Before I read the scripture, I saw the title: Jesus Calls the First Disciples, I thought I knew what we’d be getting into. I thought this would be the story when Jesus goes out by the lake, sees the fishermen on the water and yells: Hey you guys! Why don’t you leave your job, and your family, and everything, and come follow me! Instead of being fishermen, I will make you fishers of men. And what Karen read for us today is not not that story, it’s just…
I had been bracing myself for a story of sacrifice and commitment.You know Jesus. You know he’s going to tell us: If you want to be my disciples, here do these things; follow me. I was bracing myself, but as it turns out, that’s not the only miracle. Something even more is happening in the story Karen read…
Friends, you’ve already made the decision to come to church today, and I wonder if you are bracing yourself. We come to church expecting to be challenged to step outside our comfort zone, and that’s right. Every one of us has made the choice to hear the Word of God, to hear Jesus call us to go serve those who are in need, to go care for those who are vulnerable. He looks right at you and at me, and he asks us for help.
We know that coming to church puts us at risk of singing the hymn by Richard Gillard: “Won’t you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you?” And that’s right. And you wouldn’t have made it this far into the sermon video if there was not some part of you that knows we might be called to go out there and do the hardest thing, and you really might be bracing yourself.
See it’s not that we don’t want to help. Of course we mean to be the ones who drop everything and show up! It’s just… It’s just, oh my friends. Right now, everything is so. so. much. I don’t have to tell you.
Just about everybody I have spoken with recently is deeply worried about someone they love. Just about everybody is worried about what’s going on in the world from the pandemic, to the political turmoil, to the yearning to see how the arc of the universe is bending toward justice, because right now, it’s just so. so. much. If you said it was too much, I’d believe you.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, you are not wrong, and you are not alone. We’re living through an overwhelming season. So if there’s some part of you that’s bracing yourself to hear the Gospel say: Leave everything and follow Jesus! There’s work to do to bring about the Kingdom of God! Yeah, you’re not wrong. I’m bracing myself too.
But what I need to tell you, is it could be the miracle of today’s story is actually more daunting.
It could be the only thing harder than being asked for help is being the one who’s doing the asking. Coming to church puts us at risk of singing: “Won’t you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you?” But it’s the next line that’s even more frightening to hear sung in our own voices: “Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.”
Now in our world, it is absolutely possible to need help and ask for help only to find there are no adequate resources. Help is not always available. This is a critical problem, and this is a different sermon.
There’s also the matter of needing help then finding it is too hard to ask. As though asking for help makes us acknowledge that we’re not self-reliant after all. As though it makes us come to terms with our own limitations. As though asking for help is a kind of confession that exposes how we’re all standing in the need of grace. It is not the case that needing help with something is a sin, not at all. But the problem is— it can feel like that.
You know a lot of Christians talk a good game about grace. We say, of course we’re all sinners, of course we know that only God’s grace can secure our salvation. We’ve learned how to give the right answer. It’s just…
When it’s you who’s supposed to pick up your friend from her doctor’s appointment, and you fully intended to do that, but then something came up and the day got away from you, and you check your phone later and find six missed calls, and your whole heart sinks. Here she was counting on you!
And the worst part is she’s upset, but she’s not mad at you. If only she would stop speaking to you, then you’d be even; it would be off your conscience. If only there was something you could do to make this up to her, then you’d be even; it would be off your conscience. But there’s not and it’s not.
This is the danger of grace. It leaves us standing here empty-handed, and sorry, and forgiven. It makes us look at ourselves as someone who needs mercy, and oh my friends. I’m not sure there is anything more difficult. I am sure, there’s no way we can offer grace until we give ourselves the permission to receive it. It’s the power of God trying to flow through us —we just have to let it! But I know, there’s nothing harder.
A year ago in December, Chris and I went to see the Cooleys and some friends in Frozen at the Center for Living Arts. The show was magnificent! You know our kids were fantastic!
But I was struck by something that happened before the show even started. The director made opening remarks, as directors do, but this time he mentioned that there had been a mistake in the program; a child’s name had been omitted. Now let me just say, they had well over a hundred kids in the program, and I’ve done this same thing with far fewer. It is a dreadful feeling to exclude a child from the program, and it is spectacularly easy to do this.
But here’s what the director did! He asked the audience to repeat the child’s name out loud to affirm that we knew she was in the play. Now the children were assembled offstage within earshot so she could hear us saying her name. The director told the audience: This was my mistake, but I need you to help me fix it. And you know what, he said that like that’s a normal thing we could say to each other. He said that with all the children listening!
Imagine if we let the people we love see us standing in the need. Imagine if we let our children hear us asking for help —even our adult children! They might learn it’s okay to do this. In case nobody’s warned you, somebody should. Asking for help is playing with grace…
Today Karen read Luke’s version of Jesus calling the first disciples, and I thought I knew what we we’d be getting into. I thought this would be the story when Jesus sees the fishermen on the lake and shouts at them, Hey! Come on, I’ll make you fishers of men! I thought we’d be hearing a message calling us to strengthen our commitment, intensify our sacrifice, whatever you’re giving, go ahead and give more… As it turns out, this story has more miracles than that.
Now the story ends with Jesus speaking courage to Simon Peter. So Peter and the disciples leave everything on the shore to go and follow Jesus, even though minutes before Peter fell down in front of Jesus saying, Go away from me, I’m a sinner! And we know he’s right. This is Peter! This is the same guy who will deny even knowing Jesus three times when Jesus is being killed and forsaken by everyone.
It’s just… As one Gospel writer tells it, this is also the same guy who gets found by Jesus after the resurrection. Jesus eats fish with him cooked over the fire on the beach, and Jesus forgives him, and you guessed it. Jesus calls him to be his disciple. Peter does not know what to do. Jesus tells him: Do not be afraid. There’s more grace than you know. Follow me. And by my count, that’s the third miracle of the story.
The second miracle happens when Peter and his crew have been fishing all night, and they have nothing to show for it. Scarcity, get ready to meet abundance! Jesus tells them, Oh go out deeper and try again! Sure enough, this time there are so many fish they can’t even haul the nets in by themselves. They have to ask for help. And you might be thinking, where did they learn how to do that!
This brings us to the first miracle. See the story started when the crowds were pressing in on Jesus. The people are in need of healing. They’re in need of hearing the Word of God. They’re standing up to their knees in the need of grace.
And Jesus loves them! And Jesus is exhausted. And if you know any teachers these days, you might know something of how Jesus is feeling. If he doesn’t get out of the way, the crowd is going to smother him, but this time he doesn’t manage to escape! Instead, he makes the choice that changes the story.
Jesus sees the fishermen out on the lake, and he looks right at them, and Jesus asks them for help —in front of everybody! Like it’s a normal thing! Surely he knew, asking for help is playing with grace…
Imagine if we could learn this. Imagine if we could ask for help even when the children are watching. Imagine if this is what Jesus means when he looks at us, and loves us, and says to us: Follow me.
May it be so.