February 7, 2010
Have you been called by God or not?
It’s stories like Isaiah’s story that kind of freak me out when I think about having a call from God. I mean flaming six winged creatures are flying around, singing very loudly: Santo Santo, Santo es el Señor. The building shakes, smoke fills the room, Isaiah falls to his knees, “My lips aren’t clean. Woe is me!” And just as those words are spoken he’s assaulted by the flaming flying creature who scorch his mouth with burning hot coal!
God was really trying to get a Isaiah’s attention. And I’d say it worked. Is this what a real call by god is like? If so, have any of us really been called by God? But to be sure God’s call is scary…it’s scary because, it means….that I am no longer in control….
It means that I submit to God, God is in control of my life now, flaming creatures and hot coal to boot.
Jesus is certainly in control of the scene when he calls his first disciples. Crowds are all around; he’s teaching on a boat; Then he decides to do a little fishing.
I love that this story is told like a classic fishing story. “Did you catch anything honey?” “Did we ever!”
The fishermen are tired; and Jesus of all people, a carpenter’s son and quasi-Rabbi, is the one instructing the fishermen on how to fish: “GO out into the deep and cast your nets….” “Come on, we’ve been out here all day!” But they go anyway (rolling their eyes), they do what he says, …so many fish the boat was sinking! But it doesn’t end with a feast; it ends with a commission, Don’t be afraid, now you’ll be catching people.
I love that it is through fishing—their everyday thing—that Jesus calls fisherman to follow. And in their call, they don’t give up what they know how to do….they still fish, they just catch people now. Ordinary illustrations for ordinary people; filled with the extraordinary…isn’t that how God shows up? Can the activities that fill our days—the complicated and frustrating activities—or the simple or boring activities…the things we do day in and day out…can those things be transformed by Jesus into us living out our calling each and every day, in a radical way, even if it doesn’t seem like it.
I mean I look at what I do, and sure some people might look at my life and think that I really have some radical call because I’m a minister, But to be honest, each and every day, I have ask what is my call today? What would you have me do today? And sometimes I forget to ask; I have my own agenda…this is what my plans are for today…and if I think about it, I’ll present those plans to God, but what if I took the time to listen for God’s agenda. God’s plans…. And then live into that calling. I wonder if the way that God messes with our plans is through little things…you know those everyday real choices where we can choose to do one thing or another, the right thing or not….
I want to be the kind of person who does the right thing. I’m not just talking about with the big things where it's so easy to tell what is right and wrong. But in the small everyday things...The subtle things that no one even really notices, the things maybe I hadn’t planned to do... Like shoveling the snow on the sidewalk not only in front of my house, but in front of the neighbor’s house as well, because…there are kids who walk to and from school and obviously the neighbor hasn’t gotten to it yet. The things I do when no one is watching. Those small things can just slip away; And it is those endless choices that make us into the kind of people who we are.
And so much of our decisions in these small things depend on how we think about ourselves…and God’s calling in our lives. And here’s where it’s cool to look at this story of Jesus’ calling the fishermen in a different way. What was really going on in that story?
Why did those fisherman just up and leave it all behind to follow Jesus?
We never will know exactly why, but I love how Rob Bell looks at what may have been going on 2000 years ago. Jesus was a Jewish rabbi…that’s what his disciples called him, and they were Jewish, living in a first century Jewish world. And in Jewish society at that time, all the boys between the ages of 5 and 10 went to a Rabbinic School, Bet Sefer; Their primary task—memorize the first five books of the bible—the torah, because this was the center and foundation of their lives. And by the age of ten most kids had the torah—genesis, exodus, Leviticus, numbers, Deuteronomy—memorized.
After that, most of the kids didn’t go to school anymore. They went on to learn the family trade and how to manage a household. But, the best students, would stay in school—move onto the next level—bet Talmud, and those best students with the most ability would memorize the rest of the Hebrew scripture. Kids who by the time they were 14 or 15 years old would have Genesis through Malachi memorized. And then the best of the best of the best would go to the next level: Bet Midrash. Midrash meaning interpretation. Where Rabbis would learn interpretations of scripture from previous generations, and interpret scripture in any number of ways, translating into how they live their lives. To get to this level, you had to apply, and you had to be accepted.
You had to go to a rabbi and say I want to learn from you; I want to be your disciple.
But, when they said I want to be your disciple, it didn’t just mean learn what the teacher teaches. It was much deeper than that. A disciple would be someone who would want to be like the rabbi, who would learn to do what the rabbi does.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
So the rabbi, with his reputation on the line, would grill any kid who came up to them:
Questions about torah, questions about the prophets, and the oral tradition. Can this kid sit in front of me, can this kid do what I do; does this kid have what it takes? And some kids may love god and be knowledgeable, but if the rabbi didn’t think they were the best of the best of the best, the Rabbi would turn the kid away…
But if the rabbi thinks, this kid’s got it, this kid has what it takes, the rabbi would say, “come, follow me.” And this 14-15 year old kid would leave everything, his family, friends, his village, and his life would dedicate his entire life to learning to do what the rabbi does, being like the Rabbi. His life was no longer under his control. This is what it means to be a disciple.
So Jesus—a rabbi—comes to town. All these people are around...and after teaching and demonstrating who he is, the messiah? He says to Peter.. come follow me.
So if Peter was fishing, he was not following any rabbi, he hadn’t made the cut, he was not the best of the best...And then he turns to James and John, who are fishing with their father, Zebedee—apprentices, learning the family business trade… they’re not good enough either. And he tells them, don’t be afraid, you’ll be catching people…
So it wasn’t that ridiculous that they dropped their nets and followed because Rabbis were the most respected people, the most prestigious people of the day. And only the best of the best could follow. And here was one…who knew how to fish. Of course you’d drop your nets and go.
But what is Jesus really saying when he invites these fisherman to come along?
“You can be like me...”
Jesus chooses them almost as if to say, my movement is for everyone. I want everyone, the rich the poor, the educated and uneducated, women and men..I want everyone to learn about who God is by doing like I do. And he calls this group of not-good-enoughs....And they change the course of history…forever.
And what’s even crazier is that Jesus commissions this group of not-good-enoughs to pass the message along, to hand it down generation after generation. To call other’s… to call everyone “to fish.” Teaching people not so that they will know the right answers, but so that they will be as their rabbi is; do what Jesus does.
When we see that God’s calling is real… which may lead to a gasp: “Woe is me;
Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinner,“
There’s the voice of Jesus: Don’t be afraid. I believe in you. Your ordinary life full of ordinary experiences is for my extraordinary purposes, to proclaim the good news.
Even in small things, like shoveling snow for a neighbor and for the kids. Then we can accept that it is not our job to be Mother Teresa, our job is not to be St. Francis or Martin Luther King, Jr—our job is to do what is ours to do. To learn to do as Jesus does. And then our lives become wonderfully out of control, because we trust the One, who by grace is in control: And that is what makes all the difference, that is what changes the world.