Our Call Story – a sermon

“Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”  Wouldn’t it be great if every call from God was so very clear?  My own call story ends up with one of those “aha!” moments, but the reality is that it took quite a while for me to get there.  As I mentioned last week, thanks to Jeanne Ritter’s evangelistic efforts, I grew up in the church.  In middle school, I joined the youth group, but when I was in eighth grade, the youth leader ran off with the proceeds of our fundraisers for the year, so began to I look elsewhere.  Throughout high school I was active in Young Life and the youth group at the local Christian Missionary Alliance church.  I can’t find it anymore, but there was a day when I pulled over on the side of Manheim Pike after a Friday morning Bible Study and wrote in my Bible the moment I decided to make Jesus my Lord and Savior, as if he hadn’t already been for years.  The best part about having that moment marked for posterity was that I never had to think about it again.  So, without so much as a thought about asking God what he might want me to do with the rest of my life, I applied to only one school, the University of Pittsburgh, and set off to become a civil engineer.

God has a funny way of using our plans and various bad ideas for good.  Even though I hated almost every moment of the two semesters I spent I Pitt, the friends I made there were the reason I met Cassie.  We’re not there yet, though.  I transferred to Millersville University after my freshman year, and upon realizing they didn’t actually offer an engineering degree, I changed my major to meteorology for three weeks before settling on business administration.  For three years, I worked hard to graduate on time so that I could get money and buy stuff.  I had even planned how to spend my first million: a Benz with a personalized license plate that read “MIL TKT.”   Yet again, God had different plans.  Once back in Lancaster, the rector of my childhood church invited me to serve as a part-time youth minister.  I found myself leading Bible studies, prayer meetings, See You at the Pole events, and giving all sorts of talks and homilies.  I didn’t know it at the time, but God was preparing me for a different sort of future.

For Spring Break my sophomore year, I initially planned to go to Germany to visit a friend studying abroad, but when that didn’t pan out, I went to Pittsburgh to visit old friends and attend the Jubilee Conference for Christian college students.  It was there that Cassie and I first met.  A year later, I returned to Jubilee ready to propose.  I barely remember the big day. I couldn’t pay any attention as the speakers made their presentations; I was too afraid of the diamond ring in my jacket pocket.  The afternoon was spent in small groups based on your major.  I went through the motions, so as not be suspicious, and attended the one for business students.  As the first half ended before a short break, the leader asked a question that changed my life forever.  “Are you studying business to further God’s Kingdom in some way, or just to get money and buy stuff?”

After years of trying to get my attention, God finally resorted to a “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people” type moment.  I was quite content to “get money and buy stuff” until that very second.  Despite what God had been doing through the youth ministry at Saint Thomas, I had successfully ignored any sense of call in the name of crushing fingers on the corporate ladder.  Suddenly the comfortable façade I had created came crashing down.  Get money and buy stuff was no longer an acceptable answer, and now, hours before I asked Cassie to be my wife, I had to figure out what God was inviting me to do with my life.

The two-by-four across the back of the head is often the last option God uses to get our attention, but some of us are thicker than others.  For Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John, the call was much easier.  With no more than a few words, they are ready to drop everything and leave family and career, in order to follow Jesus.  It is always dangerous to compare one Gospel story with another, but because Matthew is careful to tell us that Simon was called Peter, one gets the sense that this might not be the first time Jesus has met these men.  As we heard last week, Andrew and Simon Peter met Jesus down by the Jordan River, and some think that John the Baptist’s unnamed disciple was John.  No matter how you parse it, unlike my three years working for Saint Thomas, these men were paying attention when God came calling.  They were ready to follow Jesus no matter where he was headed.

Too often, call stories are reserved for the professional minsters among us.  It is probably because we had to tell the story approximately three million times during the discernment process, but the reality is that God calls every disciple to ministry: through the church, through other volunteer efforts, and even through whatever job you might have at any given moment.  As the Christian Vocation Project puts it, “The call to be a priest, monk, or nun, however sacred, is, in and of itself, not superior to the call of an architect designing a house, a mechanic repairing a car, or a nurse caring for the sick.  It is our faithfulness to God and not our station in life that honors a call.”[1]  Take, for example, the call of Andrew and Simon Peter.  Read at face value, this story can be used to suggest that being commercial fishermen was not their true calling, and only after Jesus comes and calls them to be “fishers of people” do they really have a vocation.  Instead, I believe that the many years they spent working hard as fishermen were preparing them to become successful apostles.

Think about their work for a minute.  In the first century, as it is today, the life of on commercial fishing boat was difficult.  Fishermen studied the water, learning its 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 when a stranger invited them to push out a little further or throw on the other side of the boat, and the haul was unimaginably large.

If that doesn’t sound like the life of ministry, I don’t know what does.  The qualities that made Simon Peter and Andrew good fishermen made them excellent fishers of men.  The same is true of almost every vocation.  If we are paying attention, there are parts of every job that teach us how to be a better disciple and a better witness to the Good News.  It when we begin to see how God is continually calling each of us as individuals to a life of ministry that we can then begin to then discern how God is calling us as a community to service.

Over the course of the next year, we will spend some time doing both of those things.  It’ll be important to do some work of individual discernment, looking at our own spiritual gifts and seeing how they fit into the call God has for each of us.  At the same time, we will be engaging in a process of communal strategic discernment, asking God how we can best use the many gifts we bring to build the Kingdom here in Bowling Green.  Some of this work will feel like a review.  “Didn’t we do this during the search process?” someone will invariably ask.  I’m sure you did, but this isn’t the same church it was when Holy Cow was here; it isn’t even the same church it was at Christmas.  Together, we will do the work of listening for God’s call so that unlike my call story, God won’t have to use a two-by-four to get our attention.  I look forward to the work ahead as we listen for Jesus’ call to follow him wherever he might lead.  Amen.

[1] Listening Hearts, p. 8.

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