Epiphany 3: Answering the call

As [Jesus] walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea — for they were fishermen. And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people." Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. (Matthew 4:18–23)
I recently had the occasion to watch the first few episodes of the sitcom “Modern Family,” which premiered only a year ago. In a scene from the pilot episode, Phil and Claire, parents of three, are running around in flurry of morning chaos, trying to get their children ready for the day and out the door. At the height of the chaos, their son, Luke, shoots one of his sisters with a toy pellet gun. The chaos, for a moment, comes to a grinding halt. Claire and Phil remind Luke that one of the conditions of his receiving the toy gun is that if he shot one of his sisters with it, Phil would get to shoot him with it.

In a comedic jab at middle class suburban life, Phil and Claire rush over to their big family calendar to see if they can find time in their schedule to punish Luke. Looking at the calendar, they see that Luke has a birthday party in the afternoon, but figure that he should be home by 2:00. Phil, a realtor, reminds Claire that he can’t do it at 2 because he’s showing a house, and he asks about 3:00. Claire reminds him that Luke has a soccer game at 3, and then that they all have a dinner thing at 5. The wheels turn in her head for a moment, and then she declares, “4:15. We could shoot him at 4:15.” Claire writes “shoot Luke” on the family calendar, Luke groans, and Phil replies, “Sorry dude. It’s on the calendar.”

Isn’t that how it goes for us so much of the time? We are running in a hundred different directions, and even the smallest details of life need to be coordinated through our ever-tightening schedules and ever-busy lives.

I know as well as you do what it’s like out there. We live in a culture of schedules and security. We live in culture that values adding things to our lives rather than dropping them; a culture of more. More projects, more hobbies, more money, more activities, more work, more classes, more meetings, more stuff, more, more more. We fear that dropping anything from our schedules and ambitions might be interpreted by others as dropping the ball, and as much as we don’t like to admit it, sometimes we are left with so little energy that we pursue our call to “follow Jesus” with about the same gusto as choose to “follow” someone on Twitter or “friend” someone on Facebook.

* * *

Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee. As he was walking, he saw Simon Peter and Andrew, his brother, who were fishermen. They were doing their ordinary thing, casting nets out, catching fish, making a living. Jesus called out to them, “Follow me!” And immediately, they dropped their nets and followed Jesus.

Immediately, they dropped their nets and followed Jesus.

Immediately, they dropped everything and followed Jesus.

Immediately, they quit their jobs, dropped their capital assets, cleared their schedules, and followed Jesus.

Jesus and Peter and Andrew walked on, and a little ways down the shore were James and John, sons of Zebedee, and they too were fishermen. James and John were in the boat with Zebedee, helping their father mend some nets. Again, Jesus called out, saying “Follow me!” And immediately, James and John left their boat, left their father, left their nets, and followed.

Immediately, James and John left their boat, left their father, left their nets, and followed Jesus.

Immediately, James and John left everything behind and followed Jesus.

Immediately, James and John left their home, their family, their jobs, and their security, and followed Jesus.

Jesus and Peter and Andrew and James and John walked on, and went throughout Galilee. Jesus taught in the synagogues and proclaimed the good news of God’s kingdom. And he cured every disease and every ailment and every sickness among the people.

* * *

It was Wednesday and I was running a little late. My calendar and my to-do list for the week were burning a hole in my purse, I was tired because I hadn’t slept well, and I was feeling a little crabby at the world.

And, to be completely honest, in moments like these where I wish my first thought would be, “I should pray,” the truth is that my first thought was instead, “I need coffee.”

Knowing it was cold outside and, admittedly, feeling a little tired and lazy, I headed for the nearest drive-through Starbucks. I dutifully ordered my drink and pulled up to the window to pay, noticing a giant SUV that had pulled up behind me, a mom with her elementary-aged son.

As I sat waiting, my Starbucks gift card in hand, my crabby mood clouding my head, something happened.

My tired eyes suddenly started to focus, and I noticed that it was snowing. Not any ordinary snow, but the biggest, puffiest, most beautiful snowflakes that I’ve seen this whole winter. If you know anything about me, you know that I adore the snow. I love watching snow fall, and I love the way that the world seems quiet and full of grace when there is a blanket of snow on the ground.

So there I was, sitting in my car, waiting for my coffee, watching this perfect snow fall, and in an instant, something in my head and heart said “This is God’s way of reminding you that everything will be all right.” And immediately, I felt the peace and the permission to drop all of my anxiety, to drop my worrying, to drop my crabby mood.

It was about this time that the window opened, a very nice barista handed me a very nice cup of coffee, and I handed him my gift card to pay. My head and heart feeling clearer and lighter, I suddenly thought of the mom and son in the car behind me. A small but strong voice in my head said “You should pay for their order.”

And so I gave my card back to the barista, asked to pay for the car behind me, and with a smile he asked me “What should I tell them if they ask why you did it?” I shrugged and said “because I felt like it,” which in retrospect was a thoroughly underwhelming thing to say, and drove off through the snow, ready to face the rest of my day.

Let me assure you, I tell you this story not to be self-congratulatory. God only knows that I spend more of my life missing God’s signs than noticing them, and I’m not always very good at listening to the little voice in my head that tells me to pay for some stranger’s coffee.

But I tell this story because I myself was overwhelmed with the strength of that sense of call, however ultimately insignificant, to do something nice for someone, on the heels of letting my own cares drop away. I tell this story because I experienced but a tiny flash of what those disciples must have experienced when they dropped everything to follow Jesus. I tell this story because it is my way of admitting that sometimes I need a nudge to help me remember that my faith always comes with a calling.

Your faith, too, always comes with a calling.

Let me be clear here: Jesus doesn’t call you because you have a sparking resume, nor because you have a sparkling wit. Jesus doesn’t call you because you are particularly intelligent, nor because you are particularly athletic. Jesus doesn’t call you because you have the most money, or the most faith. Jesus doesn’t call you because you have the best job or because you are the best parent.

Jesus calls you because, in grace, he has already claimed you and blessed you to be a light to the world. Let me repeat that. Jesus calls you because, in grace, he has already claimed you and blessed you to be a light to the world. Before any of the first disciples had even met him, Jesus had chosen them. The same is true for you and for me.

In the waters of baptism, God claims us as we die to sin and rise with Christ. In God’s word, we hear God’s ongoing story of salvation and find our place among God’s great cloud of witnesses. In the bread and the wine, God nourishes our faith and strengthens us to answer the call to discipleship.

Perhaps there are some of you who will someday be called to do something as drastic as the disciples, dropping literally everything to follow Jesus’ call, like Marion Hungerford in Cameroon or Steve Friberg in Tanzania, or any other missionaries who have uprooted their entire lives in order to share the gospel. But for most of us, we will experience Jesus’ call in a smaller fashion.

A call to strike a few things from our schedules to create more space for faith and family time. A call to spend less time with toxic people who hurt us or hinder our faith. A call to live with less in order to understand gratitude more deeply. A call to drop our grudges and forgive the people in our lives whom we have been slow to reconcile with.

But whatever the scale or scope, we have been called. We each have the glow of Christ’s love burning inside of us. Where is God’s call leading you? What light will you share with the world? Listen carefully. Do you hear that? It’s Jesus, shouting to you from the shore, and his words are simple: “Follow me.” Are you ready to drop your nets?

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