Sunday, January 25, 2015

Measure of Discipleship



January 25, 2015 – 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B
© 2015 Evan D. Garner

Audio of this sermon is available here.
 
Only once in my life have I been doggedly pursued by a member of the opposite sex, and I was terrified. I was in middle school and hadn’t grown up enough to appreciate what it meant that a girl was actually interested in me. Sure, I liked girls—the thought of them, at least—but the reality of it was a little more than I could handle.

Anyway, one day as school ended, a girl I knew ran up to me and handed me a folded-up piece of paper and, without saying a word, turned and ran off. Confused but intrigued, I unfolded the note, and my eyes beheld the words that struck fear in my heart:

Dear Evan, my heart is split between you and another. I cannot choose which one I want, and so I give you both that choice. Since I am unable to decide which one of you I should ask to the homecoming dance, I have decided to go with whichever one of you calls and asks me first. The two of you must duel it out. Here is my number. Don’t wait too long. I hope to hear from you soon.

Well, I knew right away which other guy she was talking about. There was only one other kid anyone who was interested in me could possibly be interested in—the other smart, nerdy, stocky guy I hung out with. He and I were close friends and did everything together, which is probably why none of the other girls was interested in either us. (We’re both happily married, by the way, to smart, attractive women, so I guess everything works out in the end.) Naturally, I did what any panicky, self-esteem-lacking boy would do: I folded the note back up and thrust it into my pocket and tried to pretend that it didn’t exist.

Later that evening, at home, I reached into my pocket and felt the note, still where I had put it. I pinched my thigh several times, hoping I would wake up from this terrible dream, but it was no use. It was really happening. So I waited. And I waited. And I waited some more. We had dinner. It felt like a prisoner’s last meal. Afterward, I sat in front of the television, looking at the screen but thinking only about the note. Finally, at eight o’clock, which seemed like the latest possible hour one could make a polite phone call and not disturb someone in the middle of the night, I went upstairs and sat down next to the phone and dialed the number, slowly pressing each button to be sure to give the other suitor every last opportunity to call ahead of me.

After one ring, she picked up the phone. “Hello?” she said eagerly from the other end. “Hey, it’s Evan,” I said. “Has Tim called yet?” Of course, he hadn’t. That little rascal never did call. (He is smarter than I am. It didn’t occurred to me that I could simply ignore her note altogether.) After some apologetic small talk, I let her know that I couldn’t go to the dance with her because I didn’t believe in going to dances with just one person. “We’re in middle school,” I rationalized, trying to sound well-reasoned. “This is a time in our lives when we should dance with lots of people.” I lied. But it was the best I could do. She said the she understood, but she made me promise to save at least one dance for her. And I did.

There are some invitations that we would do anything to decline. Dates with guys or girls we do not like. (I heard a story over the weekend of a woman who faked her own death to get out of a date.) Dinner parties with people who can’t talk about anything except how smart and successful their children are. Requests from friends to help them move from one side of town to another. But nothing sends people scattering faster than a preacher who is looking for someone to take on a new ministry. People see my name or the church’s name on the Caller ID, and they let it go straight to voicemail. There’s something about being called into ministry that scares people to death.

Why is that? Why do we act like unnerved middle school boys when someone asks us to be in charge of something at church? Is it because all of us have something better to do, or is it because we’re afraid that we don’t have what it takes to do God’s work?

I wonder which you find more surprising: that Simon and Andrew and James and John would answer Jesus’ call so quickly or that they were the kind of people Jesus would want in the first place. They were fishermen, which means that they were laborers who worked hard and smelled bad. They were, at best, functionally literate, and their social skills were what you would expect from some guys who spent all day in a boat with other men. But Jesus saw them and said, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people,” whatever that means, and, strangely enough, they did. Immediately, they dropped their nets and followed him. What’s more bizarre—that these men left their career and family to follow Jesus or that Jesus wanted some fishermen to be his disciples?

Think about it this way: if you were starting a brand new church, what sort of people would you want to be a part of your team? Yes, you’d need a preacher, but Jesus was in charge of that, so let’s assume that part is taken care of. Who else? Probably someone who is good at communications—someone who could use social media to get the word out about your church. You’d probably need some administrative types—people good with money and numbers and details. And every new upstart church needs some attractive, hip, young people to recruit other attractive, hip, young people and their families. And churches need money, so it’s a good idea to bring on board some people with deep pockets and generous hearts. That sounds like a good place to start.

But what about fishermen? Where do they fit in? Or farmers? Or tax collectors? What about out-of-work programmers? Or washed-up stock brokers? Or retirees on fixed incomes? What about stay-at-home moms? Or disabled veterans? Or homeless people? What about addicts? Or ex-convicts? Or imperfect, unholy sinners like you and me? Would Jesus have a place for us in his “church?” If he saw us sitting in our boat, would he call out to us, saying, “Come and follow me?” Absolutely.

As Bishop Michael Curry from North Carolina recently stated, “Jesus didn’t come to start a church; he came to start a movement.” In other words, Jesus wasn’t putting together a carefully crafted team of sleek, silver-tongued evangelists. He was calling people who were willing to leave their life behind in order to follow him. And he still is. Jesus doesn’t care who you are or what you have to offer. He isn’t interested in your résumé or your qualifications. The only thing Jesus cares about is whether you will say yes when he calls.

Our identity as disciples of Jesus Christ isn’t measured in terms of the qualifications we bring but by our readiness and willingness to respond to his call. There is no such thing as “not good enough.” There is no such thing as “not smart enough.” There is no such thing as “not holy enough.” The story of Jesus’ disciples isn’t a story of greatness. It’s a story of great commitment. They were the ones who said yes. What will you say? When Jesus looks at you and calls out for you to follow him, what will you say? Will you make up an excuse because you’re worried that you aren’t up to the challenge? Or will you drop everything and follow him? Stop believing that Jesus wouldn’t want someone like you. You’re exactly the person he wants. All you have to do is say yes.

 

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