1 Corinthians 15:1-11
“Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?” Together we sang familiar hymn this morning, a hymn loved by many. It’s words bring to mind images of ancient prophets like Samuel and Isaiah and so many others, who answered the call of God. Eagerly adding our own voice of affirmation to the refrain, we boldly sing, "I will go Lord! If you lead me!” There’s no hesitancy, no question - just quick obedience.
Each of texts this morning have an element of one called by God to tasks unknown. And yet, if we look closely - a quick response without hesitation - isn’t how the people respond to God. It takes a little more elbow twisting! Our Hebrew Bible text recounts the call of Isaiah. God comes to him in a vision in the temple, surrounded by Seraphs exclaiming Holy, Holy,Holy! Isaiah is filled with shame and unworthiness, and says: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips!” I am a sinner and I’m surrounded by sinners, surely you can’t be sending me to do anything. And yet, God calls - and Isaiah follows God’s call on his life.
Perhaps you remember Paul’s call. Acts Chapter 9 tells us that while Saul (who will become Paul) is “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of God,” he is blinded on the road to Damascus. Here he encounters Christ and his life is forever changed. And yet, in his letter to the Corinthians we can clearly see Paul still doubts his worthiness. He calls himself the least and unfit because of his persecution of the church. And yet, God calls - and Paul follows God’s call on his life.
Finally, in our Gospel reading for today, we hear Jesus call his first disciples. Standing beside the Sea of Galilee, people are desperate to hear Jesus. He sees two boats on the shore and decides to jump into Simon Peter’s boat, asking him to pull a little way out from the shore. Now Peter earned his living as a fisherman. After a long night of fishing, he has come up short, and I am sure that frustration and worry weigh heavy on him. After all, he is a fisherman with no fish. Perhaps humoring Jesus, he obeys. After teaching the crowds from the boat, Jesus tells Peter to go out into deeper water and put down his nets. Now we begin to hear a bit of frustration from Peter. We’ve been working all night and have caught nothing! I’ve already cleaned my nets! I’m tired! I want to go home! But once again, Peter obeys. Out in the deep water, they drop the nets. The nets fill with so many fish that they begin to break and James and John have to come help them. Both boats are filled with so many fish that they begin to sink. Here is where Peter loses it. Amazed by the catch of fish, he says: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” I’m not good enough for you, Jesus! And yet, Jesus calls him anyway: "Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching people.” And Peter leaves everything to follow God’s call on his life.
Surprisingly, this is not the first time Peter meets Jesus. In the Gospel of Luke, this isn’t their first encounter. If you think back on our Gospel lessons the past two weeks - Jesus preaching in his hometown of Nazareth - you might remember that the people there want him to “do what he had done in Capernaum.” The text doesn’t tell us exactly what Jesus had done there - but it had to be pretty amazing if they wanted him to do it for them in Nazareth, too! Capernaum was Peter’s hometown. It was a small fishing village on the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee. Peter, James and John were in the fishing business together - partners - middle-class business owners. If something amazing happened in their village, they would be sure to know about it.
After Jesus escapes from nearly being thrown off a cliff, there are two stories the lectionary leaves out. In Luke chapter 4 beginning with verse 30, Jesus goes from Nazareth to Capernaum. In the synagogue there, he heals a man with an unclean spirit.
Then, in Luke chapter 4 verse 38, Jesus leaves the synagogue in Capernaum and goes directly to Simon Peter’s house, where he heals his mother-in-law of a high fever. So, according to Luke, before he ever encounters Jesus on his boat - he has at least heard about amazing things he had done in his village, he had most likely seen him heal a man of an unclean spirit, and he had witnessed Jesus heal his mother-in-law in his home. These all sound like pretty extraordinary events …. and yet …. none of these things lead Peter to leave everything to follow Jesus. It isn’t until Jesus lands him boat-loads (literally) of fish that he is amazed enough by Jesus to feel unworthy in his presence and then to follow his call. An abundance of fish does the trick.
What is with that? -- You see, this miracle affected him in a personal way. It wasn’t for someone else, it was for him. Fishing was his livelihood. No fish - no money. No money - no food, no security. Suddenly, he was given an abundance of the thing his life most depended on - and he chooses to leave it all to follow Jesus. Becoming a disciple of Jesus cost him something. He leaves his abundant livelihood for the abundant life of discipleship.
Such is the way of faithful discipleship. Our personal encounters with Christ lead us to follow the way of Christ, even when it comes with a cost. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German theologian and Lutheran pastor during the time of the Nazi regime. He was imprisoned and eventually executed for his involvement in a small Protestant resistance movement and conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. Following the way of Jesus, he focused on others’ liberation in the midst of danger and death to himself. One of his most famous works is called The Cost of Discipleship. His life was a living example of the wisdom of this work. In his book, Bonhoeffer says: “Every moment and every situation challenges us to action and to obedience. We have literally no time to sit down and ask ourselves whether so-and-so is our neighbor or not. We must get into action and obey - we must behave like a neighbor to him.” Bonhoeffer continues: “The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ.”
Peter’s encounter with Christ leads him to abandon the attachments of his world. It leads him to place his trust in Jesus and embark on an incomprehensible mission, catching people, instead of fish. The same is true for us. In every moment, in every situation, God calls us - even when we feel unworthy, incapable, and sinful - God calls us to action and obedience.
Perhaps there is another clue in our text today about what the cost discipleship looks like. Jesus instructs Peter to put his boat out into the deep water. There is a subtle connection between the deep water here and the deep water of the primordial sea, a powerful Jewish symbol of chaos. In Genesis, when the breath of God, ruach, hovers over the face of the waters - God is imagined to be hovering over chaos. God brings order to chaos in creation. Chaos abounded in Jesus’ time and chaos abounded in Luke’s time. Chaos abounds in our time. Yet, the deep waters of chaos is where Jesus often calls us to go.
We are called to follow Jesus - but follow him where? We may be called to follow him into places of chaos, places of pain, darkness, loneliness. We may be called to follow him to places of discomfort and uncertain futures. We may be called to abandon the abundance of our worldly pleasures to follow him. The most profound and significant experiences of God are not usually found in the safety of shallow waters - but in depths of the unknown.
Discipleships urges us follow God’s call on our lives, even when it’s costly. Did you know a majority of Christians believe that God calls other people - but rarely recognize God’s call on their own lives? God calls everyone else, but rarely believe God calls them. But God calls each of us in all kinds of ways - big and small, dramatic and simple.
During one of my seminary classes I had the opportunity to meet Mike Simons, a photojournalist for the Tulsa World and then started following him on social media. Last week, he posted a story of a Tulsa man who has chosen costly discipleship. In a convenience store, this man ran into a man named Charles who had spent the past seven years in and out of homelessness. Charles was a former employee of the man and in the store he asked his former boss to rehire him. The man told him if he would get in his car right then and pass a drug test, he’d put him to work.” Charles was clean. He started work right away and the boss got Charles an apartment, paid all the deposits, got him clothes and some furnishings. Since Charles as no transportation, his boss takes him to work at 5pm and then picks him up by 2am - before going to work himself by 9am When asked why he would do such a thing, he said: "I just felt compelled in my heart to help him. When you do it to the least of these, you’ve done it until me. There was no one least in the world than him at the time.” There was a call on his heart, and he followed.
I have the privilege of knowing a young man who followed a different kind of call on his heart. Following in his parents footsteps, he decided to attend college at the University of Kansas and major in architectural engineering. He had applied and was accepted. He future was bright and certain. Then, during his senior year of high school something changed. He told his parents he felt called to go into a different field. That led them on a last minute new college hunt with deadlines looming. He chose Wartburg College and is currently majoring in theology and business with a minor social entrepreneurship. He hopes to work for a non-profit when he graduates and make a difference in the lives of others. There was a call on his heart, and he followed.
One of my favorite human beings is a man named Erv. He is an 80-something year old man with deep Lutheran roots and more energy than I can fathom. He is as white as white can be and doesn’t speak a lick of Spanish. And yet, this year he became the sponsor of a refugee from Cuba who is seeking political asylum in the United States. Working with the New Sanctuary Movement, Erv invited Julio into his home and into his life. What was supposed to be one week, has turned into seven months. Julio came to the US not speaking a lick of English. And yet the two live together in community. There was a call on his heart, and he followed.
When God places a call on our heart, we are often called to leave the “big catch” and embark on an incomprehensible mission, venturing into the unknown. Sometimes we are called to simple tasks. Yet, it is our willingness to make a difference in the lives of our neighbors that matters most. We rarely feel ready, we rarely feel capable - and yet Jesus sees the potential that resides within us and empowers us to participate in the work of God despite our sinfulness.
When God places a call on our hearts, may we be brave enough to say: Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord? Even though I feel completely inadequate and unworthy, scared and sinful: I will go, Lord, if you lead me. Though discipleship often comes with cost: I will hold your people in my heart and show them your mercy and love.