Archive for February, 2010

Why are the Epiphany banners still up?

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

Why are the Epiphany banners still up?
Psalm 27
February 28, 2010
Steve Hammond

If you are wondering why the Epiphany banners are still up, it’s mostly Glenn Loafmann’s fault.

On the way to the gym on Wednesday morning, I stopped in the church for some prayer time and noticed the Epiphany banners were still up. I completely forgot to take them down. I remember thinking to myself that I would deal with them later in the week. But by time I was ready to leave, though, I realized I wanted them to stay up, regardless of how liturgically incorrect they are. As if I had any real regard for liturgical correctness.

I had been thinking a lot about Glenn’s sermon the previous day for the Community Lenten Service. Glenn’s experience with Lent is a lot like mine, and a lot of others of us here, I imagine. We’re from church traditions that never really did much, or anything, with Lent. Maybe that gives you a bit more freedom to really take a look at the possibilities it offers. And Glenn has been looking. Just check out his sermon on the web site.

Here is something from the sermon that I have been spreading abroad or, at least, around. “Lent is about facing – admitting, at least to ourselves – our own sin – our own death. We turn our faces to the cross, take our souls into the wilderness. Lent is about being with our own beasts, not naming someone else’s beast – Militarism and consumerism and racism are demons – sins of our world – but don’t hide behind those demons to avoid facing your own. I need to face my beasts, and you need to face yours. Forty-six weeks we can work on the sins of the world; six weeks in Lent we need to work out our own salvation “with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12)

So when I was going into church on Wednesday morning, I was wondering about what ‘facing my own beasts’ would look like. Then I saw the banners that weren’t supposed to still be up. And it occurred to me that facing my own beasts was an opportunity, if nothing else, to not bring any more darkness into the world. And maybe even go a bit further and carry some Epiphany light with me. If engaging my own beasts could do that, then maybe Lent does make sense. And maybe there’s good reason for Epiphany happening just before Lent. They inform each other.

I don’t think I have to argue too forcefully that there is plenty of darkness in this world. Tuesday night at study group, the topic was torture. That’s about as dark as it gets, but it is far from the only darkness that’s about.

I can’t begin to explain why people torture other people, or Haiti is struck with an earthquake, or why Emma Mears Webb, the eight year old child of Amy Mears, a Co-Pastor at Glendale Baptist Church in Nashville TN, was killed in a freak accident on her way home with her family from this year’s Ash Wednesday Service. Emma’s parents, her three older siblings, folk from her church, her friends, and so many others know a stark darkness during this Lent, as do so many others, maybe even you. We’ve had three kids from Baptist Peace Fellowship families die in the last few years. It makes no sense.

I can’t explain how the promise God made to Abraham went so bad, so bad that Jesus ends up weeping over the city that should have welcomed prophets rather than kill them. I can’t explain why awful people like Herod that Fox run this world. I can’t explain why God would promise land that belongs to others to Abraham in the first place. Look how that’s worked out, and the darkness that results when nations regard their land as more holy than others. And it’s not just in the Middle East where that happens.

I can’t answer those and a thousand more questions like them. All I know is that it is dark enough in this world, and that Lent reminds us of the dark, hard journeys some are on. But then there are those Epiphany banners.

We looked at Psalm 27 in Bible Study the other night. That’s another reason the Epiphany banners are still up. Psalm 27 is about the dark things. “When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh…Though an army encamp against me…though war rise up against me… Do not hide your face from me…Do not turn your servant away in anger…Do not cast me off, do not forsake me…Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries.” Those are the cries from the torture chamber. The lament of grieving parents. The confusion of those surrounded by the rubble. The anguish of the person who has just lost her job, or who just had his heart broken, or just gotten the confirmation from the doctor that the test results came back and it’s not good.

Psalm 27, though, is also about something else. “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?…For God will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; she will conceal me under the cover of her tent; God will set me high on a rock…If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up…Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies…I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” That, too, is the cry from the torture chamber, the grieving parent, those standing in the rubble. We saw that literally happen in those scenes on television after the earthquake in Haiti. In their anguish people were gathering and singing hymns and offering prayers for one another.

Some read Psalm 27 and dismiss it as a fairy tale, as a coping mechanism, as a confused editor making two Psalms into one. No one undergoing such anguish could offer such trust and faith. How could anyone under such stress, experiencing such hardship actually say “One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord,
and to inquire in God’s temple?” But people do it. They show that trust, that faith, they continue to hope, though it is a hard earned hope.

We have to remember, though, that Jesus didn’t only confront beasts in the wilderness. There were angels. There was light in that darkness. The Epiphany banners. Even if we have to confront our own beasts, dive into our own darkness, we take angels with us, we carry the same light that we discovered at Christmas and Epiphany. There is nothing after all, not tragedy, not heartache, not terrible injustice, not even ourselves, that can separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Savior.

Jesus took his Lenten journey to the cross. But that’s not where the journey ended. What else did Glenn say in that sermon of his? He grew up learning that there was sin and death, but there was also Easter. The writer of Psalm 27 knew that, too…a long time before Easter.

We took down the lamps and candles, the crystal and the glass that Susan had on the table, that beautiful and amazing reminder during Epiphany about the light that has come into the world. And now that it’s Lent, what have we got up there? Candles and light. It’s different. The light is not blazing, but it is still there. And it is still amazing. And it reminds us of the honesty that Glenn also talked about in his sermon.

Jesus, “the light of the world,” once said, “you are the light of the world.” Maybe it’s because of all the Lent experiences people have that Jesus said we need to find ways to shine.

I think we get it backwards. When Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany roll around we think of it as a break from all the yucky stuff. Finally some light in the darkness. But don’t forget that all comes at the beginning of the church year. It helps us get ready for what’s ahead rather than simply take a respite from what has been. There’s Lent dead ahead, and we’ve got light. We find it in ourselves, right there with the sin and death.

I have an admittedly rather vague memory of Granny Clampett on the Beverly Hillbillies singing the old hymn “Brighten the Corner Where You Are.”

Do not wait until some deed of greatness you may do,
Do not wait to shed your light afar,
To the many duties ever near you now be true,
Brighten the corner where you are.

Isn’t that our Lenten challenge? Isn’t that what these Epiphany banners are telling us we are capable of doing? I’m grateful Glenn stopped me from taking those banners down. They are not done with me, yet.


Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010


Joel 2:1-2
Isaiah 58:1
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
Glenn Loafmann
Tuesday after the First Sunday in Lent 23 February 2010
OACM Lenten Luncheon Series:
“From Ashes to Glory” – Week One

Dust you are, and to dust you shall return. (Genesis 3:19)

I grew up in churches that did not observe Lent – skipped right to Easter, more or less year round.

To us, religion was about three things:

– Sin: sinful human nature, including my nature, and the sinful condition of the world

– Death: we’re mortal; deal with it

– and Easter. Easter was about how Jesus overcame Sin and Death.

That was it. Everything else was decoration.

So we didn’t observe Lent. We observed others observing Lent – Catholics, Methodists, and some other “high church” types (I grew up in towns where Methodists were “high church). What we knew about Lent, we knew from them, at a bit of a distance.

And, I confess, we rather scoffed at it. “Works righteousness,” we sniffed.

We didn’t notice that one of the Lenten lessonsis Psalm 1:1, “Happy are those who do not . . . sit in the seat of scoffers.” (nrsv) We didn’t follow the lectionary, either.

As time went by I quit scoffing so much at the practices of others, and when I became a minister, I was even called to serve churches that did observe Lent, which meant I had to lead Ash Wednesday services.

The liturgy we used had north European Calvinist origins.

That mumble you hear in the background is the Spirit of Oberlin College saying, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (cf. John 1:46), but out of Northern Europe came a liturgy of spare, no-nonsense words without ornaments – and so on Ash Wednesdays for many years, I rubbed my thumb in the ashes I had made from the previous year’s Palm Sunday leaves, and pressed it on the forehead of each worshiper who appeared, and with the sign of the Cross put the message of my Baptist roots into the stern tones of that liturgy: Dust you are; and to dust you shall return.

­I never was struck by what I was doing until my son was one of the people in the line. Then I observed Lent.

The unornamented heart of Lent – the path “From Ashes to Glory” – repeats Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem – turns us to the cross to face sin and mortality at home.

Lenten symbols are markers to hold our attention on our moral and mortal limits. Joel sounded the trumpet in Zion; … the inhabitants of the (home)land trembled…” (Joel 2:1) Our challenge for Lent is not somebody else’s sin – not Egypt’s sin or Babylon’s, not Washington’s sin, either, nor Wall Street’s sin. Our penance in Lent is not for the sins of bankers or drug companies or oil conglomerates, not for the sins of Republicans or Democrats or George Bush or Barack Obama.

In last Sunday’s gospel lesson Jesus went into the wilderness with the devil and the wild beasts (Luke 4:1-13, Mark 1:13) He did not send Dick Cheney into the desert; he did not tell Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck to get their spiritual act together. He did not organize a study group to find better ways to distribute loaves and fishes. Lent is not about what somebody else ought to do, or how we can more effectively make them do it.

The “ashes” are for ourselves – we mourn our condition, our sin and mortality, not someone else’s.

Lent is not a time for righteous pronouncements. I once heard a denominational leader offer a prayer of “confession” asking forgiveness for “our” warmongering, and “our” complicity in militarism.

This was a guy who had made a career out of opposing war! He had burned his draft card before that was fashionable, trained hundreds of people in non-violent resistance to war, and he was leading an anti-war service of worship! His confession was ludicrous: he was confessing somebody else’s sin. By “our” he meant “their.”

Lent is about facing – admitting, at least to ourselves – our own sin – our own death. We turn our faces to the cross, take our souls into the wilderness. Lent is about being with our own beasts, not naming someone else’s beast – Militarism and consumerism and racism are demons – sins of our world – but don’t hide behind those demons to avoid facing your own. I need to face my beasts, and you need to face yours. Forty-six weeks we can work on the sins of the world; six weeks in Lent we need to work out our own salvation “with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12)

Being mortal means the sins of the world will outlast us. Evading that limit is the sin of pride. We are not God. We are not big enough or durable enough to change the world in our lifetime, or make it over in our image. What we can do in six weeks is offer ourselves for change.

Getting from ashes to glory begins with setting the world aside – not just its seductions and distractions, but its needs and cries and hunger as well – set the whole world aside, go into the wilderness and contemplate your moral limitations, and the limits of your time; face the realities of sin and death in your life. The “poor you have with you always” (Mark 14:7) – they’ll be waiting when you come back from the desert.

My son was maybe ten on the first Ash Wednesday I put my thumb on his forehead and made the sign of the cross and said, “Derick, dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” To this day, the Imposition of Ashes is his favorite service.

Like God, he appreciates honesty.


Benediction: Now go out into the troubling peace of God, and find the good word written in the dust you are.

Nothing like the wilderness to excavate the heart…

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

Luke 3:21-22, 4:1-13
February 21, 2010
Mary Hammond

A noted bible teacher once observed, “The stronger the call, the greater the testing of that call.”

This word of wisdom from my college years never left me, and I’ve seen it play out in my own life more than once. Propelled to run for School Board after the death of beloved church member and peace activist, Bob Thomas, I was diagnosed with cancer three months into a four-year term. The timing of it all made no sense to me. The rational thing to do was to resign and focus on treatments and healing. But then, why the call in the first place? As I pondered these issues, I ultimately decided that the call had been so strong that I would not resign unless I felt an equally strong ‘release’ from that call. I didn’t ever sense that release, so I persevered. And perseverance it was.

I felt a similarly deep call to turn 20 years of insights gleaned form ministry with the dechurched into a book. Like many authors, I faced a bumpy ride getting the manuscript published. Rejections slips piled up, even from our denominational publishing house which published my first book. A year or so later, I had the opportunity to write about ministry to the dechurched in an article for The Other Side magazine. An inquiry from the editor of Chalice Press followed. The irony of ironies was that I had sent him the manuscript a year earlier! It had sat at the publishing house untouched and unread for an entire year.

This correlation between ‘call’ and ‘testing’ is often true to our experience and was true for Jesus as well. His baptism was accompanied by the voice of Yahweh and the presence of the Spirit like a descending dove, both as palpable to Jesus as our own breathing in this room. Fresh from such unmistakeable signs of call, Jesus is driven by that same Spirit into wilderness solitude.

Today’s text from Luke’s Gospel takes only a couple minutes to read aloud, yet its story spans 40 days and 40 nights. The words on the page summarize the most pivotal moments of this Silent Retreat as retold by Luke. Yet, much that hovers in, under, between, and throughout the story is left unspoken. Perhaps the most significant absence is the voice of Yahweh, which thundered so powerfully at Jesus’ baptism.

Once the Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness, he and the Devil are left to duke it out on their own. And yet, as Walter Savage Landor comments in Paul Hawker’s narrative, Soul Quest: A Spiritual Odyssey through 40 Days and 40 Nights of Mountain Solitude: “A solitude is the audience-chamber of God” (p. 49). The duel between characters in Luke’s Gospel also becomes a duel between characterizations, or interpretations, of the sacred words of Torah. The gauntlet is thrown down. The challenge is given. “Show your true colors, Jesus!” Silently, Yahweh waits to see what Jesus does with that baptismal call he so recently experienced. Paradoxically, Jesus is both on his own and not on his own, at the same time.

Forty days and nights is a long time in solitude. Surely Jesus devotes himself to sustained, deep communion with God and nature amid that vast silence. Yet, stripped of all the distractions and potential deceptions ordinary life can bring, faced day by day with only God and the self, Jesus confronts the most elemental challenges of his nascent call. His vulnerabilities become more visible to him. The demons which lurk along his path become more identifiable. Their strategy to undo both Jesus and his mission can be named. Noted author M. Scott Peck says, “Each one of us–every soul–is a battleground for the struggle between good and evil” (Soul Quest, p. 116). Jesus is no exception.
The Devil pounces upon classic human vulnerabilities that have undone countless leaders over the millenia. “Command these stones to turn into bread–you’re hungry Jesus; eat your fill! Claim all the kingdoms of the world–they’re yours for the asking! Throw yourself from the pinnacle of the Temple–God won’t let you get hurt!” In each temptation, Jesus refuses to accept the bait.

So much more is at stake in these wilderness moments than meets the eye. To walk through this fire, unscathed, prepares Jesus in great part for the many other temptations he faces throughout his public ministry. How Jesus needs these days and nights of solitude, communion, wrestling, and persevering. Luke ends this story with the solemn warning that the devil awaits other opportunities to try to lure Jesus from his path. A major skirmish is won in the wilderness, but the battle is far from over.

Never again during Jesus’ public ministry does he have the time for a 40-day wilderness experience. A night of praying here, a boat trip there, an escape to the home of Mary and Martha in Bethany after a tough day in Jerusalem—these are the more common mini-retreats of Jesus after this point. The call, the wilderness, the testing, and the public ministry are all of one piece, inextricably tied together. The Spirit anoints Jesus in baptism, then drives him into the wilderness, then returns him–powerful in the Spirit–to Galilee where he inaugurates his public ministry.

Carl Jung once said, “Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside dreams. Who looks inside awakens” (Soul Quest, p. 122). Jesus’ time in the wilderness is a time of awakening. Our journeys in the wilderness are as well.

As we enter the season of Lent, I invite you to consider the gritty work of transformation that comes from being steadfast amid the testing that the wilderness evokes. We each face different issues that trip us up, different allures that tempt us, different weaknesses that have the potential to undo us. But we all have access to the same Spirit, the same Creator, the same Jesus, the same God-in-Community who loves us and wants to walk with us, whether in silence or noise, in presence or absence, in light or darkness.

I invite you today to affirm the importance of your own wilderness journeys. You are who you are now and where you are now in large part because of them. Accept their lessons, whatever they may be, and continue to make their insights part of your lives. Marcel Proust suggests, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes” (Soul Quest, p. 203).

Let us pray.
Come to us, O God. Call us. Accompany us in the wilderness. Grant us eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart that understands. Transform us into your image. Use our lives for your higher purposes. Take us, during this Lenten Season, on a journey of discovery whereby we find both ourselves and You. Amen.

What do you do with a shiny Jesus?

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

What do you do with a shiny Jesus?
Luke 9:26-43
February 14, 2010
Steve Hammond

I don’t preach two weeks in a row that often, but since Mary has spent this week recovering from her sinus surgery, here I am again. And it’s the same characters, with some notable additions, in today’s gospel story as last week. Jesus, Peter, James, and John. Moses and Elijah are new. And God gets a speaking part.

Last week we talked about how these three amigos walked away from an epic haul of fish to follow Jesus. We’re only a few chapters beyond where we left off, but lots has happened to the four of them along the way. They are all still together.

It’s crazy enough for the three fishermen to leave all those fish behind and follow Jesus with no real information from Jesus about exactly where he was going. Probably because he wasn’t quite sure himself. But in this story they are standing there watching Jesus shimmer like some kind of ghost as he is chatting up Moses and Elijah. And if that’s not enough, God gets in on the conversation, not with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, but with the disciples.

I can understand Peter’s response that they ought to build some shrines right then and there. What else would you do with a shiny Jesus? This is, indeed, holy ground.
I’ll bet if all of us here were asked to rank our favorite stories in the gospels, nobody would put this one at the top of their list. Am I wrong? Anybody? Are we supposed to take this story literally? We’re the disciples smoking more than fish? Is it an allegory? Is the gospel writer just trying to reassure us that following Jesus isn’t as wacky as it seems since Jesus is buds with Moses and Elijah?

I don’t think we know what to do with a shiny Jesus anymore than the disciples did. And I’m afraid we succumb to the same temptation to build shrines and keep Jesus all holy up on the mountain.

We like to think about how God’s glory is revealed in Jesus when Jesus is all shiny up on the mountain, with Moses and Elijah looking on. But Jesus comes quickly down from this mountain to people who are demon possessed, sick, victims of exploitation, or exploiters themselves. People are trying to kill him and he knowingly walks into their trap. And he ends up on another mount. They call it the Skull, the execution grounds outside the city.

Jesus isn’t all shiny then. But is he any less holy? Is God revealed in Jesus more on the mountain top than when Jesus casts a demon out of that little boy, or when Jesus is between not Moses and Elijah, but two thieves on their crosses?

This is the original mountain top experience story, one of those stories about times we or others have experienced God’s presence in a profound way. The mountain top experiences are the shiny Jesus ones. But it turns out the whole point of the story for the disciples was not to see Jesus all shiny, but to do what God told them to do, “Listen to him.”

And since Jesus didn’t say anything to them on that mountain, we can infer that God is talking about the things Jesus has already said, and will say, most of which they haven’t liked or understood. And now God wants them to listen harder.

That they have problems listening is evidenced pretty quickly in a story a few verses after this one. Jesus and the crew are traveling through Samaria and people there refuse to let them come into their village. The disciples are indignant and ask Jesus if he wants them to call down fire and brimstone on the Samaritans. Jesus offers a much better alternative. “Let’s just go to another village.”

You know who was good at calling down fire and brimstone? Elijah. Paul Nuechterlein on the Girardian Reflection on the Lectionary web site writes this. “Some of the things Elijah thought he heard from God sound like they are from demons, like the story in 2 Kings 1 where Elijah does call down fire from heaven on a Samaritan king. Or when he follows up his victory at Mt. Carmel by having all the prophets of Baal killed (1 Kings 18:40). The disciples have not learned yet to listen to Jesus’ voice above all others. They are still inclined to hear Elijah calling for violence against ones enemies: ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them as Elijah did?’ But what does God say on that mountain? “This is my son, listen to him.”

The holy ground is not up on the mountain top, but in the streets where we really need to listen to Jesus. When they come off that mountain, where the people don’t see anything different about Jesus than when he went up, the disciples quickly hear another voice talking about his son. “Please, please teacher take a look at my only child.”

Today is the last Sunday of Epiphany. We’ve been doing Christmas in one way or another for two and a half months. It’s all been about light. And on this last story of the season, Jesus seems to be nothing but a ball of light. But as all the stories keep telling us we are the light, as well. And it doesn’t do much good to be all shiny on the mountain.

On the Process and Faith web site Bruce Epperly writes this; “the church is called to be a laboratory for spiritual experiences, a place where persons expect God to “show up” in their lives in life-changing ways.” He goes on to say, though, that spiritual experiences are found in “every moment and encounter in our lives.” And he finishes with “I choose to focus on God’s global call to transfiguration rather than limiting transfiguration to the experiences of a handful of persons. This is not a denial of the incarnation, or God’s ability to decide to be more active in some places than others, but an affirmation that Jesus’ transfiguration will always remain an “era piece” of little relevance to our lives unless we choose to seek transfiguration in our own lives.”

When the disciples crawled over the boats and fish and nets to follow Jesus, they never expected that they would end up on that mountain with Jesus all shiny like that. But when it happened, they mistook that as the destination. But it was only a part of the much longer journey that was ahead, going well past the cross.

They kept at it, though, and eventually they began to hear, really hear Jesus. That’s when things get holy, when we are listening to him, and discerning his voice above all the other voices. And if Jesus gets all shiny at those times, that’s okay as long as we don’t confuse shininess with holiness.

We are now going from the mountain top church year experience of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany into the valley of Lent. Jesus has been real shiny for us. The shepherds and the angels, the wise men following that bright star. “How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given.” It’s such a special time of the year. It feels so holy. But it doesn’t stay Christmas forever, and holiness is revealed in all kinds of other and less shiny ways.

Jesus came down from the mountain where there is so much need and so much pain. And like the disciples, we don’t know what to do. We don’t know how to cast out those demons.

But we have light to bring with us as we follow that baby, found all shiny in his manger. We follow and bring that light into the streets of this world where there are all kinds of demons, and there is a cross right in the middle of the road. It’s not all shiny, but it’s all holy. And it’s not shrines Jesus is looking for us to build, but a new world. And we can, if we just listen to him.

What Happened to all the Fish?

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

What happened to all the fish?
February 7, 2010
Luke 5:1-11, I Corinthians 15, Isaiah 6
Steve Hammond

It was the best day fishing they had ever had though it started out badly enough. All night long and nothing. They had even pulled the boats onto shore and were packing up the nets. But then Jesus told them to go out and try again. Then there we so many fish that they thought the boat was going to sink. They had never dreamed of catching that many fish. But they weren’t thinking about that now. Who was this Jesus guy?

When they got to shore they left the fish behind and went with Jesus. It’s kind of like buying one of those scratch off lottery tickets and winning something like $10,000 and never taking the time to cash it in.

Something very powerful happened when Jesus called those fisherfolk to follow him. But what? You notice how Jesus doesn’t say anything to them other than follow me? We’ve talked about this before around here. There’s no statement of faith Jesus requires them to sign. Jesus doesn’t pull out a blackboard and talk about doctrine. There’s no talk about what’s in it for them. Jesus doesn’t make any promises save the one that he will make them fishers of men and women. Nothing about heaven, hell, or the nature of God, or the way of salvation. But they leave all those fish behind and follow him. Their best day fishing ever and they don’t even care.

“Follow me and I will make you fishers of men and women.” Jesus was inviting them to join a movement, to become part of this thing that he was still trying to figure out. And he was inviting them to help figure it out with him.

What he was trying to figure out, of course, was the thing he was always talking about–the Kingdom of God, or God’s Realm. And even though the disciples were so surprisingly willing to go with him, they were always dragging their feet. They believed with all their hearts that they should go with Jesus wherever he was going, but this path that Jesus said was God’s Realm made no sense to them. So they were always suggesting an alternative route. “We’ll follow you Jesus, wherever you are going. But just maybe, that gps thing isn’t working.”

Love your enemies. Do good to those who treat you badly. Forgive others. Don’t take revenge. Give up on violence. Invite the outsiders in. Look for God in the people on the margins, not in the center. Trust God to provide what you need. Worship. Pray. Seek God’s ways. Compassion, mercy, and love count more than power, prestige, and possessions. Your love account is far more significant than your bank account. Tear down walls that divide nations, race, religion, gender, class. Love God with every bit of your being, and also everybody who shares this planet with you. And let God love you. Turn it all upside down, your lives, this world, and find God in the mess.

That was the path Jesus had them on. This was the journey they left all those fish on the shore to take. And they weren’t all that convinced. But they kept going.

This, I think is what the call, always is. Jesus takes us to places that don’t make any sense, but we sense wherever it is, God is there. And his call isn’t simply a call away from something but towards something.

And when we are looking for God’s Realm ourselves, turning toward it, we help others find it. Our experiences with God and God’s Realm shape the lives of others as well as ourselves. When we follow Jesus along the path of mercy, hope, peace, and trust in God’s ways, it opens a way not just for us, but for others. When we are living in different ways, others can live differently, too. When we disarm others can disarm.

But what about those fishermen? Peter said it well. “We’re nothing but a bunch of sinners.” Peter knew Jesus was up to something big, but couldn’t imagine he or his companions would have anything to contribute. “Don’t be afraid, Peter. I wouldn’t ask you, if I didn’t think you, and your friends, and all the men and women who are going to be a part of this thing couldn’t do it.”

So, of course, the question is can we do it? Are we any more convinced Jesus could use us than Peter was? When God called Isaiah what was Isaiah’s response? “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.” But God said to Isaiah, “I can help with that.”

And then there’s the Apostle Paul. When he gets his call he is on the way to arrest Christians. He was an avowed enemy of Jesus. But he got the call anyway.

What I like about the passage in 1 Corinthians is how Paul starts out with what he had been told about Jesus. He was passing on what he had received. But what made the most difference for Paul was that Jesus appeared to him, the least of them; the persecutor, the one who stood and held the coats while his companions made Stephen the first Christian martyr.

What about Abraham and Sarah, Moses, Rahab, that shepherd boy David, Mary the Mother of Jesus? Time after time in the scriptures, God calls the most unlikely of people, and God is revealed through them.

So if the qualifications for following Jesus include being people of unclean lips, surrounded by people of unclean lips, being sinners and clueless as to what Jesus is talking about, or even dead set against the whole thing, then most of us qualify. We’re who Jesus is looking for. We’re the guy. We are who this world needs.

Here’s how one of my favorite preachers, Ralph Milton sums up today’s gospel story.

“Peter doesn’t take that haul of fish to the market to sell so he doesn’t benefit from the bonanza. He and his partners, James and John, just leave everything there and follow Jesus. Which makes no economic sense.
It doesn’t make economic sense for a smart person with good people skills to go into the ministry, either. There’s way more money to be made selling something. Nor does it make economic sense for dedicated laypeople to spend all that time studying their faith and working in the outreach ministry of the church.
But three men go stumbling over their nets and boats and follow Jesus, and the crowd that saw all this witnessed a sermon in action that was more powerful than the one Jesus preached. Luke doesn’t tell us a thing that Jesus said in that sermon. Nor does he say whether Simon and his buds were paying attention. He tells us what they did. And we’ve been talking about it ever since.”

Someone pointed out that Jesus called the disciples more than once. That story at the beginning of Acts where Jesus sends the disciples into all the world is another call, after they had failed him so miserably.

And Jesus keeps calling us, day after day. It’s like fishing back in those days with no refrigeration. The fish were only good for one day. You had to go out the next day. Each day we go out trusting God’s call in our lives, following Jesus to wherever he’s going, leaving the fish behind. And like the Apostle Paul we find that we are no longer passing on what we have received, but telling our own story of following Jesus and being alive in him.