Sermon at Grace First Lutheran Church, January 21, 2018
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 16 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. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
We didn’t do as much running yesterday. Mostly stopping, waiting.
Then walking a little.
It didn’t feel like marching,
but, in the tradition of those who have fought for civil rights for decades,
a “march” is the best word to describe
the gathering of 3500 people yesterday in Drake Park
at the now-annual women’s march.
There are many who wonder:
what do all those people stand for?
There were a thousand different signs. Signs for
chants of general outrage and determination.
One said: the situation is so bad, even introverts are here.
Another, held by a little boy, said: “future first husband.”
And yet another:
They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.
There are many who wonder: what do all those people stand for?
Perhaps a better question might be: what do all those people hear?
I was there. So I can humbly say,
All those people heard a call.
And to march seemed like the best way, right now, to respond.
All those people heard a call.
And they needed to respond by
gathering together with others who had also heard it,
to talk, to laugh, to listen,
to be friends and sing a few songs together.
Sounds familiar to church people, yes?
The call you hear may not have brought you to the women’s march yesterday.
Maybe it did.
But maybe it didn’t.
But it did bring you here this morning.
To gather with others who also heard it,
and wanted to be with you to talk, to laugh, to sing a few songs together,
and to listen:
to the story of a man who also heard a call,
and in hearing it,
issued a call of his own.
Jesus begins his ministry immediately after his cousin John is put in prison.
In the news of John’s arrest, Jesus hears it: the call.
The call to proclaim a different reality from the one they live in.
They live in a system that would arrest a preacher who
threatened to break open the political norms
and break all the religious rules.
John was too dangerous; so he was put in prison.
And an invitation is issued.
And so Jesus knows his ministry will be an inherently dangerous one.
Jesus knows his ministry will also be an inherently responsive one.
Jesus’ ministry will be about call and response.
The piercing injustice of John’s arrest is the invitation; and Jesus responds by proclaiming the good news: “The time is fulfilled, and the reign of God is near.”
That proclamation issues the next invitation: “repent, and believe in the good news.”
This call and response way of life continues down the Galilean seashore, as Jesus sees fishermen at work. Bent over their nets, pulling in enough fish to eek out a living alongside their brothers, their fathers. The sight of their very lives; that is the next invitation.
And so Jesus responds with yet another call: “Follow me and I will send you to fish for people.”
And on it goes.
And that might be the best way to describe my ministry call here in Bend.
Officially, I have been called by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the United Methodist Church to curate a new spiritual community here, in partnership with our local congregations on the ground and our ecumenical and interfaith partners.
Unofficially, I am here to listen.
And to try and cultivate ways we might all respond together.
To invite people we’ve never met before into that.
And then to listen again.
Bend is inviting me. Inviting us.
Inviting us to listen to stories about
young people who have moved away from family,
working families who can’t afford to live here anymore.
Millennials and boomers alike who want to belong
and want that belonging to show them ways of making impact on this city.
Young immigrants who study and work to create a new future for their families,
and retirees with pensions who cannot figure out their purpose.
Gay and lesbian people who still fear hate crimes here;
business and city leaders who wish their workers and their waiters could afford to live close by to their jobs.
This is what I hear, and it invites me. Every single day.
These stories of our lives and our neighbors’ lives are a clarion call,
a shrill trumpet sound piercing our routine, or, better yet,
a big. green. light.
It shines in the darkness and it will not be overcome.
It issues the proclamation and the invitation: repent, and believe the good news.
Jesus and his followers probably understand “repent” in the way that their ancestors had– the ancient Israelites in exile in Babylon. This word, to them–Shuwb in Hebrew–meant to return, or go back. The invitation to come back home.
The ugliness of the world; the hardest parts of our own stories–
these can be the call. The invitation.
And in response, Jesus says: The time is now. God is near. Come back home.
Return to the one God has made you to be.
An invitation if I’ve ever heard one.
An invitation that sometimes makes people march.
Makes them sing.
Makes them come to church.
Sometimes gathers them in a room to share a meal with DACA recipients,
like the work we are doing with the Neighbor Love coalition.
Sometimes leads them to start a firewood ministry to help people heat their homes, like Nativity Lutheran’s program.
Sometimes causes people to wonder: why can’t people in Bend afford to heat their homes? Which is the question I and some emerging leaders are starting to ask in the process of community organizing.
And sometimes the “invitation to return home” guides people through a process of discernment so that they can prepare to call a new pastor that will lead them into the next invitation, the next response.
It never, ever stops.
From the first day of Creation,
to the awe-filled magi at the manger,
to the day when we return home to God for good,
God is always inviting.
And eagerly awaiting our response.
I know this to be a vulnerable way of life,
I am in the practice of inviting people
all. the. time.
To share their story over coffee. To deepen their financial investment in this new ministry. To make a practice of inviting someone else to coffee.
Because I have never heard of Jesus posting sign-up sheets, vaguely asking for volunteers.
It is always invitation, invitation.
Come with me, you, yes you, and I will send you to fish for people.
Invitation is vulnerable. Waiting by my email, by my phone, for someone to invite me more deeply into their life, for someone to say they are just curious enough about a new community of belonging and justice to walk with me one more step on this road.
Simon and Andrew, James and John: just curious enough about a new community of belonging and justice that they will drop their nets and take that next step.
Those invitations are vulnerable.
Whether it is asking for a new job,
or for a first date,
we have all experienced that vulnerability.
Because invitation is not really invitation without it.
And relationship certainly isn’t relationship without it.
And, in my experience, God isn’t God without it either.
If we have a God who is always inviting us,
then we know we have a God who eagerly anticipates our response.
And so we must have a God who is vulnerable for the sake of a relationship with us.
But we knew that already. We know the cross.
God invites you. God anticipates your hearing of your call.
And God never stops issuing the next, most loving claim on your life.
To come to church, maybe.
Most of all: to come home to the one God has made you to be.