What are we waiting for? That, I think, is the question we need to ask ourselves.
Last week, if you remember, I discussed how the image of seeing was so prevalent in the gospel and in this season of Epiphany.
John saw the Holy Spirit. He saw the Lamb of God. Andrew saw the Messiah. Jesus asked him what he was looking for. Jesus saw Peter. And so forth.
That sermon touched on Martin Luther King, Jr., the movie, “Hidden Figures,” and a few other things. I concluded by asking, “Where do you see the kingdom of God in the world, in this church, and in your life?”
Seeing was an important theme; it still is today. But I want to focus on something else today, and that something else is the word, “Immediately.”
Jesus is beginning his ministry by proclaiming the exact same message that John the Baptist was proclaiming: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” After he makes this initial proclamation he begins walking along the shore collecting his first four disciples.
Jesus sees Simon Peter and Andrew while they are fishing and says, “Follow me.” And immediately they left their nets and followed. A little farther on he sees James and John in a boat with their father. He tells them to follow him and immediately they left the boat, their dad, and the family business, to follow Jesus.
There have been, and will continue to be, a lot of people who have trouble with this account. After all, who in their right mind leaves their career, their family, their LIFE after hearing some guy they have never met and follow him to God-only-knows-where? And again, when they left, they left immediately. Who does this?
Well . . . me, for one.
I was happily living my life, minding my own business, when one day someone suggested this priest thing. There was some dancing around the issue, trying to avoid it, but once I actually heard God calling me into this vocation, I wanted to get on with it . . . immediately.
The difference between me and any of those four guys in today's gospel is that back then there were no discernment committees or Commissions on Ministry. There were no ember day letters to bishops giving them an update of your growth and challenges. There were no psychological evaluations or spiritual inventories to write and defend. There were no General Ordination Exams. But what was the same was an intense desire to get going, to step out in faith and follow Jesus immediately. And I believe that sense of immediately leaving everything behind can be attested to by everyone who has experienced a call of any kind.
That space in between the issuance of the call and its acceptance, or maybe I should say “it's fulfillment,” may take some time. Jesus told Peter and Andrew that they would fish for people; but it was at least another three years before that happened. The time between my accepting the call to become a priest and my ordination was eight years. We can probably all look back over our lives to times we felt a call and wanted to give an immediate response; sometimes doing so, other times needing a period of adjustment before fulfilling it. But I will bet that in those call stories there's always a sense of the immediate, a sense of, “Let's get going.”
Upon reflection, then, following Jesus immediately isn't all that surprising.
Have you ever been told, or have you ever noticed, that traditional churches are built like upside down ships or boats? If you look, we are in the hull, and the pews are the crossbeam supports. And it's no coincidence that this area of the church is called the nave, as in, “Naval,” or, “Navy.”
Like Peter, Andrew, James, and John, we are sitting in a boat minding our own business. And like those four men we are being called to follow Jesus.
In just a little while we will be engaged in our annual meeting. We will hear reports on what has been and what we hope to be. We will hear about and from the many representatives of the many commissions of this church. Groups like Fabric & Grounds, Outreach, St. John's Shelter, the Choir, the Altar Guild, Greeters, the Community Cafe, and so many others.
All of these commissions were one of the reasons I was attracted to the St. John's profile. There is a lot going on here. I remember telling Joelene and other friends, “These people get it – it's not just about Sunday, but it's about Monday – Saturday as well.” And among this large list of everything we do and participate in, almost all of them are run by you.
That said, there is also room for growth. There is room to welcome and include new people. There is a need to let some of our older parishioners rest from their labors while equipping our younger members with the tools and resources to carry on.
So here we are in the boat. And while we sit in the S.S. St. John, Jesus is walking by calling us to follow him. He is calling us to get out of our comfort zone of the familiar. He is calling us to take a risk. He is calling us to get out and follow. Immediately.
Jesus is calling us. What are we waiting for?