A sermon given by Rev. Dr. Peter A. Luckey on Sunday, January 22, 2017
Can you imagine something so compelling that you would drop whatever you are doing and pursue it? If you can imagine that, perhaps you can imagine what stirred in the hearts of Peter and Andrew and James and John on that day when Jesus came along the lakeshore and said, “Come, follow me!”
I like to imagine that day. I like to imagine the sounds of waves slapping and sloshing and slurping up against the wooden hulls of those fishing dinghies. I like to imagine that day and I like to imagine that you can hear the seagulls squawking as they’re circling overhead looking for fish entrails. I like to imagine that day as if you can almost feel the exertion of human effort, hauling and lifting and pulling and tugging nets—almost as if you can imagine the saltiness of the Sea of Galilee commingled with human perspiration. I like to imagine that on that day you can hear the sounds of Zebedee barking commands to his sons, James and John. “John, get that net over there!” And “James, for chrissake, could you get off your ever lovin’ tush!” Probably it was more colorful than anything I can share with you this morning.
I like to imagine that day and imagine that sense of energy, that relentless energy of the day. The waves and the water and the sunlight and the heat of the day. Human beings going about their work. Imagine the connection of family and sons and father and that ever present struggle to survive just another day. So I like to imagine that day. And it is into that day that Jesus walks. And, we know whenever Jesus shows up, stuff happens. The lame start to walk and the blind receive their sight and those who are deaf begin to speak. Whenever Jesus shows up, stuff begins to happen. You can find that story of the calling of the disciples in all four of the Gospels in different versions. What makes Matthew’s version unique is that there is so little buildup. If you are the reader, reading along, it just kind of comes as a shock. In the Gospel of Mark there is the story of the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law prior to the calling of the disciples, so you are kind of prepared that there is something special about Jesus that you might want to follow him. But it is not so in Matthew. He just comes and says, “Repent, the kingdom of God is near!” And perhaps that is enough for James and John to drop their nets and follow him. And perhaps, even at times, it is enough for us if we catch a glimpse of the reign of God, of a world with kindness and justice for everybody. For love reigns. Perhaps we, too, might drop our nets, whatever our nets are, and might just follow. But needless to say, that is all we have. That’s all the buildup there is. He says, “The kingdom of God is near. Repent.” And then Jesus comes by the shore of Galilee and he says to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” That is verse 19 and then verse 20 is, “Immediately they drop their nets and follow him.”
Really? Seriously? Could it be that compelling that James and John would drop their nets and leave their father Zebedee on the boat and follow Jesus? Doesn’t seem likely. It is not as if they don’t have a job to do and mouths that need to be fed. It is not as if they don’t have families and relationships they need to attend to. We find ourselves wanting to embellish verses 19 and 20 and put something in there, some dialogue. Anybody that has been to a church meeting where somebody proposes a new idea—well, you know how it is—people just don’t say, “Yes, we will follow you.” They say, “Well, wait a minute, what will it cost?” “What’s it going to mean?” “Where is it all going to lead us?” And you can imagine that the disciples would be peppering Jesus with these kinds of questions that we are often are peppered with at church meetings “So where are you going?” and “How are we going to pull this off?” and “What’s it really going to cost us in the end?” “And, by the way, why should I believe you?” We’ve heard leaders tell us, “Trust me, I’m making the world great again.” So, we are free to make up the dialogue we imagine might have been there between verse 19 and verse 20, but it is not there. In the text Jesus said, “Come, follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And in the very next verse it says, “Immediately they dropped their nets and they followed him.” That is just all that is there. Jesus calls and then the disciples respond which reminds us what this idea of “call” is—this radical idea that there is God in a human form of a person who summons us and calls us and lays a claim upon us, recognizing that God is active still in our lives and still speaking to us, that life is more than the sum of choices that we make or don’t make, good decisions and bad decisions, and figuring out what is coming next and weighing the pluses and weighing the minuses. It is really, not in the end, all about us. In fact, there is another power, a presence and a force, active in the universe and in our own hearts, if we are open to it and can receive it and allow it into the mix of our lives, that calls us not in just one direction or another.
I submit to you, friends, that we are all called by our baptism as people of faith, not just ministers—if we pay attention, we recognize that at the end of the day it is not all about us. It is about God and what God wants us to do with our lives—to create a world and participate with God in creating a world that is the new realm of God coming into the world, that is a realm based upon justice with love, a new realm with human dignity for every person. There is a call about that and we can feel it and experience it in our lives.
So, I return to the question that I asked at the beginning of the sermon which is, “Could there be something so compelling in your life that it would claim you so powerfully that you would be willing to drop whatever it is that you are doing that you would follow it?” Perhaps that something was in one way or another a glimpse of something you received in this new world built on love for everyone, of human dignity, of justice and kindness and compassion and maybe, once you caught a glimpse of that new reality, it just kind of got under your skin and you just couldn’t shake it, couldn’t blow it off any longer. And the call would not stop. I know a woman who had a six-figure income, worked in the corporate world and then chucked all of that and took a greatly reduced salary because she wanted to make a difference in the world that wanted to help house people experiencing homelessness. I know people in this world who have seen a glimpse of the reign of God in their own families and have given up lucrative career paths and lavish lifestyles to attend to a family member in critical need.
Call comes in as many different ways and forms as there are different people in the world. It doesn’t come in the same way to all of us. It comes in different ways according to who you are and what your gifts are and where you are planted in this world and where God has placed you in that soil. I would say this to you—even if different as one call is to another, at the bottom line there is something reckless about it. There is something about a call that doesn’t add up to pluses and minuses and careful planning month’s in advance. There is something that feels urgent about it that just keeps insisting. Maybe it is realizing that we have only so many days left on this planet. We don’t have all the time in the world and, yet, it keeps calling. Have you ever, in your own way, dropped your net and followed that summons of God in your life? And, even though it has not been easy, it has not been comfortable, yet, it is the best thing you ever did because you feel like that is where you found true meaning in your life.
Friends, no doubt you saw the front page of Friday’s Lawrence Journal World or maybe you saw it on Facebook, 56 people, many members of our church and others, gathered here Thursday night and boarded a bus for a 22 hour bus trip to Washington, D.C. to participate in the Women’s March which took place yesterday. I know for many of those people there were jobs that needed to be rearranged, there was childcare that needed to be attended to, there were things that had to be done because they were interrupting their lives to get on a bus and go to Washington, D.C. You have to know that it wasn’t all that comfortable riding on the bus for 22 hours where you can’t lie down. To make it even more uncomfortable, they were outside of D.C. at a rest stop in Maryland and the bus broke down, after being on the bus all of that time! It, however, is an incredible story about how God works through us and his spirit in the life of the United Church of Christ. Because it was the people of the United Church of Christ in Alexandria, Virginia, who got in their cars and drove an hour or so to the rest stop on Interstate 70 to pick up some strangers from the UCC Church in Lawrence, Kansas and take them home. Talk about extravagant hospitality! No, it wasn’t easy, and it is never easy just to drop whatever you are doing in your life and rearrange childcare and substitutes at work and get on a bus, but it is the way that the holy spirit works. It is what these people have responded to and wanted to testify and witness to that is really the work of the spirit that is inviting us to share the spirit and proclaiming God’s reign that is near, in the words of Jesus. God’s reign that is near, God’s reign at last so people will be free from injustice. God’s reign that there will be kindness and love. Once people hear that, they cannot ignore it any longer. Which is to suggest that the calling of the disciples long ago on the shores of Galilee with the hawks and the gulls circling overhead, that the call that happened so long ago, where from verse 19-20 Jesus says, “Come, follow me!” and they dropped their nets and they follow him. The call still happens in our lives today. Sometimes, sometimes, we need to be a little more wild, a little more reckless to be open to hear the Spirit and its nudge and call in our lives. Amen.