Sunday, January 21, 2018

Sermon 1.21.2018 Avoiding Whales, Leaping to Follow


Leap, a special commission created by Wayne Stratz

Mark 1:14-20 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news." 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. And Jesus said to them, "Follow me and I will make you fish for people." And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
Simon, Andrew, James, and John made a decision that leads to sainthood.

Imagine this. You are at work or you are with family on a walk. A man walks by and says “The time is fulfilled!”  What do you think?  How do you react?

The stranger says, “The Kingdom of God has come near!”  And you look at him. Do you say anything? Do you walk closer? Do you back away?

He says, “Repent and believe in the good news!” Do you turn away from your current life; or do you turn your back to the stranger? 

What would you want your children to do? Your spouse? Your best friend?

Now imagine a loved one turning toward this stranger and away from you.

What would you say about their decision? Do you see them becoming saints?

Did these four men have great learning and insight to help them discern this spiritual path? If you read through the Gospel of Mark, you won’t find much evidence. You will find apostles who continually miss the point and Jesus trying his best to explain things to them.

How could they leave their jobs? Their families? How did they trust in this stranger, Jesus? How did they decide so quickly? Did they even think about it? What would I have done? Could I leave everything behind?

Barbara Brown Taylor, Episcopal priest and author, suggests that we're missing the point if we linger on such questions; and that this is a story about God, not the disciples or us.  She suggests that we focus not on what the disciples gave up or whether we could do the same.

She calls this passage from Mark a "miracle story," and sees it as an example of "the power of God--to walk right up to a quartet of fishermen and work a miracle, creating faith where there was no faith, creating disciples where there were none just a moment before."

She continues: “What we have lost . . . is a full sense of the power of God—to recruit people who have made terrible choices; to invade the most hopeless lives and fill them with light; to sneak up on people who are thinking about lunch, not God, and smack them upside the head with glory.”

At a time when a Rabbi would wait for followers and then deem them worthy or not to be taught, Jesus shows us the kingdom of God. God did not care how learned they were. And God does not wait, God seeks all of us with a love that seems to throw discernment out the door. The four fishermen, two poor with their nets, two rich with their boat and hired hands; do not stop to think. They leap without discerning.

We want to make the right decisions. Then we ask God to judge us on how we have chosen the right jobs, the proper church, the nice neighborhood, and the decent friends.

But Jesus may simply just want us to leap into the Kingdom of God.


For some reason I chose not too doodle at a staff meeting a few days ago where on our laptops we were examining student test results from recently completed reading and math exams. Their scores fell into the red zone of needing improvement, the blue zone of being better than average and a thin green zone that separated the red from the blue. A friend, who had invited me to sit next to her, was looking up the reading results for our best readers. She seemed disheartened that one after another were in the thin green zone. I said, “That means they are okey dokey.”

Would Jesus place your career choice in the green okey dokey zone?

One of my favorite quotes is “Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world's deep need.” Frederick Buechner
Do you find joy at work? Do you help someone through your work? If yes, then its okey dokey. 
Is your job creating hatred for strangers, or making people hungry, or creating homelessness, or imprisoning the innocent? If no, then it is okey dokey.   You do not have to leave everything behind to work with the poorest of poor.
If you are unhappy and don’t feel right about your job, consider those stirrings to be the presence of the holy spirit. It may not lead to the perfect job for you, but to one that feeds your spirit more than the present not quite okey dokey job.
Following Jesus may not be anything more than moving by leaps and stumbles towards the Kingdom of God. Do I have to discern whether or not to feed the hungry? Is Jesus going to be upset about how I then choose to help. I can send a check to Manna, or buy a ten pack of tuna at the grocery, or volunteer on site.
We miss opportunities to help. We ignore some that we see. We act upon others. We are okey dokey.
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, "Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you." So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days' walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's walk. And he cried out, "Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!"
And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
When I read through the Bible twenty years ago, the story of Jonah caught my eye. It wasn’t just that Jonah spent time in a whale or that the people of Nineveh listened to the prophet. Though both of those are amazing. It was that Jonah did not want to be successful; in fact he was in the whale because he tried to flee his calling (think about that the next time you try to ignore a calling from God). Once the whale took him to Ninevah, then he wanted to fail so that he could watch God destroy his enemies. Clearly Jonah’s deep gladness was not in sync with God’s hope of expanding the Kingdom.
It is just so human of Jonah. Do we want our enemies to fail or succeed? From football teams to businesses, from politicians to foreign nations; are we that much different from Jonah? Do we feel joy when bad things happen to these teams, corporations, people? Are we hoping that those who we do not favor are ruined and humiliated; or are we be praying that we all repent and turn toward God?
Anne Lamott writes: "I think joy and sweetness and affection are a spiritual path. We're here to know God, to love and serve God, and to be blown away by the beauty and miracle of nature...”
To survive winters without hibernating, shrews in Europe can shrink their skeleton, including their skull. Their brain loses a fourth of its mass, but they survive when food is scarce and their heart keeps beating 700 times a minute. Dwarf Lemurs on Madagascar store enough fat in their tales to hibernate through a seven month dry season.
There is science behind these abilities but they are also miraculous. I tell my students these things with the hope that they will be blown away by the life on this planet.
Anne Lamott continues: "… You just have to get rid of so much baggage to be light enough to dance, to sing, to play. You don't have time to carry grudges; you don't have time to cling to the need to be right."
Jonah was so heavy with hatred and grudges that he could not dance. Those four fisherman were more than ready to dance when a stranger invited them into the Kingdom God. The apostles didn’t stop and think about whether or not it was the right path. They would be baffled by the one they chose to follow, but they kept following Jesus. So go forth and meet the needy with joy, be blown away by the miracles of nature, and don’t let worries and grudges stop you from dancing.

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