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Lead & Follow

I got parishioner feedback from my message last Sunday about what a “Call” is, some of it positive and some critical. Some folks got from the message that their personal experience of a call, directly from God, was not a thing. I am sorry if my message was taken that way, because that wasn’t my point. So, if you are one of those people blessed to have had a direct experience of God giving you a Call, please know that I think that’s great! I would never dispute someone else’s spiritual or religious experience. I hope that clears up any bad feelings because I believe we all have good work to do here together. That unified work in it self is a calling.

Imagine if you will, (as Rod Serling of “The Twilight Zone” used to say) what it is like to have a message inside you so profound that you cannot keep it to yourself. Even if you wanted to, the message and gift you have would be so beneficial to humankind that it would be immoral and wrong for you to hold it to yourself as a secret. As a young girl maybe 11 or 12, I was so proud of my big brother Pete, who I’m sorry to say is now gone to be with God. Peter James Dietz was kind, smart, handsome and well loved. He was a football player, a wrestler and the President of a High School Fraternity Club, but he didn’t act as if he was. He was not smug and because of that I don’t think I ever met anyone who did not like him. When we were very young we were Confirmation pupils of a fine religious teacher and we got it into our heads to walk to church every day during Lent. Well, if truth be told, I would tag along with my big brother who was committed to going. I probably would never have gone had it not been for my inspirational brother. I figured if Peter felt it was a good idea to go that was good enough for me. My love and admiration of my brother was very hard to be silent about. Yet, I did not know any other kid who bragged about their brother and so, I did pretty much keep it to myself. As Pete & I grew older, we were not as close but he was always in the back of my mind as someone who helped to form my thinking and he gave me a sense of right and wrong, you know, morals! Even now, after he has been gone for a few years after being ravaged by cancer, here I am today, telling you about him and his gifts. That’s what a special leader type person he was. People would listen to him and follow him and he was a good and upstanding role model.

In today’s Gospel from Matthew we get a glimpse of a private, self-preserving Jesus. He must have been very afraid when he heard his friend John the Baptizer had been thrown in jail. Verse 12 reports that the arrest of John the baptizer is a turning point, a decision or hinge point, for Jesus. Herod imprisoned John for rebuking him because of “the evil things” he had done. Upon hearing this news, Jesus withdraws to Galilee. Interestingly, the Greek verb for withdraw used here (ἀναχωρέω) is the same verb used to describe Mary and Joseph’s flight to Egypt with Jesus. Jesus’ life reads as though it was rife with moments of fear and fleeing and we know at the end he did not flee but rather was assassinated for his beliefs and leadership. It takes tremendous courage to stand by what you believe, especially if your belief goes against the grain of the prevailing ethos.

In today’s focus text, the place and time the author of Matthew is writing about prior to the crucifixion, Jesus decides to flee to a place where the majority of people are Gentiles, that is, most of the folks were different than the religious Jewish culture he grew up in. Why did he do that? Why did he flee to Galilee? It seems to me, sometimes you just have to put some distance between you and people who feel they know you and have cause to judge you. Jesus, just starting out in his ministry was not ready to go head on with political and religious authorities that would question him and dismiss his views. Instead, at this point he felt a call to gather people in whom he felt would make good Disciples. He wanted to fortify! In that moment, he became a leader of attraction, looking to bring in followers for a special mission. He wanted them to sign on to the incredible message of love that Jesus said God has for all people, especially people who were poor or in some way pushed to the margins of society.

By way of the Gospel of Matthew, we can consider further what our call is (which we started talking about last week) and what it takes to follow up on that call. Sometimes it’s not that easy to follow a call to do God’s work, is it? We may hesitate or we may whine, “why me, Lord?” like Jonah and Moses did. It doesn’t sound as if the new Disciples balked at all.

Matthew 4

19 And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people" 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. Imagine that, immediately they did what he asked of them. They didn’t check their cell phones or take a swim. They didn’t try for just one more catch. The scripture goes on: 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. (Now catch this) 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Pretty interesting, huh? I mean really, put yourself in their places. They were fishing, trying to make a decent living when Jesus summons them. They left the boat and their father in the boat! Would you have done that? Would you have dropped everything to follow Jesus? Don’t forget now, these fellows did not have the benefit of hindsight like we do. They didn’t have the New Testament Gospels to rely on. They didn’t know what Jesus was capable of, nor that they would be doing work with God’s greatest descendant. Or did they? For many of us, (not for all I understand, I heard you) our call to follow Jesus Christ is not a dramatic, mystical experience, though it may be for some. I get it. Our call can be the product of a gradual understanding of the scriptures and a sense of what the life of Jesus in the world actually meant during his time and what it still means today.

Once we have taken the Good News in as part of ourselves, we then can appreciate the invitation to share God’s love with those around us. So this morning, I would like to ask you, when in your life has your sense of being led by God been the most real or most urgent for you? Let’s sit in silence for just a moment here today and think about that. Feel free to close your eyes or not as you see fit. Sit back, take two or three deep breaths and just relax into your thoughts. What has God called you to do to benefit humankind? Please allow me to read this prayer to you while we are in this time of personal quiet. Inviting God, you call us in many ways. You call us to witness with acts of kindness and deeds of Justice and right doing. You call us to be trusted companions to one another on our life journeys. You call us to rousing speech and beautiful song. God, you invite us to follow you by respecting the multitude of opportunities you offer us, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly. Let us hear you clearly and let us rejoice in your presence in our lives. How can we keep from answering?

When you are ready, please open your eyes and let’s pray together the Prayer of Peace, attributed to St. Francis.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

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