Calls: Not Just a Clergy Thing

Sermon Given Feb. 2, 2022

I don’t know about you, but this omicron wave has really impacted my mental health. I keep flashing back to last January, when we had been hunkered down for months with no certainty of when relief would come. With this wave, at least there has always been an end projection, but I still find myself remembering and reflecting on those days in my life today. Everything is more difficult right now and I want to name that. I’m struggling with the pandemic and I know I’m not alone. Pandemic fatigue and exhaustion is real. 

I think Simon Peter could talk a bit about exhaustion too. We don’t know how many nights his crew had gone out in the boat, let down the nights, and came back empty handed. Was it just one night? A week? A month? So much rode on the whims of fish, something entirely out of his control. What would the next day bring? Would it be a month of plenty or a month of hardship? He rode each wave with uncertainty, only trusting that somehow they would find their way through. 

Then this man named Jesus enters into his life. For some reason our lectionary skips it, but this is not Simon Peter’s first interaction with Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. Jesus has just spoken at the synagogue in Capernaum where Simon Peter worships, gone to his house, and healed his mother-in-law. Simon Peter knows the power that Jesus has. That’s why it’s not surprising to me that Jesus picks his boat when he wants a platform to preach from. When you’ve healed someone’s relative, there are certain privileges you are afforded. 

I really wish I knew what Jesus had preached, what he had said to the crowds that day. He had gotten onto the boat to speak with the crowds because water is a sound amplifier, it acts a bit like a megaphone. So we know that what Jesus was saying, he really wanted the people to hear. But perhaps Simon Peter wasn’t paying too much attention. He had just worked all night, gotten nothing, and was going to have to go home empty handed. He was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. He was done. Maybe he even nodded off. Was the sermon never recorded because the disciples couldn’t tell others what Jesus said that day? 

But after the preaching moment, Jesus tells him to row out further. Go a bit deeper, let out the net. Peter obliges, though he has no reason to think it will produce  any result. I see the next moment as a great theatrical swirl, like the ending of the 1812 overture with cannons and fireworks. The nets are let out, the fish are so abundant that the nets practically break. The boats almost sink under their load. The people on the shore must have been overjoyed and overcome with the spectacle of it all. 

Simon Peter didn’t even necessarily know what was happening, but from the moment he decided to just go along with Jesus, to simply say yes and row into deeper water, his life changed. He didn’t even have to be fully awake or conscious for God to break through and utterly transform his life. It just happened. All he had to do was consent and trust. 

Peter became so overwhelmed with emotion, with all that is happening, that he had nothing to say but, “You shouldn’t have”. He has always been a person of little account, a decent fisherman, but not a big player in the fish trade. He lived a quiet life in a town of relatively little importance to the Roman empire. There was nothing that really stood out about Peter. But since the moment Jesus entered his synagogue, miracles had abounded for him and his family. He was no one special, he even might not have been particularly religious, but Jesus chose him. At that moment, with all the fish pouring out, the boats struggling to make it back to land, the knowledge that this kind of yield could ensure stability for his family for months, if not years, he fell on his knees. Did Jesus not know that Simon Peter was a nobody, a sinner, a very average guy? Why did Jesus want him?

But Jesus did want him, and not only him but James and John. Jesus wanted a whole crew of fishermen, an odd choice for sure. However, Jesus sees more in them than their trade, their occupations. Jesus gives them a new occupation based on their vocations, what Jesus sees in their hearts. So often we conflate people’s vocations with their occupations. It’s even more confusing when people’s vocations and occupations overlap. But a vocation is something that gives a person a sense of purpose and meaning. An occupation is how you make ends meet. Someone can be vocationally and occupationally a cook or they could simply be in the kitchen because they have bills to pay. Vocation is not what gives you money, but is the way you express yourself. It comes from your core, your authentic self. Jesus drew the disciples away from their occupations toward a new expression of their vocation, one that will completely change the rest of their lives. They shall find their meaning and purpose not in catching fish for people to eat, but in helping people get their fill of the bread of life. It’s not an accident that Jesus calls people who find meaning and purpose in feeding others, who are even willing to put their bodies on the line to ensure that others get sometimes to eat. They know what it is to give of themselves so others may be nourished.

This is a big call. They were doing one thing, now they are doing something else, devoting their time and resources completely to following Jesus. Those of us who have been called vocationally and occupationally into church work find ourselves easily identifying with the disciples. We have given over everything to devote our lives to helping communities of faith grow and flourish.Some of us have moved to places we never imagined following God’s lead. But what about everyone else? Sometimes the church overemphasizes work on behalf of the church to the detriment to other work. Your vocation need not be fully expressed within institutional Church needs. It can be expressed in any workplace, in the home, in all aspects of your life. We ask that you bring your vocation to church, but that’s because you are called to live in all the spaces and places you occupy.

What is it that gives you meaning and purpose? Simon Peter had the call to nourish the world. Isaiah had the call to speak truth to power. Some have the call to help children grow into themselves. Others have the call to listen deeply. Still others have the call to make the world more beautiful through art, literature, music, and poetry. There are so many vocations, so many things that link us to the Holy Spirit within us, the source of life and light. We can express our vocations through all that what we do. You don’t have to have a fancy diploma or be in a certain job or any job to have a vocation. It is how you express yourself in the world. 

Sometimes it’s hard to piece together our vocations. If Simon Peter hadn’t met Jesus, I’m not sure if he would have thought, “I find meaning through helping to feed others.” I do know he would have thought about the boat, lake conditions, fish, and his family. Sometimes it’s easier to talk about vocation by talking about the occupations we are drawn toward. We can find out more about ourselves when we ask, “How do I want to spend my time?” 

It was also probably harder for Peter to sort out his vocation because people in Jesus’ day were tired a lot of the time. They worked harder than many of us do to get food, water, and basic necessities. They had to fill water jugs from the well, go to the marketplace, work long hours in their various trades, prepare meals, care for children and elderly relatives, all without electricity, cars, or modern conveniences. They didn’t have great health care, so they did a lot with worn out bodies. Their exhaustion was real. 

But Jesus didn’t need Peter, James, and John to be self-actualized or to even be fully awake. In fact, it was at a time when they were most tired, most worn out, at the end of a long night when they had nothing to show for the hours they had invested, that Jesus used them and called them into their fullest selves. Jesus showed them the way. Sometimes when we stop interfering with God, when we simply just consent and follow, God does amazing work through us. It can be as simple as just saying, “If you say so, I’ll give it a try” to someone who you know has your best interests at heart. God doesn’t need us to be at our best, God just needs us to trust. 

I don’t know about you, but the idea that God can work through us without us needing to do or be anyone special is of great comfort to me. It’s easy for me to come through my day with more critiques of myself than praise, with full knowledge of exactly where I stumbled, fell, and got it wrong. But God isn’t as concerned about that. God has written a vocation on each of our hearts, a meaning and purpose far greater than any occupation or personal foibles. God calls us into ourselves, even when we aren’t even sure of who we are, promising that we can do amazing things if we trust God and consent even to small things. Who knew that throwing a net in again could yield so much? Who knows what seemingly small things could be used by God for the greater good? There is so much possibility if we just say, “Okay, God, I’ll give this a try.” 

May we trust that even if we are exhausted, if we feel weak, if we feel unable, we are still infinitely loved by God, that we can still have meaning, purpose, and dignity. We are still called into our vocations, and we are still able to do great things in the world. Even the smallest of our acts can have meaning and value. They can bring in bounty by the boatload. Amen.