Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
It is said, there are three ways to get something done. 1) Do it yourself, 2) Hire someone else to do it, or 3) Forbid your kids to do it. Several years ago, a telemarketer phoned and said, “I’d like to talk to the person who makes the final purchasing decisions for your family.” The woman replied, “I’m sorry. That person is still at kindergarten and won’t be home for another hour.” Yes, our children have a peculiar way of controlling our lives, as well as their own, until they leave home. Leaving home is a dramatic event for the parent and the child. It is at that moment, that the child goes forth to become the man or the woman God intended them to be.
This morning’s gospel lesson reminds us that Christ himself left home to become the man God had called him to be. In turn he invited others to leave home and to become his disciples. The lesson also reminds us that life’s new beginnings often begin with goods endings. My friends, that is what I would like to explore with you today. No matter your age, our Lord is inviting you to a new beginning.
The gospel reading opens with a sweeping announcement. “Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea.” For Jesus, it was a pivotal, defining moment. Disaster had finally come upon John the Baptist. He was arrested and imprisoned by Herod the king. As for his crime? John had publicly denounced Herod for seducing his brother’s wife. At that moment, Jesus knew that his hour had come.
According to tradition, Jesus was thirty years old when he left his carpenter’s tools, his friends and family to begin anew. He left behind the elders in the Synagogue and the neighbors who knew him as a child in Nazareth and took up residence in the town of Capernaum. There was a symbolic ending in this leaving home. It was as if Jesus had to shut the door behind him, before he could open the door that was placed before him. Often in life, new beginnings, begin with good endings.
These pivotal, defining moments occur in all our lives. For some young people that moment occurs at graduation- the high school or college graduate closes the door on the past and moves into the future. It’s no surprise there is tension when the graduate moves home again. The doors and expectations are reopened which were presumed shut. Somehow we forget the old adage, that, “The smartest advice of raising children is to enjoy them while they’re still on your side.” Instead we try raising them up all over again.
For some people that pivotal moment occurs when they are united in marriage. It is in that new relationship, that you begin to offer your present and future to someone else. Of course, there are those who jest that, “Marriage is nature’s way of keeping people from fighting with total strangers.” As humorist W.E. Thorn writes, “Man is not complete until he’s married; then he’s finished.” The same is true of women. There was a frustrated young man who was desperately pursuing the woman of his dreams. The woman, however, knew better. One day the young man pleaded with her to marry him, but he had no success. Finally, he asked, “Why won’t you marry me? Is there somebody else?” She promptly replied, “There’s got to be.” Yes, many people expect marriage to be a pivotal moment of leaving home. While for others, that pivotal moment occurs when a child is born. In that miracle of birth, they glimpse a new wonder, a new joy, and a new responsibility.
The tragedies that occur in life can also be defining moments. A woman sits beside a bed, stroking the hair of her dying mother who has fallen into a deep coma. She wishes her mother could hear her words, “I love you.” A man buries his wife. As the casket is lowered into the grave he remembers the plan they had to work hard through the middle years and then enjoy life in the later years. But she died right after retirement. In the midst of sorrows, they experience a finality that can only lead to a new beginning.
It was such a tragedy that hastened my own decision to become a pastor. When I was in my early 20’s, I was working two jobs. I was both the choir director in the public schools of Austin, and serving as a youth director in a church. I was at a crossroads. The school wanted me to stay on as teacher, and yet, I had already applied to the seminary. Poignantly, it was the death of my confirmation pastor at 54 years of age that was the defining moment. Yes, in such a pivotal moment, a decision was made. I left home and began again in another place.
Now you may be wondering, but why is a good ending so important for a new beginning? Simply said, if you are always clinging to the past and the possibilities of what might have been, you can’t experience the fullness of the new beginning. It’s true of faith as well. Most Christians I know want to experience God’s will. They want to do what God desires of them. No doubt, you too want to live a rich, fulfilled and satisfying life. In your last days, you want friends and family to say you that you lived a good life. Yes, you want it to be said, he fought the good fight, she ran the good race; they completed the tasks God had given them. The difficulty is that we don’t always know what those tasks and challenges are. Even those who are well advanced in their careers and seem confident of God’s purpose, wonder whether they are doing what God intended them to do. I often hear the question, “Pastor, what does God want me to be doing now?”
My friends, do not be dismayed at such thoughts. Throughout life, as time and commitments change, God is renewing his invitation to you to follow. God’s call is far more colorful and complicated than a simple blueprint. And don’t assume that all the details of life have been planned out from the beginning and if you simply find that initial direction your life will unfold before in wonderful order. We often hover over our youth with the sound advice, “Be careful of your choices.” As faithful men and women, we fear that we may make the wrong choice. But let me assure you, making mistakes about God’s purpose for your life is never condemned in scripture. What is condemned is never leaving home, never taking a risk, and ultimately, never letting go.
The first step often involves taking a chance. Many today, however, never glimpse nor strive for those wonderful possibilities. It’s not that they’re afraid of God’s call. It’s not that they’re afraid of new beginnings. No, rather, it’s because they are afraid to let go of everything they call their own. They simply don’t know how to manage a good ending..
Often we cling to too many things. Mother Theresa once said, “If it takes you more than fifteen minutes to pack, you have too much stuff.” To most of us this sounds like an exaggeration, but it is a sobering reminder that we are guilty of accumulating more than we really need. As the disciples stood casting their nets into the sea, they too pondered what was truly necessary. They knew that they could simply end one chapter of life, by leaving home, and letting go of their nets. Several years ago, in the excavation of Pompeii, a worker happened upon a corpse. The evidence surrounding this woman’s demise was interesting. Apparently, she had been fleeing from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. Overtaken by the molten lava, she died in the hot ashes. The corpse revealed hands that were clutched around jewels. The jewels had survived, but the woman had not. She simply could let go of her things.
Or perhaps it’s not the things that bind us, instead we cling to patterns determined by others. Wayne Oates, a long –time professor at Southern Seminary, introduced the world to the title “workaholic.” He coined the word in a 1968 article for Pastoral Psychology. Of course, we may joke about the workaholic. I am reminded of the cartoon of the workaholic standing at a busy intersection with a placard that read, “Will work for the fun of it.” But in most cases, it is a pattern with a dark side. There is the Perfectionist who spends long hours to make every task flawless. There is the Escapist who works to provide an escape from painful relationships or other problems. There is the Approval Seeker who piles up work in fear that saying “no’ will mean disapproval. We may not like these patterns, but we do not know how to leave home, and to let go of them.
Or perhaps we cling to bitter sorrows and regrets. In the movie, Moscow on the Hudson, actor Robin Williams plays a recent Russian immigrant who is asked by his new American friends why he keeps clinging passionately to the petty, bitter memories of his past. His answer is simple, “Because they’re mine.” Perhaps that’s your excuse as well. It’s why you refuse to let go of your nets, and close the chapter on the past. Perhaps, that’s why you refuse to let go of your anger and be healed. Perhaps, that’s why you refuse to let God’s word of forgiveness into your life. Perhaps, that’s why you cling to a lie that will not let you go. And so you refuse to let go of the past and let the new chapter be filled with the hope of a new beginning.
My friends, God is inviting you to take a chance, to leave your home and nets and to let go – and then he is inviting you to follow. If you are seeking an adventurous faith, let this gospel of Jesus Christ empower you to follow him and may his good news set your course. And what will you encounter along the way? On this journey, you will come to know the one who brings good news of comfort and strength- Jesus. He is the one who comforts you as a Father in all your sorrows, and consoles you in his loving arms when you weep. And he is the one who longs to make you into something new. This Jesus has a mission for you, if you will simply let go, leave home and nets, and follow him. So what is it that is holding you back? A new chapter is waiting to be written. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep yours hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.