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“Saint Zebedee, Mender of Nets and Floater of Boats”

Pastor Wilbert Miller’s Sermon
“Saint Zebedee, Mender of Nets and Floater of Boats”
Mark 1: 14-20
Third Sunday after Epiphany (January 21, 2018)
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity
New York City at Central Park

All that we know about Zebedee is that he was the father of James and John and the husband of Salome; oh yes, we also know he was a fisherman, owned a boat, and had a few hired hands. That’s what we know, that’s it.

There certainly must be more. So, I went searching in my “Anchor Bible Dictionary” to see if I was missing something. Here’s what I found: “It is nowhere recorded that Zebedee actively participated in the ministry of Jesus as did his wife and sons.” According to my Bible dictionary, Zebedee is a biblical blip and not viewed in a particularly glowing light as history looks back on him.

Then there are Zebedee’s sons. Whatever it was about Jesus and the few words he spoke at the Sea of Galilee that day (“Follow me and I will make you fish for people”), James and John were so enthralled that they dropped everything and chased after Jesus.

Poor Zebedee. James and John left their father with the leaky boats and stinky nets. Imagine how frantic their mother Salome must have been at their hasty departure. We don’t hear whether James and John even said “goodbye.” What resonates loud and clear is how they left in a mad rush to follow Jesus. We adore their speedy fervor and have named countless churches after them—St. James and St. John.

And yet, I cannot get poor Zebedee out of my mind. While we may indeed have no idea whether Zebedee participated in Jesus’ ministry, one thing is certain: he was bequeathed the boring routines of fishing as his sons helped Jesus drive out demons, feed thousands, and make the crippled walk. Because Zebedee was content with his calling to carry out the mundane responsibilities of life, I advocate we set aside a day in the church year—today!—to commemorate “Saint Zebedee, Mender of Nets and Floater of Boats.”

In every age, someone has to mind the nets and float the boats; someone has to pay the bills and offer the Sunday tithe; someone has to do the laundry and wash the dishes while others head off for greater glory.

There are, of course, those lifted up in lights; that is their calling. 150 years ago, almost to the day (January 27, 1868), twenty-five men (so say our historic records) gathered in the home of Peter Moller to extend a call to Holy Trinity’s first pastor, Dr. Gottlob F. Krotel. All our former pastors’ pictures, by the way, hang right outside the nave here; the names of the cantors who have overseen Bach Vespers for the past 50 years (John Weaver, Frederick Grimes, and Rick Erickson) are appearing in every Bach Vesper’s bulletin this year. But what about the thousands of others who have quietly given offerings, served on committees, and visited the sick? Most of their names—your names actually—are nowhere to be found. Your only glory is to gather here Sunday after Sunday in God’s lap and to receive the Lord’s heavenly meal.

How many of you can identify with Zebedee?

I am wondering: if you had the opportunity to change the name of The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity to St. Zebedee at our upcoming congregational meeting on Sunday, February 25, would you vote affirmatively? Wouldn’t that be a charming way to celebrate our 150th anniversary year? Aren’t most of your callings lived beyond the spotlight’s glare just like Zebedee’s? Your lives are far more mundane and much less divine, far more Zebedeesian than Jamesian or Johnsian, I might say. How many of you, far from feeding 5,000 on a mountaintop, as did James and John, end up scooping one spoonful after another of pureed squash into your ailing mother’s mouth? How many of you long to be on the highlight reels, charismatic and forceful, only to discover your ministry is slogging through another day as you hang onto a tiny sliver of sanity or try your best in a dead-end job? These are your daily tasks for now and, to be honest, Martin Luther would call them your finest ministries. For some reason beyond your understanding, you have been called to mend nets and float boats.

Of course, James and John’s lives were far more glamorous—look at their names in the Bible! Who wouldn’t love to leave the leaky boat behind and scuttle every broken dream for a shiny new one? It seems Jesus calls most of you to less dazzling ministries and yet just as important ones. When God calls, your choice is simply to say “yes” or “no;” rarely are you afforded the luxury of considering the pizazz factor.

For now, you are simply called—some to craft and speak a gracious word to someone whose politics you abhor and some to stand up for justice by doing nothing more than casting a vote or marching on a Saturday morning; some of you are called to hunker down in your autumn years riding out the sometimes heartbreaking storm as faithfully as you are able.

At least for this day, rather than being captivated by the glamor of James and John and all the other faithful ones whose names are in lights, let us give thanks for Zebedee—after all, quite a few of us live mundane lives just like his. Yes, today, let us commemorate Saint Zebedee, Mender of Nets and Floater of Boats.