This gospel reading today is known as the "First preaching in Gallilee" (Gospel Parallels book). It provides a startlingly exact parallel to John's ministry: "repent for the kingdom is near" (John the Baptist in 3.2, Jesus in 4:17). This phrase is something we still see prophesied about today on the street. This passage begins by letting us know that this was just after John was jailed. This passage takes place just after Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness. So you can imagine these prophets, scruffy, wandering in from the desert.
In this passage, Jesus calls two sets of brothers to be Fishers of People - his first disciples. They answer his call bravely and with immediacy, as the scripture lets us know that they leave behind their nets, boats, and father Zebedee. This equipment and family would be their shared livelihood. This was a radical call, to leave what they knew and to follow Jesus' call. There is a lot to dig in to here for a new minister, exploring my own call.
In other places in scripture, there is a reluctance to be called to prophecy or to following God's way. A resistance of call is also familiar to us. This is as true scripturaly as it is in everyday experiences. Prophets resisting calls throughout Bible, for instance, Jonah runs from his call and ends up in the belly of the whale. When I am hard on myself, I could see that every day, I could be seen as failing to live in to Jesus' call. After all, he said that "whatever you have done unto the least of these... you did to me" (Matthew 25:40). We all fail sometimes, because none of us are perfect, and the leap of faith that has been asked of us is huge! Who among us can afford to help every suffering person we pass by? Yet it is this failure to be perfect that is also a saving grace, as Jesus instructed that only those of us "without sin could cast the first stone," thereby saving us all from judgement and presenting God's grace to the marginalized and outcast.
This leads me to question how much Jesus led from a place of fear. With what fear did they follow Jesus, and with what fear do we follow Jesus today? He put forward a big ask, to follow in to unexpected realms beyond familiarity.
The end of this gospel lets us know that Jesus' teachings are within the Jewish teachings, taking place within the synagogue. Jesus' own jumping off point for his ministry was within the context of Jewish tradition, and his teachings followed John's. His teachings also departed from Jewish traditions, and he also asked people to depart from traditional family units.
There is in fact a challenging of family units in both scriptures. In the psalm, we hear "Though my father and mother forsake me." While in the gospel, we hear of Jesus' early disciples leaving their father. Still, they maintain their brotherhood. And furthermore, they are joining a new family: a family of faith (Women's Bible Commentary), with God's son, baptized by choice by John. Jesus is recruiting his first disciples here, creating a chosen family. This idea of chosen family or a family of faith may be familiar to some of us here today.
Our Bible has contradictory messages about family throughout scripture. While our 10 commandments remind us to honour our Father and Mother, Jesus also demanded that we abandon all else in Luke 14:26-27, citing the cost of discipleship: "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple," and calling for a strong foundation to our commitment to our faith.
Holding these contradictions together is the grace of God. Holding on to our faith, and of committing ourselves to a life of following Jesus, of living out love through call, through baptism, and through choice, a family of faith is available.
This psalm we read today demonstrates the temple as "the rock" on which faith is built and safety is found. God is steadfast and keeps one safe. The safety one might typically expect to be found in a family unit is demonstrated to be found within the strength of religious community.
What is interesting within this psalm, as elsewhere in Psalms and more broadly within the Hebrew Scriptures, is that one can be in dialogue with God, despite (or because of?) difficulty. This is where faith enters in. While the temple is represented here as "the rock" where one is safe, a refuge of "higher ground," there is also a vulnerability being asked for here, in which being "head and shoulders above your enemy" was not a safe place to be.
The Hebrew Testament scriptures from the lectionary this week all emphasized remaining faithful. This psalm in particular reminds us to Wait for God, be strong, and take courage;
yes, wait for God! ( Psalm 27). This final contrast left me struggling with my own discernment. How do we know when to stay and remain steadfast, and when to leap? I have found myself at times wading in to my call, as I find that leaping in is overwhelming. As a former competitive swimmer I know I can tread water, but my lifeguard training has made me cautious.
There is tension in everyone, and in each community, between expectations of self, community, family, God. I wonder how we might discern our call(s) together? What leaps of faith might we need to be taking together and individually, in order to not get stuck in guilt or fear, remember that God loves you and everyone. How might we overcome division?
Perhaps there will always be tension between being a prophet and making a profit, of when to follow and when to lead, of who needs to step up and to whom we should be faithful. There is always the tension of provision. Concern about survival is as valid and real as the faith in God, as expressed by the psalmist and by these two sets of brothers setting aside their entire lives and all that they may have known, in order to follow a call sent by God.
Sometimes this call comes to us, illuminated by community, growth, and grace. This week Oak Bay United leaders contacted me to ask if we could offer our space as a place to meet. As we are central to downtown, and they had seen online that a number of us were heading to a rally and march in solidarity with the marginalized people who may not be feeling safe, a rally under the name of "Love Trumps Hate" in the face of the inauguration of the newest President of the United States, they thought we might gather here and head over together. We were joined by members from First Metropolitan, and we enjoyed conversation and getting to know each other before gathering in Centennial Square to hear uplifting songs and speakers, while people filled the square. Similar rallies took place around the globe yesterday, people uniting in the face of fear. Resistance is fertile.
Sometimes this faith is all we have, or all we have to go by. Throughout scripture, the commonality we find that ties all of these tensions together is God's love, is God's grace. May we find provision together, in our faith, in grace, and in God's love. Amen.