Last week I was invited by two of the Regions in The United Church to serve as chaplain for students having their final interviews as they prepare to be ordained or commissioned in The United Church of Canada. While it was certainly a bit different – having to be fully virtual via Zoom – the experience brought me right back to my own final interview and all the feelings I had on that day. In the time that I spent with the students between interviews, I was struck by the uniqueness and significance of each person’s sense of call and the importance of mentors and support from faith communities along the way.
This morning’s gospel lesson from Mark is a call story. Jesus invites four experienced fishermen to leave their boats behind and follow, so that he can make them “fish for people.” To be honest, readings like this never resonated that much with my own call story. In truth, some of these “fishing stories” even make me a little uncomfortable as there have been times that they have been used in ways that come across as arrogant, disrespectful, or even coercive and not a reflection of the Good News that never seeks to condemn or suppress.
The very idea of Jesus saying, “Follow me” and dropping everything didn’t quite work for this, well, rather stubborn individual who likes to make their own plans thank you very much. I relate far more to the stories in the Bible about the reluctant leaders, the leaders who had their own plans, but it seemed God had another – those are my people!
Imagine my surprise and delight when, in a conversation with Jayden last Sunday about this very reading, they shared how it spoke to them. The Spirit was truly at work.
When I invited Jayden to consider reflecting on this reading and share some more of their story, they graciously accepted. So, we both are going to reflect a little on today’s reading and at this time, I am going to invite Jayden to turn on their camera and mic and share their thoughts with us.
I am in the middle of rearranging my home right now. In preparation for speaking to you this Sunday I took everything messy and shoved it in a corner so I could appear a little bit more… put together. I feel like we’re all guilty of this to some degree: presenting ourselves as an image we hope others will find more palatable.
I have to tell you that not even five feet away from me off camera is a pile of stuff I desperately need to go through. Despite what you can see, my home is a bit of a disaster right now. I share that because I think it’s a wonderful analogy.
This pandemic has brought isolation. Unrest. This great upheaval of everything we knew: our routines, our lives, the constant distractions — gone in an instant and I, like so many of you, had my pile of stuff. This pile of unresolved things I’ve always pushed into the corner and ignored by filling my time with the need to be too busy to think.
As difficult as it is, this has been an incredible time of reflection. One where isolation allowed me a space where what society, friends and family expected and demanded of me became an afterthought. I was able to sit in the quiet of my own curiosity.
I found comfort in who I was for the first time ever. When the noise of society faded, and I found myself still feeling that my spirit flowed in a space that was neither “man” or “woman”. I learned and grew to accept that this was simply the way that my soul just happens to sing.
I also confronted my faith. I asked if I believed because I was taught to. I became comfortable knowing I believed in a Higher Power and beyond that? I don’t know and…maybe that’s okay?
The culmination of this was sharing my Faith Story in July. Something began to stir. It kept whispering, though I was afraid of what was taking shape, afraid of giving it a name.
Joe and Heather, having an inkling at what that yearning was — perhaps because of their own experiences with that anxiety — asked me a question I wouldn’t have been able to arrive at by myself: “Have you considered ministry?”
Ten years ago, I would have laughed at anyone brazen enough to suggest that. I know I’m not like the disciples — so willing to drop their nets — their lives as they know them — and follow. I’ve been hurt in the name of faith. It left me deeply angry, but beneath that was hurt. Of course, it would take me having the entire world and my life upended before I could even notice my call…I guess you could say I’m a bit stubborn.
A conversation with Joe about my faith story led me to surprise myself. I told him that I found the experience of sharing healing. That for so long I had feared my own emotions because I worried that they could only be destructive. I had let my pain become my armour and weapon. Being vulnerable enough to receive help was inconceivable.
Yet here I am reaching out to my community to say: I am being called. Hold me gently, for nights may be long, but the sun always rises. I think that is one of many ways God brings the Time of Fulfillment.
My Dad and I had a conversation about this very scripture a couple of months ago. How Jesus, who is part divine still sought help with his ministry. He didn’t need to. I’m sure Jesus was a rock-solid person who could have gotten by without the help. Maybe he would have struggled. Maybe he would have found it difficult, but I do believe he had the sort of grit that would make it work.
Just like how I recognize that I don’t need to share this news. I have the grit to make it work.
However, I think Jesus sought disciples despite His Divinity, despite his grit, because he wanted to honour His and all of our Humanity. He knew that no esteemed Rabbi made it alone. They always had mentors and friends and their community beside them to lean on. Jesus recognized that we are interdependent. We may be able to survive just fine without each other, but that is all it will ever be. Bare survival. Devoid of any warmth or progress. Strictly existing, hand to mouth.
We thrive and become our best when we reach out to one another. We become alive. Whole. Not in the sense that there was ever a part of us missing, but in the sense that we become fully realized and mature into our potential.
In a similar token, I have grown to learn and appreciate that every journey, no matter how long or arduous, becomes a lovely trip when you have company travelling the road beside you.
I want to thank Jayden for sharing so openly with us this morning and reminding us of the significance of community in our lives and stories. It is a blessing to be a part of your call story. Our conversations together and your reflection today has helped me see this gospel story in a refreshing way. I’m also glad to know that I’m not the only stubborn one around here when it comes to God’s call!
While the details of my own call story are perhaps for another reflection another time, as I contemplated on this passage this week I was struck by the words of this commentary:
“When Jesus calls these fishermen to follow him, they understand the call not as a directive to abandon their intelligence, intuition, and experience, but to bring the best of those gifts forward for the sake of a more beautiful and peaceable world — a world where all are nourished. The call is to become even more fully and freely themselves for the sake of God’s [kindom.]
What can we learn from this? We can learn that we’re not called to evangelize in the abstract. We’re not invited to proclaim the good news ‘in general,’ with no regard for how and where our words might land. We’re not invited to peddle cheap or careless language. We’re not commissioned to entrap or ensnare. Instead, we’re called to pay close and loving attention to the people around us. We’re called to ‘know the water.’ We’re called to live, move, speak, and ‘fish’ in ways that are reciprocal, respectful, and mutually life-giving…
Jesus says, “Follow me, and I will make you…” This is a promise to cultivate, not to sever. It’s a promise rooted in gentleness and respect — not violence and coercion. It’s a promise that when we dare to let go, the things we relinquish might be returned to us anew, enlivened in ways we couldn’t have imagined on our own.
Most importantly, it is a promise from God to us — not from us to God.” (Debie Thomas, I Will Make, 2021)
We experience the Good News through the disciples and the way they live out the story. We experience it through our own stories and lived experiences. We have experienced it together in hearing Jayden share their sense of call. In this time and place, what is the Holy One calling you to in your life? As we continue to move through these challenging times as a faith community, how are we being called together?
Let us leave space to reflect on those questions in the days ahead.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Shared reflection by Rev. Heather Power and Jayden Jones