SERMON 1-22-12 Epiphany 3B
Before seminary, about seven years ago to be exact, it was right after a vestry meeting that I was invited into the clergy’s office for a chat. At the time, I was serving on vestry and as treasurer of the parish so, it was normal for the pastors and I to have such meetings. The tone of that night’s discussion was a bit different, a bit foreboding. The pastor, with a very serious and solemn demeanor, looked at me and said, “Becky and I have been talking and we have something very important to ask you.” “Yes,” I said. “Have you ever felt that you were called to ordained ministry?” My response was immediate and unfiltered, “are you crazy?” The words flew out of my mouth fast than my hand could cover my lips. Too late, but my question was an honest one. Were they crazy? Did they know what they were really asking? Little did I know that as a result of this brief meeting, my life and the life of my family would soon change dramatically and never be the same again. In a span two years, we wound up risking our livelihoods, the house we owned and loved, the friends we had around us for years, and the spiritual home we had found. The call to discipleship for me was risky and very honestly, downright scary. The call to discipleship for all Christians and not just clergy, is one that can be foreboding, fear-provoking, and yes, the call to “Come follow Jesus,” does come with certain risks.
“Riskis the potential that a chosen action or activity (including the choice of inaction) will lead to a loss (an undesirable outcome). Almost any human endeavor carries with its some risk, but some are much more risky than others.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Risk) Two sets of brothers, Simon, Andrew, James and John were men who had a lot to lose. They worked with their families in the business of fishing. The trade was good, the fishing abundant, and it was an honorable living. The work was hard, but for them, in comparison to other first century Palestinians, their lives were comfortable. Suddenly one day, a young upstart Rabbi came strolling along the shore and with not an inquiry, but a command, said to them, “Come follow me.” With one invitation, Jesus changed their lives and the lives of their families forever. The four men did have a choice though. They could have said, “No, things are good the way they are. We are comfortable and we like what we’re doing now.” How many times have we felt like answering the call to discipleship in that same way. That is not what the four brothers did rather, they dropped their nets, left who they were before behind, and they followed Jesus. Why would they do that? Why would anyone leave everything to follow Jesus? The only answer I can give, the only answer I had when the invitation came to me, was that I want to follow the one who loves me despite my brokenness and my failures. I want to follow the one who loves when love is not deserved or warranted. I want to learn to love as Jesus loves.
Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is the revelation of God’s great love for us; a love so great that he gave himself up to death for us. “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13 NLT) That is not just risky by the world’s standards, it is downright foolish, but discipleship to the world’s standards is foolishness. The life of discipleship is both foolish and risky. Risk taking for a disciple means letting go of who it is we have been, and living in faith and anticipation about who it is that God is calling us to be. A seasoned stock analyst was speaking on MSNBC the other day about the unstable markets, the ongoing threat of recession, the recent housing collapse, and how right now, it may not be the best time to go and make risky investments. He recommended to viewers that it’s better to invest in low-risk securities. The analyst went on to advise that investing in some mutual bonds and T-bills, rather than upstart risky bold endeavors is safer, but there is little or no return. This is not foolish investment advice, especially for some of us who are watching our portfolios dwindle, but when it comes to following Our Lord, He does not call us to participate in a form a low-risk discipleship. Christ calls us to take risks in this walk of faith, to trust in the abundance of God, to step out in faith and walk the path of bold discipleship. Christ says, “Come, follow me; Come, be foolish; Come, take a risk.”
Bold discipleship is not the time for us individually and as community to circle the wagons, draw back on the dreams and visions of God, and hold on tightly to God’s abundance as if we were waiting for something. We need to step out in faith. We need to pray boldly for God’s vision for us as a community. We need to stretch the bounds of mission and ministry, to actively do what is absolutely necessary and beyond and thus, become a people transformed as recipients of and instruments of transforming grace. I believe the call to discipleship is a call to build the kingdom, to bring others to the love of Christ, to fling wide the doors, to take risks, and in all of this, to trust God. There was a man whom I knew several years ago, who owned a beautiful vintage WWII fighter plane that he never flew. Rather, he stored it in a pristine hangar where each week he polished it, pampered it, and gazed at its overwhelming splendor. A friend stopped by one day and asked, “Jim, are you going to take the old girl out for a flight this year or not?” “No, not going to do it,” he said, “it’s too risky to take her up.” “What a shame,” said his friend. Another friend stopped by, asked the same question and received the same reply. This time, the friend answered, “You know, that old bird is made to fly, to soar above the crowds, to roll, to climb, and dive. She was designed to be daring, venturesome, and exciting to see and to fly. You are missing out on joy Jim. There are always risks when we choose to live into that for which we were made.” The inherent risks of discipleship are real, but they are not to be feared. We need to embrace the uncertainty and prayerfully trust in God’s vision for us.
At a leadership conference two weeks ago, I listened to clergy from parishes and dioceses from all over the Episcopal Church. They all shared stories about bold, fearless communities that were taking risks to build the kingdom. I heard about vibrant, growing parishes where mission and ministry and committed spirituality was at the heart of their common life together. One of those leaders celebrating their story, was me. In our breakout sessions, I shared the story of St. David’s and how we take risks in this community, how we step out in faith, how we answer the adventuresome call to discipleship. I shared with others how we in this faith community are builders of the kingdom, not merely maintainers. As builders, Jesus calls each of us, “Come, follow me.” The Kingdom of God is near us right here and right now and that is risky stuff, but the return is overwhelming, the return is God’s abundant grace. In all we do we need to take a little risk, be a little foolish, step out a little. In our commitment to prayer and study we need to take a few more risks. In our love for each other and those whom God sends our way, we need to take a few more risks. In our commitment to mission and ministry in this community and beyond, we need to take a few more risks. In our commitment to grow the kingdom both spiritually and numerically, (yes numerically) we need to take a few more risks. Christ calls us to leave our nets, or whatever binds us, behind. Christ calls us to leave behind our old selves and to live fully into the daring, adventuresome, and Spirit-filled people to which we are called. “Come follow me” is our Lord’s invitation, our Lord’s command. Come take the risk and together in Christ, we who are empowered by the Holy Spirit, will soar boldly on the wings of God’s grace.