The Call

Written by Joel on January 25th, 2009

Jan 25, 2009
Third Sunday after Epiphany
Mark 1:14-20
First Christian Church of North Hollywood, CA

Speaking for myself, I am shocked at the Disciple’s response in the Gospel reading today. Look at James and John in particular. These men were wealthy, or at least well enough. They were in their family business. They owned a boat and were able to employ others. And they threw it all away, leaving their poor ‘ole dad behind to fend for himself. James and John were completely bonkers! What could ever possess someone do to such a thing?

Last week, Our Pastor Bob Bock told us that all ministers can tell you about their call to the ministry. And it is certainly true. I experienced one of those subtle calls which Rev. Bock tells us is the most common. In my case I was a child when the small voice began to call my name.
Since my high school days the idea of going into the ministry had been put in my head. First at church camp when a pastor first suggested that I might be called, later to have that call confirmed by my own pastor and members of my church. I attended Bethany College, a Disciples school in West Virginia. My time there was coming to an end and I had to decide whether to continue to say yes to the call or go on to something else. The religious studies professor at Bethany suggested I look into the seminary which he attended – Fuller out here in Pasadena. I took a look, saw that it was a good fit, applied and was accepted.

One apparent problem however was that it was 3000 miles away, and I didn’t have any family and friends in LA. And, I can’t say my girlfriend was exactly thrilled about the idea. But I was determined. And in the summer of 2005 I packed up my all my worldly possessions (which fit in my car at the time), kissed my girlfriend goodbye and drove off to the West Coast. I came here without any family, friends, a job, and just a bit of cash, because I believed I was supposed to complete the next step in my call here. This story does have a happy ending. For one, I am able to meet you and serve this church, and I married my girlfriend 2 years latter. we are both finishing grad school this summer.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking, wow this guy is bonkers just like those disciples! Who would pick up and go somewhere like Los Angeles of all places!? Especially without friends, family, a job; and leaving behind a girlfriend, trees, snow, seasons, and clean air!?

Well, this story is more about the call than it is about the response.
Our gospel story opens today with a summary of Jesus’ proclamation: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Eugene Patterson’s the Message, offers a helpful translation “Time’s up! God’s kingdom is here. Change your life and believe the Message.”
It is in light of this proclamation that Jesus makes his call to the first disciples. It is an urgent call; because God’s Kingdom could break forth into history at any moment, and in fact it already has! So hurry up, there is no time to delay, I need you now! The disciples respond immediately because the call is urgent.

This is one of those rare and sudden calls. But with the understanding of such urgency, of such magnitude, Jesus calls his disciples using a metaphor:
“I will make you fish for people.” Now, that is quite a strange call. These disciples are already fishermen! Not “get up and go…preach, teach, pray, sell your stuff, enter seminary.” It was “get up, go, and do…exactly what you have already been doing! – to fish. Being fishermen is what defined the disciples prior to their call. It is how they made a living, it is what they did.
We are all too familiar with the idea that we are is what we do. One of the very first questions you are asked when you meet a new person is “what do you do?” But Jesus asked these fishermen “why do you do?” And the call was not “do something else,” it was “come and do this for the kingdom of God.”

The call is, the difference is the reason which lies behind why they are fishermen. Jesus is promising a transformation. Jesus offered a new reason for being.

What is radical in this story is not the response. But rather it is the call itself. Christ has an urgent call for his disciples: hurry up, we don’t have much time, and what I require from you is nothing less than your very being. In fact Jesus did not call them to do anything fundamentally different than what they already knew, the call remained “I will make you fishermen.” The urgency in Christ’s call however cuts right to the very core of who we are. Tthe reason behind, the why, their purpose in life has changed. “I will make you fishers of people.” They are no longer fishermen to support their livelihood, but for the kingdom of God which has broken into history. Jesus called Simon, Andrew, James and John to use their gifts and skills in the kingdom.

One of the tv shows I follow fairly regularly is Eli Stone. It’s the story of a successful San Francisco lawyer, who is working his way up to be a partner in his law firm. One day, out of the blue, Eli begins to see visions. He is convinced that these visions are from God, and that God is trying to tell him something. Eli listens to the call, sometimes reluctantly. But God doesn’t tell him to stop being a lawyer, to sell all of his possessions, or to go into the ministry. In fact, God tells him, through his visions, which cases to take – to keep on being a lawyer. Eli remains in his vocation, but with a renewed motivation, a new reason for the work which he does. He is called to use his skills, to live his life, for the glory of the Kingdom of God.

This is the essentially the Gospel story we read today. Christ calls us to be transformed, not in what we do, but why we do it. I was a student when God called me to head out to California. I was called to continue my studies for the Lord.
If you are a teacher, teach others about Christ; if you are a writer, tell others about the Kingdom, if you are one who serves, serve others for the glory of God; if you are a mother or father, raise up children of God. In whatever you do, do so for the Lord.

This is the call Christ has for us today. And it is no less radical, and demands no less radical of a response as those first disciples which we read about. Christ asks for your whole being, to use your gifts in his kingdom. It is a decision which means we say “yes” every day to that call. Be radical in your response, this is what it means to be called a disciple.


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