When I was very young, I wanted to be a marine biologist. I loved the beach in all seasons and collecting shells and rocks and discovering the names of them was one of the great joys of my early life. Then someone told me that in order to be a marine biologist I would have to go into the water… with the sharks. That was a heartbreaker and deal breaker. There was no way I was going into the ocean where sharks were waiting with all their sharp teeth. It took a few years before I discovered another possible career path.
A couple of years after my marine biology dreams were shattered, I read a book that made me want to be a missionary. I’d barely begun to attend Sunday School and had very spotty knowledge of Christianity, but the book I had read stirred something in me. I envisioned a life of travel and service in which I’d go to places in Africa, South America, or India and help dig wells or build schools or hospitals. My young self was deeply moved by the idea that making the world a better, safer, healthier place was a good way to serve God.
In my areligious family, the news of me wanting to be a missionary didn’t go over very well. So I kept it mostly to myself. In the next few years I would become more involved in church and I was intrigued by the idea of ministry in a church setting. I might have been 14 or 15 the first time I said it out loud. Somewhere in these formative years, my call to ministry solidified. And, yet, I was wholy unprepared for what responding to this call would mean.
It meant enduring prejudices and dismissals because I was a woman… distancing myself from the already strained relationships with my family of origin… coming to terms with my own limits and woundedness… confronting my own internal biases and racism and risking lending my voice to those so often unheard… advocating for justice when most people remain silent… moving half-way across the country… challenging political systems of oppression… Essentially, following God’s call has proved to be the greatest challenge and the greatest joy in my life. I’ve learned a lot about grace and forgiveness from the times when I got it entirely wrong. These lessons have helped me cope with the pain and frustration that the institutional church’s reluctance to change has caused me, and with the rejection I’ve experienced at the hands of the church. At times I wanted to, and even tried to, walk away from ministry, from the church, and from God. Yet, God would not let me go… and I am grateful (mostly).
Reading Matthew’s account of the call of James and John, the sons of Zebedee today gives me a sense of affirmation. James and John, along with Andrew and Peter, followed Jesus without hesitation. For James and John, they left their father behind. For Andrew and Peter, they left their livelihood behind. Jesus was worth giving up the lives they might have planned. Jesus was worth leaving home and family, and all that was expected. Following Jesus gave them passion and purpose, and lives that changed the world.
I don’t think for a minute that my life has or will change the world, but following Jesus has filled my life with passion and purpose, enough to maybe save a few lives. Jesus called people to repent because the Kingdom of God is near. If we change our ways, that Kingdom will come closer. If we stop pretending that we have seen Isaiah’s “great light” and actually look for it, embrace it, and live it, that Kingdom will be so much closer. In fact, it might just become reality.
My life is not what my five-year-old self dreamed of. In fact, isn’t even what my thirty or forty-year old self dreamed of. Following Christ means giving up some self-focused dreams and making room for dreams bigger than we could imagine, dreams of bringing the Kingdom of God into the hear and now in a way that matters. Sometimes I dream of a church where grace and love thrive, where all human beings are truly welcome. Imagine how different things might be if we all had the courage of those first disciples, if we let go of what we thought our lives would be and followed Jesus into a future of endless possibilities…
RCL – Year A – Third Sunday after Epiphany – January 26, 2020
Psalm 27:1, 4-9
I Corinthians 1:10-18