Luke 5:1-11: Meet JoElla Holman. She is a PCUSA mission co-worker (a term we use to replace missionary in the Presbyterian Church because we work together with partners in mission and we do not want to carry with us the idea that Americans have the “right” expression of the gospel message and someone else does not). JoElla serves God and Christ’s church in the Caribbean, serving as a regional liaison, a connector, a bridge builder. She lives in the Dominican Republic and travels to support ministry in various parts of the Caribbean—I have known her particularly for her support in Cuba. JoElla said “yes” to God long, long ago. She sees as God’s gifts her love for languages and her curiosity about people of other cultures. She built on those gifts by going to seminary, then even to a second advanced degree in missiology—the study of missions. She has served in multiple locations, using her Spanish and her French language gifts. In her current position, one of her tasks is to help U.S. and Caribbean Christians overcome barriers of language, cultural and other impediments so that they can move toward oneness in Christ. JoElla says: “My personal hope is that, in some small way, God will use my gifts to increase and strengthen the ties among us—the PC(USA) and the larger U.S. church and the churches of the Caribbean region. It is so important for our church to know what is going on in the world and these partnerships help us to deepen our understandings, to be in relationship with others, and to reach out to each other in new and faithful ways.”
JoElla not only heard God’s call, but she heeded it. She followed the call to serve in yet another new place, to move to the DR to live, and to find ways to relate to church groups on multiple islands, connecting them to the PCUSA on multiple levels. She regularly uses her gifts of language, compassion, intelligence and love as she follows Jesus.
JoElla’s call is not my call, JoElla’s call is not your call. As we said last week, each of us is called by God to share in God’s work in the world. We use our gifts in different ways. Look at the fishermen Jesus called to follow him. Their experience was fishing—they knew the particulars of the lake, the wind, the maneuvering of a boat. They knew the art of casting a net, mending a net, hauling a net full of fish into the boat without capsizing it. They knew the ins and outs of selling their fish. God took their existing gifts and re-purposed them to be “fishing for people”.
It is easy to get entangled in the nets of our own calendars, keeping up with the calendars of our children, or feeling the weight of financial pressures, or car troubles, or meeting the expectations of family members or friends, or just fulfilling obligations at work, doing our taxes and so on. Sometimes those obligations wrap around us so tightly that we feel entangled and stuck, unable even to hear the call from Jesus. He is standing on the lakeshore. What is he saying? What does he expect of me? What? Leave the nets behind?
It is a scary proposition, after all. Our nets are our livelihoods, our traditions, our routines, our comfort zones. We get nervous about the idea of stepping away, being cut free, leaving them behind. Those first disciples would not have gotten very far if they had tried to carry those overfull nets with them. The weight of them almost sank the boats! It is harder to follow Jesus when we are entangled and weighed down.
Because we are often so entrapped by our nets, I want to give you a little encouragement to participate in a Lenten journey with us this year. Beginning with Ash Wednesday on March 6, you are invited to consider ways that you can disentangle yourself a bit, de-clutter your crowded space in your home or your heart or your calendar, commit to a new kind of spiritual practice for forty days. Your Lenten planning team will provide you with a “pathway to Lenten practices” with suggestions for de-cluttering, making space for JOY, and I mean Jesus, Others and Yourself. Included in your pathway will be ideas you can do on your own at home and activities you can share with others in our church family. There will be special events at the church and suggested service opportunities outside of the church. There will be times for you to share with others your experiences as you travel your own Lenten pathway. Perhaps this year the season of Lent for you can be a chance to hear and to heed the call of the one standing on the lakeshore, the one offering to disentangle you from your nets, the one who beckons you to follow.
Hearing the call comes first. Then comes heeding the call. Heeding the call means taking action, because there is always a cost to following Jesus. The first cost: humility. I noticed that the prophet Isaiah and Peter the fisherman had similar first responses to their up close and personal encounter with the Holy One. Suddenly overcome by how awesome God is, Isaiah is painfully aware of the distance between he and God, between his people and God. He recognizes that he and his neighbors are people of unclean lips—sinners in God’s sight in need of cleansing. He feels that there is nothing he can say that will be worthy of God’s powerful presence. Woe is me, he says. Yet God’s messenger reaches out to touch his mouth, bringing forgiveness and cleansing, empowering him to be a mouthpiece for God to his own people, as difficult as the task will be. The distance is bridged by God. Isaiah begins a new career path after this encounter.
Exhausted from a long night’s work and excited about this unexpected haul of fish, Peter finally comprehends that this is God talking. Who else but God could have caused the miraculous catch of fish so heavy that it was sinking their boats? Who else but God had turned their long hours of work with no results into the best work day ever! Who else but God had made it possible for their families to eat for weeks on the income from the catch of one day? This up close and personal encounter with God creates an internal crisis for Peter. Like Isaiah, he suddenly recognizes his own sinfulness, the gap between himself and Jesus. Who am I to be in your presence, Jesus? You are amazing. I am a sinner. What am I even doing here? I would be better off left alone. Again the distance is bridged by the Lord—Jesus himself extends the call—come and follow me. I will give you a new career path—fishing for people, becoming a disciple. The first cost is humility, recognizing the difference between ourselves and God.
The second cost to following Jesus: decision making. Hearing the call requires a response, deciding one way or the other. To go or not to go? To leave the nets or stay in the boat? To try something different or remain in the comfortable space? Saying yes to Jesus means saying no to something else, setting the nets aside and walking away without fear.
We learned yesterday from the findings of our recent congregation assessment tool that our congregation sees our church family as very flexible, that is, we tend to be comfortable with trying new things in worship, we manage fairly well our diverse theological perspectives and our multi-cultural identity. Flexibility is a sign of a high trust level for your leaders. As we seek to follow Christ’s call for our life as a congregation, we have indicated that together we are willing to make adjustments to make good things happen. My hope for us all is that we will continue to listen for the invitation of Christ and will find little and big ways that we are able to say, “Here I am, send me!” Being a disciple carries a cost. Humility and willingness to act, to move, to respond, to heed, to obey. What does it cost you? What nets do you set aside in order to follow Jesus? Amen.