Have You Lost Your Mind? (continued)
Sermon by The Rev. Lisa Caine
Genesis 12:1-3; Mark 1:14-20
Jan. 25, 2015
Last Sunday I was at Epworth by the Sea at Saint Simons Island listening to two speakers who represent in some ways the future of the church. Nadia Bolz-Weber is the pastor of the Lutheran House of all Sinners and Saints in Denver, CO and Andy Root is an Associate Professor of Youth and Family Ministries at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN. It was a very Lutheran weekend! If I learned anything at all, it is that it’s not your mother or father’s church anymore; it’s not my generation’s church any more. Or as Nadia so gently put it, “There are no new baby boomers being born right now.” Family, religion, tradition, roots, heritage are not the primary motivators as they were in the previous century. People move around, change jobs, change careers, keep their options open; very few hang around long enough in one job to receive a gold watch at retirement. There is a fluidity about life – relationships, careers, and skills that keep people moving and this has serious implications for what church will be and how it will operate in the years to come.
Our culture is no longer full of multi-generational families living in one house or one neighborhood. Nor is it characterized any longer by family businesses handed down from generation to generation. There may be a few, but it’s not like it used to be. It is no longer a foreordained conclusion that the oldest child will join his or her parent in the family business, doing the same thing that grandpa or great grandma did. And we don’t expect our own children to follow in our footsteps.
This was not true in first century Galilee where families did stay in one location and make the family business their livelihood. Who knows how many generations of the Zebedee family were fishermen on the Sea of Galilee, but chances are it is what they’d been doing for centuries.
They knew the Sea of Galilee like they knew the back of their hands. They knew where the best fishing spots were; the best time of day to make a great catch. It was hard work, but it was a good life, safe and secure – it enabled them to provide basic needs for their families and to enjoy their community, a place where they knew and were known by everyone. They had their routines; they were settled into a fairly predictable life.
And then one day all that changed. As they were going about their usual tasks, a stranger appeared and said “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Now, if I’d been one of those fishermen, I would probably have said immediately– to use one of Mark’s favorite words — “Have you lost your mind? I can’t leave my family and friends and this fishing business that’s been in my family for generations.”
But they didn’t do what I would have done. Mark says of Peter and Andrew, “And immediately they left their nets and followed him.” And on down the road when they encounter James and John, the same thing happened, “they left their father Zebedee in the boat and the hired men, and followed him.”
- T. Wright reflects “Only when you think about the sort of life Peter, Andrew, James and John had had, and the totally unknown future Jesus was inviting them into, do you understand just how earth shattering this little story was and is . . . leaving everything you’ve known, all your security, your family . . . and following Jesus.”[i]
So, who had lost his mind? Jesus, the guy who heard a voice at his baptism and was now saying “Follow me?” or these four Galilean fisherman, immediately dropping family and work – the cornerstones of their lives – to obey and follow the new guy? Maybe both.
I guess it depends on what we mean by “lost your mind.” We generally use it to mean not being in touch with reality, being totally absurd, making no sense. And we usually think negatively about it. But actually, “losing our minds” is what the bible calls us to do on a regular basis. Robert talked about that last week – imagining the lion lying down with the lamb while the enemy was gathering at the border armed to the teeth and bent on destruction. How crazy is that? Regularly we are called to look beyond the familiar and the predictable to the unknown, to worlds not yet explored, to ways of doing and being that we have not experienced or known existed.
That’s what Abraham did, the first to be called by God. He left his family and home to set out on a journey with a destination known only to God. “Leave your country and your father’s house,” God said, “and go to the land I will show you.” And Abraham, like Peter and those first disciples later on, did what he was told and went where God wanted him to go. None of them had it all figured out before setting foot outside the city limits. None of them knew what lay ahead, what might happen, where they were going, or what they would do when they got there. But they heard the call to follow, to go – and it was enough.
I suppose that’s what faith is – taking the first step without having to know how it all turns out. And we do it all the time really – take wedding vows not knowing where the relationship will take us; bring children into the world, with no idea of who they will be or how they will change our lives. In most of the events of our lives we move in faith because we can never know the outcome or control the future. But when Jesus says, “Follow me,” we can hesitate, full of excuses about why now isn’t a good time, or how we need to know a little more, or how we’re afraid of being disappointed.
“Follow me” is an invitation into a relationship that is both engaging and costly. It is an invitation to a journey, not just a conversation. It is about doing things as well as about believing things. Marcus Borg, who died this past week, has written “You can believe all the right things and still be relatively unchanged. Believing a set of claims to be true has very little transforming power.”[ii] And so it wasn’t enough for Jesus to say to his disciples, “Let me tell you about the way.” He had to say, “I am the way; follow me.” And so without knowing all the answers, Peter, Andrew, James, and John got out of their boats, left their nets behind, and walked down the road with Jesus, even though they didn’t have a clue about what they were getting in to. But their heart, their soul, their intuition – call it what you will – convinced them of the need to act. They couldn’t have it both ways – stay in the boat and follow Jesus. They gave up the reality of what they could see for the possibilities they had not seen and could not fully imagine. They really had lost their minds, and their families probably thought so, but it was a good thing.
I learned this past weekend that if we want our church to be an open, welcoming place where people can respond to Jesus’ call to follow him, we have to be ready to step out in faith without knowing how it will all turn out, but trusting that God will give us what we need along the way. We have to be willing to let the Holy Spirit guide us when everything around us says no. These months since the fire have already taught us that. On April 16, the day after the fire, Jesus was still saying “follow me” and the fact that we didn’t have a place to call home, and a building in which to worship and to learn, did not stop us, which I think surprised some folks.
There were those who asked if we might close the church; we were asked if we’d like to merge with another church; we were asked if we’d like to buy the ACTION building as a social services hub and make this block where the sanctuary had been into a parking lot. Closing or merging might have seemed the logical, realistic path to take. But – again to use Mark’s word – immediately were unified in a desire and a vision to rebuild on this site and to continue to be the church on the hill. And I’m sure there were some who probably thought we’d lost our minds.
We’ve had to feel our way along, trying to figure out what it is that makes us who we are, but also to think about who it is we want to become; and as excited as we all will be when we return to our sanctuary, down inside we all know that we are not returning to the same place, and we are not returning as the same people. We are honoring our past because we respect those who have gone before us, and many of us hold special memories of days gone by, so our sanctuary will feel very similar to our previous sanctuary in lay out and furnishings, however, we are not by any means looking back or going back to the past.
The ways through which we choose to follow Jesus will be new – they already are. Our welcoming of U-Lead is a sign that something new is happening as we turn our attention to undocumented students, the ones Rep. King so disrespectfully referred to as “the deportables.” We have to stand against that and do what we can with whatever resources we have to affirm the worth and dignity of these young people whose primary identity is child of God, not “deportable.” It is the same identity as Rep. King’s.
The purchase of the Taylor house is another sign that something is brewing. Right now we’re just brainstorming about its use; transitional housing through IHN or Action Ministries? Foster home through the Methodist Children’s Home? Just think about it! We have the ability to take one family taken off the streets and give them a safe place to live, welcome them into the community, offer assistance as needed – a ride to the doctor, a book bag for school, a trip to the dentist – small things make big differences. I have always taken to heart Jesus description of the kingdom of God as something that starts small but changes everything – the leaven in the loaf, the mustard seed. We tend to look for the spectacular, but God is usually found in the small things, done as Mother Teresa said, with great love.
I believe the best years of our church are yet to be, as long as we listen for the voice, calling us out from the safety of our homes, our Sunday Schools, even our brand new sanctuary, out into the world, out where the needs are. I suppose the story of Jesus’ call to his disciples might be considered a parable of the Christian life. It is an interactive journey. To paraphrase the well-known prayer of Thomas Merton, often we will have no idea where we’re going; we won’t be able see the road ahead or be certain where it will end. Because we never really know ourselves completely, we may not be absolutely sure that we are following God’s will. However, if it is our desire in all we do to please God, to follow Jesus, then God will lead us by the right road and we can trust that even in the most difficult of times, God will be with us, will never leave us alone, and we need not fear, only trust. And there will be those who think we’ve lost our minds! And that’s OK. In fact, I hope we have because that will mean we’ve perhaps made room for the mind of God. Amen.
[i] N. T. Wright, Mark for Everyone, 2004, 8.
[ii] Marcus Borg, The Heart of Christianity, 1989, 31.