Though you might not be able to tell by looking outside (more blasted snow today!), Easter has once again come and gone. Pastors have again led the faithful through one of the two busiest seasons of the church. Lenten studies have been completed, and whatever was sacrificed during the 40 days has probably been picked up again.
In the rhythm of the church year, we are now in a period of new beginnings. Christ has died. Christ has risen! And with his resurrection to new life, we are reminded that we, too, are reborn.
An appropriate time, I think, to consider God's calling for our lives.
John Indermark is a pastor in the United Church of Christ. His book, Gospeled Lives: Encounter with Jesus, is a study for anyone who desires to think deeply about hearing and responding to Christ. It focuses upon 30 New Testament people or groups who encounter Jesus, examining both the nature of the encounters and the various ways the people responded.
One early chapter, "Called," examines what it means to be called by God. The Greek word ekklesia is the source of our word "church," but it literally means "called out." An online dictionary provides this thoughtful explanation: "Members of the ekklesia, the church, have been literally called out of the world in order to live free of its dictates and to belong fully, at every moment, to God and to one another."
So every Christian has a calling.
And a calling requires a response.
Indermark looks at the calling of Simon Peter and his fishing partners, James and John, as described in Luke 5:1-11. He points out that while Matthew and Mark simply state that Jesus approaches the fishermen and says, "Follow me and I will make you fish for people," Luke provides a context for this invitation.
In Luke, before Jesus issues the call, he has already spent time in their community, worshiping and teaching in the synagogue and healing their sick. He spends time with the fishermen, teaching the crowds on the shore from Simon's boat, and instructing him to cast out the nets once again (though these seasoned fishermen have already spent the day on the water without a catch).
Essentially, Jesus "calls" on these specific men at least twice before the ultimate call. He asks them to row out a bit so that he might teach from their boat. He asks Peter to re-cast the nets. And it is only then-after they have hauled in "so many fish that their nets were beginning to break" (Luke 5:6)-that Jesus invites them to come with him to become "catchers of people."
At that pivotal point in the experience, he has already spent some time with them in their own environment. And he uses language that he knows they will understand. He has laid the groundwork, and the men are able to respond, "Yes!"
I wonder if your reaction to Matthew's and Mark's telling of this event is like mine.
While I marvel at the level of faith required to simply and instantly walk away from their lives, just because Jesus has asked them to, I know that my own response would certainly never be that quick or that extreme. Granted, the fishermen had likely heard of Jesus' teachings and healings. But neither Matthew nor Mark provide any evidence that the men had personally encountered him prior to this event.
In an ideal world, perhaps, I would be able to recognize and immediately respond to the power in Jesus that we all have come to know, these 2,000 years later. But more likely, I'd need time to process. I might even need some kind of proof that this man is indeed different from all the teachers, healers and prophets who have gone before.
What do you imagine your response would have been in that circumstance?
God does not only call upon us once in our lifetimes. God calls again, and again, and again, and each call may be different from the others. Your callings are probably different from mine. And the callings God speaks to each of us will vary according to where we are in our walk.
We may at various times be called to believe, to surrender, to trust, to step out, to lead, to rest, to study, to witness, to teach, to comfort, to preach.....
And each call requires a response.
I am thankful that my response doesn't have to be like the ones Matthew and Mark record. I'm thankful that, as in Luke's telling of the story, I have a context, a personal relationship with Jesus, and knowledge of what God has already accomplished in my life. I may still require time to respond, and my response may not always be "Yes." But I know that I can trust in the undeserved grace and the unconditional love of God, regardless of my answer.
As we enter this season of new beginnings, what is God asking of you?
And how do you think you will respond?
Blessings, and prayers for spring to finallycome to Northwest Indiana,
Lou Ann Karabel