You Want Me to Do WHAT?
Lectionary Texts: Isaiah 9: 1-4; Matthew 4: 12-23
First United Methodist Church, Wharton
Sunday, January 22, 2017
So, we’re pretty comfortable talking about Jesus’ coming into the world. We stand in community and we try to be the people that God envisions us to be. But Epiphany comes along and we start talking about renewing our Baptism and witnessing and the message begans to be intensely more personal. The truth is God doesn’t just call us. God calls you…and you and you and you and you and me. God calls us as a community, yes, but God calls each of us in a unique and special way. So, what does that mean to you to be called by God?
So, for me, my calling shook me to my core. I mean, I grew up in the church. I knew all the songs. I knew all the liturgy. I knew all those Bible stories dating back to my early Sunday School years. I sang in the children’s choirs. I went to MYF. I did all the stuff that you’re supposed to do. And then when I became an adult (after, I will admit, a short sabbatical while I went to college and got started in my life), I got involved in church. I served on the Finance Committee. I taught children’s Sunday School. I was involved in other committees. I sang in the choir. And I realized that I LOVED to study the Bible.
I was in a Disciple class. For those of you that have taken that study, remember the end of the year when you affirm each other’s gifts? Well, it was then, for the first time, that it was said out loud. The overwhelming response of my class members was that I should probably consider going into ministry. You want me to do WHAT? Well, that, of course, was ridiculous. I had a job. I had a really good job. That wasn’t going to work. The next year, I ended up being the Disciple leader. It was the scariest thing I had ever done. I mean, what if they didn’t like me?
But it went OK. And at the end of the year, when we once again had a chance to affirm the members’ gifts, I once again was told I should probably consider full time ministry. There was another member of the class who was told the same thing. And his response was that he had already decided to leave his rather lucrative engineering job and enter seminary. I remember having this really uneasy feeling that that should be me. (My friend Jim is now Senior Pastor of FUMC, Humble.)
Over the next few years, I continued my life, always with this unsettled gnawing inside of me. I did a lot with Lay Ministries, where I was in charge of figuring out how to empower others to answer their own calling and put their own spiritual gifts to work. And in my work life, I was doing very well. I was making over six figures and life was great. I was really good at what I did. But it was always there.
After about seven years, I finally tried to compromise with God. I would go to seminary. After all, I actually like school and I love theology and the Bible. But that was all. I was never going to be a pastor and I certainly wasn’t ever going to preach. I remember the night that I told my choir friends (my choir family) what I was doing, I was expecting them to be shocked. Their response was that they rolled their eyes and said, “like THAT’S a big surprise.” I have to admit I was crushed. Couldn’t they at least be surprised?
So, that first night in seminary, I sat there listening to Dr. Heller talk about the Creation stories in a way that I had never heard anyone talk about it before. I remember sitting there and suddenly, my response was “oh shoot, I’m supposed to be here. This is really going to mess up my life.”
I had pushed so far out of my comfort zone that I didn’t know what hit me. I’m still there. I’m never really sure of myself. I’m always questioning myself and my own calling. Part of me is scared to death every Sunday morning. I remember my first sermon that I preached in that great pulpit at St. Paul’s. As the choir sang and I prepared to get up there, I thought, “what am I doing, I’m not a preacher; I’m an accountant. And, yet, I can’t do anything else.
- An Ordinary Day
So, another story…Simon got up early that morning. No big surprise there…he ALWAYS got up early. He was always the first one up in the morning, hurriedly dressing and then going behind the house to untangle the still-damp nets from the day before. As he got them ready for yet another day of fishing, he smelled the fish cooking in olive oil and the fresh bread baking in the oven. It smelled good just like it does every morning. He began to hear stirring in the house as the children got up and began to help their mother. It was just an ordinary day.
After breakfast he made his way the mile or so down to the shore where he and his brother had left the boat. It was a good, sturdy boat and they felt so fortunate that they were finally doing well enough to buy it. He carried the heavy nets that still smelled of yesterday’s catch. As he approached the boat, he saw that Andrew was waiting for him and had already begun to untie the boat and ready it for the day. So without even saying good morning to each other, they together hoisted the heavy nets up to the boat, Andrew got on, and Simon pushed the boat into the water, walking into the lake until it was about waste deep. He then pulled himself up into the boat as it moved toward the middle of the lake.
This was his favorite part of the morning—that quiet trip from Bethsaida down the shores of the lake. They were headed toward Tabgha this morning, near the Capernaum side of the lake but it was usually not near as busy. The fog was lifting and you could see all around the lake itself. Then they slowed and, without speaking, Simon and Andrew put their nets down into the lake to see what they could catch. Yes, it was just another ordinary day.
After about two hours of a really unbelievable catch, Simon steered the boat back toward the shores below Capernaum. He looked up on the hill and saw the synagogue at the top of the hill. It made him feel good just to look at it. He hoped that someday he would be able to make the trip to Jerusalem and see the temple that it faced.
As they neared the shore, they began to drop their net again hoping to snare some of the common musht fish that tended to congregate there at the shore. As the net went down, he looked up. There on the shore was a man, a man he had seen before around the lake, a man that he thought they called Jesus. He had heard about this man, a rabbi, he thought. Just then the man spoke: “Follow me.” Simon turned around expecting to see the one whom Jesus was calling standing behind him. But there was only lake. He touched Andrew’s arm and they both looked up. “Follow me,” Jesus said again, “and I will make you fishers of people.”
But something happened. Simon and Andrew looked at each other in disbelief. You want me to do WHAT? After all, they were fishermen. They had nothing to offer and no real gifts. But Jesus repeated his call. They knew that he was asking them to join him, to join him in ministry. And they both knew that they would go. They lifted up the nets, now filled with fish—more fish than they had seen in the last two weeks combined. They pulled the nets up out of the water and then tied the boat to the shore. As they stepped into the water, the sun seemed to shine brighter than ever. The synagogue on the hill was radiant in light. It was just an ordinary day. But life would never be the same again. And they couldn’t do anything else.
- Just Ask
OK, I took a little poetic license with the story. But the point is that Simon and Andrew were not especially gifted people. In the first century around this lake called Galilee, Simon and Andrew were pretty ordinary. But Jesus asked them to follow anyway. And they went. In fact, the text says they went immediately. They didn’t wait until they had enough money or enough time or enough talent. They didn’t hold back because they thought they were too old or too settled. They just went.
And Jesus did not stop himself by assuming that they were too busy or just too locked into their family business. He just asked. And by asking them, he brought significance into their life. By asking them, he empowered them for ministry. You see, it’s important to ask and it means something to be asked.
These brothers were instead asked to take on the work of discipleship and they ended up with a life that neither of them could have foreseen. Simon would become Peter, the “rock”, one of Jesus’ apostles and ultimately would be made a saint in the tradition of the church. But he needed to be asked.
In this season between Christmastide and Lent, this ordinary time, we are reading accounts of callings and responses. It’s not because we lack some big incarnation or resurrection to carry us through the season. It is rather because it is in our ordinary lives that God finds us and asks us to join in the work. It is in our busyness and our day-to-day struggles that God enters our lives and compels us to put down our nets if only long enough to look up and see the shore. And it is when we are fully convinced that we are not gifted enough or rich enough or young enough or just enough that God shows us how to be someone new.
- So, What About You?
So, what about you? I want you to really think about it. What is God calling you to do that is so far out of your comfort zone that you’ve never thought about going there? When you are asked to give your prayers and your presence and your gifts and your service and your witness, what do you do? Do you give what you can spare? Do you give what you think you have time to give? Do you do whatever it is that you are used to doing?
See, the problem with that is that God is always pushing us just a little bit farther. So, what is that thing that God has asked you to do that your first response is “you want me to do WHAT?” What is the thing that keeps coming up every time you turn around? What is that unsettled gnawing in you? We all have something like that.
So, when was the last time that you signed up or showed up to do something new? When was the last time that you followed Christ out of your comfort zone? It does not matter who you are. It does not matter how old you are. It does not matter how busy you are. It does not matter how much you’ve done before. It does not matter that you might not get it right. God is calling you to something new.
So, if you’ve even remotely thought what it would be like to sing in the choir, you need to show up Wednesday. God is calling you. If you have thought that we might could use some help sometimes with the sound or the video, you need to volunteer to do that some Sundays. God is calling you. If you notice things around here that need some attention, you are right. God is calling you. And if you look around and it dawns on you that there is a group that we are not serving, that’s your cue. God is calling you. Come talk to me.
- It’s Not That Hard
It’s not that hard. God makes it very plain. It is usually we who stand in our way—with our lives and our excuses and our own vision of our lives. Barbara Brown Taylor is one of my favorite writers. She tells in one of her books about a time in her life when she was struggling mightily with sense of call. She simply could not figure out what it was that God wanted her to do and be. Did God want her to be a writer? Did God want her to be a priest? Did God want her to be a social worker? Did God want her to teach? She simply didn’t know. And in her frustration and exasperation, one midnight, she says, she fell down on her knees in prayer and said: “Okay, God. You need to level with me. What do you want me to be? What do you want me to do? What are you calling me to do?” She said she felt a very powerful response, God saying, “Do what pleases you. Belong to me, but do what pleases you.” She said it struck her as very strange that God’s call could actually touch that place of her greatest joy, that she could be called to do the thing that pleases her the most.
Frederick Buechner says, “Our calling is where our deepest gladness and the world’s deepest hunger meet.” Think about what that means. God calls us. Sometimes it’s pretty scary. Sometimes we want to run away. Sometimes it means that we have to leave the life we’ve built behind. And sometimes it just means that we need to do something different. But following wherever God leads means that we will truly find joy. We will finally know what it’s all about.
When I was in seminary, part of the exploration of my own calling manifested in a real interest in what calling means. I have about 120 essay pages exploring that that may someday be a book. At the end of the last one, I wrote this:
The “called” life is one of tensions and convergences and wonderful coincidences that God melds together into a wonderful journey of [calling]. It seems that God is continually calling us into places and times that we’ve never been, constantly empowering us to push the limits of our “comfort zones”, to embark on a larger and more all-encompassing journey toward a oneness with God. It seems that God always calls us beyond where we are and beyond where we’ve been, not to the places that are planted and built and paved over with our preconceptions and biases but, rather, to places in the wilds of our lives with some vision of a faint pathway that we must pave and on which we must trudge ahead. Thomas Merton says that “there is in all visible things…a hidden wholeness.” It is the image of God in each one of us that must be reclaimed and nurtured so that we might take part in bringing about the fullness of Creation, in bringing the Reign of God into its fullness. Perhaps, then, the meaning of calling is not one in which we launch out and pursue a new life but is instead one that brings us to the center of our own life, one that brings us home. T.S. Eliot says that “the end of all our exploring… will be to arrive where we started…and know the place for the first time.”
Where is God calling you? We are all called but it usually means that we have to fish in different waters and look at things in different ways. And, if we’re honest with ourselves, we will find that we can’t do anything else. God is calling you.
 Mueller, 3
 T.S. Eliot in Pilgrim Souls: An Anthology of Spiritual Autobiographies, ed. by Amy Mandelker and Elizabeth Powers (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999), 146