The Bible is full of beginnings. In Genesis it begins with the familiar words, In the Beginning... God created the heavens and the earth. There, he merely speaks the word and the cosmos comes into being. God forms humankind in his own image out of dust of the earth and breathes life into them. He chooses Abraham to be the grandfather of nations and begin the history of God’s people and Israel.
We are presented with the beginnings of a new story, with An Angel and a girl named Mary; with her sister and her son, John who will grow up to become the greatest of prophets. His cousin, preaches and teaches far and wide, heals the sick, raises the dead and points us to yet another beginning- one in which there is a life in eternal glory around the throne in the presence of his heavenly Father.
These are but some of the beginnings. Other beginnings in the Bible are called call stories. These are stories where one is invited by God to begin something new and unexpected. In the Old stories of the Hebrew Bible, we hear of Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and others. God calls this person to beings, and only to begin, but -and here is the hard part- to persist and to persevere. The one who is called is to persist so that another beginning can take place.
Our Call story in Matthew’s gospel begins with Andrew and Simon, James and John. They are all fisherman it is likely the know each other in the village on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. I imagine it’s still dark, off the go to hurl their nets into the water to haul in the days catch and take it to market. A day like any other day- nothing special.
Except it isn’t. today is a day for a new beginning.
Jesus shows up at the water’s edge. There is something to suggest that Jesus has a reputation. Have they heard about him before? Maybe heard him speaking and teaching in the synagogue? We don’t know and it doesn’t matter. But Jesus calls them. And in calling Simon, Andrew, James and John, a new beginning takes place. He says to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” Nice play on Words Jesus! Was this a challenge to them? An argument that if they can fish for fish, could they fish for something larger?
In call stories, there is not a call to mundanity, but a call to adventure. No fisherman wants to be called and say, “Follow me and I will make you fish for…fish.” The call is to something not just new, but to the unknown. Moana- you remember her- How Far I’ll Go is her ballad of leaving the mundanity behind and answer the call of the Sea to adventure. G.K. Chesterton said, “An adventure is, by its nature, a thing that comes to us. It is a thing that chooses us, not a thing that we choose.”
In the ancient time Rabbis would typically wait for disciples to come to them. Rabbi Jesus, the Lamb of God, goes out and finds his own. And this Jesus is also quite different in another way- he doesn’t go out among the elite- the best or the brightest. He goes down the docks, to the blue collar of his time.
Adventure is something that comes to us and choses us. And though in our Christian vocation we chose Christ, one might say that God chose us first. God chose us from the very beginning – God who, as the prophet Isaiah wrote, “formed me in the womb to be his servant,” chooses us to be his instruments. God chooses us for a great adventure.
Discipleship is the great adventure for us all and we are taken away from our predictable lives by the one who is great beyond all measure.
Woe to anyone who dilutes this adventure with dullness, who makes discipleship into something safe. Don’t get me wrong, we like things safe, secure, predictable. But where we are called to be is right on the edge, walking the narrow path between safe, predictable, and secure- hear comfortable- on the one hand, and the adventure of the unknown- the intellectual and emotional risk taking that helps us stretch and to grow.
Today, in addition to our annual meeting, we celebrate our patronal feast day, St. Timothy. Timothy was called to an adventure by the Apostle Paul. When Paul and Barnabas visited Lystra, Paul healed a crippled person leading many there to become Christians. When Paul returned, this time with Silas, Timothy was already a member of the Christian congregation along with is mother and grandmother. Timothy became Paul’s disciple and later his constant companion and co-worker in preaching. This is around the year 56 or 57. Timothy would go from Macedonia to Ephesus to Corinth arriving just after Paul’s 1st letter reaches them. He would eventually govern as bishop of the Church in Ephesus. Historically, we lose track of him in the New Testament after the book of Acts. In a book, not in the Bible, called, the Acts of Timothy, the story is told that in the year 97, at the age of 80, Bishop Timothy tried to stop a procession in honor of the goddess Diana by preaching the gospel. The angry pagans beat him with clubs, dragged him through the streets and stoned him to death. Hence the symbols on our banner.
By all accounts he and Paul were quite close and without a doubt his life and ministry as a follower of Christ was an adventure. He was chosen and called in to the service of Christ.
Are these four men- Andrew, Simon, James, and John- ready and equipped for the adventure that comes to them? That choses them? They are certainly in good company. Did Moses feel equipped? He responded by saying “I am slow of speech; how will Pharaoh understand me?” Isaiah said, Woe is me I am a man of unclean lips…Jeremiah said, I’m too young, I’m just a kid and there are others. All of them called by God at a time when they felt least prepared. They are fishermen- skilled in mending nets- what do they know about fishing for people? Christ’s call means a new beginning.
And these men are far from perfect- even in faith. Simon who will become known as Peter- when the moment comes, he denies Jesus, not once but THREE times. James and John nicknamed the Son’s of Thunder, are not the most agreeable pair around, they will jostle each other to sit at Jesus’ right hand and miss the point completely when Jesus says that to become the greatest you must become the least of all. Andrew rarely appears on the radar. AND YET- Jesus never withdraws his invitation to any of them. They are called to be partners with Jesus and partners is what they finally become.
The Bible tells us of this beginning of the four fishermen. They are called out from their occupation about which they know a great deal, in order to fish for people, about which they know nothing.
In the same way our discipleship means a new beginning. This year and every year is an opportunity for us as a follower of Jesus to embark on a new adventure. As a congregation we can play it safe and continue to do all the things we have done- daring nothing- and in the process grow old and whither on the vine. Or we can dare greatly and heed the call of Christ. Jesus is calling St. Timothy’s in 2020 just as he called St. Timothy in the year 57. We are called to be faithful and to follow where Christ leads us. We now find ourselves engaged in a new adventure- and however strange as it may seem. Christ comes to us and CHOOSES us and sends out to be the next new beginning in the world.
Let us pray:
Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the good news of salvation, that we can the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works, Amen.
The Rev. Daniel L. Leatherman is priest in charge of St. Timothy's Episcopal Church.