Texts: Luke 5:1-11; 8:1-3
Speaker: Joel Miller
Luke 5 tells the story of Jesus calling his first disciples.
He’s standing by Lake Gennesaret, a local name for the Sea of Galilee. It’s early in his public ministry, but he’s already well known. A crowd forms around him, “pressing in” as Luke says. Jesus needs some space. His solution is to borrow a nearby boat, climbing in, asking its owners to put out into the lake a bit. From this floating pulpit, Jesus teaches the crowds.
The teaching session ends, and the focus of the story shifts away from the crowds and toward the fishermen who are left in the boat with Jesus. The boat belongs to Simon Peter. Other gospels indicate his brother Andrew was there too. Jesus tells them to push out even further, to deep water, and let down their nets. They’d been working all night with nothing to show for it, but Simon agrees to give it one more go. They let down their nets. This time they catch so many fish they have to call over their business partners to help them pull it in. Another set of brothers, James and John, bring their boat over. The boats are so full with fish they’re barely staying afloat. They’ve reached maximum capacity. While they’re still in disbelief, Jesus turns to them and says, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch people.” They successfully bring their record catch to shore. But rather than cashing it in, a massive boost to their bottom line, in the words of Luke, “they left everything and followed him.”
Following Jesus, at the very least, messes with your plans for the day. Even more, it calls for an entire re-ordering of one’s priorities, values, and resources. First somebody asks to borrow your boat, the next thing you know they want everything you’ve got. And not just everything. Jesus wants them, their person, all of it. The teacher of the crowds casts his net around these pairs of brothers and catches his first recruits. These disciples famously leave everything behind and thus begin their re-education.
Three chapters later Luke tells of another group of followers. Jesus is going through cities and villages, proclaiming his good news – that the kingdom of God belongs to the poor, that the hungry are blessed and will be filled, that for those who have been weeping, it’s time to laugh.
By now there are twelve – the twelve – who are his constant traveling companions. But there are more than twelve, as Luke says.
“The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their own resources.”
This is the first we hear of these followers, but not the last. Mary Magdalene and Joanna – the wife of the steward of Herod’s household – are among the women who go early at dawn on that first day of the week to care for the dead body of Jesus, and discover the empty tomb. In other words, they weren’t just casual observers. They stick around. They don’t get near as much air time, but they were integral to what happened during, and after, Jesus’s time with them.
The way Luke introduces these two sets of followers presents a broad picture of how discipleship and stewardship are related.
The first disciples leave everything, including boats full of fish. You’d think they could have at least sold the big catch to start funding an expense account for the movement. But they don’t. Which makes one wonder how they were getting by.
Well, apparently there were followers with resources, with means, with access to treasure, to use the language of our stewardship series. Mary Magdalene, Susanna, and many others. And this fascinating character of Joanna, whose husband ran the household of Herod Antipas.
What all these people have in common is that following Jesus meant a great re-orientation to their relationship with their treasure. They either gave it up, or they gave up thinking about it as just their own – something to be accumulated and guarded and kept for oneself. When Jesus says “follow me,” he calls for a complete re-ordering of values, including our economic lives.
Philosopher and all around trouble maker Cornell West refers to these as non-market values.
He writes: “In our own time it is becoming extremely difficult for nonmarket values to gain a foothold. Parenting is a nonmarket activity; so much sacrifice and service goes into it without any assurance that the providers will get anything back. Mercy, justice; they are nonmarket. Care, service; nonmarket. Solidarity, fidelity; nonmarket. Sweetness and kindness and gentleness. All nonmarket.”
West has also written that congregations “may be the last places left in our culture that can engage the public conversation with non-market values.”
I don’t know if we’re the last place with non-market values, but it’s interesting to think of this congregation as a body of people held together by non-market values. To misquote Cornell West: Teaching Sunday school, singing hymns; they are nonmarket; Sharing our joys and concerns, potlucks, Cookie Sunday; nonmarket. Working with BREAD, Piecemakers knotting party, taking a meal to a sick congregational member, prayer, Sanctuary, discussing racism, lighting the peace candle, taking Communion. All nonmarket.
Markets are necessary places for exchanging goods and services, but our lives are so dominated by the market that we need spaces and practices that remind us that we are more than mere functions of the almighty market. Our ultimate allegiance is to the God of Love, not the Invisible Hand. Our ultimate value is in being a beloved child of God, not in what we contribute to the national GDP.
And sometimes these nonmarket values show up right in the middle of the market. Here’s an example. It was reported earlier this month in the Wichita Eagle. Having married a Kansan, it feels close to home.
The article starts: “Back in 1879, Henrich Gronemann was a German Lutheran who homesteaded on the far southeast corner of McPherson County, near the borders of Harvey and Marion County. His 320-acres of prairie was filled with creeks and rolling hills that previously had been the hunting grounds of the Kaw, or Kanza, Indians. Now, 140 years and five generations later, his great-great granddaughter has done something unthinkable.”
The unthinkable act was for Florence Schloneger to give $10,000 of her portion of the sale of the family farm to the Kanza Heritage Society which is committed to preserving the heritage of the Kaw Nation.
With the money Schloneger sent a letter which said, “This gift is a small acknowledgment that what our family homesteaded and owned was not unoccupied land – it is acknowledgment that no land can truly be owned and that the pride in our farm passed down through our family came at a great cost to your people…As my eyes have been opened, I have experienced great sorrow. Not only were your hunting grounds appropriated, but your rich culture and language was nearly lost through assimilation. My hope is that this small gift can help build and restore the strength of Kanza traditions for coming generations. Many blessings.”
The article notes the Kaw territory once covered two fifths of what is now Kansas, as well as parts of Nebraska and Missouri. This is the first time in Kansas history that a reparation has been made by a private citizen to the Kaw.
Even if you didn’t marry a Kansan, here’s another reason for this story to feel close to home. Florence is a retired Mennonite pastor. She and her husband Weldon pastored this congregation in Columbus for a few years in the early 80’s.
Florence had this awakening that stewardship of treasure also involves asking the question, “where does this treasure come from?” Who owned it before me? And before that? Whose labor produced it? Treasure already sounds like something a pirate would be into so there’s a good chance there’s been some pirating in our past. Florence acknowledged this, and redirected the treasure away from mere personal gain, toward reparation, toward restoration.
Because we are economic creatures, which is to say we are relational, our personal stewardship is always connected to the wider web of relationships. The path of discipleship is a path of directing our treasure, and our very person, toward relationships that heal rather than harm.
A little deeper look at Luke’s gospel shows us what this might look like when very different kinds of people start doing this. It’s a good fish story.
The whole story of course takes place against the backdrop of Roman occupied Palestine. Herod Antipas controlled the seas, the harbors, all fishing rights, and the tolls for the roads. So these first disciples weren’t just village entrepreneurs out to catch some fish for their families. They were part of cooperatives that would have bid competitively for fishing contracts. That big catch of fish would have entered into the fish economy of further taxation through processing and preserving and selling, with chief tax collectors taking a cut at every turn, funneling the money up to Herod who paid tribute directly to Rome.
But Andrew, Peter, James, and John quit this altogether, leaving their fish to rot on shores of Herod’s lake.
After this Jesus calls Levi, who is sitting at a tax booth. He is perhaps the person these first disciples had to pay for rights just to access the very lake their ancestors had used freely. Levi would have got his portion, and sent the rest up the hierarchy, landing in Herod’s coffers. Levi too quits the system and abandons his post.
A major processing center was the town of Magdala further south on the Sea of Galilee. It’s Greek name was Tarichaeae, which literally means “Processed Fishville.” In this town lived a woman named Mary. Mary from Magdala, Mary Magdalene. Mary Tarichaeae. Mary Processed Fishville. She too becomes a follower of Jesus. And Jesus keeps working his way along the supply chain of the fish economy. Catching people at every stop.
Mary was among the group of women who provided for Jesus out of their own resources. As was Joanna, whose husband was Chuza, steward for Herod Antipas. Joanna’s wealth came from Herod, and Herod’s wealth came from controlling the seas and land and taxing the native population. But Joanna redistributes her wealth to the Jesus movement. Uses her treasure to finance a teacher whose radical ideas had the potential to undermine the very source of her privilege. She too is part of this new community Jesus is calling into being.
A community that relates to one another with nonmarket values. A community of fish catching laborers, fish processors, tax collectors, and tax recipients. A hierarchy that starts to look very different when people are caught in the nets Jesus casts as he fishes for people.
We too are a part of this community. We too have been caught by Jesus. Following Jesus, at the very least, messes with your plans for the day. It also calls for an entire re-ordering of one’s priorities, values, and resources. For the common good. For the thriving of the Kanza Indians. For our own healing. For the kin-dom of God and this way of being human we call discipleship.
Stewardship is a super old fashioned word, one I didn’t hear until I began attending a church in my 20s. Churches tend to speak in metaphors, and euphemisms, and old English. Like “the body of Christ” and “fishers of people”.
Stewardship literally means taking care of something, but in church it means “thank you for giving us money”.
But seriously, this community does need money to be sustainable. If we all donate a portion of our income, we can support amazing initiatives that would be very burdensome or impossible for just one of us alone. All of us together can send people on mission trips, give hundreds of blankets to refugees, feed the homeless people in our community, shelter an immigrant for 500 days and counting.
So around here, stewardship is not a guilt trip. It’s a call to arms – pacifist, metaphorical arms.
But giving money is not easy when you don’t feel like you have enough. Ten years ago, my husband and I were barely keeping our heads above water, and there was no “extra” to save, let alone give away. It felt like we always reached the end of our money before we reached the end of the month. At that time I was 25, we had just bought a house, and a dog, had lots of debt, and no clue how to budget our money or plan for long-term expenses. Luxuries were taken for granted, and shopping was a fun social activity. Needless to say, stewardship was not on our radar.
But then we attended a financial class at a local church. It changed how we handled our money, and it made us intentional about where we were spending. We realized that it was important, it was imperative, to know where our money was going and to plan and tell it where to go. We began writing down a monthly budget. We opened savings accounts and began sweeping money to the savings account FIRST, instead of hoping we had some money leftover to save. And we also began tithing to the church.
A funny thing happened when we began giving money away. My mindset changed from scarcity to one of ENOUGH. Giving away helped to be grateful for the things we had, and no longer took for granted special dinners out or even clothes shopping at the thrift store. I began cultivating a spirit of contentment. I quit being a consumer and began being a citizen of a community. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
This isn’t about giving more than you’re comfortable with in the hopes you’ll be blessed with more. Donating money is a sort of leap of faith. But so is being a member of a church, or believing in God in the first place. It helps you to open your mind, and your fist, and your wallet. Donating money is a vote, a vote for the person you want to be, your best self, and the world you want to live in. And every time we donate, and every time we have enough afterward, it reinforces the beliefs we hold about ourselves and the importance of supporting our community.
Even if you don’t feel generous, or don’t feel like you have enough, if you start acting as if you do, and voting with your dollars, it becomes closer and closer to the truth. At a certain point, a switch will flip, and you’ll realize that it’s all God’s anyway. For the Earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it. And God doesn’t need your tithe. But it will change your heart when you give it.