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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.
As a pastor I know that fishing stories are supposed to be flattering to the fishermen in the congregation. I once tried to impress the fishermen in my former parish in Marine on St. Croix by buying a new fishing pole. The Men’s Group was going to spend an evening together on pontoon boats drifting along the narrow shallows of the St. Croix River, and I need to be outfitted for the night. The fishing pole I bought was just right- for deep sea fishing in the Caribbean. The men all sniggered wondering whether I would catch a blue marlin or a killer barracuda.
Of course, it’s not simply the fishermen in the congregation who are intrigued by this story. The longer I have served in the church, the more I have grown to recognize that one of the deepest human hungers is that of being called… whatever that call may be. It is our search for meaning. As Christians, we know that there is someone out there calling us… and we trust that we are being called for a task. We also know that God does not watch us unmoved, indifferent or undisturbed by our doubts and questions, but we often wonder what the nature of God’s call is for us. Most of us actually fulfill multiple calls in our life- and many at the same time. The vocational call is only one form of God’s calling. We learn to serve faithfully in the call as mothers and fathers to our children, and then later in life as faithful children to our failing parents. We serve dutifully in our calling as caring neighbors and as stewards of creation. One of our greatest challenges is to keep these various callings in balance with our vocational call. Perhaps that is why the story of Jesus’ calling of the first disciples has such an important place in the life of the people of faith. It echoes our own human experience.
In St. Mark’s gospel, the two brothers, Peter and Andrew first appeared on the Sea of Galilee. They were fishermen, and one day as they were casting their nets into the sea, Jesus walked along on the shoreline. He saw them out there 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 in their lives was this need to be called that they stepped out of the boat, leaving everything behind, and they followed Jesus.
The evangelist doesn’t provide many details. We don’t know if they didn’t really like fishing and were eager for a chance to do something different. Nor do we know whether Simon and Andrew, James and John already knew each other. It might be easier 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 went together. We don’t know that their families thought of their decisions 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 compelling enough about Jesus and his message that prompted these four — and later many others — to follow him.
Of course, it’s easy to think about your good pastor doing such a thing- leaving everything behind. But what about you? What would be compelling enough to draw you away from all you know? What would call you to begin a new life?
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. As baptized Christians, we believe that God calls everyone. Maybe you have experienced that call – perhaps that is what led to your career, or perhaps it is what led you here today. You heard the call and you followed. But if you are still wondering about God’s call for you and your life, let me offer you a word or two on how you can listen and hear God calling you right now.
It is a familiar question: How do you know if you’re being called? Indeed, how do know and recognize that it is God calling you? Well, sometimes the call touches you down deep inside, in those secret places in your life that give you the most joy. Maybe it’s that you like music or you like to sing or you like to play an instrument. Maybe you like to talk with other people. Maybe you like to work with children. Maybe you like to teach. Maybe you like to work hard with your hands, with your mind, with numbers, or maybe you like to fish. Sometimes the call of God works as the spirit stirs up your joy and passion in that secret place in your life.
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, one of my favorite theologians, who wrote, “The place God calls you is where is where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
In one of her books, Episcopal priest Barbara Brown Taylor describes a time in her life when she was struggling with her sense of call. She simply could not figure out what it was that God wanted her to do and to be. Did God want her to be a writer, a priest, a social worker, or a teacher? She simply didn’t know. And in her frustration, one midnight, she wrote, she fell down on her knees in prayer and said: “Okay, God. You need to level with me. What do you want me to be? What do you want me to do? What are you calling me to do?” She wrote she felt a very powerful response. God saying, “Do what pleases you. Belong to me, but do what pleases you.” She wrote that it amazed her in a strange way that God’s call could actually invite her to do the things that pleased her most and touched her place of deepest gladness.
Martin Luther, who is often viewed as dark and severe, explored in work in his Treatise on Christian Vocation. He did not make distinctions between higher and lesser callings. Indeed, he compared the faithfulness of the cleaning woman to actually being superior to the work of a parish priest because she did it out of joy. Luther concluded his treatise by inviting his readers to consider their own deep gladness. In whimsical language he wrote, “You are meant to do that which tickles you on the inside. Find that tickle and dedicate yourself to it; that is what you were meant to do.”
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. Sometimes you and I are being called to places we never dreamed we’d go. 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. And you accept the 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.
Simon and Andrew, James and John couldn’t imagine where Jesus was leading them that day on the Sea of Galilee when they left their fishing boats and nets to accept the curious invitation to “Follow me and I will make you fishers of people.” But they sensed a deep gladness when they were with him…. and that gladness was enough to encourage and challenge them to follow. The fishermen’s hunger to be called was met in Jesus’ simple joy filled invitation. “Follow me.” And with Jesus as their daily companion they would learn to meet the world’s deep hunger with their deep gladness.
My friends, are you still waiting to be called? Ask yourself again, where do you find deep gladness in your life? Where is that tickle of joy deep within you? 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, he is calling you. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.