A lifetime ago, back when I was in college and serving as a part-time youth minister, I used a book called Roaring Lambs by Bob Briner to lead a study with my kids. The basic gist of that book is that the church needs to reevaluate what it means by calling and vocation. His thesis is that the church has, hopefully unintentionally, created a hierarchy of vocation such that missionary and full-time, ordained minister ranks higher than everything else. We’ve told kids (and adults, for that matter) that wanting to be a doctor, lawyer, teacher, welder, or music composer isn’t a noble calling because it isn’t ministry. Bob Briner thinks this is garbage, and so do I.
Sunday’s Gospel lesson is a series of call stories that invites us to think beyond the specifics of who is called to what and maybe give some time to think carefully about each of our callings as disciples of Jesus. Take, for example, the call of Andrew and Simon Peter. Read at face value, this story can be used to tell people that their work as fishermen was not a calling, and only after Jesus comes and calls them to be “fishers of men” (the play on words is too good to get bogged down in the gendered language, imho) do they really have a vocation. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead, I believe that the many years they spent working hard as fishermen allowed them to become successful apostles.
Think about their work for a minute. In the first century, as it is today, the life of a commercial fisher was difficult. They studied the water, learning the ebbs and flows; the right time to fish and those days when it would just be a waste of time. Even when the waters were favorable, they often worked long hours, sometimes overnight, to bring in enough fish to make a decent wage. There were days when the conditions were perfect, when the fish should be biting and the nets should be full, but after hours and hours, their best efforts were frustrated. Other times, when the day seemed questionable, or a stranger invited them to push out a little further or throw on the other side of the boat, when the haul was unimaginably large.
If that doesn’t sound like the life of ministry, you’ve not been paying attention. The qualities that made Simon and Andrew good fishermen made them excellent fishers of men. The same is true of almost every vocation. There are parts of every job that teach us how to be a better disciple and a better witness to the Good News. Whether it is days on end of dealing with the general public or hours crunching numbers, everything we do has the chance to help us grow as disciples and make us better apostles. How has your vocation been a calling to ministry? Where can you see God at work in your current job? Even for those who are retired or unemployed, where is God teaching you in your searching, in your volunteering, and in your free time? Every breath is a gift, a calling to the service of God.