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Posts Tagged ‘fishermen’

Justin Bieber has 16.7 million followers on Twitter. He has tweeted almost 13,000 times. I, on the other hand, have tweeted 1800 times, and my followers number in the dozens, at just shy of 200. It’s game on, Bieber!

Twitter is, of course, just one of the multitude of social networking tools that has taken over the world of communication in the last few years. From a service that started just five years ago, it now numbers users that rival the population of the U.S. It is being credited with the overthrow of dictators in Egypt and Libya and with populist movements in places as far flung as Syria and the United States. If you can edit your thoughts down to 140 characters or fewer (that’s about 25-30 words), then Twitter might be the tool for you.

Like all technology, it’s a double-edged sword. The short length of messages seems to play into and contribute to the sound byte culture which plagues us so – and if we had forgotten that, another round of elections is here to remind us that content most certainly isn’t king. Critics attack Twitter for feeding into our unhealthy narcissism, where people feel compelled to share what they’re having for dinner and why they think “Two and a Half Men” is better with Ashton Kutcher.

And yet, at the same time, it has given people who have long been disenfranchised access to information. We need look no further than the Arab Spring for evidence of that. And for truly breaking news there is no better source than Twitter. While Fox and CNN try to fill the void of the 24-hour news cycle with vapid information and pointless commentary, if you really want to know what is going on at the moment, Twitter gives you instant access to eyewitness accounts.

What strikes me as curious about Twitter, alongside everything else, is the language choice of “follow”. Unlike Facebook, where you “friend” someone, in Twitter, you “follow” them. And they can also “follow” you – which sounds a bit like everyone is just going in circles. And that is one of the dangers of our technological boom. We are self-selecting for the information and relationships that agree with what we already think we know to be true. We are less and less likely to seek out friendships and websites and news channels that challenge our assumptions about the way the world works. We are feeding our own self-righteousness, and becoming more and more siloed from folks who aren’t like us.

And that’s where the Scripture texts today come into focus. We first heard the dramatic tale of Jonah, skipping over the introduction where Jonah tries to run away from God, gets caught in a storm, then thrown overboard, eaten by a giant fish, and spit back up onto dry ground. Now God is telling him, yet again, “Go to Nineveh and tell them to get straight.” And they do. The people of Nineveh fast and pray. And God relents from the promised destruction.

For Jonah, following God meant doing something he didn’t want to do. Nineveh was a big, bad city, and the last thing he wanted to do was to go there and tell everyone how big and bad they were, like Pee Wee Herman trying to use the phone in a biker bar.

For the people of Nineveh, following God meant doing a 180, spinning on their heels, putting a stop to their ways and starting off on a new path. For the people of God, following breaks us out of our silos and can often bring us into uncharted territory.

No one knew this fact better than the disciples. Today, we heard the familiar story of the four who simply dropped their nets and followed Jesus. Simon and Andrew were drawn by the promise of catching people in their nets instead of fish…the same with James and John, the sons of Zebedee.

We’ve talked before about this story and the weight of the decision these disciples made. Bethsaida, their home town, meant “the place of fishing.” There’s little doubt that this was work that had been handed down for a multitude of generations. This was a great deal more than a simple career change; to follow Jesus was to turn their backs on everything they had known. Fishing was practically in their DNA. And while Jesus promised they would still fish, it would be unlike anything they had experienced before.

To become a disciple means quite simply to become a student, a pupil. But there’s one key difference: the student can eventually become the teacher. The disciple remains a disciple. And for the disciples, following Jesus meant heading off into the unknown.

What about us? What does it mean to be followers of Jesus?

Like Jonah, are we being asked to do things that we don’t want to do? Are there places in our lives where we know that the faithful thing to do isn’t always the easy thing to do? It’s never as easy as saying that the right thing to do is always the hard thing to do. God expects much of us in terms of our own wisdom and discernment as we think and pray through choices in our lives. And yet, we all know of moments where we know what we ought to do, and that this obligation may have a cost that we’re not quite willing to pay. Is that where you are right now, facing a decision that may take you somewhere you’re not sure you want to go?

Or do you find yourself more in line with the people of Nineveh? Is God asking you to turn away from choices you have made which have been, time and time again, the wrong choices? The churchy word for that is repentance, which means turning to face God and owning up to mistakes. If so, then the invitation today is to take the opportunity to start over. It’s still January, and though the calendar is an admittedly arbitrary tool, it may just be the tool you need to make that 180 and begin afresh. The road may feel uncharted, but the truth is that God goes before you every step of the way.

Or is it the story of fishermen which resonates with you today? Is there something nudging you, calling you to a bold new adventure in faith? Is it a change in careers or a leadership role here at OPC? Is it downsizing your lifestyle to make more room for the things that you know are of ultimate importance?

Maybe none of this strikes a chord with you today. Maybe you’ve already heard this message before loud and clear, and so the text today is meant as an encouragement to stay the course.

In any case, to follow Jesus is to break down the walls of our silos. We are brought into relationships with those who are unlike us. Jesus is not the ultimate “yes man”. There is, always, a word of challenge at work. In our afflictions, we will be comforted; and in our comforts, we will be afflicted.

And to follow Jesus puts us very much in the here and now. We care about this world because it is God’s world. We are invested in our community because, in Christ, God’s own self became deeply invested in a world of material, fleshy reality. To be followers of the incarnate God is to be, ourselves, the incarnate body of Christ, the hands and feet of the one who calls us to drop our nets, follow, and fish in a whole new way.

Amen.

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Isaiah 6:1-8
Luke 5:1-11

Think about the language we use to talk about jobs. We call it a “vocation” – literally, a calling. We call it a “profession” – almost like an affirmation of faith. Or we say, rather hyperbolically, it’s “what we do for a living” – what, you mean breathe? In other words, we use near-religious language to talk about something we don’t feel too sacred about.

I think about this language when I think about my own family’s vocational journey. It was 1933 when my grandfather started Marthame Sanders & Co. General Contractors. My dad started working there after high school. After college and the Army, he went to work there full-time. Eventually he became President of the company. He had no choice.

My sister and I would spend our summers working there as well, even into college. But in 1990, the world changed for us dramatically. The company went bankrupt, a casualty of Atlanta’s building bust that year. My grandfather died. My father had a stroke, probably from the stress, and went into a deep depression that he dealt with his whole life. In fact, even though his mother lived another ten years, he never told her that the company had closed. I was away at college at the time. I had already made the shift away from engineering (a 37 on a math mid-term may have had something to do with that). And even though my dad never for a moment assumed that I would follow in his footsteps. It was there that I began my long and circuitous journey toward the ministry.

Being the third generation of Marthame Sanderses, I sense some kinship with Simon Peter and James and John, these citizens of Bethsaida, these sons of sons of sons of fishermen. It’s an intriguing lesson, this story of Jesus approaching the fishermen and calling them to be disciples. There are two things that jump out at me: Jesus, though a child of Nazareth, knows their job better than they do. And Jesus also sees something in what they do that can serve God.

What is it that Jesus would say to you about your job?

We’re continuing our conversations about living our lives in the balance. Is our job in the balance? Do we put the proper amount of time into it? Do we keep our work in perspective? Because of the jolt the economy took this year, those of us who still are fortunate enough to have jobs might be looking over our shoulders, working harder and longer to justify ourselves and our jobs. But the question is: what do we really do for a living, for a breathing?

If Jesus saw you, what would he say? Would he invite you to sell for him? Teach or study for him? Build for him? How would he see your vocation, your profession, as something that you can do for him?

There are three possible approaches. The first is to leave your nets behind and do something completely different. It’s the most terrifying option, because it’s what you know. But what is it that you know on an even deeper level? What is your “vocation”? What is it that you “profess”? What do you do “for a living”? Is it hauling in nets day after day that speaks to the core of your being?

The second possibility is to use your talents for God’s sake. There are many within the community of OPC who do just that. They bring their gifts of hospitality, financial know-how, organizational skills to bear on our community’s life. Some bring those skills directly from their jobs. Others are unable to profess them for money and so it is the church that gets the benefit.

Then there’s the third way of looking at it. How is it that you can serve God at your job? I’m not necessarily talking about offering Bible studies at work, or inviting co-workers to morning prayer. But I’m suggesting that we might be careful about segmenting our work life off in a corner where the rules of the kingdom of God somehow don’t apply. Do you take your values with you to work? Your love of family, friendship, humor? Your desire for justice, mercy, forgiveness?

I invite you, this week, to do one thing. First thing in the morning, pray. Even before you hit the snooze button. And pray this simply prayer: “Help me be faithful to you in all that I do today.” Notice what changes – in you, in the world around you. Give it at least a week, on a daily basis. I’m willing to bet that you’ll hear Christ calling to you from the lakeshore. May we all have the courage to follow.

Amen.

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