Called Out

Randall Tremba
January 22, 2012
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church

Jonah 3:1-2
The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.”

Mark 1:14-20
Jesus said to them, "Follow me and I will make you fish for people." And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

* * *

Last Thursday morning I walked into Betty’s restaurant, right past Jesus sitting alone in a booth and right toward my customary booth in the back, anticipating my customary breakfast of eggs, potatoes and toast and my customary ingestion of The New York Times. I know we humans can’t live on eggs and potatoes alone so I regularly feed my mind with words, such as the words that proceed from The New York Times. That morning, like so many other mornings before, I would feed my body while feeding my mind and then head up to my office here at the church.

On that particular morning as I was driving from home to town and before I even got to Betty’s, I happened to have today’s gospel lesson on my mind and wondering—as I often do—wondering where the gospel might take us this Sunday. I was chewing on the story of Jesus calling out a few fishermen. As I drove toward town I was imagining how it might have felt for those fishermen when Jesus interrupted their daily routine, a well-honed routine of casting and mending their fishing nets, day after day, week after week, year after year after year.

Fishing was their business, not a sport. It was hard work but necessary work. It kept their families alive. They couldn’t afford interruptions.

And then along came Jesus.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news." 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 fish for people." And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

There they were minding their own business when Jesus suddenly interrupted and called out their names. Simon, Andrew, James, John, come walk with me. Walk with me and I’ll walk with you and build the land that God has planned where love shines through. We’ll cast our nets as wide as the world and draw in all kinds of people, people as different as the fish in the sea. We will draw them in, not by force or violence, but by invitation. We’ll cast our nets as wide as the world and draw people out of the sea of despair and into a community of bold and daring love, a community deep and wide. Come, walk with me.

Nice idea if you can afford it. But who would run their business and feed their families? How foolish do you have to be to follow Jesus?

The story sounds like a dramatic sea change for those fishermen but don’t let the high drama fool you or push you out of this story. It’s true this story plays out over three particular years in a particular place. It may be historical but it’s also a parable occurring time and time again in the present, in the here and now.

This is a story to hone our attention. It’s a story to sharpen our ears and eyes. It’s a story to hone and sharpen our attention in our world.

In case you hadn’t notice, time and time again Christ—or something like Christ—interrupts our work, our mindset, or our routine. If you’re expecting a voice with an Aramaic accent, you’ll miss it. If you’re expecting a person with a beard and sandals, you’ll miss it. If you’re expecting it only at the lakeshore, you’ll miss it. If you’re expecting something big, earthshaking and dramatic, you’ll probably miss it.

Time and time again Christ—or something like Christ—interrupts our work, our mindset, or our routine with an invitation. It’s not always from a voice you can hear or from a person you can see. Quite likely it’s a situation that suddenly calls out to you. And for a moment, just a moment you face a choice. You know, the way Nineveh somehow got under Jonah’s skin one day while he was minding his own business. Something got to him and he just couldn’t brush it off until that place, or situation, or condition drew him in and turned him inside and out.

Jonah, too, is a parable.

Maybe you’re stewing over something these days. Maybe you’re stewing in the belly of some dilemma, turning over and over and turning rancid because you’ve turned your back on the call of love. If so, today may be your lucky day. By the time this service is over you may be spewed out into the world, brushing yourself off and heading toward whatever or whomever “Nineveh” stands for in your world, that place or person in your world you are convinced will never change.

The story of Jonah and the story of the fishermen as told play out over long stretches of time and over long stretches of terrain. But in our own situation, in most cases, we don’t have to go to a distant land or change our job. In most cases, we are called out of our temporary stewpot or self-absorption to see something in our world that we’ve simply overlooked. We are momentarily called out of our robotic, unconscious, driven lives and offered a choice.

And that’s a moment of grace.

It doesn’t last forever.

But it lasts long enough.

So there I was busting into Betty’s last Thursday morning, exercising my well-honed, robotic, unconscious routine when suddenly I saw Jesus sitting alone in a booth. I, of course, had many important things to do that morning and couldn’t afford to be interrupted—not even by Jesus. So I tossed a glance and just kept walking when suddenly something called out my name. Or so it seemed. I stopped and turned around.

Jesus. Alone. In a booth. At Betty’s?! Would I give up my morning devotions with The New York Times for a little time with Jesus?

Maybe that’s a no-brainer but it wasn’t black and white. You see, it wasn’t actually “Jesus” sitting in that booth as we normally think of Jesus. Sitting alone in that booth was an older man whose wife had died a few months ago.

Later that very same day, I was on a tight schedule here at the church. I had three meetings and three appointments back to back to back. More scheduled than usual. And, wouldn’t you know, just like that, Jesus walked into the Fellowship Hall carrying a three-year old child with a runny nose.

Well, no, it wasn’t Jesus as we normally think of Jesus. It was a mother and her child. She and her child and her two other school age children were about to be evicted from their trailer that evening unless she came up with $150 that day. Like so many others in this society, she had fallen through the cracks of social services. No, we don’t hand out cash in such situations. I called the landlord. The mother’s story was true.

Henri Nouwen once said, it has been the interruptions to my everyday life that have most revealed to me the divine mystery of which I am a part. All of these interruptions presented themselves as opportunities. They invited me to look in a new way at my identity before God. Each interruption took something away from me; and offered something new.

Or as someone else said: I used to resent the interruptions to my life until I realized the interruptions were my life.