do any fishing in that story, and the fish didn’t even get away. In fact, we can say that in this whale of a story, the fish was the fisher of men, and Jonah was the one that didn’t get away.

Jonah, a prophet, was called by God to go to the city of Nineveh, a city about which someone might say, “You’ll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” And he didn’t want to go. But when he finally went, he walked about 20 miles into this huge city that was about 60 miles across, and said one simple sentence: “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” That’s it. That’s all he said. One sentence. And yet, the whole city, from the commoner up to the king were all gripped by a sense of urgency, and they all believed God, and repented. Then God spared their lives because God saw that they had turned from their evil ways, and God did not bring upon them the planned calamity.

What are we to take from this story? Is the message that people need to be scared into changing their lives? After all, it seems that the Ninevites only changed their ways because of the threat of danger, the threat of death and destruction. Was that what caused the urgency?

Or … should we take from this story the fact that a prophet of God was called to reconcile gentiles to God? That is, people outside the covenant of God were asked to change their ways so that they might be reconciled to God and live in God’s favor? Was the change in the people of Nineveh because they saw that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had come to them, and desired to show them mercy? Were they motivated not by fear, but by the hope of new life, and reconciliation to a merciful God?

This idea of Nineveh’s change coming from the hope of reconciliation based on a merciful God seems to be supported by the portions of scripture we didn’t read today. The king told everyone to cry, repent and turn from their evil ways, because, he says, “Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish” (Jonah 3:9). And, just a bit later in the next Chapter, we find Jonah complaining that he didn’t want to come to Nineveh, not because the city was so wicked, but, Jonah says, he knew from the beginning that “that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing” (Jonah 4:2). 

Hope. There may have been an element of urgency around the possibility of destruction, but the overriding motivator of the King and his people was the hope of forgiveness, the hope of reconciliation to God, and the hope of salvation.

If we return to the Gospel today, we see that the disciples in the story “immediately” left their nets because they saw a hope in the person of Jesus. True, for them it might have been the hope of salvation from an oppressive colonizing force. But, if we accept the possibility that the Ninevites turned not because of fear, but because of hope, then we can see a connection between the words of Jesus, and the words of Jonah: the Ninevites saw hope in repentance and being reconciled to a merciful God, and the Disciples saw hope, also accompanied by belief and repentance. 

The gospel is about mercy instead of punishment, of the hope of reconciliation with God, and of a true hope of newness of life. It is not about the fear of imminent destruction, but about life in relationship with God, with all those who also believe, and with all the rest of creation.

The disciples may have started out hoping for the salvation of their land from the occupying forces. And by the time of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, that hope may have shifted to the second coming, a more escapist motivation in a broken world. 

But what about now? With us? These motivations, these hopes for a brighter future may have worked almost 2,000 years ago. But, living in a country that is prosperous and free, where we do not face any persecution, or threat of destruction; living in a time where the promised return of Jesus has apparently failed to materialize, what do we say about hope? What is the hook that we share to help people understand the joys of knowing Jesus? 

The answer to that lies in the word, fulfilled

In the Gospel, Jesus comes proclaiming the Good News, saying that the time is fulfilled, and that the Kingdom of God is near. For those of us who have the Gospels to read, we know that at that moment that Jesus had not yet died on the cross or risen from the dead. But the simple fact that Jesus was on the earth, speaking about the plan that God had for humanity meant that all the future purposes that God has in store for all creation were set in motion the moment that the Christ child was born in the barn.

So when Jesus says, the time is fulfilled, he means that All of God’s desires for the world and all creation have already been accomplished. And if they have been accomplished, then that does not mean that we need to wait for the future to experience the promises. Whether Jesus’ return happens in our lifetime or not is inconsequential, because all of God’s plans for humanity are available to us right now. Immediately. In this moment, we have newness of life, we enjoy the communion of the saints, we live in reconciliation with God, and we already know that we will have everlasting life in the presence of God. 

The Kingdom of God truly is near.

When we come to this realization, this understanding that in God’s timing, all has already been accomplished, but that in our sense of time, we still have things to experience; when we internalize this idea of everything has been fulfilled, but has not yet completely happened to us, then we begin to feel an urgency not because we fear destruction, but because we want everyone else to feel that same joy, to experience the same freedom, to live in the present reality of a future already accomplished.

When we realize this we become infectious. We go viral. And people see in us a hope that is not just a speculation, but a hope that is realized in the here and now. And they want what we have. And they want it immediately.

Our lives have, at that moment, become a Tickle me Elmo doll, or a pink 40 oz vacuum insulated stainless steel tumbler. 

We have become the hook!

But our lives do not peddle false hopes like these fleeting fads and viral sensations. Our lives are witness to a true hope, are witness to an ever present joy of living in a world where our future hope is actually our present reality

[This sermon was delivered at The Episcopal Church of St. Matthew in Tucson, AZ on January 21, 2024.]

About Michael

Mike was called to be the Vicar of St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Wickenburg, AZ, and started this call on February 1, 2024. Before taking a call as clergy, Mike worked in IT for almost 25 years, variously working as a back- and front-end web developer, database developer and manager, and as a business analyst. If he's not engaged in the work of the church, you can find him on a motorcycle, enjoying the ride, or training for an upcoming BikeMS ride. Mike holds a Bachelor of Arts in Classical History from Seattle Pacific University, and a Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary. He attended Sewanee School of Theology for a year of Anglican Studies in the Fall of 2022, and graduated in May of 2023. Mike was ordained as a Transitional Deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona on January 20th, 2024, and will be ordained to the priesthood on July 27, 2024.

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