Jesus Calls the First Disciples
18 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. 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. 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. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
I grew up in Michigan and when I moved to Kansas for seminary, I explored several different churches. One of the more memorable services that I attended in that first year was at a very progressive church in Overland Park. The topic of the minister’s sermon was God’s Calling on Our Lives, and the minister had a unique and interactive sermon illustration that morning.
He asked everyone to take out their cell phones and turn them on with the volume at full blast, and he said that every time one of the phones rang he wanted us to stop everything and ask loudly, “Is God Calling?”
I don’t think he took into consideration that it was a Sunday morning and most of the people there were church regulars whose friends and family probably know not to call them on a Sunday morning. So, after he had been preaching for a pretty solid ten minutes, you could see him start to get a little ancy that his clever sermon illustration was going to fall flat. Finally, some compassionate souls out in the pews took out their cell phones and began calling each other so that there would be a few opportunities for the minister to lead us in asking, “Is God Calling?”
It was a flawed plan, but I think I understand what he was trying to accomplish. He wanted an illustration that would show that God is around us all the time, and that if we are open to listening God is calling out to us all the time.
For me, it became an example about how blessed ministers are when we have compassionate and loving church members who recognize that we are only human, forgive our flaws, and support us in our ministry. That support and love of one another is a part of the calling all of us have when we try to be in true community with each other.
In a way, I think this illustration on how to be true community with one another was much more powerful than his original point. Isn’t that the way God works sometimes? Despite our human fumbles and flaws, God’s message still makes its way out into the world.
Last week, I preached on Jesus’ baptism and our own baptisms, and how remembering our baptism is one of the ways we can rediscover our identities as Christians. An acceptance of our shared identity as followers of Jesus, whatever that means to you, leads us to ask more questions. Questions like: How does our identity as people of faith affect who we are, what we do, and what our impact can be in this world?
Which leads us to ask, what or who is God calling us to be? I think a good way to begin exploring that is to look at the examples of people being called in the Bible.
In our scripture for this morning, Jesus had just begun to live into his call to ministry. As he walked along the sea shore, he called out to two fishermen, Simon Peter and Andrew. He invited them to drop their nets and follow him. Immediately, they did, and he promised them that he would make them fishers of people. As they continued to walk along, they came across three men in a boat, James, John, and their father Zebedee. Jesus called out to them too, and the text says James and John immediately dropped their nets and left their father in the boat to follow Jesus.
Religious scholars have attempted to explain why these four men left their boats behind and followed Jesus when he called to them. One of the explanations that I read said that being raised in the Jewish faith, these men would have been raised learning the Torah throughout their lives and at some point, were weeded out from pursuing religious education. Only the most dedicated students became Rabbis or religious leaders, and they were not chosen. So, when Jesus specifically chose them to follow him, it was a special opportunity that had been denied to them before.
Other scholars explain that most likely this was not their first introduction to Jesus. He was living in Capernaum at the time, so maybe they were already aware of who Jesus was. Maybe they had already heard the stories of his baptism. Maybe he walked along those shores every morning and waved his hand in acknowledgement, so when he invited them to join him they had already considered it. In reference to this story, Biblical scholar Alyce Mckenzie once wrote, “It seems likely that the disciples had been thinking about Jesus for a while and about what the impact of following him might be.”
Either of those options could be true, and I like to consider the possibilities. Maybe Jesus had been paying attention to these men, and knew that they were longing for something more, that they were ready to risk everything to accept their calling.
Or maybe it really was a spur of the moment decision. Maybe Jesus called to them and each of them felt that strange stirring of the Holy Spirit, nudging them to accept the call. Maybe they felt inspired in a way they had never felt inspired before, and they knew that Jesus was offering them an opportunity to be a part of something bigger than themselves.
Whatever really happened—I think we can reach the same conclusion. God calls normal people living ordinary lives to extraordinary things all the time.
That is as true today as it was that day on the shore of the Sea of Galilea. So, how do we discover or rediscover what God is calling us to do and be in the world today?
As Christians, we are called to live life differently because of our faith. Our calling is to a way of living that is shaped by what we believe. This means that we are called to love one another as God loves us. We are called to work for justice for those on the margins of society. We are called to create God’s beloved, inclusive community here in our church.
We are called to work together for these things, but each one of us also has a personal calling based on our skill sets, our passions, and our circumstances. I think the beginning of the year is the perfect time to rediscover what your calling in the world might be.
I have a few ideas of how to do this. First, I invite you to listen for the still-speaking voice of God in your life. We are all busy people, and too often we are so distracted by the busyness of our lives that we don’t take time for prayer, spiritual practices, or quiet reflection. Being intentional about finding time to sit and listen creates space for us to recognize the ways that God is calling us to live out our faith in the world.
I invite you to pay attention to the messages you might be receiving from the universe. God speaks to us through art and music, words and experiences, through other people and through the stirring of the holy spirit in our souls.
Lastly, I invite you to pay attention to what fills you up, and how you can use that to be God’s hands and feet in the world. Theologian Fredrick Buechner once wrote, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” We need people with passion who are willing to use that passion to help make the world a better place.
We need people who will accept their calling, even when it isn’t easy. People who are willing to take risks. Just as the disciples had to sacrifice their security, their homes, and time with their families to follow Jesus, sometimes truly following our calling requires us to sacrifice something.
Greta Thunberg, the teenage climate change activist has faced ridicule and bullying, but still she stands tall and demands that we pay attention to this climate crisis.
Transgender activists like Indya Moore, Laverne Cox, and Sarah McBride face transphobia and discrimination for being out and proud, but they still fight for inclusion for transgender people in our society.
Scott Warren, the teacher in Arizona who left water and food in the desert for undocumented immigrants faced years in prison, but he still chose to do what he could to save the life of refugees on the Mexican border.
Being called isn’t always comfortable. It involves being willing to step out into the darkness, to try something new, to be bold and courageous and trust that God is with us.
Because God is with us.
God is with you this morning if you are living out your best, most authentic, call-filled existence. God is with you this morning if you are feeling inspired to re-dedicate yourself to finding and living out your calling. And God is with you this morning if this all just seems too hard, too overwhelming, or too out there for you.
If this is you this morning, if you feel like you are wandering around in the darkness unsure of your purpose or call, I invite you to take a deep breath and choose to move forward.
Martin Luther King JR. once said, “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”
Or, if you relate more to Disney lyrics, consider the wise words of Princess Anna in the movie Frozen 2:
“Just do the next right thing
Take a step, step again
It is all that I can to do
The next right thing
I won’t look too far ahead
It’s too much for me to take
But break it down to this next breath, this next step
This next choice is one that I can make
So I’ll walk through this night
Stumbling blindly toward the light
And do the next right thing.”
What is the next right thing that God is calling you to do?