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

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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

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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

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Faith Like That

By K Karpen  Church of St Paul and St Andrew
New York CityJune 2, 2013

Audio – mp3. Download or listen!

   Luke 7:1-10 “After Jesus had finished all these sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum.  A centurion there had a servant whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death.  When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent some of the Jewish elders to Jesus, asking him to come and heal his servant.

 When they came to Jesus they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.

 And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you.  But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For like you I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, Go, and he goes, and to another, Come, and he comes, and to my servant Do this, and the servant does it.”

 When Jesus heard him say this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found faith like that.”

When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant in good health.”     Luke 7:1-10

“Not even in Israel have I found faith like that.”

The other day a fifteen year old person who lives in my house asked me, “Do you believe in God?” I stopped for a few seconds before saying anything.

I hesitated for a lot of reasons, I think.  First, believing in God isn’t something I think about very much, it’s just something I do.  Second, I thought, this person who lives with me sees me every day; don’t I act like I believe in God?  Third, I’m a preacher.  I get paid to believe in God.  Fourth, given all of the above, I didn’t want to give an automatic or thoughtless answer to what I took to be a very serious question.

So after a moment I said, “Yes.”  a one word answer that was better in my mind than a lot of extra words that might offer more explanation but less clarity.

And then she responded with a one word follow-up question: “Why?”

A one word answer, was the first thing that came to my mind, “Experience,” I said.  So far we’re having a very short conversation! But before she could hit me with another query, I added, “I don’t know what I would think or believe, if I didn’t ever experience God.”


And that’s true.  I’ve read the Bible, I’ve read a lot of books, I’ve had a lot of conversations, but I without experiences, some strange, some probably typical, I doubt any of that would matter too much.

I don’t think any words about God would make me care about God in the absence of a relationship, without the give and take of prayer, without random moments of inspiration (which literally means feeling ‘filled with spirit’).  I doubt I would want to spend much time in worship if the experience of worship didn’t so often take me deeper into a feeling of relatedness and connectedness with God and God’s people.

But I have those experiences, not always all the time, but ‘here and there, now and then’, as Frederick Buechner puts it. I get glimpses of who God is for me.  And you have had those experiences too, I think, sometimes realized, sometimes maybe not.

So all that, I suppose, is the Why of my belief in God, but I think a more interesting question is How do we believe in God.  And that gets to the matter of faith.

Belief may be part of faith, but it’s only a small part, and it’s not the most interesting part.  I can believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, which I do, but it doesn’t change my life very much.

Some of you believe in stranger things than that.  Like the Mets; which ok, got a little easier this past week.  But believing in the Mets may not change your life very much.

Belief involves more than simply assenting to a set of suppositions.  But faith is much more than that, much more than merely belief.  It’s a way of living, in relationship with God and God’s people.

A belief may be something you think.  Faith is something you do.

John Wesley puts it like this, “Faith that does no work is an idle, barren, dead faith.  It is no faith at all.”  Faith is what you do.  Faith is how you live.  In trust and confidence in God, not just belief in some Godlike abstraction.  Faith is what you do in love.

Which brings us to today’s story.  Just before this, Jesus has come down from a high hill where he’s gone to pray, and in the level place below, he finds a big crowd waiting for him.  And he teaches them a lot of different things.

In today’s story, Jesus leaves that place and goes to the village of Capernaum, which is as much of a home base as he has.  And he is barely in the village when this centurion sends a group of Jewish elders to contact Jesus.

This is an unusual centurion.  A centurion in Roman military tradition is a commander of a group of 100 soldiers.  And, as symbols of the occupying Roman army, they were not well loved.  But this one was, and you can see it right away.

First, he has a servant, literally a slave, who he cares about a great deal.  Second, he cares about the people he’s living with, to the extent of building them a house of worship, though they worship a God he doesn’t.

You could maybe picture a Christian American marine captain in Afghanistan with enough sensitivity to agonize over the local person who cleans the barracks, or paying to build a mosque for the village the captain is stationed in.  But that might be a very unusual person.

But there are two more unusual things about this Roman centurion. The first is his humility, which combines with his sensitivity and leads him to send people to plead with Jesus to not come to him, saying “I am not worthy to have you come to my house.”  Roman centurions had many interesting characteristics, but I can’t imagine that humility was a very common one.

But the amazing thing to Jesus about this centurion is his faith.  His message to Jesus is this, “Like you, I am a person under authority, and I have people serving under me.  And I say Go and they go, and I say Come and they come.  And I tell a servant Do this, and it’s done.  Just say the word and my servant will be well.”

And when he hears that, Jesus is amazed.

Not that many things amaze Jesus.  But faith like that amazes Jesus.  To rely utterly.  To trust completely.  And to act accordingly.

This man, who was of some other religion or no religion, has more faith than anyone Jesus has ever met.  Somehow, some way, somewhere, he had learned to rely on God, and that reliance leads him to know he can rely on Jesus.

How it would be to have faith like that!

To rely utterly.  To trust completely.  And to act accordingly.

Our faith is a journey.  It more a verb than a noun.  It is not something we can possess; it is a way we can live.

Faith does not cause religious practice, although religious practice can lead to faith.  It is an openness to the reality of God.  Not believing in some fantasy but being open to something fantastic.  Faith is the willingness to experience the reality of God through our relationship with God and people who love God.  To trust that God completely, utterly, and unceasingly. And to act accordingly.

How it would be to have faith like that.

Pray with me.  “Come, spirit come.  Fill our souls with a faithful yearning for you.  Let who you are stir our whole being and lead us to a life of love.  Give us a faith that has nothing to prove.  Bring us the confidence that can say to a mountain, move, and it will move.  Come, spirit, come. Amen.”

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