I find myself perpetually astounded at the extent to which we treat the calling of Jesus' disciples as a normal, or even relatable thing. "Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near,,, Follow me and I will make you fish for people." *snaps finger* "Alright, let's hit it!"
What could possibly have possessed them to have dropped everything to follow this guy, what about all that they had left behind, all that they would go without by choosing to leave their nets in the middle of a work day and going.
It feels so unrelatable this sudden, dramatic shift in priorities, but whenever I'm tempted to find something in the bible unrelatable I have to pause and wonder hard for a minute,, do I really not understand the nature of dropping everything for something else?
In little ways or in big ways, do we understand what it is like to drop everything? I wonder if you have ever gotten that late night call from a friend that disrupted your ice cream and Golden Girls reruns, that call from a friend that says: "I need you here now" and suddenly the only place in the world to be is on their couch next to them, on a flight to get to them, in the ER waiting room next to them. I wonder if you have ever had your life planned out and then you didn't get the job, or got the job, but in the wrong city, I wonder if you've ever had your life planned out and then just fell out of love with the plan, changed majors, changed jobs, quit your job, took a job you never thought you wanted, suddenly wanted to move to a different town for no reason, or got told that you're moving against your wishes, had to start over in a new place, had to start over doing a new thing.
If you had told me ten years ago that in ten years, I hadn't become a physical therapist or a sports medicine doctor, that I didn't have a PhD yet, if you had told me that I had become a priest after living in California for eight years, and that I was now a campus minister living in Fredericksburg,,, that I liked walking more than running now, that I liked doing art more than math --- I probably would've thought you were crazy, or that I was crazy. I would've wondered what happened. And answer is of course that nothing happened, and also everything happened. Life happened. And sometimes slowly, sometimes all at once, the vision of the life I thought I was to lead shifted. And our work as Christians is to recognize that the work of discipleship sometimes looks like a very slow or a very sudden, but nonetheless dramatic shift in priorities. The work of discipleship and of following Jesus is a shift in our picture of the lives we thought we were going to live, and expecting that maybe somewhere down the line, we would find ourselves deciding that we wouldn't have it any other way.
Reading this Gospel story this morning, instead of saying -- wow thats crazy I never would've done that -- we get to wonder what the lives of Simon and Andrew, James and John were like, we get to wonder what they heard from Jesus besides "repent" and "come with me", we get to wonder what Jesus offered that made it seem not just doable but worthwhile to them to drop everything and go.
Over the course of the Gospels we hear Jesus say all kinds of absolutely wild, counter-cultural stuff: what would it be like if we actually treated everyone that we encounter like they were a member of our family,, what if you sold all of your belongings and gave the money to the poor,, what if the most important work of discipleship isn't temple devotion or acts of piety, but feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving drink to the thirsty, visiting the sick and the imprisoned. What if it was the meek that inherited the earth and not the strong, what if the kingdom of God looked like the kingdom of man turned up side down, the kingdom of God is the kingdom of man on opposite day. I think we've got to imagine that what was on offer from Jesus was better than the lives that they were living, better than the kingdom of man that they found themselves in.
The stuff that Jesus proposed wasn't that wild all things considered because hear how it sounds to propose the opposite: imagine a world where everybody you encounter is to be treated like a stranger, until the point at which they prove their value to you, until they earn their way into your circle. Imagine a world where people who have more money than they need have no reason or purpose to give to those less fortunate than them, and it might even be seen as a sign of weakness or foolishness to give freely with nothing in return. Imagine a world where acts of piety are more important than acts of care, and where the hungry stay hungry, the naked stay unclothed, and the sick and imprisoned are not visited. Imagine that the strong inherit the earth and everything that already is is already as it should be.
I had a chuckle writing out that paragraph because its basically the world that we live in already -- we have no need of prophets for the kingdom of man because we already live in it. Instead, we've got Jesus, a prophet for the kingdom, and we get to ask ourselves whether or not the major paradigmatic shifts in the ways we are called to live our lives sound worth it to us -- and not just in small ways, but does it sound good and doable and worthwhile, as disciples, to radically reshape our lives? I wonder what would make it seem worth it, and what would make it seem actually doable.
Well the thing I keep back to time and again is that we don't have to be disciples alone, we don't have to be Christians alone, we don't have to believe and enact this stuff alone. I think the modern treatment of Christianity sometimes obscures this -- we don't have to do it alone but all too often we think we do. When we treat Christianity like an individual intellectual project, it feels like hmm that is a very interesting proposition Jesus, thank you so much for the suggestion, but it doesn't seem plausible given my life circumstances -- I will keep my net actually, thanks. We don't get to think that each one of us is responsible for pulling off the culture-wide society-wide paradigm shift ourselve, we are not responsible for building the kingdom of God ourselves. We get to do it with our friends. I wonder what it felt like for James to suddenly have 12 new best friends who were suddenly trying to live a different kind of life together. I wonder what it felt like for the 12 to be sent out in pairs, and to have a friend to do this weird hard work with, or to see their ranks grow suddenly have sixty, a hundred, a thousand more friends to help you make this new life true and possible.
The beautiful thing about Church is that we all get to be here together figuring out how to make big shifts in our lives together. It might feel overwhelming if you decided to take it upon yourself to start acting like everybody you encountered was to be treated like a member of your family. I wonder if it would feel easier to look around in this room and know that everybody in this room was going to treat you like a member of their family to. Even if you've managed big life changes alone before, how much easier and more doable and more worthwhile to do with with three new best friends, or 12 or 72 or this whole church full of people who are with you in it too.
Trinity, I wonder in your wildest imaginations what you think might be possible for this place, or for this community? I wonder which of Jesus' teachings seem the hardest to follow alone but might seem easier to all pull of together. What big changes would you make if you knew we were all with you in it? I'd like to think that,, we are.