The Presbyterian Church of Chestertown Alison Halsey
Chestertown, MD Matthew 4:12-23
January 26, 2020 Epiphany 3
Get Out of the Boat
A voice echoed over the waters of the Chama River “Stay in the boat. Stay in the boat.” Over and over we heard these words as we rafted down the rapids of the river. Bill and I kept looking at one another trying to determine from whence the words were coming. “Stay in the boat. Stay in the boat” Well, that is, until we rounded a meander of the river and saw one of our fellow rafters wedged on a rock, shouting to himself, “Stay in the boat.” He was a bit frightened and didn’t even know he was talking out loud. He was merely repeating what the instructor had told us; “If you get in trouble or hung up, stay in the boat.” So there he sat, reminding himself over and over to “Stay in the boat.”
Evidently, Simon, Andrew, James and John didn’t get that same message. When Jesus walked by Simon and Andrew as they were casting their nets into the sea and beckoned them to follow, they were off the boat in a shot. “Immediately,” says Matthew, “they left their nets and followed him.” As he continued his stroll down the beach, he spotted James and John mending their nets with their father. He called and they too, dropped what they were doing, left their dad, and followed. It is a mighty strange story. It is not a traditional fishing story about the fish which got away, no rather it is about the fishermen who ran away. No staying in the boat for these guys.
This story has always bothered me, no intrigued me. I have always wanted to know more than what is presented. How and why did they leave that easily and quickly? Did they know of Jesus beforehand? Was there something in Jesus’s voice, his physical presence, which commanded obedience or was there this look in his eyes which said they had no choice? Was there a deep seated psychological explanation which would explain their behavior? It just all seemed so risky, so strange, so beyond my experience? And didn’t they consider their poor parents? How would they maintain their lively hood without the help of their sons? Wouldn’t it be so much easier for them to have chosen the familiar and stayed in their boats?
We are told nothing about the inner workings of these men. We don’t know if they were bored, having a mid-life crisis, or wild and crazy and would go along with anyone or anything. What became important was not what was happening within them but what happened to them. They were called. It was their call which caught them off guard for it was larger, more important than themselves, their occupations, and their families. It was an actual call from whom they would come to know as the Son of God, which got them moving in a new direction. “Follow me,” said Jesus, “and I will send you calling others to follow as well.”
Whether you know it or not – you too have been called. Called by Christ to be his presence in the world. No, you may not have been called to be a pastor or an elder or a deacon but your calling is equally valuable. According to Paul we all have gifts given to us by the Spirit and each one is important to the whole.
Educator, Parker Palmer, in his book, Let Your Life Speak, writes about finding purpose in one’s existence by listening to one’s life. His basic premise is that God has bestowed upon us gifts, blessings which are ours, and finding what we are called to do does not come from our telling our lives what we intend to do with them but rather it comes from listening to the truths which we already embody. He writes,
That insight is hidden in the word vocation itself, which is rooted in the Latin for ‘voice.’ Vocation does not mean a goal that I pursue. It means a calling that I hear. Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.” (p.4, 5)
My sense is those fishermen, heard something in the voice of Jesus which resonated with a longing in their lives. His voice spoke to them and their hearts and their imagination soared.
I’ve seen this in action here at the Presbyterian Church of Chestertown. I’ve seen tears well in your eyes when you speak of going to Africa to meet with the Matiki church. I’ve heard excitement in your words when you talk of how many children came to vacation Bible School, or how many backpacks you packed for the children at the junior high school or an interesting discussion with the youth group, or how many people came in out of the cold and took over the fellowship hall in March when you provided meals and a warm place to sleep. I’ve heard the love in your voices when you speak of visiting people who are ill or who can no longer get to church on a Sunday morning. I’ve seen great pride and joy in piles of hats, scarfs and mittens which are sewn by the knitters and are on their way to those who need them, or the choir who when they sing know it is for the glory of God. You can see it in their smiles. The list goes on…
What is your life telling you at this time? Where is your heart, your faith calling you? What are your collective callings-urgings telling you to be or do at this particular time of transition? Next week a new pastor, Joel Tolbert, will fill this pulpit. He will come with enthusiasm and new ideas and he may call you to step out of the boat in which you have long felt comfortable sailing within. He is going to need you to come along and share your gifts and callings to continue to grow and make this church faithful to its vision and calling as the church of Jesus Christ.
It will require all of you. Yes, all of you! There is no such thing as retirement in our faith journeys, believe me I know. The body works best when all parts are doing their job well and with love. Sometimes we forget this and fall back on things like, “You want something done, ask the person who has a thousand things on his or her plate and doesn’t know how to say ‘no’ and he or she will make it happen.” Right? Or a new person excitedly joins the church, shows some interest and we instantly jump on them, filling their lives with little tasks, never asking them about their calling or their gifts and within two years they burn out and they leave. I urge you to stop doing what you have always done, what churches are notorious for doing and seek to discover what you and those around you feel called to be and do and how you can use those gifts to the glory of God.
Beloved Children of God, consider your calling as disciples of Jesus Christ. You are called to be his followers and that means emulating his life and teachings. Earlier, in this sermon when I thought about where I have seen your eyes glisten and your lives come alive, they were in areas which would make Jesus smile. You were reaching out to the children, whom Jesus loved and welcomed. You were housing the homeless, feeding the hungry, offering words of comfort, all signs of Jesus’ ministry. You were visiting the sick, the widow or widower, the dying – those to whom Jesus reached out a hand. You are breaking down boundaries of countries and race, knowing his love is for all. You are doing an admirable job but there is still more to be done (always more to be done!) And perhaps some ministries need to be left in the boat when you hop out to begin your new journey. Frederick Buechner said, “Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” What are your community’s deepest needs? What are the world’s deepest needs? What collective gifts and callings do you have to begin to meet some of these? How much are you willing to risk to begin to meet these needs? Lots of questions to consider.
Jesus is calling you to follow. Are you going to hang out in your comfortable yacht on the Chester River named the Presbyterian Church of Chestertown, saying over and over to yourself no matter what the situation, “Stay in the boat. Stay in the boat.” Or will you be willing to listen to Christ’s call, jump out, leave the known behind, and follow?