From Pastor Kenny's Desk
January 26, 2020
When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he went back to Galilee. He left Nazareth and settled in Capernaum, a lakeside town near the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali. In this way the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, the way to the sea on the far side of the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: the people who lived in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”
From that time on, Jesus began proclaiming the message, “Change your hearts and minds, for the kindom of heaven is at hand!”
As Jesus was walking along the Sea of Galilee, he watched two brothers – Simon, who was called Peter, and Andrew – casting a net into the sea. They fished by trade. Jesus said to them, “Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of humankind.” They immediately abandoned their nets and began to follow Jesus.
Jesus walked along further and caught sight of a second pair of brothers – James and John, ben-Zebedee. They too were in their boat, mending their nets with their father. Jesus called to them, and immediately they abandoned both boat and father to follow him.
Jesus traveled throughout Galilee, teaching in the synagogues proclaiming the Good News of the kindom of heaven and healing all kinds of diseases and sicknesses among the people.
~ Matthew 4:12-23
As we consider this sacred text from Matthew’s story what stands out loud and clear is Jesus calls everyday ordinary people to be his disciples. Jesus does not ask for a list of qualifications or prerequisites. Instead what he is looking for is willingness … willingness to be open to something new, something profound which also requires a willingness to follow, to serve and care for others. Notice that Jesus called ordinary people right in the middle of their ordinary lives who would in-turn do extraordinary things.
I find the concept of God’s call interesting and curious. It is not uncommon for people to ask me to pray for discernment if they are called to serve as a pastor or in some other religious vocation. In this sense people equate call to be one of vocation or occupation. Over the years I have learned that God’s call is not only for religious professionals or any other vocation or occupation but has more to do with our since of our identity of who we are in God … as we understand God. Therefore, I believe that God’s call often has little to do with vocation or occupation, i.e., what we do. In this sacred text Matthew is more concerned with call … not just our call but the call … God’s call to each and every one of us. The truth is, there are different kinds of callings, and each one is from God.
For people of faith, as we do our best to dedicate ourselves to embracing and discovering God’s plan for our lives, we are actually living into God’s call. Lately, I’ve been wondering how much we connect what we do and what we believe. That is, maybe calling is less about what we do and more about who we are. Think about it … God’s call isn’t simply to do something, but rather to be something … the Beloved of God. In this sense being comes before doing. Maybe being even makes doing possible.
Is that what made it possible for John the Baptizer to proclaim the coming Messiah … challenging the political and religious powers of his day, even when it meant his arrest and imprisonment? That John knew who God had called him to be? Is that what brought such an immediate response from Peter and Andrew, James and John, that they felt called to be more than they had imagined? They probably had no idea what being fishers of humankind even meant at this point in the story, but they do know that Jesus sees something in them … something of value and worth. They have no idea where they will go, or what they will do, but they do know that Jesus is calling them to be his disciples, and they trust that the rest will become clear in time. What strikes me is that Jesus is calling these first disciples not into work but into relationship.
Part of the challenge with this sacred text is that it is difficult for us to imagine getting up and leaving everyone and everything the disciples know … and cherish … to follow Jesus. It makes sense that we think of the first disciples being extraordinary first century superstars of faith that we can admire but do not identify with.
There are contemporary biblical scholars who insist that Jesus had been living in Capernaum for a while and had known Peter, Andrew James and John for a while so this call was neither sudden or abrupt but it was the natural outcome of their friendship.
Regardless how we interpret this text, can we re-imagine just what it is that Jesus is calling these first disciples to be and do … be fishers of humankind … and that implies relationships. Jesus is calling these first disciple into relationship … with himself, with each other, and with all the people they will meet the rest of their lives.
I believe Jesus is calling us in this same way today … to be in genuine, authentic and real relationship with the people around us, and to be in those relationships the way Jesus was and is in relationship with his disciples and with us … listening and caring for the things that matter to us and others, caring for each other – especially the vulnerable, holding onto each other through thick and thin, always with the hope, promise and the reminder of God’s transforming love and grace. Sometimes that call … to be like Jesus in our relationship with others … will take us out of our comfort zones, will take us far from home … sometimes it will take shape in our families, colleagues, neighborhoods, even those we do not like or care for … among the people we associate with daily … it will always involve other people … not simply a mission or project, ministry or movement but actual flesh-and-blood people. And … if we are really honest this kind of relationship with others can be tough!
It can be extremely difficult and uncomfortable to allow ourselves … and others … to be vulnerable, transparent and honest about who we really are and where we’ve been, admitting our joys and disappointments, our short-coming, our fears and our brokenness. Or when others approach us with the truth about how our behavior has affected them or the hurt and pain we have caused. It’s rarely easy to truly identify the source of our harmful behavior … admitting our need for healing and need to forgiveness. The truth is … when others risk telling us the truth it can be easier to shame and blame than to be open to the beauty of God’s transforming love and grace given through the kindness of a friend, loved one, colleague, pastor and others. Yet when we are able to live into our identity as God’s Beloved … we can also embrace the truth of who we are in relation to who’s we are. This identity allows us to not only to ask for and seek forgiveness and healing but to also give these gifts to others. Yet, this kind of realness builds transforming and loving relationships that often are built on the reality of God’s transforming love drawing us closer to one another and to God.
The question is: is God calling you to deeper and more authentic relationship with God, others and self? Might God calling you to work on your identity as God’s Beloved … just the way you are … while also partnering with you in bringing change to your life and through greater meaning within your relationship with God, self and others?
The point of God’s call is to realize that Jesus called ordinary people right in the middle of their ordinary lives to be in relationship with ordinary people all around them and through that reality … they did extraordinary things. And through relationships God continues to call us while also transforming our lives and the lives of others … in and through ordinary people like you and me.
All of us are called to be and thrive as the Beloved of God. Even if we don’t quite know what being the Beloved of God exactly means. God values, honors, loves and celebrates us ALL … just the way we are. The beauty of God is that if we are simply open to discovering and experiencing the relevance of who God is and what it means for us as individuals … and as a congregation … to be God’s Beloved, we will learn over time what it means and we will discover all kinds of things to do in response to God’s call. Maybe the doing will come through your work, or school or through volunteering. My guess is that most of our doing … that is, living into our calling … will come through our relationships. However it is that God may use us … and God will and does use all of us - just the way we are … it’s important to remember that before God calls us to do anything, God first calls us to be something … God’s Beloved! And knowing this, we can trust that the rest will follow.
And let’s not stop there. Because this calling isn’t only for individuals, it’s also for our congregation. Who and what is MCC Richmond called to do as a congregation … we can remind each other what we are called to be. God is calling us to be a gathering of God’s Beloved … just the way we are. God is calling our congregation to be in relationship with others. A church where people of all backgrounds come together at MCC Richmond, to create a safe and welcoming environment for ALL people to be who they are, to reveal the relevance of God in our lives, to be empowered to serve and care for one another while working toward justice and equity. God is calling us to be a church that believes in inclusion, community, engagement, spiritual discovery and transformation. God is calling us into a relationship of loving God by caring for and serving others.
We live at a turbulent time in our country and world, where the needs run great and can sometimes feel overwhelming. It makes sense that we want to get going and do something. But if we can first focus on being … just being … God’s Beloved and let that grace-filled identify seep into the deepest parts of ourselves. My hunch is that those things we are called to do will become clear in time.