God in Flesh Made Manifest: United in Love
Pastor Leta Arndt Behrens
Sermon Scripture: MARK 1:14-20
14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 16As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
Frederick Buechner, a theologian, writer and minister is most famously quoted as saying, “Your calling is where your deep gladness and the world’s great need meet.” This quote has eaten away at me literally for years. The first time I heard it, it actually kind of made me angry. This cannot be true I said to my spiritual director, I know plenty of people who would say they are living their calling, and yet they are not all that glad nor have they changed the world in any measurable way. Clearly I was in a bit of a pessimistic mood that day. She was a little surprised, later told me that most people find this to be a beautiful quote, and it is, and it can be a way for us to frame how we are living and why we are working or not working, raising children or not, pursuing careers or focusing in on other areas of life.
And yet, I still find myself still wanting to argue with it or dismiss it. I think our scripture today helps make my point.
Jesus comes to the lakeshore and tells these 4 men to come and follow! Jesus doesn’t say this as a question or an idea, he doesn’t cajole or give them any more information. When we read this in English it sounds like he is saying something more like IF you follow THEN this will happen, but really he is using an command that is more closely translated as Here! Behind me! Let’s go!
And the really incredible part is they just do, immediately. He doesn’t befriend them or get to know them or sit under a tree discerning God’s will for them. Or if he does, we don’t get that part of the story and it doesn’t seem to be the point. All we really know is that they were fishermen, they likely worked long hard hours, made a living, but were not wealthy, probably more in the category of ‘getting by’. And God shows up says follow me and somehow, they just know that is what they will do. Jesus doesn’t say anything flowery or poetic here. How he calls them is not really meant for posters or inscriptions on mugs. He doesn’t promise them anything tangible or beautiful. He doesn’t wave his hand and make their problems disappear. Their families will still scrape by, maybe even more so now, their prior dreams will go unfulfilled, whatever challenges they had at home will still exist, Rome is still in power and they will still live as occupied people. I have to wonder, if they had known what Jesus was really asking-to change their entire way of living, to leave what they knew and who they loved, to face the drama and the testing of the religious and political authorities, to risk or end up being put to death–as many eventually would be…would they have been so quick to drop the nets?
In reading this scripture, we find that calling and vocation, another word for how we live in this calling, are not always something that we get to spend a lot of time or that get solved by inspirational quotes in real life. Sometimes, God just calls you to what needs doing without much thought on what your feelings on the matter might be. Sometimes, a calling is not all roses and sunshine, but real actual life that enfolds all of the things that go with it. A friend of mine has a coworker with whom she has at times struggled, nothing major, but enough that it’s been frustrating and she had kind of dismissed him as a jerk. Then, she the had the chance to know more. She learned that he had not really wanted this job, had actually hoped and prayed not to get it because he liked his job in another state, liked his house, liked his way of life and was well on his path of fulfilling a dream he had to travel the country and not work for a few years with his family. But his wife had asked him to apply because she just felt that they needed to be closer to her family. He got the job and moved and at that time her sister, a single mom of four, was diagnosed with cancer. So he bought a house with enough room for seven children as they added to their three, he has taken on the role of father, and he is putting things in place for when this sister dies. He left his home, he left his dreams, and he goes to work everyday because sometimes Jesus needs us to show up. My friend says she cannot see him as anything more than a good man, a man who is following and answering a call (whether he knows it or not) even though the gladness is fleeting and the walk is tough and sometimes he is not so nice to her to at work.
So what is calling really? What is this ‘thing’ we talk about that beckons us from another place–from our gut, from listening in prayer, from the things and the people that show up in our lives and beg to be paid attention to? What do we mean when we say we are called to follow Jesus?
There is a video done by the Fund for Theological education that does a good job of showing us this broader perspective of calling. Let’s take a look at it now: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihnzFH2L818
Notice the video ends with placing us firmly in God’s story and saying that the bottom line is that calling is about more than job or family or passion or hobby. It is about living into following Jesus with all those things and all the things that come with them–struggles, joys, challenges, passion, gifts, talents. God has shown up in our world, said you belong to me and you are called to show up in my name.
And this is what I really think the quote is actually getting at–he is a smart theologian after all. That when we are invested, when we can do no other than be ourselves and show up with all our gifts, our talents, our riches, our pains, our joys, our struggles will meet the world and the needs of the world. That this is word ‘gladness’ is really more about groundedness, a knowing, a living into how we follow Jesus in and with all the things that do just show up in our lives. And that we walk in that tension every day, and some days are met with measurable outcomes and some days we just keep walking in faith. But all days we meet Jesus right there in the middle, in the crossroads of it all.
Jesus shows up at the lakeshore and while he does not state a promise, the very fact that he shows up is the fulfillment of the promise. Jesus is the promise. This story begins with Jesus saying, the time has come, the kingdom of God has drawn near, repent–or turn and see God, believe through me in the good news. This is a prophetic moment, a moment of manifestation. God promised to show up and here God shows up in the flesh, as human and fulfills all space and time, uniting us all through that time and space and in the love that is Christ. It is Jesus who fulfills these things–it’s not your job or your family or your money or your status, it’s not even your vocation or your calling. It is Jesus. And in this promise God shows up again and again.