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14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
16As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
Simon Peter and Andrew sat on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, the fishing net spread across the sand between them. Simon’s hands moved restlessly across the net, blindly feeling for gaps and retying knots. The sun glinted on the water and birds circled dizzily overhead, calling sharply to the fishermen below. In the distance, Simon could hear the rise and fall of a voice, a man speaking, shouting really, over the noise of the sea and the birds and the calls of the fishermen. Simon could only make out a word or two now and again: “Repent, believe, God, good news . . .” The words washed over him, and a tired thought floated to the surface of his mind: “Another God-crazy fool,” he said, half to himself and half to the disinterested birds above him.
Simon and Andrew struggled to their feet and hurled the net into the air, into the sea beyond. This was their life: the endless toss and haul of the net. Through weather fair and foul, these fishermen moved through their predictable days: getting up every morning and putting their hands to familiar work, holding fast against the unpredictability of Rome, of the economy, of the wind and the waves and the fish who were there one minute and gone the next. Simon and Andrew put their heads down day after day, working against the tide of circumstances beyond their control and the steady undertow of their own finitude. And then one day, when they least expected it, when they stood waist-deep in the lake water, fingers entwined in the water heavy net, someone called to them. “Come,” said the man. “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.” Simon held up his hand to shade his eyes, felt the water dripping down his face, and saw the man he thought to be a God crazy fool looking him straight in the eyes. In the silence of that moment, as the net slipped into the water, Simon became aware of a deep inner stirring. It was as if Simon Peter had stepped into a mysterious, unknown current and a spontaneous YES! rose up within him. Years later, all he would remember of that moment would be water and God and waves of light.
Mark tells the story of Jesus calling the first disciples in his terse, urgent way. Absent are the details found in other Biblical calls: the handwringing angst of Moses, or the whiney reluctance of Jonah, the dazed star-struck expressions of Abraham and Sarah or even the fierce God-pursuing tenacity of Ruth. Mark gives no hints about the inner life of Simon, no clues to the web of relationship he lived in, and how this calling reverberated through all of his entanglements. We are left to imagine the tearful, emotional appeals of a wife left behind, the bewildered and angered parents, or the friends who said: “It’s about time.” We don’t know much about Simon Peter’s or Andrew’s inner motives, or if they are even aware of the arrest of John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, and how that foreboding touched anyone who followed Jesus. We just know this: Jesus said follow, and the fishermen dropped their nets and joined Jesus on his mission. Such a call is, in the words of biblical scholar Walter Brueggeman, “dangerously open-ended.”
So it is with our callings, our comings and goings in the life of God. God calls us, sometimes the call is swift, clear, and terse, and sometimes it is like following a trail of breadcrumbs to a mysterious treasure. Usually these calls are complex and mysterious, occasionally they are easy to answer. Always these calls are rooted in promise. We put our ear to the heart of our lives and we listen to the unnamable yearnings that arise from the deep. We become attentive to the ebb and flow of our creativity and notice what gives us joy. We close our eyes and hear the beating of the heart of the world, hear its groans of suffering and its dreams of beauty, justice, and compassion. God calls and we follow, stepping onto the path of a “dangerously open-ended future.”
When I think of hearing and following the call of God, the image that comes to is me that of the labyrinth. The labyrinth is an ancient symbol, a circular design with a path that leads into the center of the labyrinth and then back out again. One of the most well known labyrinths in the Christian tradition can be found carved in the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France. A tool for prayer, walking meditation, and community building, the labyrinth is a symbol of our journeying toward an encounter with God at the center, being transformed by that meeting, and then taking that wisdom back out into the world. Unlike a maze with its dead ends, the labyrinth has no wrong turns, but flows into the center and back out again. Labyrinth is about saying Yes to the many callings of God
Twelve years ago, when I was training to be a labyrinth facilitator at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, I was entering a major transition in my life. Peter and I were in the adoption process, and felt strongly drawn to adopt a little girl from China. But we had concerns about what it would mean for a child to be raised in this country where she would be a racial minority. Indeed we might be saving her life through adoption, but challenges would come along with that solution. I was also struggling with figuring out how to balance my life as a parent with being a minister. Should I continue to work full time or do something else that would free me to be more available to my family. So one night at Grace cathedral, I took my questions into the labyrinth. The cathedral was lovely in the glow of dozens of candles, a small ensemble was playing soft music alongside the labyrinth. Someone was standing on the catwalk far above the labyrinth tossing handfuls of pink rose petals down over the labyrinth. They fluttered softly, catching the light in a way that made them look like the flames of Pentecost dancing all around the labyrinth walkers. I stood at the entrance of the labyrinth, and named the two questions I was bringing into the labyrinth: Is it all right to bring a daughter from China into our family with all of the challenges that will bring for her and for us as a multi-cultural family? My second question was: Should I leave full time pastoral ministry or not? So I stepped into the labyrinth, holding my questions in my heart. I was two steps into the labyrinth when an Asian man stepped in front of me, blocking my path. He reached out, took my hand, and placed two pink rose petals into my palm, placed his hand over mine, and looked right into my eyes with such tenderness and love that I felt the force of it right in my chest. And then he walked off. I continued my walk, the presence of the Sacred as palpable as the rose petals in my hand. And as the path wound around the outside of the center of the labyrinth I felt waves of heat coming from the small group of people who stood praying there and I heard a voice, an internal voice, as clear as a bell saying “Your daughter is your calling.” I felt a seismic shift in the direction my life was taking that night, the path leading me into uncharted territory of adoption and leaving full time pastoral ministry for a season. The message that came to me so clearly was this: no matter where the path leads, no matter how “dangerously open ended” the future of a call, the path is held in the hands of a loving God.
As I have been in conversation with your Interim Ministry Search Committee discerning a possible future together, I’ve imagined myself back on the labyrinth, considering yet another turn on the path. When you walk the labyrinth with a community of people, you pass people coming and going, sometimes you will be walking on parallel paths alongside someone else and then your paths take a turn and you go off in different directions, only to meet them again later on the path. Twenty-three years ago you called me to be your Interim Minister, and for almost two years we walked alongside each other in a mutual journey of ministry. Then you called Irv Cummings to be your pastor and you and Irv walked alongside each other for 21 years of faithful ministry. You have grown and changed as a church during Irv’s ministry. Some of the faithful among you have moved away or have followed another path or have gone to join that great Cloud of Witnesses who surround us forever. Many others have joined OCBC along the path, adding their gifts and ministries to yours, making you the church that you are today. Irv’s path has now taken him in another direction through retirement, contributing to a turn in your path as a congregation. The end of a pastorate reminds of us all of the other endings we have experienced in life, and challenges a church to come to terms with the losses of that ending, to consider who they are as a congregation, and to enter into a period of reflection and discernment about next steps. As grace would have it, we have met up on this labyrinth path as we walk alongside one another once again. A calling is before us: an opportunity to walk as pastor and people for a season once again along this path of Intentional Interim. We stand at the rim of the sea with Simon and Andrew and hear the invitation, the calling, to follow.
And so it is with the callings of God. We are walking down the predictable path of our lives and suddenly we look up from our desk or from the sink full of dishes or from our crossword puzzle or from our pew or from driving the kids to soccer practice or from our computer at the research lab and there he stands. Jesus looks us in the eye and with life-disturbing confidence says, “Follow.” And before we know it we have quit our job or gone back to school or left the abusive relationship or waded knee deep into the complexities of social justice work or changed our attitude or moved to a new community or taken a path we never dreamed of before. And we step out on that path, responding to a call that is “dangerously open-ended,” and we follow. Not knowing where the path will lead, we follow, knowing that no matter where the path takes us, it is held in the hand of a loving God, who waits at the center. And like Simon Peter and Andrew and all of those who have gone before us on this path, and with those who accompany us now, we look up only to see the astonishing mercy of God racing to meet us. AMEN