Category Archives: Women In Ministry

“Nevertheless, She Persisted” – Sermon on John 11:1-45

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Try to imagine yourself in the story. 

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?”9Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 

11After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

As we get to act two in our story, take note of the emotions of and the interactions between the women and Jesus.

17When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.22But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” 

28When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29And when (Mary) heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there.32When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 

In act three of our story, pay close attention to how Jesus takes on the pain of Mary and Martha and how he responds to it.

34(Jesus) said, “Where have you laid him?” (The women) said to him, “Lord, come and see.”35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” 38Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 

41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to the (crowd), “Unbind him, and let him go.”

45Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. – John 11:1-45

If we keep reading past our assigned text for this morning, we would see that this very loving and compassionate act of raising Lazarus from the dead is what leads to Jesus’ death sentence on the cross. Take a few moments in silence to reflect on what this means about Jesus’ love for Mary and Martha and what it means about his love for us.

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She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.

These words – which were originally used to quiet the voice of a woman senator in February – have been turned into the powerful battle cry for many women this past month. It didn’t take too long before these words were made into a hashtag, were being shared through memes, and were even being proclaimed on tattoos and t-shirts.

While many women today know quite well what it’s like to be quieted, nevertheless, they have persisted.

I love how these words especially ring true this morning.

For one thing: here we are, on the first Sunday after the one Women’s History month has come to a close. And while women still continue to be silenced at the pulpits… Well… let’s just say I’m very thankful for the many women who have gone before us to pave the way and for the many communities who do support women in ministry.

Nevertheless, they persisted.

But these words can also be heard crying out this morning through our Gospel text in John.

Here, in the midst of our very long story about the death and resurrection of Lazarus, we keep hearing the voices of Martha and Mary.

And despite the fact that their female voices had no importance or place in society: nevertheless, they persisted.

Now, as we are getting ready to follow Jesus toward Jerusalem beginning next week, some of you might be wondering why I would focus on these women rather than focus on what might seem to be the obvious good news of this story: Jesus’ act of raising Lazarus from the dead and thus foreshadowing his own death and resurrection that we will soon encounter.

And, yes: this is – indeed – good news.  Through Lazarus’ resurrection, Jesus conquers death and brings forth new life… And not just in a heavenly kind of sense somewhere “out there” in another time and another place.  But the resurrection of Lazarus shows us that we don’t have to sit around and wait until our physical bodies die before we get to experience this new life Jesus offers us. And we don’t have to wait until Easter before we get to live as resurrection people. Rather, in Lazarus’ resurrection, Jesus actually brings about new life right here and right now.

You see, just as Jesus calls Lazarus to emerge from the tomb, he calls us to do so, as well. Jesus calls us out of the tomb, from our own sense of lifelessness, and he frees us from the worldly expectations, insecurities, and sin that bind us. Yes, Jesus offers us new life, calling us to no longer live as we are dead, but rather to choose to live our lives fully.  This is, indeed, good news!

But the thing that I think is often missed when we look at this resurrection story in John is that this good news would not have been proclaimed had it not been for the two women. The resurrection of Lazarus would not have even taken place if it weren’t for the persistence of Martha and Mary.

You see, it was Martha and Mary who sent a message to Jesus letting him know Lazarus was ill in the first place. And when Lazarus died because Jesus had waited around for two whole days before going to Bethany to see him, it was Martha who confronted Jesus. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Nevertheless, she persisted.

And when it seemed like Jesus was not going to do anything about the death of Martha’s brother, it was Martha who ran to her sister, Mary, and told her to go find Jesus.

Nevertheless, she persisted.

And when Mary was distraught over the death of her brother, it was she who fell at Jesus’ feet, pleading: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Nevertheless, she persisted.

You see, it was the persistence of these two women (whom Jesus loved dearly) that opened his eyes to their pain, which greatly disturbed him in spirit and deeply moved him to tears.

It was Mary and Martha’s persistence that moved the one who is the Resurrection and the Life to compassionately respond to their suffering by raising Lazarus from the dead, calling him out of the tomb, and inviting Jesus’ disciples to help free Lazarus from all that kept him bound.

So may we too – like Martha and Mary – keep on persisting, even and especially in times that feel hopeless. May we too – like Jesus’ disciples – open our eyes to the good news being proclaimed through those who do persist. And may we too – like Jesus – be greatly disturbed in spirit at the suffering and injustice around us and thus be deeply moved to respond.

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Encouragement for My Fellow Women Pastors

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A little encouragement for my fellow women pastors (and faith leaders of all traditions) out there:

Yesterday, a parishioner told me that when her two young daughters saw me a few weeks ago, one of them said: “Is that Pastor Emily? You know, she is the only woman pastor I’ve ever seen.” Her mom said she was surprised that her daughter recognized this, and she told me she was so thankful her children have a woman pastor and are able to hear a woman’s voice in the pulpit.

Fellow women pastors (and faith leaders): I am so grateful for each and every one of you. I know it can be extremely difficult to constantly have to face and shut down sexism and stereotypes that are still prevalent in many religious institutions/communities and even in our society. No matter how hard it may be, remember that you are beloved, your voices matter, and you are making a difference in so many people’s lives (young and old).

And I’d like to say a special thank you to all the women pastors and faith leaders in my childhood/youth/adulthood for being those important voices in my life, for modeling what female faith leadership looks like, and showing me that I – too – have a voice in ministry.

“Peace-making be with you”: A Radical Call for Resurrection-Living

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{This post is my contribution to the monthly Spirit of the Poor syncroblog. The conversation is hosted by Luke Harms this month with the theme “Resist.”  Join the conversation.}

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Christ is risen! Alleluia!

We shouted these joyful proclamations on Easter Sunday. The One we had been following through the wilderness for 40 days and watched as he was arrested, wrongly accused, crucified on the cross, and buried is now alive. His tomb is empty and he has been raised from the dead.

Christ is risen indeed!

And on Easter Sunday we celebrated as we sang the “Alleluias” that had been buried over Lent. The black veil over Jesus’ cross has been lifted. The sanctuary is now decorated in white and gold. And the cross has been covered with bright and colorful flowers.

We finally can take on the luxuries we had fasted from over Lent. Everything seems to be back to normal… Or, for many, everything seems to be even better than before… knowing that Jesus is alive. That Christ could not be conquered by death.

Christ is risen! All is joyful and full of celebration.  Alleluia!

But wait a minute.

Not so fast!

This week, our Lectionary does not take us to a party with streamers, chocolate bunnies, and Easter egg hunts. While we do come to a gathering, it is not one that is filled with celebration.

Earlier that morning, Mary Magdalene is visited by the resurrected Jesus and goes to the disciples to tell them of this great news. But instead of rejoicing, they hide behind closed and locked doors… out of fear.

Out of fear that the Jewish leaders who attempted to silence Jesus by putting him to death would now come after them. And maybe out of fear of Jesus, himself. Now that he is alive, what would he think of his friends who denied him three times, fled after his arrest, and left him to fend for himself in his most excruciating moments on the cross?

Christ is risen? Christ is risen… indeed?

Last week, I wrote about my experience watching the Jesus I knew growing up – who had loved and advocated for me and had called me into ministry at a young age – get spit on, beaten down, put on trial, and eventually crucified as I kept hearing “You Can’ts” because I am a woman. And though these loud voices in my first marriage and campus ministry continuously tried to silence and crucify this Jesus, death did not have the final say. The tomb was indeed empty, and the Jesus I knew and loved was not, in fact, silenced.

And yet, though I could at times shout out “Alleluias” of great joy, there were still times I – like Jesus’ closest disciples – decided to run and hide behind closed doors.

Because this news that Christ is risen may be good news, but it does not come without great responsibility…

Because this news that Christ is risen may be good news for many, but it is not good news for all.

When I saw the Jesus who loved me for who I truly am hanging from the cross, I panicked, thinking I’d never see him again. But when he finally appeared to me at the empty tomb, calling me to follow him into this crazy ministry of radical love that loudly advocates for the “least of these,” I wasn’t so sure I wanted to accept this call, after all. Instead, I wanted to resist it.  I wanted to run and hide out of fear. Out of fear of those who would wish to silence me – were I to follow this resurrected Jesus. Out of fear of what so many of my friends, colleagues, and in-laws would say. Out of fear of how this “speaking out” and “standing up for myself and others” would add more tension to what was already taxing in my friendships and marriage.

Couldn’t I just privately accept the love and peace of this radical Jesus for myself and hold onto it for my own personal healing? Couldn’t I just quietly share the good news of this radical Jesus with only the people who I know would accept him?

But if we know this radical Jesus in the first place, we also know the answer.

We know that when we look into the eyes of the resurrected Jesus and touch the wounds of the crucified Christ, we will understand that his death and resurrection were for a far greater and more powerful purpose than just ourselves. And when we place our fingers on the holes in his wrists and feel with our hands the deep cut on his side, we will not be able to do anything other than loudly confess that Jesus is indeed, “My Lord, and My God!”

…So we run.

But even in our times of fear and questioning – when we resist our call to proclaim this radical Gospel of Jesus; when we choose to deny, flee, and hide – Jesus will keep returning to us over and over and over again. Until we are ready to open our eyes to see him, reach out our hands to touch him, and accept the “peace” he offers to us that comes with a commission.

Because when we receive the words: “Peace be with you,” we must remember Jesus’ words that come after it: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

This resurrected life we are called to live – this peace-giving and peace-making ministry we are sent out into the world to do – is going to lead us to places, people, and situations we will fear and question. When we really follow this radical Jesus of the cross who loudly and boldly advocated for the “last and the least,” we are going to run into some pushback. We are going to get ourselves into trouble. We are going to bump into people who will try to spit on, ridicule, beat, and silence us.

But the good news is that we are not alone. Jesus is with us. He has breathed onto us the Holy Spirit, our loving Advocate, who will continuously comfort and guide us along the way. And he has called us to join together as one body to share the joys and the burdens that come with receiving and passing on this peace of Christ.

Easter is not over after we sing “Alleluias” on Easter Sunday. It did not end when Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb. And it did not end when Jesus appeared to the disciples who were hiding behind closed doors.

It continues with each one of us as we choose to live this resurrected life by accepting and boldly passing on the peace that comes in and through this radical Jesus who was resurrected from the dead.

Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

 

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For the Women Who Hear “You Can’ts”: An Easter Story of Hope #StoriesofEaster

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{This post is my contribution to the Stories of Easter syncroblog hosted by Convergent Books.}

It was a Sunday morning my senior year of college. I was sitting in church with my fiancé and his family as I thought about how nice the service was: the music was incredible and the people were really friendly.

But then came the sermon.

I began to feel a little uneasy when the pastor started reading 1 Corinthians 14 about women remaining silent in the church. And things only got worse when the pastor continued to preach about how women had their own special “roles” in the faith community… And that these “roles” did not include teaching adult men, preaching, or serving as pastors, among other things.

This troubled me… as I had been raised in a church with a female pastor, in a family where women were seen as equal to men and could be anything they wanted to be, and where I – myself – started to feel called into ministry in high school.

At a young age, I met and had fallen in love with a Jesus who loved me for who I truly was and who – despite my struggles, faults, and failures – kept washing my feet, calling me his “beloved,” and for some odd reason kept urging and empowering me to follow him.

But there – on that Sunday morning with my fiancé and soon-to-be in-laws – this Jesus I loved was being silenced. He was being beaten down, spit on, and mocked.

And this was not the only place I heard these messages… I had been hounded by “you cant’s” because I was a woman in my campus ministry since my freshman year and would continue to be hounded by them later in my marriage for many years until my divorce.

The Jesus I knew for so long – who had been my true friend, advocate, and encourager – was on trial and the prosecutors were winning. And I began to fear that I would never see or hear from him again.

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I wonder if this was how the women who knew and loved Jesus felt as they watched him from afar during his arrest, his trials, and as he slowly and painfully journeyed toward the cross.

The Jesus who had allowed women to touch his cloak, rub his feet with their hair, sit in the places where disciples sat, and who rebuked the men who criticized such women was now being spit on and mocked. The Jesus who not only taught these women the Scriptures, but also empowered them to speak their voices and allowed them to accompany him on his ministry was now being flogged. The Jesus who had loudly and boldly proclaimed that these women – “the least of these” – were just as cherished and beloved in God’s Kingdom as any man was now being silenced, as he was forced to walk – with a crown of thorns on his head and a heavy cross over his back – toward his violent death.

I wonder what those women who loved this radical Jesus thought as they gazed up through their tears at his broken and bloody body as it hung silently and still on the cross.

Would they ever see or hear from him again? Were they really going to be cherished in the Kingdom of God or was all that he had proclaimed and done for them done in vain? Was Jesus truly the One he said he was or did they completely misunderstand him?

Who would advocate for them now?

Their grief, confusion, and anger over the loss of their beloved Jesus must have been incredibly overwhelming as they heard Jesus cry out in anguish on that dark night: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and watched him take his final breath.

And yet, in the midst of this grief, confusion, and anger, some of these women decided to go back to his tomb after he was buried. We don’t know why. It may have been the same reason they chose to follow him to the cross, while almost all of Jesus’ other disciples bailed out on him.

Maybe they wanted to make sure the tomb was being taken care of, just like he had made sure they were taken care of. Maybe they needed more opportunities to say what they didn’t have the chance to say to Jesus before his arrest. Maybe they thought they would feel closer to him if they were close to his body.

Or maybe they held onto hope that this Jesus really was the One he said he was, and that death would not defeat him.

Whatever the reason, they went back to the tomb.

And it must have been a shocking and horrifying moment when the women found the tomb empty. Had someone stolen Jesus’ body? What did this mean for them now?

And yet, they must have been even more shocked when they were greeted by their loving Jesus, himself – before anyone else – and were commissioned by him to be the bearers of the good news of his resurrection.

The Jesus they knew and loved really was the One he said he was. And this Jesus who loved, advocated for, and empowered them before his arrest was now continuing to do so in and through his very death and resurrection.

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When I felt voiceless as I heard and watched others mock and deny the Jesus I knew and loved, no matter how strong and loud their voices were, I could not give up hope that Jesus might still be the One I had experienced him to be. And so I followed him on that long, bumpy road toward his death. There were times when I felt hopeless: at the bottom of the cross, gazing up at what seemed to be just a broken and bloody body hanging silently from it.

And yet, somehow I felt a constant urge to keep returning to his tomb. To see if he was still there. To see if he was, indeed, the One I knew him to be long before. And though there were times I felt alone when I found the tomb empty, after continuously returning to it, I finally realized that those loud voices that led him to his crucifixion did not, in fact, win.

For there standing in front of me was the very Jesus I knew and loved for so long: calling out to and commissioning me – his beloved – to go out and spread this great news of his resurrection to all who fear that his death would keep him away forever.

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For all the women out there whose loving Jesus has been crucified before your very own eyes: may you find hope in this Easter Story, as well. When others around you ridicule, spit on, and beat down the Jesus who has claimed and cherished you, follow him to the cross. When you witness his crucifixion, visit his tomb… over and over and over again.

The promise in this Easter story is that no matter how loud those voices are around you that mock and deny your Jesus, death will not defeat him. And though these voices wish to silence him, he is proclaiming on your behalf louder than ever as he hangs silently and still from the cross.

And in a few days time, the Jesus you once knew and loved will appear to you in full form – claiming you as his own, and commissioning you – his beloved – to speak your voice and share this good news.

 

 

“Fit to Follow?” – A Sermon on Matthew 4:12-23

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Matthew 4:12-23

“Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 
     ‘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 lake—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.”

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Growing up, I was really active in my Presbyterian church back in Waterloo, Iowa.  I can remember very few times when my family and I missed worship on Sunday or when I missed a Sunday school, bible study, or a children’s or youth group event.  And this was not because I had to be involved; it was because I loved to be involved.

I loved learning and talking about faith and exploring how God was present in my life and in the peoples’ lives around me – especially as we experienced both joys and sufferings.  And while I was in middle school and high school, I loved going to church and being part of a youth group where I felt that I belonged and could be myself – especially when I had not always felt that way at school.  And so when I was a junior, I started to feel like I was being called to create a similar space for other youth to find a loving community where they could explore how God is present in the midst of their life chaos and where they could discern how God is calling them to share God’s love with others.  And by the end of that year, I had decided that I wanted to go to seminary after college and to serve in youth ministry.

However, what I lacked in my church upbringing was a strong teaching about the specific Bible stories – especially in the Hebrew Testament – and I never took on the practices of memorizing scripture verses, listening to Christian music, or reading books by popular Christian authors.

So you can just imagine what it was like for me when I first joined a campus ministry my freshman year of college: where the majority of my fellow students involved in the ministry had grown up immersed in this Christian culture that was so foreign to me and could recite long Bible passages from memory and spoke with an extensive “Christianese” lingo that I had never even heard of.

christianeseI started to feel insecure, and in addition to being told by many of my peers and campus ministry leaders that I couldn’t be called into ministry because I was a woman, I also started to doubt that I could even be involved in ministry because of how I began to see myself as inadequate.  And so I convinced myself for several years that I was wrong about feeling called into ministry and that I was actually better suited to work in a different field, like higher education or something like that.

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And yet somehow, after all of that, Jesus did not stop calling me…

And his voice eventually got louder than the voices of my fellow campus ministry friends and the voices of my own insecurities.   And the encouragement I received from my parents, sister, and grandparents helped me to take the terrifying step out of my own comfort zone and take a leap into seminary.  And so, to make a long story short: here I am today, 5 ½ years later.

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Minus the women issue, I can’t help but wonder if this is close to how the fishermen from Galilee in our Gospel text were feeling when Jesus sought them out and called them to follow him.

You see, in first century Judaism – particularly in the region of Galilee – there was a very extensive process a man would have to go through in order to become a disciple – or a follower – of a rabbi.  Boys in many parts of Palestine would have started studying with a community rabbi in most likely the local synagogue or meeting place at the young age of 4-5 years old in what was called beth ha sefer, the first level of public education.  During this time of study, young boys (and possibly in some places young girls) would mostly study the Torah, the first five books of our current Bible today.  By the time these boys and girls finished this level of education (which ended at around age 10), most of the children would have been expected to have memorized the entire Torah.

After children finished beth ha sefer, many of the boys – and most definitely the girls – would stay home and participate in home-keeping or would start learning either the family trade or another trade in the community.  The top students coming out of this level of education would continue onto the next level, which was called beth ha talmud.  Students in this level would start to learn different interpretations of the scriptures and oral traditions, and they would continue to memorize more scripture.

Most children would finish this level by the time they were 14 or 15 years old – having memorized 39 books of the Bible.  Can you imagine that!?  When I was in college, I could barely memorize one or two Bible verses before I got bored!

At this point in a youth’s life, the majority of boys would go onto learning their family trade or another trade if they had not already started to do so.  Yet, the top students among these already top students would go onto studying at the next level, which was called beth ha midrash, meaning “House of Study.”  These basically “Yale students” of the first century would seek out their top rabbi whom they wished to study under and ask him if they could “follow” him.  The rabbi would then decide whether or not this young man was knowledgeable and adequate enough to trust him fully and to take on his “yoke” (or his particular interpretation of scripture) and then eventually pass that yoke onto others when they began their own teaching ministry at around age 30.  In many cases, the students would be turned down by the rabbis they sought out, and they would then have to find another rabbi or find a whole different trade to go into.

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Photo taken at the Sea of Galilee (Emily Heitzman)

Our passage in Matthew does not give us many details about the fishermen who encountered Jesus at the Sea of Galilee.  We are not told how many years they had been fishing or how old they were.  We only know for sure that at least James and John were fishing with their father, Zebedee, and therefore were continuing on their family trade.  And because these two brothers and another set of brothers – Simon (who we know as Peter) and his brother Andrew – were all in the fishing trade, we also know that they would have only finished as far as the second level of education and may have only been through the first level of education.

And so these four fishermen in our text in Matthew had not made the cut.  They were not the top… of the top… of the top of the students of their day.  They did not have an extensive resume – scriptural knowledge, interpretations, or lingo – that would have enabled them to continue climbing the educational ladder.  And so they were definitely not fit to follow a rabbi – a Jewish teacher – become his disciple, take on his “yoke,” learn to imitate him, and eventually be commissioned by him to share his scriptural interpretations as they would become teachers, themselves…  At least, this is what the fishermen would have been told by the more advanced students, their families, and their local rabbis.  And I can’t help but think that this is what these fishermen believed about themselves, as well.

And yet, for some reason, Jesus thinks otherwise.  For some reason, as Jesus begins his own ministry at a little over the age of 30, he seeks out these fishermen – these average, “every-day-Joes” who Jesus just happens to pass as he is walking along the Sea of Galilee.

And for some reason, Jesus sees in them a great potential… to become his disciples and eventually his friends… to learn to imitate him, and to become participants in the ministry of bringing about the kingdom of heaven here on earth by bringing light into the darkness of the world.

The Call of the First Disciples

And so Jesus calls out to them: “Follow me, and you will no longer be in the trade of gathering up just fish; but you will be in the trade of gathering up God’s people and bringing them good news.”

And so we see that the fishermen immediately get up, drop everything they are doing, and follow Jesus as he travels across Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and bringing healing to the sick and the suffering.

Now, I don’t know about you, but whenever I read this text, it amazes me that these fishermen just get up, leave all that they know behind them, and immediately respond to Jesus’ call to follow him.  If it were me, I’m pretty sure I would have done the same thing I did for the many years I doubted my own adequacy during and after college: I would have stayed in that boat… and I would have grabbed and held on as tight as I could to that fishing net and to the side of that boat – to what was comfortable and familiar to me – so as not to go against the expectations that others had of me and that I had of myself… and especially so as to avoid confronting my own fears and insecurities.

And I can’t help but wonder how often this happens to so many others of us in the Church, as well.

I wonder how often we let others’ discouraging voices and expectations of us – or even our own insecurities – hold us back from responding to Jesus’ call to follow him and to spread his good news to those living in the darkness around us.

I wonder how often we let our own fears about our lack of church background and religious lingo, biblical education or faith formation keep us from teaching or even joining a Sunday school class or small group, leading a prayer or reading scripture during worship on a Sunday morning or Wednesday evening, or even just chatting with our fellow Ebenezer Lutheran brothers and sisters after worship at coffee hour or over a beer in Andersonville.

I wonder how often we let the negative voices we hear throughout our society and even within our own selves about what makes a person’s voice worthy of being heard and of bearing good news (like how a person looks or the kind of education or type of job, home, or possessions a person has) dominate the way we view ourselves… And how often do we let these messages hold us back from getting involved in community organizations and our neighborhood schools and committees?

And I wonder how often we allow our own fears of what others will say and think about us if we do follow Jesus’ call to then hold us back from speaking up about and getting involved in advocacy for justice so that all people are cared for and treated equally.

boat-and-fishing-net

I can tell you from a lot of personal experience, it is definitely not easy to immediately drop these negative voices, fears, and insecurities off at the edge of the boat – along with all that is familiar and comfortable to us – and then to step out of that boat and confidently follow Jesus in his ministry of light shining, good news spreading, and kingdom bringing.

And, yet, in times when we wish to hold on tight to our own fishing nets and to the sides of our boat, it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a sermon he preached in 1963 as he prepared for the Birmingham Campaign:

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.  The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others.”

This may seem like a very difficult call – to get up out of the comfort and convenience of our boats to lift up our shaky voices and join this terrifying movement of following Jesus.  And yet, the good news is that Jesus does not call us to follow him by ourselves.  He calls us in community to follow him in shining His light in the darkness and lifting up our voices together to spread the good news of the kingdom.

…And so when we hear Jesus’ call and we just feel like we cannot let go of that fishing net and the side of that boat, our brothers and sisters can come sit with us inside our boat and help us to take that step in dropping the net, getting out of the boat, and leaving them behind.

… And when we are afraid to open our mouths because we just don’t know how to spread the good news, our brothers and sisters can stand alongside of us and help us to find the words to say.

…And when we feel it is difficult to let our lights shine because of the darkness we – ourselves – are living in, our brothers and sisters can shine their own lights in front of us to help us see and find our way.

…Because when Jesus calls us to follow him: just as he saw the potential of those four every-day-Joe fishermen he called on the Sea of Galilee 2000 years ago and believed in them, so does he see and believe in each one of us – no matter what other voices might be saying.  And so, we can have confidence in knowing that we will eventually be able to find our way to the path that Jesus is walking on.

So, as we hear Jesus calling to us: “follow me,” let us confidently lift up our voices together in response, saying: “Here I am, O Lord.  Teach me your way.  And I will follow you!”