“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 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. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.
nd Jesus saw two brothers, James and John, in the boat with their father, Zebedee, mending their nets. Jesus called them. Immediately they left the boat, they left their father, and they followed Jesus.
And their father was pissed.
James and John never heard the end of it. Whenever they gathered together with their family at Christmas and Thanksgiving, it would come up. After getting a few drinks in him, Zebedee would mutter in disbelief that his two sons had turned their backs on the family business. He would rail and shout that they would rather follow after a crazy rabbi, begging for food from people with real jobs and sleeping in the homes of strangers, a new bed every night. It wasn’t much better when they called on the phone. Old Zebedee would complain about how his fingers ached from mending the nets by himself. He would moan about how is back was sore from hauling in the fish without anyone to help. He would speak mournfully of what he was to do with the family boat when he was too old to work anymore, now that there was nobody to left to put it to use.
It is a hard thing to put down your nets and follow Jesus. It is a hard thing to give up everything to follow a calling. Just the other day, a friend and a colleague of mine shared her reflection on Zebedee. She shared how she decided to pursue a path different from everyone else in her family. She shared the experience of breaking with the “family business,” of breaking with the expectations of her parents, and setting her own course as she followed her own call. It’s a classic story, I’m sure you know it: a girl grows up in a family of artists, but becomes the black sheep when she decides to become a lawyer.
And if it is hard to go against the expectations that your family has for you, it is also hard to pivot and go against the expectations that you have for you. After all, we all have plans for our lives. We all have visions of what we will do, of the people we will become. To some extent, we all have an idea of the path we will follow through our life. When we hear a call that leads us away from that path, it can be incredibly difficult to let go of those expectations, those visions, those plans that we have for ourselves. It can be terrifying to step off into an unknown direction, on an unknown path, following after a voice calling to us.
It makes me think of my own life, when I was in college. For most of my life I had been passionate about the environment. When I went into college, I enrolled in an environmental science program. I spent my days and semesters happily studying biology and chemistry, ecology and meteorology, mathematics and geographic information systems. By my junior year, I was starting to specialize in my studies, pursuing satellite remote sensing. I had dreams of working for the government or an environmental consulting company. I was researching graduate programs. I applied for an internship at NASA.
All of that was turned on its head when I recognized that I was being called in another direction. It was a world-shaking, scary experience to have a lifetime of dreams go out of focus, especially when the new thing to which I was being called was not yet fully clear. I remember distinctly thinking at the time that it was like trying to walk on a path to an unknown destination in the midst of the thickest of fogs. Nothing felt certain, even the next footstep was obscured.
It was also an exciting and life-giving time. Learning to let go. Learning to put down the things I had once thought were important. Learning to trust the voice calling to me. It was like I was seeing the world for the first time, and it was alive with possibility.
And I do not regret following this new path. It has led me to people I would have never met. It has led me to places I would have never traveled. It has led me to experiences I would have never imagined. And it has led me to a sense of purpose and fulfillment that I would have never found.
My friend and colleague who chose the road less traveled and became a lawyer, would say the same. Though she could not have foreseen it when she first set out to follow the voice that called to her, the law degree she received led her to the church. It led her to working with clergy and lay people in crisis. It led her to safeguarding God’s people. It led her to creating restoration and reconciliation for communities filled with conflict and pain.
In your own lives, you too have had the experience of following a call that led in an unexpected direction. Perhaps it was not the direction your parents and your family expected. Perhaps it was not the direction you expected. You too have known the uncertainty, the destabilization, as well as the excitement and the exhilaration of charting a new course. And, I’m willing to bet that whatever unexpected places your own calling has led you, that you have not regretted it. I’m willing to bet that you too have found a deeper sense of purpose and fulfillment as you follow the voice of Jesus calling to you.
And yet — I don’t know about you — but when I hear Jesus’ call to Simon and Andrew, to James and John, a part of me feels anxious. A part of me feels a familiar sense of dread. Because, after the uncertainty of following down a new path, now the rhythms of my life are stable. I am content in the knowledge that I am fulfilling my call. Perhaps you feel the same way too. You are doing good work in your life. You have families to look after, bills to pay, obligations to keep. The thought that Jesus might be calling us again, that Jesus might be calling me or you to put down these new nets we are now tending… it’s unnerving. I want to cry out, “How many times?”
But I am afraid that I already know the answer. Because “call” is not something we only see in the rearview mirror. The call of God, the call of Christ to follow, believe it or not, continues to speak into our lives today, no matter how old we are or where we are on the journey. No matter how many times we have followed before, Jesus finds us where we are tending our nets, and calls us to follow anew.
The world is always changing. And the reality is that God is still, and always, present and active in our world. We are called to join Christ in his work in this world, a call that always comes, ever and ever again. That may be, on the one hand, challenging — that we are never done being unsettled and disrupted and changed. And, it also speaks deeply to God’s great trust in us. As Christians, we often say that Jesus shows us the path of reconciliation with our God. But Jesus also gives us a purpose along the way. In good times and in bad, he invites us to lay aside all the gnarly nets, familiar and comfortable as they may be, that trap us in their tangled webs and take up all our attention and energy. Lay it aside, follow me, find your purpose yet again today.
Indeed, today may very well be the day that Jesus shows up here on the banks of the Connecticut River to call out, “Hey Adam! Come and follow me…” Indeed, today may very well be the day that Jesus shows up here to call out, “Hey! Hey! Hey! Come and follow me…” Just because you hear and follow God’s call at one moment in life doesn’t mean that the phone is never going to ring again. And responding to God’s call is not a once-and-for-all proposition. It’s an ongoing invitation that God presents to us again and again, each and every day.
Preached by Adam Yates