January 22, 2017 – Jesus calling

Epiphany 3   Psalm 27, Isaiah 9:1-4, 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, Matthew 4:12-23  Jesus Calling

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Every year Bishop Devadhar asks all of us pastors, as part of our annual review, if we have shared our call stories with our congregations. Our bishop believes doing this will encourage others to better hear their own calls. I’ve been sharing bits and pieces of my call story every year – but, as I’ve told our bishop – to tell it all could take weeks…

I remember talking with a pastor friend about our calls – telling him I was a very unlikely person to ever become a pastor… Anyone who remembered me from high school would laugh out loud if someone said I’d turn out to be a pastor. My pastor friend said, “I was an iron worker when I heard my call. I told a friend on the job I was thinking of becoming a pastor. He started laughing so hard he almost went over the edge of the beam were on, ten stories up off the ground.”

My story is maybe not that funny… But I’m going to have do a summary.

I was single at the time, living in Vermont, working as director of a farmer’s advocacy group. Rather suddenly, our board decided they wanted me to resign. I was surprised. Though in retrospect, I had been losing passion for the work. They could tell. I’d been at the job six years. The farm crisis was still smoldering, but we were running low on inspiration, and there was no longer much consensus about our group’s direction. And an inner voice seemed to be guiding me to be quiet and listen for the Spirit, as I heard the board co-chairs tell me this news…

I put out a press release a few days later on a Friday afternoon, announcing I was leaving the group. I was about to head home, when a reporter called, asking about the press release. After awhile she asked “So what are you going to do next?” I said, “I’m going to be listening to hear what God suggests.” That quote made it into her article the next day. After church the day after that, three women from our congregation came over and said, “We saw the article. We think you should be a pastor.” I protested… That was not something I’d been thinking much about. I said I said I’d pray about it… Which I did.

Awhile later I had a dream in which I was fishing in a very small stream, from a small wooden bridge. I had a nice trout on the line, several pounds, pulling hard. Then a gigantic fish came up out of nowhere – swallowing whole the fish on my line – a fish that had looked big just a moment ago – but now looked very small in comparison… (Did I mention – I was a practicing fish-aholic at the time, with a thirty-something-hours-a-week fishing habit?)

I’m not sure if my tug back on the line was about me trying to catch that enormous fish – or pull the smaller fish out of its mouth.  Either way, the smaller fish came out of the enormous fish… and I woke up…

I shared that dream with friends, one of whom told me “you better be asking Jesus about that dream…” Which I did. And Jesus seemed to be strongly suggesting I pray and imagine letting that big fish complete the swallowing–of not just the little fish, but all of me, too…So I prayed… started to imagine… and

It was strange – and awesome – as – now the once-pretty-big-but-now-looking-small-fish was my old life – and the very big fish was Jesus himself… And being inside of him… felt powerfully good…

I started telling friends about the dream and the conversation with Jesus… (I don’t remember if any of them said I should see a shrink…) Some of them suggested seminary… I prayed about that… A few months later I was enrolled in Boston University School of Theology. (I did say this is a summary, and the long version really would take weeks….)

Mostly because I am very convinced now that Jesus has been calling me – and each of you – ever since before any of us were even born…

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Happy Call of the Fishermen Sunday. Every year in the church calendar on the third Sunday after the Epiphany, we hear the call of the fishermen narrated from either Matthew, Mark or Luke’s gospel. And as a fisherman, it’s wonderful to see Jesus calling fishermen as his first-second-third-and-fourth-round-draft-choices. Quite an honor to be a fisherman on a day like this.

On the other hand, it’s a bit sobering to consider – these guys leaving their boats, their nets, their fishing tackle… all behind. Not exactly a fisherman’s dream future. Especially considering all this giving up of the fishing we know and love – is all for the purpose of re-training us to be fishing for people – a species notoriously difficult to catch – and sometimes rather troublesome when caught…  (Present company, of course, excepted…)

I hasten to say I can’t speak for all fishermen… Or for all who have been called by Jesus… I’m an amateur once-a-week-fisherman (and that really only about eight months of the year). Most of the time I’m a catch-and-release-fly-fisherman. Part of a small minority subculture within the much larger family of fisher-folk.. Likewise, within the church universal, I’m one small guy in one small parish, two small but beautiful churches. Just saying – my take on the call of the fishermen is heavily colored by my own particular experiences and angle of vision…

And from where I’m watching, as Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James and John, this call story is really not even about fishermen, nearly as much as about Jesus calling us to be his junior partners in calling others to become disciples. Coaching us in doing and teaching repentance – meaning turning – turning to Jesus and to God’s kingdom – the kingdom which is now close at hand.

On the other hand, the call of the fishermen is about fishermen… As we see Jesus by-passing a lot of more likely suspects – seminary-trained pastors, evangelists, theologians; starting quarterbacks, movie stars, business leaders – all the people usually considered better suited to be leaders…

These fishermen were not the most obvious choices for anyone but Jesus. Though they obviously had to have plenty of street smarts. (Actually that would be lake smarts.) They made their living from the lake. They were small business operators who could make a good living, or barely get by, depending on how the fishing was, any given day or season… Being out on a big lake in all kinds of weather, these guys need to be skilled in avoiding unnecessary risks. And taking on only the risks that make sense. So how is it they just leave all behind, as Jesus calls?

Well, as fishermen often say – you should have been here the other day… Last week we were in John’s gospel, where we saw John the Baptist pointing to Jesus, and two of John’s followers heading off to follow Jesus. One of them was Andrew, who called his brother Simon to come, meet Jesus. They knew Jesus, already, before today…  And James and John, sons of Zebedee, the other brothers Jesus calls today, are named as partners of Peter in Luke’s gospel. Today is not the first time these guys are meeting Jesus. Probably they know him well enough by now to be expecting his call any minute.  Yet –even if we’re willing to take risks for what we believe in – leaving all to follow Jesus is still no small challenge.

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Fortunately, blessedly – Jesus calls each of us in whatever ways we can best hear. Jesus speaks to us as we are, with all our needs and abilities…

I had been trying to get to know Jesus better for several years… But I was not in a hurry to be changing my routines… What I heard from Jesus was mostly now a series of invitations… A little like what Andrew and the other disciple with him heard last week in John’s gospel – as Jesus invited them to “come and see.”

As I kept talking with Jesus, he kept inviting me to trust him more. Slowly, our prayer conversations shifted around to where I was asking Jesus not just to fix my problems but I also started asking him to tell me what to do. (Maybe something like this happened with Andrew, Peter, James and John… We really don’t know…) What we do know is —

All the specifics of all our calls from Jesus are different. Not every one is called to leave house and home, jobs and friends. Though there are some universal features that seem to come along with a call from Jesus…

Sooner or later we are all invited to let the equivalent of that humongous Jesus-fish that appeared in my dream, swallow up our lives… Trusting in Jesus that our life comes back to us in greater abundance – richer, more beautiful by far – when we give our lives to Jesus…

We may or may not get back our day jobs, houses, and hobbies… The job I was now being called out of – I had been called into, years earlier. We don’t have time to revisit that story today, but– a job I had once been called into by God, I was now saying good bye to because of Jesus. Several years later, the house, went also. It had been a good home place. But now it was time to go…

Amazingly enough, so far, more than twenty years into this calling, I still get to keep fishing – fishing time pruned back, yet more enjoyable than ever.

And – it was only as I said good byes to my former workplace, living space, and routines that I finally got to what was next. And seminary was great. Meeting Reah soon after was even better. And my life has been richer and more blessed by far… (And….)

With practice, I’ve learned to enjoy fishing for people. I’ve learned it’s not about my skill in casting the line or jiggling the fly. It’s about learning to let God direct my heart and mind, about becoming a better listener to God and to people… (I still have a lot to learn, but…)

Now I keep noticing all the more, how God still calls every day people to do most of the work of the kingdom of God… Making the love of God in Jesus Christ known by word and deed… (By any means God permits…)

And the longer I serve as a pastor, the more I know… Pastoral ministry is only one of the many, many kinds of callings Jesus calls us into. As our reading from First Corinthians tells us, all Christians are called to be saints – small s saints, meaning active-duty Christians. All of us are called to be active participants in the life of Christ’s church.

Within this universal call, some are called to serve as church workers… (pastors, teachers, worship music leaders, evangelists, healers, etc…) Other are called to serve God in ways just as important, in jobs and volunteer work that serves God by serving God’s people…There’s no end to the ways in which God can call us – or the varieties of service into which Jesus calls us…

But be very sure –

Jesus is calling each of us… To listen – hear his voice –

And let his love be known… in all we do.

May this by our prayer forever.

Thanks be to God. Amen.