(Had I know this congregation was so full of expert fishermen I may have recruited some additional help on this sermon. Soon enough I’m going to know all of your secrets and employ those gifts more!)
It is a precarious thing to respond to the call of God. Once upon a time a baby girl was born to nominal Christian parents in Brooklyn, New York at the turn of the twentieth century. As she matured, her avid reading and skillful writing landed her a job with a premier newspaper company. She busied herself with social projects, writing about class warfare, international revolutions and other intellectual pursuits. By her mid-twenties she lived a comfortable life on the beach in Staten Island with her successful, educated partner. When a series of spiritual awakenings prompted her to respond, Dorothy Day could not ignore the call of God on her life. I want to tell you a little bit more about her.
|Dorothy Day ca. 1970's|
The decision to baptize her newborn daughter into the Catholic Church sparked a break with the child’s father. Later her own conversion to Catholicism, and finally the arrival of the Great Depression inspired in Day a burden to respond. Using her gifts of writing and a new friendship with a Frenchman, Peter Maurin, she learned Catholic ideas about social justice and working with the poor. Day published her first issue of the Catholic Worker in 1933. It is still in circulation today. Obviously she did not know then what we know now about the fantastic movement this began.
As the publication grew throughout the 1930‘s, by hosting prestigious writers like Thomas Merton, what began as a writing project evolved into a literal “house of hospitality.” A place for impoverished people to receive shelter, food, clothing and other basic needs. Day and the workers at the house required no fee and no religious expression of those who came in need. Day’s commitment to pacifism, Christian doctrine that all are created equally in the image of God, and the eradication of poverty around the world, houses of hospitality are an international phenomenon. Dorothy Day passed away in 1980 after a lifetime of social work and civil disobedience.
|by Nicholas Brian Tsai|
Dorothy Day responded to the voice that said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of people.” Now she is being considered for sainthood in the Catholic Church. She offers this in her biography, “The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us!”
This woman, one of my favorites, was unassuming when she responded to the call of God on her life. She did not have grandiose plans for fame or success. She only did what she knew best--she wrote. Then she welcomed the poor. Then she preached nonviolence. Then she argued for fairer policies. Then she died a hero with her movement still going beyond her. She was one simple woman who took seriously the message of Jesus.
She represents for us Jesus’ invitation that he offered to Andrew and Peter, James and John, and then others. Follow me. I know you also have your own mentors in the faith that have readily understood the message of Jesus and followed him to radical places. They heard the call to follow. Perhaps you have stories of your own adventures with leaving the comforts of what you know, or good work like fishing, to be bold in your devotion to Jesus. As we consider this invitation to follow Jesus this morning, let’s explore for a moment what leaving our nets on the shore might entail.
Jesus proclaims, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” I often wonder what this means. Did Jesus see himself as the kingdom of heaven? Is this why anyone, women and men, rich and poor, religious and not, can/should follow him? The kingdom of heaven is for all people. The teachings and love of Jesus are for all people.
Or did Jesus see himself as a sort of traffic sign with an arrow pointing the way to the kingdom. In this way, perhaps it is more a place of ecstasy and perfection, and less of an idea or inner longing. A place where God’s rule considers economic policies that do not favor a few and where decent work is available for all who are able to contribute their gifts and interests. There are no systemic cycles of poverty and neglect in this kingdom of heaven. Is this what Jesus means?
Regardless of what we do not know about the kingdom of heaven, what we do know, is that it is near. The kingdom of heaven is near. And we know that the kingdom is about good news. Good news for those who are marginalized and alone. The kingdom of heaven brings healing and security. When we look up from our fishing nets or our computer screens, or the shores of our beach homes like Dorothy Day, and we hear the voice of Jesus inviting us to follow him, we find ourselves walking away from the familiar into unchartered territory. Follow me, Jesus says.
Consider how quickly Andrew and the others left their fishing supplies without any hesitation. What did Andrew’s father say when he returned home at the end of the day with no fish? I imagine Andrew explaining the urgency he felt in his heart as Jesus invited him to leave the nets and fish for people. Can you picture Andrew’s dad losing his temper? Perhaps he said, “Well, son, that’s just perfect. You meet some traveling prophet and think he holds the secrets to the kingdom of heaven and meanwhile we all go hungry because there aren’t any fish in your nets! The nets you left on the shore beside our boat!”
Have any of you participated in a similar scenario when responding to the pulsing presence of God in your life? It is radical to hear the voice of God. And it is not easy to position ourselves toward the kingdom of heaven. It is inconvenient, and it might separate us from people who we thought were with us. Follow me, Jesus says. Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.
It might be tempting to hear Jesus’ call here in simpler terms. Some Christians say we are called to right belief. Or church membership. Others would say service. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that the call to “follow me” is a call “to absolute discipleship.” I think he’s right. Jesus does not mince his words, and he expects everything from his followers. It’s why the rich young ruler had to sell everything and give it to the poor. It’s why the woman at the well was told to “go and sin no more.” Life with Jesus is a no holes barred way of living and yet it is for all of us.
This is where the beauty of community is heightened. We are in-between the peaks of Christmas and Easter; so, we are in a time where daily life with Jesus might feel weary or even confusing. No bright stars. No doves this week. No earthquakes or crosses. Just us, living life as a church community wondering what’s next in the midst of the ordinary. Just a voice reverberating in us that invites us to participate in the kingdom of heaven. We are called to help Jesus bring healing and good news. Do you hear the voice? Or do you hear stories about people like Dorothy Day, or Martin Luther King, Jr. (who we celebrated this week) or Mother Theresa and think, “Good for them! I’m glad God is not asking that of me.”
I wish discernment was an easier thing. I bet Dorothy Day went to bed many nights confused about how to move forward as she waited on a sign for the best way to respond to the poor. We have many resources that show us how civil rights leaders struggled with how to continue their fight for equality. Mother threresa revealed her ongoing doubts about the existence of God in her journals. Today we see policy makers fighting uphill battles with ongoing cuts to important programs like food subsidy. Do they wonder if their work is in vain? Churches struggle for young members. Do they wonder what it’s all for? The task of interpreting the call of God on our lives can be murky, especially in a world as inundated with as much advertising and busyness and noise as ours.
Are we sure it’s God who is the one calling? How can we be certain that the next step is the right one? There is a famous statement made by an early church preacher and author. It is a prayer, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, God.” And for this reason alone, it is worth our effort to hear God and to move into the kingdom of heaven. We are aimless without God. So we must leave our nets to follow.
Are you wondering what’s next for you, Lynnhurst? Where will God move? To what is God calling you? Who is God calling to serve as your next pastor? When you dream of the future of this congregation is there an excitement about the possibilities? Are you eager to join God in the work of proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of heaven? What nets must you leave behind in order to experience the good news of healing and redemption? From what must we repent to see and feel and live in the kingdom of heaven more fully?
I close with this quick story. The first time I ever traveled on a country road wasn’t until college actually. We were driving through rural Alabama, navigating around cotton and soy bean fields as we yielded to the narrow bends of the two lane road. Tyler grew up in this particular area and knows the roads like the back of his hands. We were coasting along on cruise control, lost in our conversation and enjoying the scenery. When suddenly a pick-up truck with a trailer lost control. The trailer detached and sped across the road, thankfully missing our car but landing in a ditch. Obviously we stopped and Tyler helped the drive gather his thoughts and deal with the situation.
It’s a simple metaphor but I think it makes sense. When we are comfortable at church and cruising along with our programs and lifelong friendships, life is fun and good. The scenery is pleasant and the conversation expectedly easy. And yet, there might be oversized needs in the world that quickly or unexpectedly interrupt us and pass by us, nearly threatening to rock everything that is stable. We risk missing the kingdom of heaven because we don’t want to hit the brakes or change our pace. We may not want to lay down our nets. But to ignore the call of God on our lives is to live with unrest. To not push through and discern the course of action we must take as Jesus leads, is to miss the chance to bring healing and good news to another friend in need. I believe that when we respond, there will always be a way to promote justice and love and peace. Even when there are not enough resources, or when we lack funding or energy even. Jesus teaches us how to gather as a community. He, who makes a way when there is no way. Dorothy Day also said, “If I accomplished anything in my life, it is because I wasn’t embarrassed to talk about God.”
God loves us so much. God loves us so much that God invites us to share in the kingdom of heaven. I love you too. And I think whatever it is that is waking us up, and prompting us to lay down our nets and see the needs crossing or showing us the issues swirling in front of us, when we are able to change course and heed the call to follow Jesus, we enrich this church and the community around it. Amen.