The story from Mark begins with Jesus taking over John the Baptist’s ministry and proclaiming a gospel of repentance. Repentance simply means to change direction. We recognize that God is calling us and we change direction to follow that call.
I’ve been at St. Andrew’s for a year and a half now. And I love doing ministry with the folks here. There are so many fabulous people and so many exciting projects to support and be part of. But I have a sense that God is calling me into a different way of being in leadership in this congregation.
I’m feeling a strong call from God to focus very intentionally on spiritual practices, like centering prayer, in my own life. I also have a strong sense of call to share these practices with the congregation in the everyday life of ministry together. Spiritual practices are practices that open us to God’s spirit and particularly to listening to God’s spirit in our lives. Often when we pray, we talk to God but we don’t listen so carefully to what God might be saying to us. Through Lent I will be offering opportunities to learn about and experience a different practice each week.
There is someone important in my life whom I often disagree with and find we find ourselves at opposite ends of the spectrums—socially, theologically, politically. A few years ago I was feeling very frustrated with this relationship. Most conversations were followed by tears. About the same time, I was introduced to centering prayer. As I sat in the silence, the word that came to me was love. I repeated the word over and over. I was diligent in this practice for several weeks. I found that over a period of time I was able to be more open to listening to the other person’s perspectives. I was able to disagree more calmly. My instinct was to avoid speaking to this person but now the relationship is relatively healthy. We still don’t agree on many things but the practice of centering prayer changed this relationship.
Within the church, or in our personal relationships, we often find ourselves in conflict with others or in situations where we disagree with people. It is sometimes easier to want to avoid people we disagree with, to speak harshly to them and yet we are all part of the body of Christ. We don’t cut off a finger that has arthritis in it because it is painful and frustrating. We find ways of working through the pain, changing what we do or how we do it in order to accommodate physical pain. The body of Christ is similar in that we cannot just cut off a part that we find frustrating on any given day. We still need that part of the body. Centering prayer may be a practice that opens us to understanding, to listening and to working in faith with each other.
Spiritual practices provide an opportunity for us to listen to God. Sometimes we want to avoid listening to God. When we listen for God, we might hear a voice asking us to risk everything and turn our world upside down. When Jesus called the first disciples, they walked away from everything. They didn’t know what exactly they were getting into but it was something that would change the world.
In this story we have two things happening. There are the people who jump into following Jesus and there are the people who stay behind. I imagine Zebedee being somewhat put out that his sons have left him. In the ancient world, leaving family was not done. It wasn’t like our own context where we expect children will grow up and leave home. In the ancient world people stayed with family all their lives. They had to have a very good reason for leaving. Following some itinerant teacher around the countryside would not have counted as a good reason. Zebedee would be left with all the family to support, the workers to pay but without sons to help do the work. Zebedee did the only thing he could imagine doing. He stayed where he was and looked after his family. He did the responsible thing.
And then there’s Zebedee’s sons. They did not do what they were expected to. They did not follow tradition. They heard Jesus calling them to something different. They dropped what they were doing and went. There would have been no going back to the family fold, no support from the family.
Many of us can relate to Zebedee. We are taught from a young age to be responsible. Look after family. Get a good education and job. Work hard. It takes risk to walk away from all of that to something that is unknown. The new disciples don’t really have a good sense of what they were getting into. They are being called to repent and to change direction. They are being called to believe in the good news but what is the good news? They are being called to follow Jesus and fish for people. None of this is very specific. There aren’t details about the time frame, the location, the pay, the expectation or role. It’s just an open ended invitation. And Jesus seems to just be walking down the beach talking with everyone and inviting everyone he meets.
Sometimes we can hear the invitation but sometimes we are so focused on working hard and being responsible that we can’t hear Jesus calling to us. Sometimes we don’t want to hear Jesus calling us because it would mean walking away from what we know. We would need to repent and change the direction of our lives. And yet it is in the repentance, in the changing direction that we come to know and experience God. You might think “but I don’t need to repent. I already come to church, I pray, I live a proper, upright, responsible life.” Sometimes we know about God, we know about Jesus without really having the experience. Zebedee probably knew about Jesus but he didn’t have the experience of Jesus. Experiences of God unsettle us and turn our world upside down. They call us out of what is comfortable and responsible in to what is risky and uncertain.
I believe that God is calling this faith community to not just know about God or about Jesus but to actually have deeper experiences of God and Jesus. We are being called to get out of heads and experience God and see where Jesus is leading us. We mightbe surprised at where the journey we are invited on will lead us to.