Is there anything better than the feeling you get at the start of something new, when a great idea strikes you, an ambitious project finally gets off the ground, a long-anticipated journey begins, or a promising relationship comes along? That sky-high, semi-nervous, tingly feeling that everything is possible—ain’t it grand?
It is, but when this kind of euphoria overtakes you, it can also scare you. So you try to shield yourself from disappointment with a reality-check. You sit yourself down and tell yourself it won’t last, something will eventually go wrong. But it’s useless. No matter how often you remind yourself, “What goes up must come down,” you still secretly think, you secretly believe, that this adventure will be the first one in human history not go the way of all flesh. This love affair will not crash and burn. This is the fever of infatuation. It can be awfully hard on the nerves, but it’s one of the greatest feelings in the world!
So here we have four young fishermen, two sets of brothers—Andrew, James, John and Simon—who leave their nets to follow Jesus. And I’m betting that they are feeling that feeling as they get up and go. From here on out, anything goes, the sky’s the limit, the world is their oyster.
If we had a Wayback Machine, you and I could crash their 1st century party, throw a 21st century wet blanket over them, and reveal the sober ending of the script. “Boys,” we could warn them, “the ‘fishing for people’ thing that Jesus mentioned? It comes with a price. Did you know that Jesus came here to Capernaum because the baptizer got thrown in jail? No? Didn’t think so. Shades of things to come, fellas—days when you won’t feel what you’re feeling now, when you’ll grumble about him, second-guess him, and think seriously about peeling off from this now-merry little band and going home. Days when his charm wears off and his foolishness embarrasses you and his recklessness endangers you.
And there’ll be an awful day when you realize that you’re going down with him, and you’ll claim you don’t know him, that you’ve never had anything to do with him at all.”
We could tell them, but it wouldn’t matter to our four giddy fishermen right now. Not now, at the start of something big and grand and new. They would listen to us, sort of, then they would say, “Oh, sure. We know. He’s not guaranteeing a walk in the park. Got it. You want us to sign a release or something?” But they would not really register the caveat. They would brush by us with big goofy grins on their faces and hurry to catch up with Jesus.
Unconcerned about tomorrow, they’re feeling only the glory of today. We feel the exhilaration of their going, and we can’t help ourselves—we put aside what we know and cheer them on. We root for them even though the folly of their innocence is plain to us. We sense the risk, the daring, the unbridled hope in this great old story of call and response. We marvel at their beginners’ eagerness to throw themselves into the unknown, their precious idealistic willingness to follow a dream.
It’s all very energetic, isn’t it? So energetic, upbeat, extroverted, enthusiastic, vigorous, and grand that it tires me out me just to talk about it.
Maybe it’s because I’m in my seventies that I think of this story as a young person’s story, a story for people with their whole lives ahead of them, for young adults searching for a way of life that is distinctive and worthwhile and who may still have that glorious, much-needed capacity to ignore the shadows ahead and throw caution to the wind.
Now, I know that’s wrong. This story isn’t just for young people. It’s also for people like me who are a little long in the tooth and crinkly around the edges. We are also capable of responding enthusiastically to the call of God. Not with youthful enthusiasm, perhaps, but with mature enthusiasm, with a deep and knowing eagerness.
We may not leap to our feet when Jesus calls, but we would if we could, and what our stiffer limbs balk at, our hearts can still embrace with nimbleness. We are age-appropriate disciples, offering ourselves to the adventure any way we can. We older generations have been following Jesus since we were young people. Now that we are not so young, we can—and do—persist in choosing him. This long habit of discipleship has made all the difference to us. When Jesus calls, we still find some way to go.
And he is still calling. He does not come preaching the way of our God just once. He calls us to the Christian journey all the time. Life is always changing, and the spirit is always inviting us deeper. Each new circumstance contains a new call. His invitation is never a one-off deal, never take it or leave it, once and for all. Jesus comes down to the lakeshore every day. So I know very well that the gospel’s invitation is to everyone, and in every moment. Whether we are young or old or in between, this energetic story of a new way of life is and can be anybody’s story, at any stage of life.
Nevertheless, as I was reflecting on this text anew, I felt it again—that sense that it is a young person’s story. And I felt an urge to say something about it directly to you who are a lot younger than I am. I want to tell you something that you may not hear elsewhere. I think it would be a shame not to share it with you precisely because you are unlikely to hear it elsewhere. I want to offer you the gift the church must never be reluctant to offer. I want to extend an invitation.
If you are looking for meaning in your life, or just needing to get a life, one that you can be proud of, you could do no better than to follow Jesus, to come and see where he is living and listen to what he is saying and participate in what he is doing; to take no heed for the morrow, as scripture says, and step into the adventure, no matter how many rumors you hear that things won’t always be rosy.
You will have to get past the Sunday school cardboard cutout Jesus, the unbelievable and even a little yucky holy perfect Jesus, the nasty judgmental Jesus, the “accept him into your heart as your personal savior” Jesus, or whatever Jesus it is that makes you hesitate. You will have to get past that Jesus in order to meet the Jesus who is incredibly new and very much alive, the one who will face you day in and day out (as a colleague of mine puts it) with a challenge to love like you have never loved before, and with a chance to be loved as you will never be loved by anyone else.
Thankfully it is not a Herculean task to find this real, living person. All you need to do is put yourself in his way, and he will come to meet you. Putting yourself in his way means shaping your days according to his earthy priorities. It means letting the practices that characterized his ministry give definition to your own life and your own activity in the world. It means mingling with people who know him and have shaped their lives in his pattern.
To get a life that is really worth something, you could do no better than to learn from him to be broadly and deeply hospitable as he was. To forgive, and to honor your body, the bodies of others, and the body of the broken world. To learn to say yes and mean yes, to say no and mean no, and in that way to get ready for the inevitable time when you will need to say a very costly yes to the good that conquers death, or a very costly no to the evil that deals in it. To participate in shaping new communities, beloved ones, especially the church, but also others, including households of every kind, communities in which people are accepted and valued because they are God’s creatures, not because they are rich or beautiful or productive or smart or compatible. To be a healer, pouring balm on every kind of woundedness, unrelenting compassion on unrelenting pain. To speak freely to others in your own words about what faith means to you, commending a life of faith to them with grateful joy, so that a world in shadows might brighten under the light of your testimony. To celebrate all life’s delights and to lament all its sorrows, singing your lives in the company of other singers, in the rhythms of worship and sacrament and silence, as well as in the solitary depths of your private communion with God. And some day to die well, in the love of family, friends and church, in certain hope of life that is resurrected and love that is indestructible and a God who is faithful and can never lose you.
If you are looking for a direction, for a teacher, a language, a tradition, a community, and a practice that will not merely enhance your life as you are living it now, will not merely help you cope, but will actually change you in ways that you cannot imagine now, I tell you from my heart, from 72 years of living in his company, that you could do no better than to apprentice yourself to Jesus in a community of apprentices, a community of disciples who will help you along the way, as you will surely help them.
I want to tell you now, from the experience of 72 years of living in his company, what many other faithful church-people of a certain age could also tell you—in words different from mine, and for that variety all the more compelling—that you could do no better than to become Christ’s friend, and in that friendship to discover as we have gratefully learned over many years that you can lean on him in trouble and grief, turn to him in exaltation and joy, learn from him all the time, entrust your life to him, be shaped by his words of challenge, and be loved by him with a passion so strong and enduring you will hardly know what to do with the lovely self he sees in you. You could do no better than to experience the joy of being freed in his name to love one another in the church, where I pray he will always be our center and our height, our depth and our whole, and to share that strong, healing and justice-making love with the hurting world.
I want to reassure you that knowing and following Jesus in such a company will not narrow your mind or make you judgmental or turn you into a mush-brained fool. It will not make you any stranger than your heart already longs to be, because God has given you a heart that is never going to be satisfied until it fixes on something true and selfless, and everything true and selfless will make you an alien in a world in which power, money, brute force and unvarnished self-interest are the norms of acceptance and success.
Following Jesus will not make you better than anyone else, so please don’t try to befriend him if you just want a leg-up on God’s favor and blessing, or if you just want to lord it over someone else. No, it will not make you better than anyone else, but it will make you happier than you ever thought you could be. To know and follow him will reveal your true heart to your own heart, in him you will come to know who you really are.
No matter how old or young you are, no matter whether you are newly arrived at the doorstep of faith or have been denizens of the household of God for longer than you care to say, I want to remind you, in the lovely words of another preacher, that “there was a time when we could not look at the face of God and live, but now we can look at the face of God in Jesus and live as we have never lived before.”
That is the invitation.
If you–if we– accept it, if we become (again and again) Jesus’ disciples, it won’t be a walk in the park. You know that. Nothing important ever is. So what? It’s Jesus calling. And if we all go to him, it will not be a solitary risk. We will be part of a company. We will always have each other, the church, so that in times of beauty and plenty, we will have each other’s grateful joy; and in times of challenge and pain, we will have each other’s courage; and in times of trouble, we will not hold back; and if we do fail, if we wander off, when we return we will always find acceptance, forgiveness, healing, and hope.
Can’t you feel it? Even a little? That feeling you get when something big is starting, when the world cracks open and the light comes through and the heart leaps up and a voice inside you says, “This is the real thing. Say yes. Say yes now”? The feeling you get when it dawns on you that everything can be new, that you can live an adventure, that you can be different, and that you can make a difference, and that the universe is on tiptoe just waiting to see what you will do…?
The Miraculous Catch, Eric de Saussure