Text: Matthew 4: 12- 23 Audio Of Gospel Reading see above.
What is this experience of call? For some of us, that’s a live question.
What is it that God is calling me to be, to be about? Am I doing what I’m called to do? How would I know? Is it really true that God calls? Would God call me?
These are, all of them, beautiful questions … for some of us they’re haunting questions that literally keep us awake at night. Whether or not any one of them has been on your mind before you walked in here this morning, this passage from Matthew’s Gospel has a way of surfacing these wonderings.
If you’ve been around here for a while, you’ll have likely noticed I frequently draw on Steve Garnaas Holmes for the quotation on the front cover of the bulletin. His website, unfolding light, is a treasure trove … the way he makes way for the Spirit to speak through scripture and life … his own life and the life of the world around him.
This morning I’ve brought for our reflection 4 or 5 of the pieces he’s written in response to this story we have of Jesus calling the first disciples. Each piece opens up the theme of call in a different way. I realized as I read them one by one, I couldn’t possibly say it better myself! So I thought I would offer these to us this morning, one at a time, allowing a space between each, so that there’s room for us to connect with what is there for us.
So let’s begin with this one …
Something happened to me last week.
In the course of a poetry and prayer weekend, as I led people in practices of deep listening, and preached about Jesus calling the disciples, I myself heard a call. It wasn't as bold as Jesus' invitation to the disciples to leave their nets; it wasn't as clear as guidance into a new career. But it was a call, a call to follow, a call that echoes and haunts me as I listen to what it means. It was a voice saying, “I am here. Come be with me.”
I could easily conclude it's a call to move, though I won't, or merely a call to lead more workshops, though I will, or even to quit the ministry and do poetry full time (now there's a way to make more money). The call is more inward.
Jesus' call isn't usually a career path. But it is a vocation, a vocalization, a spoken invitation, a voice asking you to come closer. You don't have to go off to Africa and become a missionary, though you might. It's seldom a call to leave the place you are. No, it's a call to go deeper. Christ calls you deeper into what you are here to do. Deeper into the present moment, deeper into relationships, deeper into the life you are already living. Deeper into the truth that is already before you. Deeper into the Presence that is already within you. It is most often not a call to go elsewhere but a call to be otherwise, to become new, to allow yourself to be transformed. …
Listen for that call. It's quiet. But it will not leave you or forsake you. It comes over and over. The Beloved wants you near, while traveling that road deep into your own life; and you must follow.
so many voices call to me.
I turn so many ways.
They are not you.
Help me hear your true voice,
the clear, calm voice
at the center of every cry,
the quiet, steady voice
that knows my name,
the mystery that speaks
in ways only my deepest heart hears.
Help me hear the silence
within the noise
and turn to listen.
Speak, Holy One,
for I am listening.
When evil steps up to the podium
you may hear the voice of Satan,
or at least the oil slick of his press secretary,
but listen beneath.
The bubble is burst.
You can't sit this out.
Justice won't come about without you.
You are needed.
The world needs people of peace,
needs people of gentle courage
and quiet, immovable wisdom.
Sometimes the clang of the hammer of oppression,
the grinding of a machine that eats people,
terrible as it is, however dreadful the mood,
daunting the prospects,
is your awakening. Give thanks.
It is the voice of Christ saying,
I need you.”
Sometimes the call comes straight from the Master.
You hear his voice over the shorebirds' cries,
the shuffling of the water.
And sometimes it comes from elsewhere.
Something makes you wonder.
Or a beauty lifts you, just a bit, out of yourself.
Or something awakens your courage,
or trust that has slept like a seed.
Or you hear a cry of need and you're moved,
and you find yourself offering
what you didn't know you had.
Don't even try to explain the coincidence.
If you listen with the ears of heaven
there is nothing that is not the Beloved calling to you,
Forty-one years ago I was graduating from seminary in California. I hadn't really thought about my future. I assumed I'd go back to Montana and be a pastor. My best friend, preparing for an internship, said, “Steve, I'm going to Minnesota. I can go with you or without you.” I moved to Minnesota. She didn't need to say the words, but her love said, “Follow me.” This June we'll celebrate our 40th Anniversary.
Forty years ago, as an intern chaplain at a State Hospital I was to visit someone in intensive care. It was an old building, often remodeled, with hallways jutting off each other at disorienting angles. The patient's room was at the far end of a warren of hallways, rooms, adjacent rooms and what seemed like booby-trapped secret passageways. I was at a loss how to get there. And being young and green I wasn't sure of my authority to go traipsing through such forbidding neighborhoods. But a nurse said, “Follow me,” and she started off. Staying right behind her, I made it.
When Jesus says ”Follow me” it isn't a command. It's an offer. It's an accompaniment. It's a rescue.
Forty years ago I began in parish ministry, but not on my own: Jesus went ahead of me. One by one I've gone into five churches (some of them co-pastoring with Beth) and a college campus, and every time, there was Jesus walking just ahead of me, saying, “Follow me.”
For forty years I've walked into worship services and family meetings, emergency rooms, nursing homes and jail cells, new places and threatening places, and whether or not I knew it, or listened, there was Jesus walking just ahead of me saying, “Follow me.”
And now after 40 years, Jesus once again says, “Follow me”... and walks off... into my retirement. I'm not quitting. I'm not giving up. I'm following my Guide into the next unknown adventure. I'm letting go of “being a pastor,” and moving into something else. (Don't worry—I'll keep writing. Now I'll have more time to write.) I'm doing what I need to do to stay close to my Beloved.
Whatever you are doing, wherever you are going, whatever you are facing, the Divine Presence is just ahead of you, leading, guiding, empowering. Stay close.
My retirement will come at the end of June. We'll be moving to Maine, to a new neighborhood, a new life. And every step, Jesus will be right there just ahead of us...
“Follow Me”, Jan 23, 2020
And finally, to conclude for now, this piece from Mary Luti where she references the Gospel of John with Jesus saying, "I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete."
So it was all about joy.
It was for joy he was born, for joy he befriended and healed, for joy he offended the powers, for joy he said love one another and love the world even though you don't belong to it and it's never going to love you back.
It was for joy he endured the terrible shame, for joy he was raised, for joy he said peace be with you and pardoned us everything, for joy he went to sit at God's right hand, for joy upon joy he will return, the first mercy and the last. It was so that his joy would be in us, and our joy would be complete.
And all this time you thought it was about duty, so you've been doing it. You thought it was about making an effort, so you've been making one. You thought it was about becoming a better person and making the world a better place, so you've slogged away. You thought it was about you, about what God wants you to do, about the difference you should be making, about getting the holy job done.
But it was always about joy. The joy of his company. The joy of his grace. The joy of his love for God. The joy of his justice. Even the hard joy of his suffering. It was about being branches of his vine, sheep of his flock, drinking from the living waters of his deep, deep well. It was about doing just and saving work with him, in him, and through him, not for him, like some boss, not to merit a star, and not until you drop.
No, it was for the joy we know when we know him. It was always about joy. It still is.
2 Mary Luti, “For Joy,” posted on the United Church of Christ Still Speaking Daily Devotional May 6, 2018