By Rev. Joan Kessler
I love this story because it makes no sense. Why on earth would a group of men with fishing boats and families and debts to pay leave everything that they knew, their places in their communities and follow a man who comes to their beach and offers them an adventure? Who does this? Who drops everything and simply walks away?
This is not a simple straightforward, Point-A-to-B-story, I can assure you this much. It is a story that doesn’t share any of the personal and intimate details of who these fishermen were or what they were thinking or struggling with. Maybe there was a deep yearning within each that poked away at them; that something was missing their lives. Perhaps they were missing pieces within themselves and Jesus’ invitation to follow might make them feel more complete. Maybe they were already wondering if there was more to life than fishing.
When the topic of vocation comes up, we often think of ministers, of priests, of those who live an ordered religious life. How it usually unfolds is one feels like God, like the Spirit is revealing something that hadn’t been considered before. And then comes the hard part and you tell someone that you feel like God might be calling you to something… and that’s where the beauty of this story comes to life. A journey of waking up, of discernment and formation and testing one’s sense of call begins. To be called is the act of paying attention, of following a path that one believes God reveals to them. American author, Annie Dillard, cut right to the chase when she describes being called as “waking up”!
These life moments can be unsettling. We come to epiphanies all the time when one chapter of life is ending so another one can begin. Like when you graduated and moved away from home to begin life as a young adult. When you knew you were in a relationship you wanted to devote your life to. The birth of a child. The arrival of an illness and changing health that meant a change of independence and perhaps living situations. A success or an accomplishment that opened new doors to you. The failure of a business or the loss of a job. The death of a loved one. Going to your first AA meeting. All the beautiful experiences of life’s turning points.
Vocation is the interplay of this sense of waking up, of confronting what needs changing in our lives with the gifts that we currently have ready to exercise and share. It is about a waking up to someone else’s hunger and passion and to be embraced and challenged and changed by this other. Our unique gifts are meant for sharing lavishly and extravagantly in consideration of how they might benefit our neighbor. This is not an invitation to impose yourself, your beliefs on another. You can’t give what isn’t wanted.
You will recall last weekend at our congregational retreat, we set out to have conversations that were important. We listened to one another, and we began to piece together the things that are important to us. Over the coming weeks we would like you to be thinking about what some of the priorities are we as a community of faith and spiritual development should be devoting our energies, our monies and our capacities to these next few years. They don’t have to be specific tasks or acquisitions. When we consider our values, what priorities are self-evident? We answer these questions by asking what gaps currently exist for us? Who is our neighbor and what might they need?
To live into a vocational life, I would say from firsthand experience, it is not about us. It’s not about geographical preferences or salaries. It is about a quality of life, a way of living one’s life that puts responsibility for others ahead of oneself. It is not about picking and choosing aspects of vocation we like the best and sidelining the other parts we find less enjoyable. It is a response of one’s whole being in the service of others.
Vocation is never cut in stone, a once and for all approach to work. Rather it is like the ocean tide, constant and yet ever-changing, bringing forth and taking back. We don’t strive after the one and only job as an endpoint in our lives of faith. We are constantly being called to reimagine and reshape and rework ourselves and ultimately our life together. The call of Christ to a dozen fishermen seems far removed and perhaps unrealistic today when we are surrounded by other distractions that compete for our attention. This story from the Sea of Galilee some two thousand years ago still is lived out and lived into today. Those first disciples learned from their time with Jesus was that God loves. What Jesus saw in these fishermen was perhaps the capacity to love also; to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and tend to the sick. It is not magic, no hocus pocus here… just an open-heartedness to put their needs on the backburner and share what they had with others. That is vocation. You too have a vocation… whether you are 65 or 85 or 95. You have work to do and wisdom and experience and gifts to share with your neighbor. Thank you for being the way you are and all the ways you share your gifts and passions and wisdom with me and this community. So, I invite us today, to talk with one another after the service about our vocations, I hope you will find someone whom you don’t know and ask some questions in an effort to get to know one another better.
Vocation challenges me on a regular basis. Ministry is what I do with my life. My vocation is always rooted in my own particular gifts and idiosyncrasies. When we consider the fishermen in our story this morning, Jesus did not invite them to abandon who they were but invited them to live into their most authentic, beloved selves. He invited them to come into the fullness of God. He used their particular work of fishing and its context to speak to them in language they would resonate with them. My sense of call is also unique to me and my circumstances always. I was reminded this week that God’s call on my life is about abundant and authentic living, of using my gifts to the best of my ability in the service of others.
This story from Matthew that makes no sense also makes a claim on my life. People really do leave their old nets behind and pick up something new, something life-giving, something always changing. We walk together down a path that brings the love and the grace of Spirit into everything we do, every Hello and Good morning, every meeting, every email exchange, every cup of coffee drank, every thrift store dollar earned. May it be so and Amen.