by The Reverend Craig Lemming, Associate Rector
Let us pray:
God be in my head, and in my understanding;
God be in mine eyes, and in my looking;
God be in my mouth, and in my speaking;
God be in my heart, and in my thinking:
God be at mine end, and at my departing. Amen.
Have you found yourself going to the fridge far too often lately? Eating all the cheese, all the chocolate, all the leftover pizza, and all the ice cream? Do you find yourself mindlessly scrolling through social media, the rubbish that passes for news, or shopping for things you absolutely don’t need? Are you checking your work email, dating apps, and text messages incessantly? Are you spending far too much time binge watching television, playing video games, or gambling? My intention is not to shame anyone for escaping into these potentially harmful habits. Confessing them helps us recognize how all of our consuming ends up consuming us. Like Jonah, we become so fixated on escaping our own lives, we get swallowed up and stuck in the bleak, terrifying, and extremely stinky belly of a sea monster. Nevertheless, after Jonah’s sublime prayer, God causes the whale to vomit him out onto the dry land, and as we heard in today’s First Lesson, “The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.” Today’s sermon is about God’s endless supply of second chances. Learning how to stop ourselves from fleeing the presence and purpose of God in our lives. And letting go of what enslaves us so that by God’s grace we can answer readily those second sacred callings on our lives: to follow the Way of Jesus.
Jesus calling his first disciples in today’s Gospel shifts them from their first calling as fishermen to following God’s way of love. It’s astonishing to think that Peter, Andrew, James, and John immediately left their nets and followed Jesus. Unlike Jonah who first flees from God’s calling, the disciples immediately leave everything they relied upon to survive being taxed by their Roman colonizers and follow Jesus with absolutely no guarantees of surviving the demonic powers of empire. Can you imagine what that level of vulnerability felt like? Engrossed in their daily toil and drudgery of mending and casting fishing nets with wet, cold, aching, exhausted hands, the disciples heard that voice! That voice of God’s incarnate love, calling us with all of our imperfections, to follow his Way of Love.
Leaving my first calling as a musician was certainly not immediate and yet, it was a truthful voice that provoked me to listen to God’s calling on my life. A wonderful Italian professor of philosophy gave me rides to the San Francisco airport after concerts I sang annually with the San Francisco Bach Choir and Orchestra. She sang in the choir and over the years, I grew to love those airport rides, because she was a brutally honest and authentic woman. On what would be our last airport ride together, she said: “You know, Craig, over all these years with you as our tenor soloist, you seem less and less free. You get good reviews, the critics love your singing, but your spirit is dying. Do something else. Find what makes you free.” On that flight back to Saint Paul, I realized I had been fleeing from the presence of God and God’s liberating call on my life for fifteen years.
Now, discerning God’s call on your life need not be that radical. My recent pageant performance as Herod is proof that I have dramatic tendencies. Perhaps you have your own vocation story of encountering a truthful word that provoked a more subtle yet equally life-changing decision. Thankfully, there are myriad ways to answer God’s call on our lives. Some are called by God into a new profession or into retirement. Maybe you are called by God to the single life while God calls others into the Sacrament of Marriage (as we will soon affirm and bless). God’s calling could be to journey to a different part of the world or to take an equally daunting journey of repairing a broken relationship at home. An encounter with unvarnished and often unwanted Truth reveals the real presence of Christ offering us the gift of saying yes to God’s call to live a new life of love and service in a multiplicity of ways. That voice of truth equips and empowers us to leave the nets we’ve been fastidiously mending that are actually holding us captive. How do we leave the lies and deceptions of those all-consuming nets and say yes to the call of that beautiful, good, and true lover of all souls: Jesus?
In a recent interview, Harvard Kennedy School professor, Arthur Brooks, discusses a discernment practice that helps us find meaning in our lives. In an assignment he gives in his course on Managing Happiness, Brooks poses the following two questions to his students at Harvard:
- Why are you alive?
- For whom or for what are you willing to die today?
Answering these questions, takes a lifetime of inner work. Returning regularly to ponder our answers to these questions helps us to slowly let go of those nets that keep us entangled in habits of fleeing God’s purpose. Instead of consuming more of what we don’t need, perhaps we could open a book of sacred wisdom and feed our hungry minds with words of liberating and satisfying truth. Instead of scrolling through and lusting after those shiny, virtual lives of strangers on screens, perhaps we could connect with the real people whose lives are closely linked with ours. Instead of allowing our senses to be consumed by the sensationalized horror of human suffering we call the news, perhaps 15 minutes of contemplative silence, solitude, and stillness, might free us from being caught in the inter-net, and free to intuitively hear what the Holy Spirit is saying deep within us. Arthur Brooks’ two questions help us focus on what matters: faith, family, friends, and work that serves others. Finding answers to why we exist and for whom or for what we are willing to die today may free us from empire’s nets so that we can free others from those nets so all people might draw nearer to the reign of God’s love and freedom.
I’ll leave you with the words of Sonya Renee Taylor:
We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-pandemic existence was never normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.
St. John’s, we have healing work to do together. This inner work requires us, in Saint Benedict’s words, to “listen with the ear of our hearts” and to obey God’s calling to love and serve others. God is calling us to free the tight grip of aching hands that still clutch and mend old nets of racist coloniality, greed, fear, and ignorance. When the hands of all the people of God are finally free to let go of those nets, we may finally be able to join the Holy Spirit in sewing a new garment of love and belonging that fits all bodies in God’s marvelous creation. May it be so in Christ for each of us today, when we let go of our nets and say Yes to the Way of Love. Amen.
 “The Power of Vulnerability” by Brené Brown: https://youtu.be/iCvmsMzlF7o