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Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
An old country preacher had a teenage son, and it was getting time for the boy to choose a profession. Like many young men, the boy didn’t really know what he wanted to do – and he didn’t seem overly concerned about it. One day, while the boy was away at school, his father decided to try an experiment. He went into the boy’s room and placed on his desk these three objects: a Bible, a silver dollar and a bottle of whiskey. “Now then,” the old preacher said to himself, “I’ll just hide behind the door here and when my son comes home from school this afternoon, I’ll see which of these three objects he picks up. If he picks up the Bible, he’s going to be a preacher like me, and what a blessing that would be! If he picks up the dollar, he’s going to be a businessman, and that would be o.k. too. But if he picks up the bottle, he’s going to be a drunkard, and what a shame that would be.”
The old man was anxious as he waited and soon he heard his son’s footsteps as he came in the house whistling and headed back to his room. He deposited his books on the bed, as a matter of routine and as he turned around to leave the room he spotted the objects on the desk. With a curious set in his eye, he walked over to inspect them. What he finally did was, he picked up the Bible and placed it under his arm. He picked up the silver dollar and dropped it into his pocket. He uncorked the bottle and took a big drink… “Lord have mercy,” the old man whispered, “He’s gonna be a politician!”
Of course, it is not just anxious parents who wonder what their sons and daughters will make of their lives. We do it to ourselves as we try to make sense of the opportunities, abilities and responsibilities that rise before us. It was true for Jesus. For 30 years, he had been prepared himself to work as a carpenter. But suddenly when he heard the news that John the Baptist was arrested, the world changed. John always spoke of the one who was yet to come. Now there was an emptiness on the world’s spiritual horizon. Jesus’ time had come. Immediately, Jesus marched to the Galilee and began proclaiming the good news of God. No doubt, Simon and Andrew, and James and John too had prepared themselves as well all their lives to be professional fisherman, but with Jesus’ word, “Follow me,” they immediately abandoned it all to begin again. I can’t imagine that this decision was based on the economic discovery that, as the old joke goes, they couldn’t live on their net income. Something deep inside triggered their decision.
My friends, the world is always changing, and the opportunities that arise often need new gifts and abilities. Regardless of how comfortable you may be in your work, and in your lifestyle, God may be calling you to something new. Faithfulness to God’s calling, you see, is not about making a decision once and for all and doing every the same there after. No, faithfulness is the openness to respond immediately to a changing world. Faithfulness, as modelled by Jesus, is the ability to respond when the John the Baptists of the world have been arrested.
In St. Mark’s gospel, the call of Jesus’ disciples begins with the story of two brothers, Peter and Andrew, casting their nets into the sea. As Jesus walked along the shoreline, he saw them in their boat and he called out, “Follow me and I’ll make you fish for people.” And immediately they got out of their boat and they followed him. And according to the evangelist, no questions were asked. He didn’t write that Jesus said, “I’ll give you a bigger salary or a larger boat.” Nor did he promise them that he would make them famous and successful. He simply said, “Follow me.” Then Jesus walked along the shore of the Sea of Galilee a little further, and he saw two other brothers, James and John. They were in their boat mending their nets, and he said the same thing to them as well, “Follow me.” And again we read, immediately, with no questions asked, they got out of their boat and followed him. So powerful was this call of God in Jesus’ words, and so hungry was their need to be called that they stepped out of the boat, leaving everything behind, and they followed Jesus.
St. Mark doesn’t provide many details. We don’t know if the men didn’t really like fishing and were simply eager for a chance to do something different. Nor do we know whether the four fishermen already knew each other. It might be easy to imagine that when one of them decided to follow Jesus the others were soon to follow. I know that my father spoke about such a call when he went into World War II. Everyone in his high school class in rural southern went to enlist together. Nor do we know what the fishermen’s families thought of their sons’ decision to follow Jesus, and whether they sat them down and asked, “And you think you can make a living from that?” What we do know is that there was something about their world that had changed. Perhaps, it was something about how they saw themselves in the world. Or perhaps, there was somethings so compelling about Jesus and his message that prompted them to follow him. Yes, something triggered their decision to leave everything else behind and follow Jesus.
I imagine if we all looked back at our decision to follow a particular vocational track, there would be someone or something that triggered our actions. At that moment, you just knew that it was right. I wish that it could stay that way. But often there are changes in life that cause us to question that decision and we may be compelled to change vocations, and often it is God calling us to new ventures.
Of course, not everyone abandons their nets when they hear the words, “Follow me.” They are not convinced that a change in their work or lives will make a difference. And yet some people, like the four fishermen, do abandon their nets. They hear good news worthy of their lives. If things were just fine in their world, perhaps they would have stayed with their nets. But sensing God’s kingdom drawing near, they reshape and redirect their lives in response to God’s call. They drop everything and go another way. That is what happened to Jesus when he heard that John the Baptist had been arrested. It was what the fishermen sensed when Jesus called them.
It is a familiar question: So how do you know if you’re being called to something new? Indeed, how do know and recognize that it is God calling you to something new? Sometimes when religious people use the word “call” or “calling” it gets misunderstood. We hear phrases like a higher or lesser calling. Sometimes we think, only preachers and pastors are called, and everybody else just has a job. Well, my friends, that’s not true. All of God’s children have a calling; the question is how we answer when we are triggered to respond.
Perhaps that is what led you here today. You heard God’s voice and you followed. But if you are still wondering what God’s call for you and for your life may be, let me offer you a word or two on how you can listen and hear God calling you right now. For indeed, faithfulness is not about a once in a lifetime decision, it is about responding carefully to the changing needs, opportunities and responsibilities of this world.
When university students come home for Christmas and for summer vacation, they often visit me. Apparently as a pastor, I am not as scary to university students as I was when they were in elementary school. I distinctly remember the fear on a child’s face, when a father said, a little too loudly in church, “If you don’t settle down, Pastor Haug is going to have to start his sermon all over again.” It worked. The boy was instantly quiet. When students and young adults question me what they should do with their lives, I begin by asking them what they are interested in and what they like to do. And then, I often turn to the words of the American writer and Presbyterian pastor Fredrick Buechner who wrote, “The place God calls you is where is where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
Of course, there are times when God’s call does not come so much from a place inside of you, but God’s call comes from a place outside of you. For Jesus, that moment of calling came when John the Baptist was arrested. Sometimes you and I are being called to places we never dreamed we’d go as our world changes. We are being called to do things we never dreamed we’d do. We are being called to say things we never dreamed we’d say. Yes, sometimes, the call that God places before you is a challenge, all because an emptiness has been created on your spiritual horizon. And you accept God’s call willingly-perhaps with doubts and reservations, but you accept the call because you know the one who has called you. You know Jesus. You know Jesus, the source of strength and joy and hope.
The four fishermen couldn’t imagine where Jesus was leading them that day when they left their fishing boats and nets, but they sensed a deep gladness when the y were with Jesus…. and that gladness was enough to encourage and challenge them to follow.
My friends, are you still waiting to be called? What is it that would trigger your commitment to act? Ask yourself again, where do you find deep gladness in your life? Jesus called fishermen that day, and they were good at their work. But they followed their hearts; and they listened to their intuition. They left their nets and went with Jesus. Today, Jesus is calling new disciples to use their gifts and joys and their hard work for work of his kingdom. Today, Jesus may be calling you. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.