Your Calling

How do you know your calling, versus your wishful thinking?  Practice.  Make your best guess and see how it goes.  Be sure to consult a wise person before you do something too weird.  You’ll learn.  Remember: no suffering for suffering’s sake.  Your calling is not going to torture you. It’s going to feel right.  Maybe not easy, but right.

Brea Congregational United Church of Christ
January 21, 2018

Follow Me

Mark 1:14   Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
            16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen.  17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”  18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him.  19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets.  20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

The beginning of Jesus’ ministry is told in the gospel of Mark in the sparest way. Two sets of brothers, simple fishermen in a small village by a lake, are invited by Jesus to follow him, and be “fishers of people.” It sounds like the beginning of a pyramid scheme.  And it would be, if Jesus was selling something.  But he wasn’t.  He was giving something away.  Jesus was giving the most precious gift I can imagine: the invitation to claim our identity as children of God.  Our sacred worth that nothing and nobody can take away.  It is the work of a lifetime to figure out how to receive that gift, and enjoy it, and live into it.

 “Follow me.” Such simple words. To Mark, this is the whole point of his gospel.  He wrote it so that we, his readers, could follow Jesus, hear his teachings, watch his acts of power, and witness the Kingdom of God springing up like mustard blooming on the Chino Hills. Mark wrote this Gospel so we could be transformed. The translation we heard said “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News.” Repent, but the Greek verb metanoeo might be better translated, “change”, or “transform.” I bet the process theologians among us already knew that.  Transform, and trust the Good News. That each of us really is a child of God: precious, loved, valued beyond measure.  That Jesus really does lead us into right relationship with God and humans, if we will follow. 

That call, “Follow me,” in Mark’s gospel is not asking us to say or believe the right things. I’m sure Mark would like you to believe as he did. Which was, incidentally, not orthodox Christianity.  That came several centuries later.  Mark was trusting that following Jesus would help you believe whatever it is you need to believe. 

What we believe does matter. But what we say we believe and what actually shapes our actions are often two different things, aren’t they? Beliefs can just be statements we debate, puzzles we solve; they can be all up in our heads.  Trust is more deeply rooted in the heart.  And that is not just a metaphor. Scientists tell us the heart has thick neural bundles connecting it to the midbrain, the seat of our emotions and our motivation.  Trust is what helps us get up in the morning and face the world.  We heard “believe the Good News.”  But the Greek verb pisteuo can just as well be translated, “trust.” Trust the Good News. Trust your identity and worth as a child of God.  Lean into it. Let it comfort you, and let it challenge you.  Let this Good News reassure you that you matter; you have a purpose, and you are loved.  Let this Good News challenge you to live fully out of that trust, and to share it with others.

That call to “Follow me,” could be pretty intimidating if you skip over Jesus’ outrageous debates and his dinner parties and his wandering with his friends all over Palestine, and if all you focus on is his suffering and death. Pretty intimidating.  Why would people focus on his suffering and death? I don’t know, but that’s what I heard in church when I was a child. Suffering is a part of all our journeys. Sometimes following Jesus means stepping into harm’s way, into avoidable suffering.  But not for its own sake; rather, to be in solidarity with others who are suffering. And one follower does not get to tell another follower how and when to suffer. Suffering is not the goal. You know this. Nor is guilt at the suffering you don’t sign up for.

  “Follow me.”  Here’s something not everyone knows.  You might not have to be a Christian to follow Jesus. You don’t even have to know what you believe.  Just start down the road and see where it takes you.  It’s probably a good idea to actually pay attention to what he did and what he taught.  It amazes me how many people who claim to be Christians seem to be ignoring his teachings and following the teachings of someone much more divisive and mean-spirited.  I suspect that my Unitarian Wiccan friend is following Jesus better than that.

 “Follow me.” Note that Mark doesn’t talk about following Jesus to earn a reward or avoid punishment.  That hell stuff is mostly in Matthew’s gospel. With one notable exception in chapter 9, Mark does not scare us with hell. Surely lack of a proper hell is part of the cause of lax attendance in open-minded churches. “If you don’t believe in hell, why go to church?”  I actually heard that from a fellow student at Claremont School of Theology.

Why go to church indeed? Maybe because we seek the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. Right relationship with God and the world and each other.  How are we going learn to follow Jesus and be open to God’s leading if we followers don’t stick together and learn with each other, learn from each other?  If we don’t show up on a regular basis and try? Jesus’ talk of the Kingdom of God is hard to pin down.  It is near, it is among us, we can receive it, we can enter it.  It seems like a way of being, not a place.  A way of being that’s almost in our grasp. We need each other to help track it down, to help God create it among us, and to help each other on Jesus’ Way.

I’ve been doing these listening interviews with church members.  I’m almost done.  That means if I haven’t interviewed you, it’s time! A very powerful and beautiful thing came out of a number of the listening interviews. These people said that in this church are some individuals who are so inspiring in what they do, you just want to watch them, and spend time with them, and aspire to be like them.

That call, “Follow me,” is the beginning of a grand adventure, a deep challenge, and a deep joy.  Mark wants us, the readers of his gospel, to accept the invitation.  And he does everything he can to make the entry bar low. Don’t worry if you get confused on the details or if you mess up. I heard someone say recently that he couldn’t imagine how to follow Jesus, because Jesus was perfect.  Well, according to Mark’s gospel Jesus isn’t perfect­; that Syro-Phoenician woman in chapter seven had to teach him a thing or two about inclusive love.  Something about even the dogs under the master’s table deserving some scraps.  And it isn’t hard to be better followers than Jesus’ first twelve:  Mark shows them bumbling and misunderstanding and making fools of themselves regularly. 

Can we all give ourselves permission to follow Jesus badly? Just get that out of the way up front?  We may be inconsistent, or confused, or timid, or distracted. We may not have the skills or the knowledge to follow Jesus very well.  We may be selfish, or self-righteous, or mired in bitterness and resentment.  We may think we are supposed to do far more than we are doing. If you don’t think you’re very good at following Jesus, the last thing you need is to give up. That would be like refusing to do the laundry because the clothes are too dirty! We don’t have to be good at following Jesus, just willing to try and willing to learn.  What a relief.  It allows us to be honest about our struggles and our flaws.  And it allows us to be truly welcoming of other people who are not perfect either. (And somehow their flaws are easier to see than our own, funny how that works.)

So there is the calling, and the challenge, and have I covered all the excuses not to answer the call yet?  You don’t have to believe the right things, you don’t have to sign up for suffering, you don’t have to be good enough… Wait, there’s one more excuse.  “I’m too busy.”  With what, life?  Feeling overwhelmed?  Maybe you need some support, some wisdom, inspiration, comfort, hope?  What better way to get those things than to answer a call to be loved and led by the force that created the universe? Stick one toe in the water, and see what happens.

“Follow me.” Because you’re at this church, I suspect that you know how to think for yourself, and you know that following Jesus does not mean blindly following any human leader. You are free to disregard anything I say, right? Good. Various religious leaders over the years have set themselves up to tell people exactly what to do to follow Jesus, for better, or for worse.  We don’t do that here.  It’s your life, and it’s your walk with the sacred that we’re talking about. Other people can give you guidance and support, but you are the one who gets to figure out how Jesus is calling you, in your family, your day job, your play, your relationships, your use of money and time… How are you going to love your neighbors and love yourself?

So say you answer that call to follow Jesus, where does it lead? Can it really be personal and individually tailored to you? Can it be that the force that sets the stars in motion goes to this level of detail to concern itself with our individual gifts and talents and struggles and creates personal invitations for each of us, different at different phases of our life, possibly even different every day? That is hard for our human brains to believe, because we see relationships in human terms.  Humans can’t multitask seven billion ways.  Yet I watch it happen, for those who follow and pay attention.  Perhaps you would like to think of this phenomenon as inspired intuition.  Of course it is.  Inspired by… that Holy Spirit that we saw last week landing on Jesus. She’s still in the back of the sanctuary.

That inspiration may have led you to a vocation, a job that is a calling.  Something big and life-changing.  Or it may have led you to drive your friend to her doctor’s appointment.  Something small that helps weave the web of love that sustains us all. Or it may have led you to dance a dance, plant a plant, sing a song, cook a meal.  We are called to acts of creation, of celebration, of love and respect and care and integrity, of learning, of transformation and of renewal. We are called to lift our lives up to the light and power of the sacred and find the patterns that are hidden there, ready to be revealed, and the ones we will help create.  We are called to an adventure of living in the Power of God’s spirit.

How do you know your calling, versus your wishful thinking?  Practice.  Make your best guess and see how it goes.  Be sure to consult a wise person before you do something too weird.  You’ll learn.  Remember: no suffering for suffering’s sake.  Your calling is not going to torture you. It’s going to feel right.  Maybe not easy, but right.

Churches, too, have calls.  You might think we are called to pray and sing and party and care for each other.  That’s good stuff.  But according to Paul, the purpose of the church is “to equip the saints for ministry.”  That is, to help you get clear on your calling and give you the tools and support to do it.  And churches are unique, as people are unique.  One church really puts energy into one mission; another is really good at something else. 

One of the questions I have been asking in the listening interviews is, “What might God be calling this church to be?”   And many of you had some pretty clear ideas.  To be a teaching church.  Which means a number of you might be called to have a passion for learning, and maybe even teaching.  To be an alternative voice and a force in the community for radical welcome of LGBTQ people, and of homeless people, and no doubt, of people we haven’t even met yet. A voice for saving Mother Earth. This church has a unique and wonderful way of following Jesus, of responding to that call.

Everybody needs a purpose.  Don’t settle for those purposes our society tries to give you; they will fail you. When we are following Jesus, we have a worthy purpose. If you think you don’t have a purpose, your purpose is to find your purpose, your calling and then go do it.  I’d love to chat about it, and so would many people here. 

“Follow me!”  Who is going to accept that call?  Don’t worry, there will not be an altar call now.  But if you do intend to follow Jesus, make it real.  Write it down.  Or tell somebody.  Or put a sign on your mirror.  Or pledge to show up here every Sunday you can.

“The Kingdom of God has come near.”  Despite all the chaos and hatred and fear around us, when we are living our calling, we will participate in the Kingdom of God.  We live the Good News, and it transforms us.  And we help others to know the wonder and the love that is our personal, cosmic, ever-creating God.  Amen. 

No comments:

Post a Comment