From Master to Lord

Luke’s version of Jesus calling his first disciples feels like something of a non sequitur.  After a chapter full of stories of teaching and healing in and around Galilee, it feels like Jesus has a bit of crew hanging around him.  Yet, by the time we get to chapter 5, Luke feels compelled to let us in on how the band first got together.  As if by way of a flashback, Luke begins the story of Jesus calling Peter, James, and John with, “Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God…”

So, once upon a time, Jesus was hanging out by a lake with a crowd so large he couldn’t hear himself think.  Quick on his feet, as the Son of God should be, Jesus decided to use the natural amphitheater of the lakeshore to his advantage and he asked Simon (Peter) to put his boat out into the water a bit so that he could teach the crowd.  When he was finished with his sermon, presumably on the nearness of the Kingdom of God, Jesus asked Simon to head out into the deep water in order to catch some lunch.

Simon (Peter), exhausted from a long night of fishing but not catching, reluctantly follows the Rabbi’s instructions, but not without a good, passive aggressive, gibe.  “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing.  But, if you say so, I’ll let down the nets.”  Master caught my attention this morning because it clearly isn’t Lord, which is what people usually call Jesus in the Gospels.  In the Greek, the word translated as master is the generic word for someone who is appointed over someone else – a superintendent or an overseer.  In the culture of his day, Simon no doubt recognizes that this itinerant Rabbi is of a higher class than him, but he is also pretty sure that lifetime of fishing on that lake made him an expert.  In the parlance of the South, it might be as if Simon (Peter) says to Jesus, “OK, hoss, we’ll do it your way.”

What follows is a most miraculous event.  The catch of fish is so large that it almost sinks two boats.

jesus-and-the-miraculous-catch-of-fish-on-lake-of-genesareth-sea-of-m5yrj6

What is the most ridiculous part of this stock image of the scene?  My vote is on Lazy Jesus.

Luke tells us that everyone who witnessed this event were amazed at what they say.  No doubt the crowd gathered on the lakeshore knew as well as Simon did that fish don’t bite that late into the morning.  Yet, there before their very eyes, was a catch such that they had never seen before.  Simon Peter is moved from skeptic to believer in that experience.  Jesus is no longer simply master, but now he has become Lord.  Peter fell to his knees and worshiped Jesus saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”  He wasn’t exactly sure what this Jesus guy was, but he knew that God was with him.

Many followers of Jesus since then have had deeply profound encounters with Jesus that helped them come to faith.  Many others, myself included, have simply been a part of the Way their whole lives.  Being called as a disciple doesn’t require the miraculous catch, but rather, a willingness to see Jesus as something more than simply a special teacher, a master, but rather as Lord.

God Equips the Called – a sermon

You can listen to yesterday’s sermon on the Saint Paul’s Website, or read it below.

I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time this week thinking about the year 2008.  Friday marked the sixth anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood, which occurred on a nasty January weekend in 2008.  As I reflected on the six years that have passed, I was reminded, more than a few times, of just how much I’ve learned doing this thing called “full-time, ordained ministry” day in and day out.  I remembered, in particular, another weekend in 2008, this time in November, when I flew off to everybody’s favorite vacation destination, Oklahoma City, for a conference called “Worship in a Postmodern Accent.”  It really was a great conference, filled with alternative worship experiences, lectures by some of the greatest minds in the Emerging Church, and good fellowship with a some of people with whom I’m still in touch.  Yet, for all the good that the weekend had to offer, I still remember vividly the overwhelming feeling of inadequacy that threatened to swallow me whole.

There I was, twenty-eight years old, not even a year-old priest, still trying to figure out life in Lower Alabama, mixing it up with some of the most imaginative minds in the Church.  It all came to a head sitting in one of the lower level meeting rooms at some Oklahoma City hotel at three o’clock Friday afternoon.  Jonny Baker, the head of the Fresh Expressions Office in the Church of England had set up a labyrinth experience like I had never seen before.  There were maybe a dozen prayer stations spread throughout the room complete with running water, working televisions, sand displays, and lighting effects.  As I took in what was happening around me, a little voice crept into my ear and told me, “You’ll never be this imaginative.  Give it up.  Why waste your time.”  As I plodded through the labyrinth, feeling depressed about how I’d never come up with something that engaging, I came to a station where we were invited to, and I’m not kidding, write down our fears on a piece of paper, fold it into an origami boat, and float it down the flowing river that Jonny had built in the middle of the room.  This really happened, I swear.  I knew my fear, it was that I was inadequate, not just to develop some alt.worship opportunity at Saint Paul’s, but for the whole shebang.  I grabbed a pen from the bucket and began to write down my fear, when, just a few letters in, the pen dried up.  I looked down in exasperation, and noticed that this wasn’t just any old bic pen, it was a promotional pen that somebody had given away somewhere.  But it didn’t say, “Saint Swithin’s by the Sea” or “Church Pension Group” on it, instead it read, “God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called.”  I tucked that dead pen in my pocket, and never looked back.

I think that “God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called” should be the lens through which we read this morning’s Gospel lesson.  Instead, I think it is most often read through the lens of guilt and inadequacy.  Here’s how the story goes when we read it that way.  Jesus, fresh from his baptism in the River Jordan, complete with doves and voices from heaven, followed by 40 days of fasting and temptation in the wilderness, moves to Capernaum by the Sea.  The next day, Jesus was walking on the shores of the Sea of Galilee when he runs in to two fishermen, Andrew and Simon Peter, who presumably, he’s never met before.  He says to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people,” and they drop what they’re doing, leave behind steady jobs and family, to follow Jesus wherever he’s headed.  Just a few feet down the beach, their chief competitors, the Zebedee brothers, are mending their nets when Jesus calls out to them.  Not knowing him from Adam, James and John hand their nets to their father and walk off into the sunset with Jesus.  The sermon writes itself, “Would you be willing to give up everything to follow Jesus?  I bet not, and you wanna know why?  Because you are selfish sinners, that’s why.”  Maybe the sermon wouldn’t be that extreme, but you get the idea, like the example of Jesus’ baptism, the calling of Jesus’ first disciples seems so over the top, so impossible a model for us to follow, that it seems useless to even read the story.

Unless.  Unless, we’ve missed some vital details along the way.  Let me tell you the story one more time, this time including some of the details we can reasonably assume based on the Gospel accounts.  After Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River, he spent some time with his cousin, listening to him preach.  One day, two of John’s disciples, Andrew and presumably John, the son of Zebedee, followed Jesus back to the place where he was staying and spent the day with him.  Convinced that they had found the one they were looking for, the Messiah, both ran off to find their brothers to tell them the Good News.  Andrew returned with his brother, Simon, who Jesus called Cephas, which is translated as Peter.  Eventually, Jesus headed out into the wilderness for the forty day fast that would steel him for the journey ahead, and after he returned, he found out that John had been arrested by Herod.  Realizing this didn’t bode well for him, he decided to set up camp in a small fishing village on the Sea of Galilee, called Capernaum.  Having reconnected with Andrew, Simon, John, and James, the five spent time together as Jesus continued to teach them, to share his story and his vision for the Kingdom of God.  Ultimately, Jesus realized that the time was right for him to begin his ministry of formal preaching and teaching, and he went down to the shoreline, where he knew his friends would be working and called to them saying, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  They drop what they are doing to join their friend in the ministry that they will share, proclaiming the Good News of God’s Kingdom to the people of Israel. Did you hear the difference?

in the first version, Jesus calls the already equipped, while in the second, he equips the called.  Jesus spent time with his disciples, equipping them for the difficult journey ahead, helping them to understand God’s plan for salvation, preparing them for their work as evangelists, a task to which every disciple is called and for which none of us feels very well equipped.  Of course, evangelism is what this week is all about.  From the Collect to the prophecy of Isaiah to Paul’s appeal to the Church in Corinth and the call stories of Andrew, Peter, James and John: this week’s theme is evangelism.  Now, before you get all hyperventalaty, after all most of us would rather have a root canal then engage in evangelism, remember – God equips the called.

Over the next few weeks, as we slog through the rambling beginning to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, evangelism will come up again and again.  He’ll remind them how he shared the Gospel with them.  He’ll comfort them, and us, that you don’t have to be an expert in rhetoric, homiletics, or theology to tell people about Jesus.  He’ll assure them, and us, in the knowledge that while we might do the talking, God is doing all the work.  He’ll share with them, and us, that the key to evangelism is simply knowing the saving power of Jesus in your own life.  He’ll reassure them, and us, that all we have to do is plant the seed, God will do the watering.

Evangelism is a scary word for those of us who think we aren’t equipped, but if we are paying attention to God’s work in our lives, then we quickly realize that everything God does is equipping us to share the Good News.  Simply put, evangelism is done when one person who knows the power of God in their life is willing to tell someone else about it.  It takes the form of relationships.  It looks a lot like conversations over coffee or lunch because that’s exactly what it is.  Evangelism is as simple as sharing the hope that is in you: the hope that comes through life in the Kingdom of God.  It isn’t elaborate, it doesn’t need to be painful, but it does need to be genuine and cloaked in prayer.  The Spirit will do the work; all you have to do is tell the story.  God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called.  He did it for the hot headed Zebedee brothers, for that blow-hard, Peter, and for his brother Andrew.  He’s done it for me, and he’ll do it for you.  Follow Jesus, and he will make you fishers of people.  Amen.

Fishers of Men

I apologized for it yesterday, but I should probably do it again.  I’m all for trying to take the gender specificity out of Scripture when possible.  I’m not sure repeating the word God eleven times in a sentence is helpful, as in “God is fully known only by God God’s self, God’s only Son, and God’s Holy Spirit,” or some such thing.  I do think that expanding “brothers” to include “sisters” make a whole lot of sense, and in most cases swapping out men and mankind for people and humankind is a wise move.  There is, however, one place where I’m a bit old fashioned, Matthew 4:19, as Jesus calls out to Andrew and Simon Peter saying,  in the NRSV, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”  I understand the intent, but it just doesn’t have the flow that the King James and old RSV had in “I will make you fishers of men.”  And, yes, I know that the Greek is better translated with a somewhere in the middle version, “fishers of people.”

Of course, in either case, the gist is the same, Jesus has called Peter and Andrew to a new vocation of Evangelist.  In yesterday’s post, I posited that Jesus had used this call specifically for these two brothers who made their living as fishermen, but as I’ve thought more about it, reflecting on the Collect and the lesson from 1 Corinthians, I can’t help but think that maybe, on some level, we are all called to be fishers of men.  In Ephesians 4:11, Paul specifically lists evangelism as a gift of the Spirit, and certainly some are gifted Evangelists, but it seems to me that the work of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ is a universal expectation of the faithful.

This is, of course, a frightening realization for many Christians who would rather have a root canal then tell someone about Jesus, but as I mentioned on Tuesday, it really has nothing to do with us.  Just as it had nothing to do with Simon Peter and Andrew.  Jesus doesn’t say to them, “Y’all are smart enough, savvy enough, and good at sales, c’mon with me.”  No, instead Jesus says, “I will make you fishers of people.”  He’ll give you what you need.  He’ll provide the access.  He’ll supply the words.  He’ll do the work, all Simon Peter, Andrew, and I have to do is be willing to a) experience God’s presence in my life and b) share how that presence has been a blessing to me.  As a broken pen once told me, “God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called.”  He did it for the hot headed Zebedee brothers, for that blow-hard, Peter, and for his brother Andrew, and he’ll do it for you.