2024 01 21: Life Happens

Posted on 22 Jan 2024

Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Jesus is calling new disciples every day, but life often gets in the way and we are afraid to follow.  An old country preacher had a teenage son who was uncertain of what he wanted to do professionally, and frankly, like many young men at that age, he wasn’t terribly concerned about it. His father, however, was. So one day, while the boy was off to school, his father decided to try an experiment.  He went into the boy’s room and placed three objects on his desk:  a Bible, a silver dollar and a bottle of whiskey.  The old preacher said to himself, “I’ll just hide behind the door and 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 anxiously waited and soon he heard his son’s footsteps as he came into the house whistling and headed up to his room. As a matter of routine, the boy plopped his books down on the bed, and as he turned around, he spied the three objects on his desk. Curiously, he walked over to inspect them.  Quickly, he picked up the Bible and placed it under his arm, then he picked up the silver dollar and dropped it into his pocket. Finally, he uncorked the bottle and took a big swig… “Lord have mercy,” the old preacher 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 and whether they will follow Jesus in their calling. We do it ourselves as we try to make sense of the opportunities, abilities and responsibilities that rise before us.  We may even hear God’s voice calling and inviting us to follow using the gifts he has given, but then life happens.

Regrettably, we all know those painful moments when life seems out of our control. You were going to travel the world and have all sorts of adventures, but you had the mortgage to pay, your parents needed someone to look after them, your spouse lost their job, life happened – and all those grand plans were forgotten.  Many choose to accept the misfortunes and sorrows with the sad resignation that life always happens to them, but my friends, I believe that this morning’s gospel teaches us that with the good news of Jesus Christ, life always happens for you.

For 30 years, Jesus had been prepared and trained to work as a carpenter.  But suddenly when he heard the news that John the Baptist had been handed over and arrested, the world changed. Life happened. John the Baptist had always spoken of the one who was yet to come, and suddenly with his arrest, there was an emptiness on the world’s spiritual horizon.  Jesus’ time had come and immediately, he marched to the Galilee and began proclaiming the good news of God.

I know that feeling personally.  42 years ago, this week when my confirmation pastor in Austin, Minnesota Carl Borgwardt died on the handball court at 54 years of age, there was an emptiness in our church and in the community. We questioned God’s wisdom in taking the life of such a charismatic preacher and leader. Prior to that, I had toyed with entering the Seminary, but like all good liberal arts school graduates, I was keeping all of my option open. His death, however, was the moment that I knew with confidence that the time had come. Within weeks, I found a tutor in Koine Greek in Austin, Minnsota of all places, to help prepare me for Luther Seminary.  That’s when I learned to trust that with Jesus, life happens for you and not simply to you.

No doubt, Simon and Andrew, and James and John 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, as the old joke goes, that as fishermen they couldn’t live on their net income.  Life happened for them, and something deep inside triggered their decision.

The Evangelist 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.  Regardless, something triggered their decision to leave everything else behind and follow Jesus.

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 choose to abandon their nets.  Life happens for them is a word of God’s grace and love and hope. They hear the good news of Jesus that is worthy of their lives.  They know that if things were just fine in their world, perhaps they would stay with their nets. But instead, sensing God’s call through their vocations, they choose to reshape and redirect their lives. They drop everything and go another way.  That is what happened to Jesus when he heard that John the Baptist had been arrested, and it was what happened the fishermen sensed when Jesus called them.

My friends, life happens, the world is always changing, and the opportunities that arise often need new gifts and abilities.  So regardless of how comfortable you may be in your work, and in your lifestyle, God may still be calling you to do something new with the gifts he has entrusted to you.  Faithfulness to God’s calling, you see, is not about making a decision once and then always doing it the same way there after. No, faithfulness is the openness to respond to a changing world, and it all begins, with your perspective on Jesus’ good news. When facing failure, fracture and forfeitures, during times of fear, pain, and loss, remember that with Jesus, life is always happening for you and not to you.  Embrace this hope and your entire world will shift.  Yes, when you look beyond life’s challenges and sorrows with this perspective, you will discover that God’s abundant grace and strength is available to you every single moment, and that you too can dare to follow him. Amen.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.