In today’s gospel reading, we hear about the call of the first disciples of Jesus. Our collect for this morning begins “Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation.” Certainly, Simon, Andrew, James and John all answered this call readily – or in Mark’s favorite word “immediately” – as they dropped everything to follow Jesus. Mark’s paucity of detail makes this call somewhat unsettling for us. We’ve wrestled with this in our Coffee Talk Bible study. What made these fishermen chuck it all to follow Jesus? In a culture where family honor depended upon supporting your family and often continuing in the family business like James and John seem to be doing, this seemingly sudden change is shocking. In addition, these disciples certainly had no idea of what this call would demand of them or the unforeseeable “over their head” moments which would come.
Perhaps if we this of this call as more of a process than a punctiliar, one-time event it might make more sense. One of the things I value greatly about our Anglican heritage is that we do not view call and conversion as one-time events but rather as ongoing processes in the spiritual life. This idea of spiritual life as process comes out in the opening words of the Gospel reading where Jesus uses the terms repent and believe. In the Greek, they take the form of “repent and keep on repenting” and “believe and keep on believing” – both of which support the idea that repentance and believing are processes not singular events. Call and conversion are also processes. Mark does not give us a back story on the disciples, but it is very likely they had a growing sense of dissatisfaction with the way things were. Perhaps the Holy Spirit was working on them for some time before Jesus showed up. Perhaps it was being fed up with the burdens of Roman occupation. Maybe it was the monotony of casting nets in the water over and over and over. Perhaps this call to follow Jesus was the tipping point where the invitation drawing them out of their small lives of fishing on the Sea of Galilee and into participating in something much bigger than themselves was just irresistible.
The nature of call is journey not destination – it is process and not event – and it is NOT about wearing a collar. Each of us is called by Christ to proclaim the good news of God’s salvation and redeeming love in this very hurting world. The call to follow Christ changes over the course of our lifetimes and moves us to different situations and relationships not of our own choosing. Each phase in this journey will challenge us to change and grow and there will be times we feel completely overwhelmed. It is a journey which leads to those “over your head” moments where we encounter our limitations and finitude – but paradoxically those are the very moments we encounter God’s grace. We likely will not feel it at that point of being overwhelmed but we can see it in hindsight.
In my work as a hospice chaplain, I encountered families who accepted the call of Christ and through that call were moved to care for their dying loved one in their home. Contrary to the myth that a dying person is a “burden” on their family, the caregivers I worked with would describe their experience as a privilege and a blessing. However, make no mistake - caring for a dying person is hard and it is overwhelming. The nature of this work draws family and friends out of their comfort zone to do things they never would have imagined. I recall one case of a woman in Hancock whose son took care of her. Her son was almost 60 and a bit rough around the edges. He had been a railroad engineer, an equestrian stuntman in many western and Civil War movies, a musician, and a long haul truck driver. He was a disaffected Roman Catholic with unresolved issues about church. He was kind of a long haired gruff country type – not exactly the kind of guy you’d expect to be caring for his dying mother. But Butch had a sense of obligation to his mom and I believe God placed that sense of obligation in him to call him to something bigger than himself. When I met him, he was worried about what would happen as his mother lost her faculties. He didn’t think he could give his mother a bed bath or help her to the toilet. And yet, when his mother came to those points where he needed to step up and do things he didn’t think he could do … he did them … and he did a good job. We’ve talked since his mother died and he looks back at that time with some amazement that he was able to do many things he’d never imagined himself doing. And as one who watched this journey unfold, I daresay some of his rougher edges became just a bit more polished – a bit more gentle. God’s grace and the support of a hospice team gave him the ability to be more than he’d ever imagined he could be.
Christ’s call to follow him requires a response from each of us. He calls us to be disciples, to go into situations and places not of our choosing, to risk the changes which must come, and to trust that when we are overwhelmed God is still present with us. Each of us lives this call as we respond to the needs of family, friends, coworkers, fellow students and even complete strangers. Christ calls you to proclaim through your words and actions the good news of God’s redeeming love. It’s up to you to answer the call readily.