In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There’s a lot going on in our gospel selection today. As always we could develop at least 1000 different sermons on what it contains.
In sermon v2 I’ve walked us through the gospel, step by step, so that anyone who desires that kind of thing can find it.
But today from the pulpit I feel a CALL to do things differently. Not to preach the various ideas in there, one after the other, but instead to concentrate on one idea in much more depth: the idea of God’s call.
Did you hear today how Jesus called Andrew and Peter, James and John, from their fishing boats to follow him? And did you notice how quickly they followed?
To help us think about being called, I’d like to tell us a story I heard this week from the new priest in Bethlehem, CT—his name is Michael Curran. Michael comes to our diocese after having lived in Barrow, Alaska, for 34 years: first as teacher, then as priest. Michael is full of wonderful stories about life with the Inuit peoples in Alaska. He has been adopted by an Inuit elder and been given an Inuit name. He has this incredibly wonderful fur hat made of an Alaskan fox—it has the face and the ears of the fox preserved and embedded in it—it’s amazing—and it’s warm. I tried it on at his invitation!
So here’s Michael’s story, as he writes it:
Tommy Agna-boo-guk (phonetic spelling)
“Tommy was an Inuit whaling captain from arctic coast Alaska whose ancestry goes back centuries. His family were subsistence hunters and they lived off the rugged and barren landscape of Arctic Alaska on the Beaufort Sea. He was a well-respected whaling captain of his small village.
“On one, spring whale hunt, he and his whaling team were out on the sea ice in an Umiak (30 foot skin boat) hunting for the bowhead whale as he had done every year since he was a teenager. At age 60, he knew that his skills would eventually be passed down to his sons or a member of his hunting team.
“As they were waiting for a whale sighting, Tommy and his crew were singing and saying prayers for a successful hunt. He was an Episcopalian and a devout member of his village church.
A whale was sighted and Tommy, being the captain, was obliged to throw the first harpoon strike. He was successful and the subsequent strikes eventually led to the capture of the 65-foot bowhead whale. That’s no small task as it requires deft skill and endurance and strength.
“This hunt was different for Tommy however. He explained that the moment he threw the harpoon, he had a Calling from His Lord to follow Him and become an ordained priest to serve Christ and his local church. Despite all of his explanations to his people and family of why he had to leave his profession and his home for a time to pursue the required study he would need to become an ordained priest and serve Christ, his community felt that he was abandoning them. The power of the Call was for Tommy, too strong for him to ignore, so he left for Vancouver to pursue his study with the blessings of only one person...the Bishop.
“The important thing to remember here is that for Tommy, this was not an easy thing to do. He left his family, his cultural surroundings, his community. In essence, [he left] his former life.
“Tommy received his degree and returned to his village and his family and led his local church with skill. He carried the Gospel message not only to his local church but to other communities in the Arctic. Because of his ministry, the churches grew, other Inuit peoplecarried Christ's message in their own communities and Tommy became known as one of the greatest Inuit orators proclaiming the message of Christ to His people in his generation. He became a "fisher of men" (and women and children). He also returned to and continued his skills as a whale captain until he passed over to his Lord.
“Thanks folks for allowing me to share my friend and mentor's story with you all. Thank you Tommy. May your soul be blessed and all of your eternal whale hunts be successful for our Lord Jesus Christ.”
[quoted from an email from Michael Curran, Missional Priest in Bethlehem, Connecticut, January 24, 2014]
That’s an amazing story, isn’t it?
Now, I know from conversations I’ve had with folks over the years that we generally feel uncomfortable with the idea of CALL. We may feel that it’s presumptuous of us to say that we’ve been called by God to do something. We may feel that CALL is for someone more holy than we are—certainly not for us. We may be under the mistaken assumption that CALL is only about overtly religious changes in our lives.
But everyone experiences it sometimes. To be called by God is to be asked to step out into a place that might be unfamiliar. It is to change. It is to leave behind what’s old and no longer terribly useful and to embrace something new and urgent.
The operative word here is URGENT. You know you’re called when you can’t run away from the insistent idea. You know you’re called when there’s nothing else you can do.
Take a look at what it must have been like for Andrew and Peter, James and John. First they heard and saw Jesus calling them. Then they dropped their nets. Then they turned and went with him. But how did they go? They went step by step. Do we think they knew what they were doing? I bet they didn’t. Were they anxious sometimes because they couldn’t see where this Jesus-following was going to take them? I BET they were anxious. But they lived the rest of their lives just taking things bit by bit, dropping what was no longer useful and turning toward the promises of Jesus—of God.
That’s how anybody deals with being called out of where we are right now. We turn and we change, bit by bit. We travel one step at a time where we feel we’re being taken.
Think of a young couple hearing a call to marry each other. They approach their marriage one step at a time, don’t they—securing the reception hall, making the deposit, calling the church, buying the dress, deciding on a guest list, planning the liturgy, and then coming down the aisle, step by step, one foot after the other. Then their life together—the grittiest part of the marriage—is also lived step by step—as many of us know.
Think of a person who’s being called to forgive someone that they can’t stand. They may spend years and years denying that they’re hearing any kind of call to forgive. They may spend more years and years justifying their own particular grudge that they’ve grown to love and maybe even to need. But at some time or other they begin to open to the idea that there might be a repair of the rift. There might be a cooling of tempers and maybe even a handshake or a hug one day. This can take a really long time. It might involve a fading of the bad memories. But that’s ok. Sometimes the calls that are the most profound take forever for us to work out.
Spend some time this week thinking about the motions that Andrew and Peter, James and John took as they responded to Jesus’ call upon their lives. Step by step, working through their anxiety and their joy and their challenges. Walking through the unknown simply because they knew they MUST, even if they couldn’t explain why this was so.
And think of our own calls. How has each one of us known God’s call before?
Where has God been active in our lives, urging us, pushing us, taking us step by step into something new or difficult?
And how might God be calling now—urgently pushing us as individuals or as a parish to make some kind of change?