For People

Mark 1:14-20                                               Ordination of Elders Day
Elizabeth M. Deibert                                                  25 January 2015

 After last week’s sermon Are you Listening?, one of you (who was really listening) asked this good question, “So how do you know if you’re hearing the voice of God or your own inner voice?   After thinking of it and talking to the elders yesterday, here’s what I think: By years of growing into oneness with Christ, such that your own voice is completely aligned with his.  Iraneaus said,“Jesus became who we are that we might become what He is.”  Our trouble is that we don’t take that seriously.   This is our calling.  This is our identity as Christians – to become like Christ.   But we are Christ-admirers more than Christ-followers.   We just want to check his Facebook page once a week or follow him on Twitter, instead of living our lives with him, for him, in him. 

 What if you are trying to hear God’s voice about your marriage, your work, your children, your potential surgery, how to utilize your time in retirement, or some other significant decision?   How do you know the will of God?   By struggling and praying.  I can remember sitting on the airplane (May will be ten years ago) and talking to Richard about whether I felt called to come here as pastor.   I wanted to quit one year later, but I didn’t.   Maybe that’s when I really accepted the call to be here.   Just two weeks ago, after mentioning conflict with my brother in a sermon, I felt directed by God to call my brother to try reconcile.   I get messages all the time about calling various ones of you and I could call them my own thoughts, but that would not be right because you know how forgetful I can be.   So I am actively praying, God, help me to remember the people I need to remember to call – at the right time.   So how do you know if it’s God’s voice?  By practice I guess.  If you are listening carefully to Holy Scripture, seeking the Spirit of God in worship and sacrament, striving to follow Christ while humbling listening to the perspective of your fellow Christians, then I expect you will discern the will of God.  It’s not an overnight thing.    It is a journey – that’s why it helps to think about the call of the fishermen to journey with Christ.  

 They physically dropped what they were doing and went with him.   Now the first days, weeks, maybe even months, do you think they knew what Christ was thinking, where He was going, how He wanted them to help Him?   No, there are plenty of Gospel stories that indicate they were rather clueless, bumbling fools.  

But presumably they got better at following Him the more they did it.   Same with us.   We get better at it with practice.   But just like the disciples, we have to go through trials and temptations, failures and misunderstandings along the journey with Christ.   As they went, it became clearer and clearer that it was all about service.   That’s why he said, you will be fishing for people, it was all about people.   Healing people, teaching people, feeding people, yes, the children, yes, the diseased lepers, yes, the prostitutes, yes, the lying tax collectors, yes, all the outsiders, bring them on.   The only people Jesus did not seem to want were the ones who thought too highly of themselves, the ones who thought they were better than others, more holy and pure and able to perfect themselves.   Jesus seeks those who know they have needs, those willing to turn and trust.  Jesus calls the disciples.
Mark 1:14-20
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.  16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

Jesus’ special cousin John was arrested.   Presumably that would have concerned him, but Jesus did not let that threat diminish his call.   He went on.   He gathered up some fishermen and told them if they came with him, they’d be fishing for people.  When we read this story, we think of how different it is for us.   Few of had it happen so quickly.   One day you’re fishing with father.   The next day you’re on the road with Jesus, fishing for people.    For us, it is more of an every day question – am I on the road with Jesus or on my own path.   Will I follow today?   Where does Christ want me to go?   Do I have the courage?   Do I have the gifts?   Can I let go of other commitments to keep this one?   Some following decisions are big ones, others are smaller but they stack up to shape our life’s direction.  Some of you have made commitment to Christ by stepping up to be leaders in church.   Others of you have heard God’s voice to do whatever it is that you do in the world, in such a way that you are serving people.   

Following Jesus is not the same kind of nomadic existence that it was for those early disciples.   But it does still require the willingness to lay other things down.   It does still require a re-orientation of one’s priorities.  It does still require the willingness to put family second, God first.   Oh no, you say, you cannot put family second.   Well, Jesus said in another place, “unless you hate mother and father, spouse and siblings, you cannot follow me.”   I think what he means there is that you have to be primarily defined as Christ-follower in order to be a disciple.   If being Christ-ian is number one for you, then you will become your best self, your differentiated self, the person you are meant to be, which while it relegates family to second place, on the other hand, it should, if you are truly following, make you a better parent, spouse, sibling.

You have to leave home in order to find your true home, the home that was always there, but was disguised, not fully seen when you were finding security in family, spouse, children, siblings.   You have to leave home, in the sense of this world, in order to find your true home with God – here and beyond.

Jesus is calling you to fish, to help, to care, to make peace, to listen, to love, to be hospitable and kind and gracious, to do whatever it is that you do, for people.   Are you living in your neighborhood for you or for people?   Are you going to the gym for you or for people?   Are you coming to church for you or for people?   Are you living in your family for you or for other people?   Are you going to work and school for yourself or for other people?   Is your retirement all about you or about other people?   Is your car, your house, your time yours to do what you want or is it for people?  Do you read for you or for others – to understand them?  Is your savings account just for you or for others?   Are you being ordained and installed as elders, commissioned as ministry team leaders/managers for people? 
We had a session planning and bonding day yesterday at church with the elders.  As we worked through conflict dynamic strategies and transformational leadership issues, as we studied the vision work many of you did last spring to arrive at five priorities for the year, it became clear that every team, every goal is for people.   Because if it’s not for people, it is not worthy of our time.    As Pope Francis said in his address to the European Union, it is vital that we develop a culture of human rights that is harmoniously ordered to the greater good for all of us.  Otherwise, these rights will end up being considered limitless and consequently will become a source of conflicts and violence.

My favorite author for the month of January (Richard Rohr) says we spend the first half of our life figuring out who we are, building our identity, getting pieces of it broken and then amazingly mended by the grace of God.   And all of this is for the purpose of having a self/a vessel that God can truly use for the sake of others.  We are a tree that has grown stronger because of wind storms, a vessel stronger because it has been broken and then glued back together by grace.   This is just the right place for Christ to dwell, to be seen by others, shared with others – a grace-glued-together vessel.   Erik Erikson called this adult stage of life generativity vs. self-absorption and when this stage is lived well, older adults can experience hope instead of despair.

That’s what Christ is calling you to do – to live for others like he did, which when we do it completely, means we are bringing the life of God to this world, rather than letting this world as it is, in its brokenness, control us.   This world, in its sin and brokenness, tried to deal death to Christ, just as it still deals in accusation, and death with us, but Christ triumphed over death, making it possible for us to do the same.

But we cannot triumph over death without experiencing it, without suffering.   We have to fall and to fail, in order to discover the life that is beyond our failing.  When we fall or fail, we have the opportunity, if we are following Christ, to Fall Upward.   (title of Richard Rohr’s book).   We can fall upward to live, to grow, to become more by serving people in whatever we do.   Henri Nouwen would say that we are “Wounded Healers”   We cannot heal without being wounded.   Jesus healed us by suffering, so we heal others by suffering first and growing stronger. 

It’s no small wonder we are Jesus admirers instead of true followers.   He said, “Unless you take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of me.”   He said, “The last will be first and the first, last.”   Jesus issues a very challenging call.   He asks us to exercise courage and trust, to love the least and the lost and the left out.   Most of all, when we spend time with him, we realize it can never be about us, but for the other people.   It’s not that we lose our identity by becoming people pleasers, with no security in ourselves.   No, quite the opposite, we become so secure in our identity as the beloved disciples, sisters and brothers of Jesus Christ, that we have strength of character to care passionately for others in ways that makes them stronger.  Not more dependent on us but dependent on God.   And as we live for people, like Christ did, we find the joy, the blessing of discovering we are at truly home with God, forever, no matter where we are.