The Very Rev. Tom Callard – January 24, 2021
I think that because it’s my birthday – I don’t know if you knew that, but it’s my birthday – but because it’s my birthday I feel like I want to start off this sermon talking about “growing up” and having arrived at a place where you are an adult. I wonder, when in your life did you first feel like you had arrived at adulthood? If that has even happened. Perhaps like me you’re saying – yeah, I haven’t quite gotten there yet, but I hope to be an adult some day Or perhaps you feel the opposite, that in your life you’ve always been an adult. I’ve known kids who were little six year old adults in children’s bodies, and that’s fine too.
But was there a moment in your life when you had this feeling that you had in a sense arrived at being an adult? I remember that feeling when I was 18 and I had a key for the first apartment where I was paying rent. I remember it like it was yesterday. Holding that key in my hand to my apartment, which was in Dorchester, Massachusetts. It was 1986. I had an apartment in the Savin Hill neighborhood of Dorchester, which we jokingly called Stab and Kill, because there was a crack epidemic going on and it was actually kind of a dangerous neighborhood. My roommate got held up at the subway station twice – which I don’t think I ever told my mom, but now she knows.
And I had a key to an apartment, which was my apartment. I paid $150 a month. I was making my own decisions. And I felt that I had arrived at some important point in life. I wonder what was that experience for you, or those experiences? Maybe getting married? Having children? Graduating from high school or from college? Your first job? Some time when you felt, like me, that you were now adult, or you were now present, and that you had arrived. And if you like, I think it would be interesting- write your experience down in the comments section of Facebook or YouTube today to share with other people. I think it would be interesting to see what people’s experiences were.
Because the Gospel today shows this moment for Jesus. It shows us when he has, in a sense, arrived at an important point in his life. Maybe Jesus has been an adult for a while in terms of age, but something happens to Jesus today, and he uses the word fulfilled. He says “The time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God has come near.”
And I hear that word “fulfilled” to mean that basically he has arrived. That up until today, there were all of these experiences in Jesus’s life that were kind of a preamble for this moment. He was there in the beginning with God. His birth was announced by an angel to the Mary. He was born in the stable. He was a small child teaching in the Temple. He was baptized by John in the Jordan. He was tempted by the Devil in the desert.
And then today, after all of that, he arrives on the scene and prophecy and Jesus’s purpose are fulfilled as he sets forth to undertake his mission. And this is the mission that God has given him. He arrives today, ready to talk about how the Kingdom of God has come near. He arrives today, ready to talk about how the people must repent and believe in something greater than ourselves. He arrives today, showing us that destiny and the realization of God’s dream for us have been fulfilled and that each of us, every one, can have life eternal through the opportunity to drop our nets and to follow Jesus.
And it is as if Jesus arrives today holding in his hand, for the first time, the key to his new position, like my new apartment.
And so what does he do? How does Jesus use this this new position? Perhaps that’s a question each of us can consider for oourselves. What happens after you’ve been given the key to your first apartment, or after you’ve suddenly done that first thing that makes you feel adult, when you’ve arrived at this position of freedom? Do you go out and go crazy? Do you celebrate like wild at this new foud freedom that you have?
Well what does Jesus do? In the gospel today, we see that Jesus turns around and he shares this newfound freedom with others. The second Jesus has the ability to take concrete action in life as the now ‘fulfilled’ Son of Good, he calls the disciples and says – Let me share this with you, Simon, and Andrew, and James and John. I now have been fulfilled, let me make your lives fulfilled as well.
And that’s incredible. Because you can do anything in the world as the Son of God. At that moment, when you come into Galilee, you’ve got the whole world in your hand. You can walk on water. You can calm storms. You can bring people back from the dead. If you’re Jesus Christ, in your toolbox, there is an incredible array of powers that you can use to do anything.
In a way, it’s kind of like a new president who finally arrives at the oval office and sits down to pass a slew of new legislation, and what does he do? Does the new President write laws to benefit himself and those who support him, laws to increase his powers and gather resources and favor for his friends? No, he writes laws to benefit everyone. He writes laws to care for the weak and to support the poor. And, importantly, to empower the people, so that they can go out and do good things themselves
His first act in office, Jesus Christ, is to go up to these people, Simon, and Andrew, and James and John, and tell them, I have been fulfilled, I want you to be fulfilled too. He uses what he has gained not for himself, but that others may gain too. It’s Christian leadership.
I think seeing Jesus arrive at this moment in the Gospel shows us that the true power of Jesus, once he has arrived, is to empower others. His gift is the ability to lead others to find their gifts. Don’t just toil away at your life, he says to these people as they are busy casting their nets, let your lives be fulfilled by meaning and purpose that has to do with loving and caring for other people. Come and follow me, I want to teach you to find your purpose out there beyond yourselves.
That’s the leadership model of Jesus Christ. A leader is a person who shares, who says: I’m filled with good news and so I want to share that good news with you. So you can share it with someone else. A Christian leader does not put fear into the hearts of their disciples or cause them to hate others, or divide people, or go along trying to force them to do things.
I’ve got a story about that. Years ago, when I was serving as a missionary in Honduras, there was a man who worked for the church. I don’t remember his name, but we called him The Architect. He was not actually an architect. He was a more of a construction foreman who helped build houses, but one day someone called him The Architect, and that was the name we used.
A large part of my time in Honduras I helped build houses. Hurricane Mitch came to Honduras in 1998 as this huge, force which took lives and destroyed houses and businesses. And a big part of what the Episcopal Church did was to help communities rebuild. So for much of 1999, I traveled with missionaries from the US or worked with local construction teams to build these little, block houses. And the Architect was the guy who was there, showing people what to do, teaching people how to lay the blocks and mix the cement and lay out a plumb line, and make sure in general that things went well in these building projects which the church was doing.
Over time I got to know The Architect and I found he had an incredible story of how he came to work with the Church. He said that when he was about 16, he was in the village where he grew up, this tiny village in the middle of the country. And one day he was working on the crops behind his parents’ house. And this army truck drove up into the village square and it stopped, and a few soldiers got out. And the soldiers started to spread out and walk into the village.
And the Architect said that one of the soldiers came up to him where he was working behind his parents’ house, and basically said, just like Jesus says in the Gospel today, the soldier said: drop your machete and follow me.
Except the soldier was not inviting this guy to be a disciple of Christ, he was enlisting him in the army. I’ve talked with a few other Hondurans about this, and it seems like there was a point some time ago when the Honduran Army actually went into villages like this and gathered young men to be soldiers. Something like this happened to someone in my wife’s family. These young men were pressed into service.
And so he had this experience. He left his family, and he went into the army. He was in the army for a few years. He said it wasn’t a horrible life but it wasn’t great. They did teach him some things, for example how to build a house. But he didn’t sign up for it, and he wasn’t really free to leave until the end of his service, which was about three years. So he wasn’t free.
Eventually, they released him. And he left and settled down in the city and began to do this work of construction. And soon enough he met a nice woman, they got married, and he even began going to church.
And then, one day, he told me, while he was at church, he had this experience. It was at a church service, and the lesson that day was this scripture we have today, or one of the other places where Jesus comes up to the disciples, and tells them to drop their nets and to follow him. And he said that of course it reminded him of his experience years ago of having been enlisted in the army, where he had no choice.
But, he said, as he heard it in church that day, he realized at that moment that he was free. It hadn’t really occurred to him how much he still felt trapped by the past and all that had happened. And suddenly he realized, on that day, that the memory of the soldier coming up to him could be replaced by the reality of Jesus now coming up to him, and so he could let go.
He could now literally do anything he wanted. He had this key to a new life. So this was the moment he realized he had arrived at adulthood, and he knew that he could drop the net of anger and bitterness and let go.
And he knew that in his freedom, the thing he really wanted to do was to help others. So he dedicated his life to building houses for God, to working for the Church to rebuild his country. And he became “The Architect.”
And so the question is: what do you do with your freedom? What do you do with the key you hold to your one, precious life, the key you now hold in your hand, given to you by your Lord Jesus Christ, who said: follow me. And you said yes.
Are we working, in our freedom, to make others free, and to lead others to the good news that we, ourselves know to be true? Can we feel in our lives Jesus’s call too fish for others, and not just toil away on our own behalf?
What does it mean to belong to Jesus? It means that we have arrived at something important, and that our lives have been fulfilled by his touch and blessed by his presence and guided by his teachings and changed by his love. And so we can drop our nets.
We can give coats, and buy food, and make calls, and reach out, and offer prayers, and build houses, and do whatever it is we are a capable of doing. We can do these things for the sake of the one who has called us to be. And know that in all we do, we are blessed that we were fishing there on the beach that day when he found us, or wherever we were the moment we dropped our nets and we said – yes, Lord, here I am. I have arrived. I may still not be an adult, but I am a Christian.