Keep on following the call even if you need to leave things behind (1 Corinthians 15:1-11) (Luke 5:1-11)
When was the last time you felt like Jesus was calling you? For some, calling is like a gentle breeze; the voice of Jesus softly whispers and nudges them to change their mind and make different choices. For others, calling is like a wild thunderstorm; the Holy Spirit abruptly interferes their lives and turns their life upside down to follow Jesus right away. In any way, we may have such a moment that we feel like, “I better do this because I believe in Jesus.” “I’m tried and busy but I’ll go to the trustees meeting, Souper Saturday, and so on to serve others.” “I’m going to be more loving and kind to someone because I’m a Christian.” “I will forgive somebody with Christ’s love.” These may be some small moments of calling, calling to follow the way of Jesus Christ.
As a pastor, I have my call to ministry. In The United Methodist Church, the candidates for ordained ministry are required to take a long time to complete their coursework, paperwork, mentoring process, psychological assessment, and a series of intensive interviews. But for what? All of these are for them to discern their call to ministry as clear as they can, because that calling is an essential prerequisite, a must-have, for their ministry.
One spring day in 2012, I got a phone call telling me that I may be appointed to this church. Back then, I was quite sure about my calling. But as soon as I finished the phone conversation, honestly, I was afraid and became doubtful. For sure, I was happy for the opportunity and glad to move to New Jersey. But there were things that I had to leave behind. Especially, I needed to leave my way of life, the student life, for the first time. My life as a graduate student…it was financially challenging, but there was much freedom. I had weekends and long summer to enjoy. I only had duties and responsibilities for myself, nothing for others. Later, when all got settled that I would be really going to serve our church, my anxiety level got up. The role of a pastor seemed so big to me. So big. And it grew even bigger and bigger in my heart, pressing me down. What if something goes wrong? What if the church declines? What if the church members don’t like me? What if they don’t understand my Korean accent? Oh Lord, can I really do this? Am I really ready for this? I was not sure.
It was the day when I had the first meeting with our church members before getting officially appointed. From the Bronx, I drove across the George Washington Bridge to get to New Jersey and to Montclair. As crossing the Hudson River, on the bridge, I felt something deep. I felt that Jesus was asking me a question, “You left your home country for what? You left Boston for what? Now you leave the Bronx for what?” Then, I realized, “Yes, it’s been for my calling.” It was a moment of assurance. I don’t have to be afraid but just keep on following the call leaving my way behind.
Today’s Gospel story is a very famous calling narrative of Jesus’ first disciples. It’s early morning, and Simon Peter is cleaning his fishing nets after a miserable night out on the lake. He and his partners, James and John, sons of Zebedee, have worn themselves out, casting nets from dusk till dawn into the dark water. The sun rises, and unfortunately, they have nothing but sore muscles and weary hearts. Their nets are empty. Just then, Jesus shows up, steps into Simon’s boat, and tells him to “put out into the deep waterand let down your nets for a catch” (Luke 5:4). Simon protests with full of doubt, “Master, we have worked all night long.” But then he changes his mind and obeys, “Yet if you say so, I will” (5:5). Then, Peter and others have a miraculous catch that they have never seen before. Peter says to Jesus, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8) Then, Jesus calls him out from his shame and regret, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people” (Luke 5:10). Simon Peter, James and John leave their way and follow the way of Jesus.
What brought you here today? As you left behind your warm and comfortable home today, I am so sure, it was Jesus who called you here. Let us go back a little bit more, what brought you to this church initially in the past? I am so sure, there was a calling like a nudge, like a whisper, or like a thunderstorm, that made you leave behind the way you were before to be children of God. And Jesus calls us now, calls us each and every day to make faithful disciples out of us, to make us, the sinners, walk his way of love and grace. Sometimes, we are doubtful and unfaithful, afraid and anxious, tired and weary. Sometimes, we think we are not qualified and not ready. But Jesus calls us anyway and asks us to walk with him as we are, as work-in-progresses.
In his Letter to the Corinthians, Paul testifies, “For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:9-10). Paul was not just a sinner but a persecutor of the church. But Christ called him on the way to Damascus, on his way to destroy other churches. And by the grace of God, he became an apostle and founded many Christian communities. Today we believe, the same grace, which called Paul to leave his way, is with us; the same grace, which made an apostle out of the persecutor of the church, is with us today. With this grace, Jesus calls us to be his disciples. To follow his call, there is one thing we should do. We should leave our ways. Leave our ways to walk the way of Jesus. This is not just a life time decision, but it is also an everyday practice. Everyday leaving and following.
Now the call is clear to us. Leave the way of sin behind and follow the way of new life. Leave the way of hatred behind and follow the way of love. Leave the way of regrets, unresolved anger, attachments, past memories of rejection and hurt behind and follow the way of new life in peace and healing. Leave the way of discrimination and division behind and follow the way of reconciliation and unity. Leave the way we are, our strong intention and egotism behind and follow God’s will and the mind of Christ. And leave ourselves behind to become more Christ-like disciples. Keep on leaving and keep on following. Every day. Every moment. Jesus Christ is calling us. Are you ready?