January 22, 2012
An email changed my life.
Think about that for a minute and we’ll come back to it.
Tomorrow a good friend of mine starts a strict diet. He’ll be eating six small meals each day. Five of those meals will come from the specific diet program, and one meal will be the one that he prepares. Each meal will be perfectly portioned controlled with limited calories but lots of nutrients. He will be restricted from certain foods while he’s on the diet, but that won’t last forever. It’s a tough diet, but my friend will be tougher. He’s ready to do this, not just to lose weight but to get healthy. You’ve probably all seen the news about Paula Deen’s Type 2 Diabetes diagnosis. Well my friend doesn’t want to deal with those kinds of health issues, so he’s starting this journey of weight loss.
As I said it’s a tough diet. I know that for a fact, because I’ve done it. In the year before I discerned my call to come to Shawnee, I lost 75 pounds on this meal program. My friend has watched this and asked me to walk with him on his own journey, just like another good friend of mine walked my journey with me.
How did I get started on this weight loss path? An email. That’s the email that changed my life.
I was sitting on my bed feeling miserable, depressed and desperate. I was skimming through my emails on my laptop when I saw a new one. It was from a friend and fellow parent writing that she had lost a lot of weight on a specific program and was now working as a health coach. If I was interested or knew anyone else who might be in finding out more, let her know.
Usually I’m skeptical about things like this. But this time felt different. Before I fully thought about what I was doing, I wrote back, “Tell me more.”
And she did tell me more. Thank goodness.
Like I said, that email literally changed my life. I see it now as a call in some sense. It was a call to health, and like other kinds of calls, it came out of the blue. I wasn’t expecting it. I didn’t go looking for it. It came to me and I knew that it was time to do something.
It was time.
Essentially these are the first words of Jesus in Mark’s gospel. It’s time. According to Mark, he says it a little more eloquently. “The time is fulfilled.” But I think the meaning is the same. It is time.
John the Baptizer has been arrested, literally in the Greek, delivered up. Jesus is now in Galilee and he is proclaiming the message, “That the time is fulfilled. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.” Those are his first words. It’s time. A new reality is upon us and that is the reality of God’s kingdom, God’s domain. Change your minds, change your hearts from your old ways of thinking, being and doing, and answer this call to believe in the good news.
And with those first words he then turns to some fishermen he encounters while walking by the Sea of Galilee. Simon and his brother Andrew were casting their nets and Jesus calls to them. “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately, they drop their nets and follow Jesus.
A little further along, Jesus sees two more fishermen, James and his brother John, sons of Zebedee, in the boat with their dad mending nets. Jesus calls them too, and their response is the same. Immediately, they leave their work and their father and the hired men sitting in the boat, and follow Jesus.
First words. First call. First disciples.
There has been lots of speculation as to why the disciples answered Jesus’ call so quickly, so immediately as Mark reiterates. One theory is that they knew of Jesus or even knew Jesus before this time. Just because Mark doesn’t write about preaching events in other places around the Galilee neighborhood doesn’t mean that they didn’t happen. Word of Jesus could have been spreading. According to this theory Jesus was already gaining notoriety and fame, so when he called the disciples, they’d heard about him previously. To the outside observer it might look like the disciples just dropped everything and followed a stranger, but in reality they already knew Jesus or at least knew of him.
Or maybe they’d never heard of Jesus before, but they didn’t like fishing. They were in it because it was the family business and it was expected of them, but they didn’t like it. It was hot, tedious work that sometimes yielded enormous catches while other times they couldn’t catch anything. It was literally a case of feast or famine. So when this man came along and offered them a chance to do something else, something different, they jumped at it and followed him.
Perhaps it was a combination of both. They knew Jesus and they didn’t like fishing. Or maybe it was neither. I’m not convinced that knowing the reason they followed as they did is all that important or serves our understanding. What I do believe is important to know is that something about Jesus’ call compelled them. Whatever it was, it was compelling. And they responded. They followed.
It compelled them to defy family expectations, cultural expectations, reason, common sense, sound judgment. Something about Jesus’ call compelled them to leave behind everything and everyone they knew, all that was familiar, and follow this itinerant preacher.
I doubt that a call like this was a commonplace event then. David Lose, preacher and professor at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, wrote in his weekly preaching column this past week that what makes it hard for all of us as hearers of this story, is that we admire what the disciples did, but we’re not so sure that we could do the same. But in saying that, he went on to admit that for a lot of us pastors we kinda, sorta feel like we do get it because we’ve already done it. I think he’s right. As pastors we do think we relate to the call story of the disciples.
I dropped everything and went to seminary. I left everything and moved from New York to Iowa and Iowa to Oklahoma.
Which is true technically, but I left one home and went to a new one. I left one paycheck and went to a new one. Our pension plans and bank accounts switched. This is a little different than dropping everything, leaving everything isn’t it? As pastors we may follow new calls, but our needs for security are the same as anyone else’s.
And although it could be argued that the disciples’ lives were far simpler than ours, their need for security and familiarity was probably no different than ours. They had families. Responsibilities. Obligations. They still followed.
Before we feel as though we’ll never live up to the disciples’ example of radical following, we need to remember something else about the disciples – especially in Mark’s accounting of them. They didn’t get it. They failed. They were right there with Jesus and they couldn’t grasp what he was trying to tell them. They couldn’t fully accept that when Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God that he was referring to a state of being, a new reality, not just a place somewhere else. The disciples failed Jesus. They turned away from him. They protected their own skins. They ran away afraid. They just didn’t get it. They may have answered the call, but they couldn’t fully follow it.
The disciples were not perfect in their following. Nor are we. Yet this is where I think that grace intersects with our human experience. We too receive a first call, hear Jesus’s first words. And then through grace we hear them again. We receive a second call, a third and so on. It’s never too late to answer Jesus’ call to follow. It’s never too late to make a decision that can radically change the course of our lives.
In a few minutes when we install our new officers, we are lifting up the fact that these followers said “yes.” In officer training this past week, I asked each officer to think about why he or she said “yes” to the call to serve. I ask that of all of us. Why did we say, “yes?” And how does our “yes” manifest itself in our lives?
In one way or another, the fact that we are all here, gives witness to our yes. It gives witness to the fact, that even though we are frail and flawed human beings, we still say “yes” to the call of Jesus. “Yes” to the proclamation that the time has come, the kingdom is in our midst, our reality has changed, our hearts and minds are changed as well and we can answer Jesus’ call to follow as immediately as those first disciples. This is grace. This is good news.
Let all God’s children say, “Amen!”