The idea of coming face to face with God feels daunting to me. What one question would I ask if I had the chance? (How do you choose when and where to intervene?) What would I wish God did not know? (Lots of things.) Would I survive the encounter if I met God face to face?
I suspect most of the time we don’t realize our meetings with the holy have happened until later. When we read about Peter and Andrew, James and John, their nets (and father) left behind suddenly, immediately, we have to wonder what they saw in Jesus. This is some economical storytelling. Jesus invites, the men respond by getting out of their boats; it’s the kind of impulsive response to a preacher or evangelist we might view with suspicion if we heard such a story today.
I have heard many stories about call, to ministry and to many kinds of service on behalf of Jesus Christ. Some of them came in dreams, or in a vision, or during contemplation. I had my own dream, and a moment of feeling the divine presence on the coast of Maine, but those experiences served to affirm something that had already happened when I responded to an unexpected invitation.
In my early 30s, I was asked by my pastor to serve on the Committee on Ministry in my United Church of Christ Association. It was hard to find younger lay people to serve because the committee met during the day. I was at home with little children, and I don’t know why I seemed likely; perhaps because I had found the time to serve on a search committee the year before. I don’t want to suggest that recruiting people for committees is the way to build the kingdom, although many church leaders have tried! No. I responded to the call to serve in a needed role, to be a servant of God and of people.
Maybe that desire is what my pastor saw in me, or maybe he was just a tool used by God in that moment. (And maybe he was just the desperate chair of the Nominating Committee!) I only know that when he asked, I didn’t hesitate to say yes.
My preaching approach to this week’s gospel lesson has often been about responding to God’s call. I’ve asked whether we are ready to drop everything and go; what’s the measure of our willingness? It might be helpful instead to come at this from the other direction. Whose gifts need affirmation? Who could we be inviting to serve God? Somewhere in every one of our congregations and communities are people who just don’t know how much their gifts are needed. They read announcements for volunteer opportunities and assume they are not part of the target audience, or they don’t read them at all. They hear this gospel story as bystanders, unsure if what they have to give will be noticed, much less valued, or whether the story of the disciples has any application to contemporary life. They may be looking for a way to serve God but not sure whether their gifts are needed.
Yes, the men in their boats were willing, but more importantly, they were invited, face to face. Isn’t that what we are all seeking?
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