So the life of the inconsistent blogger goes on! For those friends and family who asked me to keep you up to date on our life at Seminary via this blog, I apologize for being so intermittent in my posting. We are all well… seminary is great, just busy! I knew this would be a lot of work, but doing it with a family who all have needs and commitments in addition to my own definitely makes for a juggling act and blogging falls to the end of the priority list. However, today I have something worth sharing. I preached my first sermon in my Introduction to Preaching class this morning and it went very well. Below is the sermon… it’s not Shakespeare or anything… just my thoughts on Matthew 4: 12-23. The sermon was written with my classmates in mind as my specific audience… I hope you enjoy!
NO MEANS NO! Doesn’t It???
ABSOLUTELY NOT! No way. There must be some mistake. Ummm… thanks but no thanks. What part of NO do you not understand? Keine! Nei! Nada! Ei! Por supuesto que no! Negative. Not it. Not gonna happen! On a scale from one to no…. NO! If the word NO could be personified… its name would be ARIEL! I think what we have here, is failure to communicate. No means no! No, no, no, no, no, no, NOOOOOOOOOOO!
That was my response to God for somewhere around 17-years. Although I’ve felt a call to ministry since I was 16-years-old, I really, really, REALLY DIDN’T want to have to live into that call.
- I’ve made excuses – “The timing is bad.” “I have children.” “I can’t quit working.”
- I’ve tried alternative substitutions – “I can serve and use my BLAH job as my form of ministry” “I’ll serve in Youth & Family Ministry, that’s good enough, right?”
- I’ve Tried to negotiate – “God, don’t make me do this, and I’ll be a really good person… I PROMISE!”
- I even tried covering my ears and singing “La-la-la-la-la” for a very, very, very long time.
God wasn’t having any of it. So it turns out… God is rather persistent. God’s kind of annoying that way. So, here I am. 34 years old. 2 school aged children, a husband, family, friends, debt, needs, insecurities, my own selfish desires and aspirations (which apparently count for nothing!) and I’m in seminary.
I bet every single person in this room can relate to my feelings. I’m sure you all have your own stories of denial and refusal. I’m sure you all have your own circumstances and needs. I’m sure you all have your own reasons for not wanting to be here as much as I don’t. However… here you all are! Here WE all are. We are called to repent and to follow Christ, and so we do.
In Matthew Chapter 4, we hear a story of Jesus beginning his ministry. John the Baptist has been arrested, and whether it’s related or not, Christ retreats to Galilee. While in Galilee one day he’s walking on the beach there, ocean in the background, sand between his toes, probably some wind blowing through his luscious locks, and that salty-fishy scent lingering in the air. I’m pretty sure he was walking in slow motion and Enya was magically playing all around. As he travels along the beach he comes upon some men fishing. As they sit along the water’s edge cleaning their boats and untangling their nets Jesus calls out to them and invites them to follow him.
They immediately throw down their fishing nets and become his disciples. WOW… THEY IMMEDIATELY, IMMEDIATELY throw down their nets to follow Christ. . These hairy, smelly, uneducated, probably somewhat raucous men who have lived their lives on this beach or out in the water, threw it all away. In an act of total disregard for themselves and others they threw caution to the wind. They abandoned their careers. They abandoned their community. They abandoned their families. To follow Christ.
YEAH! Amazing! Inspiring! We should do the same! SERIOUSLY??? Should we? If someone we knew did that today we would think that they had had a complete and total breakdown.
Apparently these smelly, disgusting, uncouth fishermen had WAY more faith and trust in God than I do.
Now don’t I feel ashamed for taking so long to get around to throwing down my metaphorical nets????!!! 17 years rather than instantaneous action. Nice story Matthew! Way to paint a completely unrealistic picture. Seriously, it’s like the Barbie Doll of discipleship stories. There is no way to ever achieve that. Thanks for setting an impossible standard for the rest of us! Thanks for making me feel really bad about myself. That’s just Awesome.
As I’ve stewed in this scripture for the past month I’ve come to realize a few things… maybe this story that we all take as very black and white is way more gray than we give it credit for. The scripture actually says Jesus retreated to Galilee and began to proclaim “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near!” THEN Jesus walked on the beach.
In our Introduction to Old Testament class Dr. Schramm encourages us to read not only what is present in scripture, but what is NOT present. To read between the lines.
What is not present in this scripture is any indication of how much time exists between Jesus arriving in Galilee, proclaiming to the people, and when he is walking on that beach. According to several of the commentaries that I studied, it’s actually pretty likely that he spent some time establishing himself and becoming familiar with the community prior to his long-illustrious-cinematic-walk-on-the-beach.
It’s also worth noting that Jesus chose to use the exact words that John the Baptist spoke before him, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is Near!” as his inaugural proclamation. It’s almost as if he is establishing his “Street Cred.”
Given that establishing street cred and building relationships takes a little time, there is a very real and likely possibility that the disciples were already familiar with Jesus. Given the hospitality standards and practices in the Middle East, they may have actually even hosted him in their homes. So the ultimate net throw-down may actually not be quite as sudden as we often assume. The community and familial abandonment may actually have had the blessing of those important to these men. This may have been a matter of honor and pride. It’s very probable that this was a process, not a spur of the moment decision.
Now that sounds and feels familiar. A time for building relationship and establishing trust. A time for loved ones to get used to and buy into the idea. A time for us to grow in strength of spirit and confidence. Yep, that definitely sounds very, very familiar.
Sooooooo…. What does this mean for us? I believe it means that our long times spent in discernment do NOT make us bad disciples. It means that we are just as brave and trusting as the original disciples. It means that we are living into our call to repent and follow Christ just as God has intended for us to.
Many of our journeys have been long. Some of our journeys have been RRRREEEAAAAALLLLLY long. However, every step we’ve taken has been and will continue to be used by God. Every moment of doubt and angst is not ours alone. Every instance of fear and trepidation is healthy and normal. Each twist and turn on our path contributes to who we are and how we engage the world.
Each and every time I told God NO! God patiently guided me on until I finally said: OKAY FINE! I GIVE UP! I HEAR YOU! MESSAGE RECEIVED! YOU WIN! I’M GOING! Amen.