Sunday, January 21, 2018

Join me in this

Calling Disciples, by He Qi

Follow me, up and down,
all the way, and all around.
Make it part of you to be a part of me.
Follow me, where I go,
what I do, and who I know.
Take my hand and say you’ll follow me.

(by John Denver)

When you are a pastor, it feels like you get a leg up on this text, because you make your living following Jesus.  How are we to follow Jesus?  One easy answer is to become a pastor. Boom. Done.  Box checked off – Kara and Lisa are following Jesus.  But what about the rest of you? How do you know if you are following Jesus?  
Let’s be honest, who among us even knows what that really means?

How do we follow Jesus in our lives today?
Maybe by being nice to people?  Jesus wants us to be nice to people, right? Ok, check. Mostly, at least, some of the time, anyway.
Telling other people about Jesus? Umm… the pastors are good on that one anyway.
Praying and read our bible?  Not as regular at these as I probably should be, but ok.
Going to church? You all get a check for this one today.  Good job.
 How about volunteering our time for good causes, and sharing our money with worthy organizations? Check.
Maybe if we do enough of these things, or if we have a day where we do several in the same day, then on that day we can really know for sure we are following Jesus. 

Or maybe following Jesus means believing certain things about God or life, I mean, that seems to be the way we most often define it. The only problem is that the list varies widely depending on who wrote it and when, so it’s a little foggy. 
Does your list include who to vote for and what to think about same-sex marriage, immigration or climate change?  Does it include the virgin birth, and Jesus as the Son of God, and the bible as the word of God? How many things do you have to agree with on whichever list you are using in order to qualify as officially following Jesus? When do you know if you’ve crossed the line into follower, and can you accidentally uncross it?

OK , so what if following Jesus is about how you life your life, then? 
Is that how we can tell we’re doing it right?  
But the nuns we stayed with up at St. Benedict's are following Jesus one way, and the Soldiers for Jesus International Motorcycle Club and Brotherhood of Christian Bikers quite another.
Are they following the same Jesus? 
And once we figure out what following Jesus means, how can we be sure we are doing it right? Or enough? 

It’s also clear that following Jesus means giving up something – like these disciples gave up their fishing job for their following Jesus job.  And maybe also their whole way of life and community and even their connection to their father. One friend said this week, “He’d just gotten business cards printed – Zebedee and sons, and off they went, leaving him holding the nets.”  We are pretty sure there is some kind of sacrifice involved in following Jesus.  
But most of us didn’t give up our home and go be missionaries in a foreign land, or take in disabled orphans and adopt them, or start ministries that feed homeless people, or whatever other superhero Jesus-followers we might hold up to compare ourselves to when we are trying to figure out how well we are following Jesus.

I would be willing to bet on the “How well are you following Jesus?” scale, very few people, if any, would rank themselves perfectly, including pastors. Most of us would take a “I could be doing better at it” attitude, even when we’re not entirely clear how “it” should look.

Then there are all those who say they are following Jesus, but they are doing or saying things that seem to completely contradict how Jesus was in the world. How can we make sense of what that kind of Jesus-following has to do with the kind of Jesus-following we might aspire to?  So we think they’re not doing a very good job of it, and they think we’re not doing a very good job of it, and somewhere in the middle of it all, we’ve all lost sight of Jesus himself.

So to sum up, then: 
- We know we’re supposed to follow Jesus, 
- We’re not sure we completely know what that means or how it should look in the world.
- We know it requires sacrifice, 
- By any measure, we’ve got a long way to go.

So let’s go back to this moment, before the disciples were disciples, when they were just fishermen, minding their own business, and Jesus calls them to follow him.

There is so much good in translations of scripture that remove barriers to understanding because they take out English gendered language to more accurately communicate what the original language meant say. When the NRSV says, “And Jesus said ‘follow me and I will make you fish for people,” it captures the true meaning in the Greek, which is that it is for everyone, humankind, not just men.  
But by changing “fishers” to “fish for” we make a noun into a verb, and lose something important.  Listen to it this way: As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea--for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”
This poetic contrast splits the open the word “fishermen” into “fishers of men.”  
In that moment, Jesus isn’t just giving them a different job, he’s giving them a different identity, a different orientation in the world. Instead of being fishermen – sustaining yourself in the world and contributing to the whole through this certain set of skills – you are going to be fishers of men – oriented Christ and thus toward other people. You will change, by turning away from the sea and toward your sisters and brothers around you.  
In other words, You are no longer a fisherperson. You are a fisher of persons.

“Follow me.” Jesus says, “and this is what will happen.” 
Jesus is not calling them to follow a way of thinking or believing. 
He is not saying, Acquire more knowledge, or Live differently.  
He is not giving them a list to check off to make sure they are honoring God or living a worthy life. 
He is calling them to follow him, a person.
Bonhoeffer talked about this as the Who instead of the How. Jesus doesn’t give them a How – How should we live? How should we follow? How can we please God? How should we believe, or behave? How do we know if we are doing it right?

Instead, the living God stands before them and calls them as people, to follow a person – the person of Christ.  Who is this calling to me?  Who am I called to be?  Who am I called to be with?  A short time later, they will look at him in the dead calm aftermath of a suddenly shuttered storm and ask, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

This one who calls you is God incarnate. He sees you as a who – and shifts your who away from whatever it is that gives you security, self-understanding and purpose, whatever you thought it is that tells you who you are by telling you how you should live or believe.
Jesus turns your who back toward God and out toward the world God is saving, to seek other whos, to seek Jesus there alongside, with and for these other whos in the world.  
It is not, How do we follow?  Or, How do we know if we are following? But, Who are we being called by, and Who are we called to?

This scene opens with Jesus proclaiming the good news, and what he says sums up the book of Mark’s whole understanding of what the good news of the gospel is: The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.
Blah, blah, church language – let me break it down: 
There are two words for time in the Greek, chronos time, which is where we get chronology, meaning hours and minutes and days, and Kairos time, which means the right time, the perfect, opportune time.
Jesus says there is no better time.  Eternity is fulfilled now. Right now God’s reality is fully here.  God’s way is unfolding right around and in and through and despite us. 

So repent! which doesn’t mean feel really bad and apologize. It means, open your mind to this reality, wrap your head and heart around it. Shift your way of seeing to God’s way of seeing.

And “believe the good news” means trust it, the verb pistis is not believe with your head, it is trust your whole being to it. To say, “I believe you” is one thing. To say, “I trust you” takes that belief to a whole other level. 
So here is what Jesus is walking around on the earth, strolling across the beach that day, saying to people, “Wrap your head around this good news and trust in it:  God’s reality is right here, now.”

So follow me, Jesus says. Come join me in this new reality. Let me lead you in it.
And he finds first Simon and his brother Andrew, and then James and his brother John, and calls them with each other, because discipleship is not a solo gig, it always connects us deeply with God and each other.  
And so instead of calling them to a measurement of their goodness, or to right belief or action, he calls them to others, to trade being fisherpeople for being fishers of people.  And he invites them to follow him, to walk with him and live with him and join him in the world – not to adopt a new belief system, or take a profitable place in the salvation pyramid-marketing scheme.  Follow me. I will be with you. I am here. I will lead you.

This changes everything. For them. For us.
The moment is realized; God is right here now. Jesus is alive. Out there in the world. Right here alongside us in this room this very moment.  And he is always calling us to join a who – not adopt a how. Jesus invites us to come as whoswho we each are, and reach out to other whos, real people, and promises to be with us as we are with each other. 

We come here to to this place every week together do that-  to be with Jesus, and to be with other whos and ask together, Who are you, God, and what are you up to? And to practice listening together for God’s response.  So that when we leave here, we are more connected to the who of God and the whos of others, and we can go back into our lives not asking,
How do I follow Jesus today? 
How do I live a good life?  
How do I know if I am doing it right?  
But, instead, Who will Jesus bring across my path today? 
Who will I see Jesus in today?  
Who will see Jesus in me?  
Who is my neighbor? 
Who is the person behind the offensive armor and defensive rhetoric that I’ve labeled my enemy? 
Who am I called to be in this moment, this situation, this relationship?

And yes, it will cost us to follow. Every time we join our who with another who, it costs us.  When your who becomes mother or father, you no longer live for yourself but for this small person in your care. It costs you your freedom and independence, your separateness, and your sleep. 
When you fall in love and commit your life to another person, you lose your singleness, it costs you your autonomy and your ability to disconnect or not care about another’s suffering or pain. 
When we are living in the who of following Jesus, it costs us our illusions and our disconnection. We trade our way of seeing for God’s way of seeing and then we recognize that we actually belong not just to ourselves, but to each other. We are responsible for each other, to listen, to care, to open our lives to one another.  And when we are with and for each other, we are joining Jesus, who is the embodiment of God, right here with and for us.  This is what following Jesus means.

“Hey fisherpeople, Jesus called out that day, follow me and I will make you fishers of people!”  Join me and I will take away what you thought your life was, and give you back your life for real.  Wrap your head around this truth and trust in it: The opportune time is right now. God’s reality is here.  And it is found when we share ourselves with each other, when we open ourselves to Jesus, who sees us as we are, and who calls us to follow him.

Receiving This Life

 In a few weeks my second book comes out! It's officially available December 19 , but can be pre-ordered now.  I know it's cliche t...