Sunday, January 23, 2011

Third Sunday in Epiphany: Risky Business

Brock and I were talking leisurely after the monthly church potluck.
He said, “Back when I was a lawyer…”
“Wait!  You were a lawyer?  When?  What made you decide to stop?”  I was stunned.  Brock was in his mid-thirties, and worked as the head of a social service agency.   Becoming a lawyer involves a lot of time, money and effort.  After the   challenge of law school and passing the bar, people usually don’t just quit being a lawyer – especially to take a lower paying job.
“Well right after law school, I became a public defender.  It was good work, I thought.  It would be my job to make sure a defendant was innocent until proven guilty.  And I was a good public defender.”
“So what changed your mind?”
Brock looked a little embarrassed.  “Well, I had just won a big case.  I made the morning paper, front page with a picture and everything.  The picture showed me standing at the defendant’s table.  You could see my client right beside me.  And the caption read: Accused found not guilty on a technicality.
“It tore at my heart.  I was pretty sure my client had been guilty, but he said he wasn’t.  And it was my job to work in his best interest, to make sure that he was not sent to prison unfairly.  But in reality, defense law was a game – try to see where the police messed up so our clients could go free.”
“I realized as a follower of Jesus, I could no longer participate in making sure the guilty went free.  I could no longer be a lawyer when my legal responsibility to my client got in the way of justice.”
Brock went on to head up an agency that provides services for children who were mentally ill, troubled, or abused and their families.  He firmly believed that picture in the paper was God’s call to a different career.
Now I’m not saying that Christians can’t be lawyers, or that public defenders work against the kingdom of heaven.  Both can be honorable professions where people can do wonderful work for God.  And as in any profession, there can be lawyers who are not ethical or fair and get in the way for God’s will to be done.  But for my friend Brock, in order to follow Jesus, to be a fisher of people, he needed to walk away from a promising, lucrative career. 
There’s something risky in making such a change to follow Jesus.
Peter and Andrew, James and John are fishermen.  They have their boats, their jobs.  It’s hard, dangerous work, but they make a living.  They had a measure of security.  And yet, when they hear Jesus call, they leave their nets immediately and start following him. 
There’s something risky in leaving your job and your home to follow a little-known teacher around. 
There’s something risky in making such a commitment in the face of the unknown.  Peter and Company had no way of knowing just how difficult their new job as disciples of Jesus would become and what risks they would take.  They didn’t know that Jesus’ journey would end at a cross.  They didn’t know that because of the empty tomb, they would commit themselves so fully to Jesus’ call that they would give their lives for it.

Yeah, but that was then and this is now. 
Back then, the disciples were called to follow Jesus while he was on earth.  Now, we don’t have to leave our home and jobs to follow.  Sure a few people are called, like my friend Brock, to make drastic career changes. And some people are called to become a pastors or full-time church workers.  Otherwise, most of us can follow Jesus from the comfort of our homes and our churches.  There is really no risk in following Jesus today.    
Or is there?
There’s something risky following Jesus right where you are.  Ask the Samaritan woman at the well, who went back to all the people who knew exactly who she was to testify to Jesus[i].  Ask the man healed of a legion of demons, who begged to go with Jesus, but Jesus called him to stay where he was, with all the people who knew him from his crazy days, to testify to Jesus[ii].
Following Jesus is risky. If we answer his call, we just may be asked to change, asked to do something we’d rather not.  We might have to give up control.  There’s always the chance God might call us somewhere we don’t want to go.
Jesus calls us to follow him in every area of our lives.  And that's risky too.
There’s something risky in following Jesus in your marriage.  Because when you follow Jesus, sometimes he calls you to forgive your spouse when you’re not ready to forgive, to love your spouse when he or she is the most unlovable.
There’s something risky in following Jesus as a parent.  Because there are just days when you simply can’t be patient, and kind, and loving, days when you want to scream and give up.
There’s something risking in following Jesus as a neighbor.  There’s that whole love your neighbor as yourself thing after all.  And you are just sure it doesn’t apply to that neighbor – the one who blares music at midnight, or lets the dog run wild all over your yard.
There’s something risky in following Jesus at work.  The boss may be a jerk.  A co-worker may steal your idea.  Maybe the way you do your job would have to change if you really did it as if you were working for God.
Following Jesus is risky.  It’s like playing follow the leader – we need to go where Jesus goes, do what Jesus does.  And if we look closely at the gospels, we find Jesus going to the poor, the sick, and the outcast.  We see Jesus healing, forgiving, teaching, and loving. 
Starting next Sunday, the gospel reading is the Sermon on the Mount.  In it, Jesus tells us what is expected of those who follow him.  It is a breath-taking vision of God’s kingdom.  It is extravagant. 
It is an impossible challenge. 
It is risky.
We read it and say, there’s no way we can do this!

But let’s look again at Jesus with the fishermen.  “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.”  I will make you – all we have to do is follow.  Jesus gives us what we need to follow him.  Jesus’ call empowers and changes.  In those four words - I will make you - Jesus transforms the impossible into the possible and the risky into the sure.
Suddenly “risky” is not full of scary possibilities, but full of exciting potential.
Not everyone is called to change careers like my friend Brock.  Not everyone is called to become a pastor or full-time church worker.  But each one of us is called.
Jesus calls us to all sorts of places – to our families, our neighborhoods and towns, our jobs.  Jesus calls us to be parent, child, friend, and neighbor. 
Jesus calls us to wear many different hats – vocations to use good Lutheran terminology.  Jesus calls us to follow him in our jobs.  Jesus calls us to follow him with our hobbies and our interests.  Jesus calls us to follow him in our volunteer work, at church and in the community.  Sometimes Jesus’ call is lifelong, and sometimes it’s only for a time.
 And even when we say no, when we say it is too hard, or it is impossible, Jesus continues to gently call us.    
We are called in the waters of baptism, claimed and named as children of God.  We are called to live into the name God has given us, and into the life God desires for us.  We are called and we are gifted with the abilities and gifts and strengths for that call.  
Jesus calls us “Come and follow me.  I will make you fishers of people.”  And before we even take the first step, Jesus gives us the means to answer the call.   
How has Jesus called you?  Where is he calling you to follow him this week?

[i] John 4:1-39
[ii] Mark 5:1-20

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