Who Ya Gonna Call?

  Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, & saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, & believe the good news.’  As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
Mark 1:14-20

Who You Gonna Call.

February 1, 2015  St Paul and St Andrew UMC, NYC

Our organ repair guy came by the other day to give us some ideas about further fixing up our 120 year old pipe organ. I hadn’t seen him since early December, and when I said hi, he said,   “How have you all been?  Did you manage to get the baby out of the womb?”

At first, I thought he had the wrong guy.

Then I realized he was talking about Jesus.  I assured him that we had done our Christmas duty, and that Jesus was coming along quite nicely.

Last week we had Jesus being presented in the temple as a very small child.   And today we have him all grown up and ready to start!  They do grow up fast…

It’s like that old Monty Python sketch, where a mother is out in the park with her son and an appreciative friend comes by and chucks the son under his chin. “Look at him laughing… ooh, he’s a chirpy little fellow. Isn’t he a chirpy little fellow, eh?  Can he talk?”  And the son says: “Of course I can talk, I’m Minister for Overseas Development.”  “Ooh, he’s a clever little boy,” is her reply.

So here we have Jesus, barely 14 verses into the Gospel of Mark, all grown up and ready to begin.  And what’s the first thing he’s doing?

He’s calling a few disciples.  He’s creating community.

You could say it’s the first action of the Christian movement, and it’s still today crucial to everything.  Gathering people, calling new people into an expanding & expansive community of love, justice, reconciliation & service.

It’s what we do.  It’s why we’re here.

There may be religions, there may be spiritual paths, whose primary purpose is to bring individuals into closer relationship with God.  Christianity isn’t one of them.  Christianity is a social religion.  Like it or not, it requires a relationship not only with God, but with other people.  That’s the way it is.

John Wesley put it better than I can.  He said,  “‘Holy solitaries’ is a phrase no more consistent with the Gospel than holy adulterers. The Gospel of Christ knows no religion but social; no holiness, but social holiness.”

So, from the start, Jesus is going around to people, telling everyone who will listen and probably a lot of people who won’t, that there is good news. That however rough the bad news might be, the news about God and what God is up to is good, very good.  He is looking for a few friends to help him spread that good news.

And who does he go after?  If it was us, we might look for someone with a degree in communications, or a background in journalism.  He’s looking for people who fish for a living.  And he invites them to join this fledgling movement.  Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John. All fishermen.

Oh, he’ll call others, also, for his total of 12.  He’ll recruit some others:

Like Matthew, a corrupt government official. Need one of those!

Simon the Zealot, a religious extremist.

Maybe it wasn’t their professional career choices that drew Jesus to them.  Maybe it was their personal characteristics…

Like doubting, cynical Thomas.  or Judas…

So why these four?  Why pick these call fisherman to start with?  How did that happen?  How does it happen that these four get swept up in a life-changing & world-changing movement like this?  What do you think?   Well, it really doesn’t say.  Mark doesn’t tell us that.

Reading between the lines, I really doubt Jesus is meeting these guys for the first time.  His call to them seems pretty abrupt, and their quick response borders on rude.  Bye dad, say James and John, I’m sure you can fix those nets without us!

But I think that Jesus knew these four.  And maybe some of the others as well.  And there was something about these guys, out of all the fishermen hanging around the Sea of Galilee. something about them.

How did someone become a fisherman?  Or, for that matter, a fisherperson?   It’s what the family did.  Fishing was the family business.  It’s not like they grew up thinking, Mmmm, what career path should I choose?

These days, we start asking kids almost from the day they can first talk.  What’s the question kids get asked, more than any other?  What do you want to be when you grow up?

When I was in grade school, I wanted to be an architect. I spent lunch hour sketching floor plans.  When kids made fun of me, I told them that I had someone paying me 5 bucks apiece for them.  My first and only lie.

When I was in a little older, I wanted to be a rabbi.  My mom had a job singing at a temple, and the rabbi was a little cooler than our minister at the time.  I came a closer with that one.

But in high school I remember at one point being the only kid in my youth group who didn’t want to be a pastor.

In college I got ready to go to law school, took the L-SATs and everything.  And then an older friend dragged me to one of her law school classes and told me, “Do you have any idea what lawyers actually have to do, day after day after day?”

But through all this, I assumed I had some choices.  That if I really wanted to pursue something, I probably could.  I could at least try.

I don’t think that was the way it was for Simon Peter, Andrew, James & John.  It’s not that way for a lot of people today.

So I think that Jesus sensed two things about these four fishermen. First, that maybe they were not as psyched about a lifetime of fixing ripped up nets and hauling in fish as you might think!  And second, that there was more to each of them than what a life of fishing would let them do.

We all have gifts.  God-given gifts. We say that so often around the church, I’m almost embarrassed to repeat it.  I only say it now because it’s true, and because we sometimes forget.  Or we act all humble about it.   As if a God-given gift is something we gave ourselves?

If we’re lucky, very lucky, we find things to do in life, jobs, careers, that use some of those gifts.  But maybe not.  Or maybe not all of them. Okay, no one finds a job that really uses all his or her gifts.

But if we’re lucky, we are able to find some kind of vocation, a Latin word meaning ‘calling’.  Or maybe an avocation, a Latin word meaning ‘calling’.

But I’m not sure that Simon, Andrew, James and John looked at fishing that way.  Probably others did.  But not them.  They were pretty ready to chuck that life in favor of, God knows what. Right? They were ready to say, ‘We’re out of here!’

And so, as Jesus is walking along the lake that day, thinking to himself, Who ya gonna call? it was probably pretty obvious whom he was gonna call.

They responded, because they didn’t feel that fishing was the purpose for their life.

They responded, because they didn’t feel that fishing used all of their God-given gifts.

They responded, because they felt called, individually and particularly, and they felt called into a community with other people who were trying also to live out a life of purpose and meaning.  They responded because nobody told them they couldn’t or shouldn’t.

People love to tell us what we can’t do, and shouldn’t try.  You know what I mean?  You’re not smart enough or old enough or skilled enough or educated enough or straight enough or male enough…

I was a little nervous when I heard that they’re remaking Ghostbusters.  It’s always tricky to tinker with a classic.  But I was psyched to find out the new one will have all female leads!  Why should ghost hunters just have names like Peter or Raymond; or even Sam and Dean, for that matter?

By what supposed divine right would we think we could tell someone they can’t pursue their God-called callings, to the ministry, for example, because they’re women, or gay, or trans… or something else that they didn’t choose and that is part of who God gifted them to be??  How arrogant.  How wrong. Where do we come off with that?

These disciples were lucky enough to have nobody try to stop them.  Maybe that’s why they responded so quickly, to get away before anyone tried to talk them out of it.  They realized that, for everything their hearts were telling them, everything Jesus was telling them, there were plenty of people who would try to talk sense into them.  Telling them it’s a bad career move.  Telling them it won’t end well.

But they realize that this seemingly random call is something that has been working its way into their consciousness for a long time.

They realize two other things.  I tell you them briefly, then I’ll sit down.  They realize they are being called into a community.  Not a perfect community, just a called community.  A community with a purpose.  A vocation.  A calling.

And finally, they realize that to create that community they we want to call others to be part of it.   And not just other fishermen.  Not just other men.

If it’s really going to be what Jesus has in mind. They’ll need a lot of people.  Different types of people.  With a lot of different gifts.   Gifts that are God-given.  And could be God-used.

That’s what the church is good for.  Still.  It may be that every one of your gifts is fully realized and fully utilized at your work, or at your school, or at your home.  If so, congratulations!  You’re the only one in the world.

But the community of Christ needs what you have.  Needs who you are.  Needs what you can do.  If we’re going to fulfil the calling of Christ.

Because that’s the thing. Faith communities, churches have callings as well.  They need to respond to the call to create a space of love, justice and reconciliation, of compassion and service. And if not, they need to wither on the vine and die.

Look next to you, and in front of you and behind you.  Things have filled up a lot since the first hymn. but chances are, there’s an empty space somewhere near you.   Close your eyes and imagine with me.  Who do you know who belongs in that space?  And what could this community do and be if they were here working and doing and being and dreaming with us.

So, our final question is the one Jesus thought about that day along the shore. The one the disciples wrestled with for the rest of their lives. And their disciples,  and their disciples’ disciples.

Who you gonna call?

Listen for God is calling,for on us God’s gaze is falling,There is no point in stalling:the time is drawing nigh.

‘Knowing Who We Are’ Sermon

And Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved. With you I am well pleased.”   Mark 1: 10-11

Download the mp3 audio of the sermon or click below to listen.

Yesterday I took Jessie and Cameron to a meeting for the upcoming Youth Ambassadors Mission Trip. They are going to Antigua, in the Caribbean, poor things.  The meeting was held at the Conference Center in White Plains and involved kids, parents and leaders from about 20 different churches. Continue reading

Posted in K

Present Through the Promise Podcast

“From the fig tree learn this lesson: as soon as its branches become tender and starts putting out leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see certain signs taking place, you know that the Son of Man is near, at the very gates…”  Mark 13: 28-29

Listen to the Sermon:

Download the sermon (mp3)
Preached November 30, 2014 by K Karpen

’Twas the day after Thanksgiving, and it was time to drive my mom back home to Long Island.  So I got the car at the garage, in order to head back to my house and pick her up. Continue reading

Posted in K | Tagged

Therefore be perfect…

“I’m practically perfect, not slightly soiled,
running like an engine that’s just been
  freshly oiled,
I’m so practically perfect in every way…”

By Rev. K Karpen from the May 2014 SPSA Newsletter the Update(pdf)

Thus sang Mary Poppins, the practically-perfect nanny of stage and screen.  And of a slightly creepy children’s book series.

If it’s true, Ms. Poppins comes a lot closer to the ideal than most of us. The goal of perfection is not only intimidating, it’s downright discouraging.  And too difficult (and too boring?) to contemplate, as well. Continue reading

Posted in K

Green Abundance

Rosina Pohlmann preached Sermon, August 4th, 2013

Scripture: Luke 12:13-21

Abundance is one of those words whose sound mimics its meaning. It is a ripe word with forward motion that rises and fills with sound as you say it. Abundance. It is satisfying to say, also because its meaning is so cheerful. A great quantity of something. A great or plentiful amount. Full to overflowing. All these definitions add up to mean that there is more than enough, and, considering that there often isn’t enough, abundance is usually cause for celebration. Of course there are many types of abundance:  abundant food, abundant water, abundant harvest, abundant money, abundant life, abundant love. There are other qualities of abundance as well, such as whether it is the abundance of the many or the few, and whether it has come at the expense of another. As Jesus points out in this scripture of Luke, not all types of abundance are created equal. In response to a man hoping to settle his family inheritance he says, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Continue reading