CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS
& Mark 2:2, 13-14
When does something important begin? Sometimes it is hard to tell. We enjoy telling stories of the first time we met the person we fell in love with but rarely is it love at first sight. There’s dinner with friends somewhere followed by a chance meeting in the mall and a cup of coffee…but sometimes no clear beginning point when an acquaintance becomes a friendship becomes a romance becomes a marriage. Likewise there is often no clear cut moment when it begins to unravel, if it does. Did Baltimore’s problems begin with the death of Freddie Gray? Of course not. Music historians can’t always pinpoint exactly when rock and roll started. And the civil rights movement didn’t start with Rosa Parks. Her protest was the result of months and years of planning and organizing in church basements and neighborhood living rooms.
Today’s Gospel texts tell the story of a beginning of sorts….when Jesus calls the first disciples who leave their fishing boats behind and begin to follow. But was that really the beginning? Did it happen that dramatically? If you are at all like me when you think of Jesus calling the disciples you picture Jesus strolling along and plucking these strangers out of the landscape, (like picking kickball team on the first day of school when you don’t know anyone)…calling them to follow him, to be fishers of people and all that, as some act of uniquely divine insight. We’ve grown accustomed to hearing how they just leave everything and follow him…making our own discipleship efforts appear rather boring and, we might conclude, less significant. Pictures have been painted, statues carved about this moment…another dramatic beginning…but not anything that we can actually relate to. Let’s be clear….I’m not going to drop everything to go off an follow some stranger and neither would most people. This is just not a model that works for me and probably not for you.
But look again….listen again…to what the texts say. (read again) Where is Jesus? He’s at HOME. Jesus has a home in the village of Capernaum nestled on the shores of the sea of Galilee . (Why don’t they tell us these things in Sunday School?) The Gospel writers differ on when they think he moved there but they agree he lived there. It was also the home town of Peter, Andrew, James, John and Matthew. If Jesus had a home there and he calls disciples who lived and worked there or nearby it seems obvious to me that he probably already knew the guys he invited to start traveling with him and building a movement.
None of the Gospel writers indicate that these men were strangers. It is quite likely that Jesus had known them, maybe worked with them or engaged in commerce and conversation. Maybe he bought fish from Peter and Andrew…maybe he WENT fishing with them. Maybe Matthew had actually collected taxes from Jesus. Dare we consider that they grew up together? I can imagine him having some conversations with them as they were cleaning fish or walking through town. I can imagine Jesus knew their personalities and gifts and that they knew Jesus as well. Jesus had probably spoken out at synagogue on occasions when they were there months or years before he preached there. They had probably heard him talk about his understanding of God’s vision for how community is to be ordered. Maybe they had conversations late into the night about forging a new way of being human that would be so different from the oppressive reality that was all they had experienced. So when Jesus finally wandered onto the beach that day, or over to Levi’s tax booth and said, let’s go do something more than just talk, they were ready to follow. Maybe they had even been preparing for quite awhile.
This is all hypothetical of course. The Gospels are condensed, stylized accounts of a longer period of Jesus life so they don’t add this level of detail. But it is not out of question because they do agree that Jesus had a home in Capernaum.
I think that’s the way a lot of things begin. They begin quietly, under the radar. They begin when we don’t always recognize anything is beginning. And more often than not they begin with conversations and relationships. They begin in community. They begin in those seemingly small, day to day encounters of sharing and supporting and challenging that eventually add up to a someone or some group stepping out on a journey to something new. The Church…the Christian movement…this challenging but life giving way of living in God’s world that we are part of didn’t start with a lightening bolt epiphany out of the blue that caused people to mindlessly walk off the job and away from family and friends to follow a stranger. It most probably started with the small, everyday encounters that built trust and cultivated insights.
It still happens that way. Great moments of spiritual significance are usually the work of years, decades, centuries, of quiet conversations, unheralded acts of compassion and stories told and retold that shape us in ways that we hardly notice until we look back and recognize we aren’t the same as we were. Just as what may look like the ideal relationship is most probably the fruit of endless conversations and daily compromises and acts of self-sacrificing love. What may look like a bold and daring leap of faith to some is most probably the fruit of years of relationship building with God and the sometimes tedious spiritual work of self-discovery and the on-going love, support and challenge of a community.
I’ve just been through a week teaching a class at Lancaster Seminary. Sandy Loughlin was part of it but the others I didn’t know and they didn’t know each other except for the two who were married to each other. The class was about the moral dimensions of the environmental crises we are facing and how it is so important that communities of faith be involved. But as we went through the week, over and over we affirmed that there is no one program, sermon, building improvement or earth day celebration that will turn this into the movement it is becoming. It is day in and day our work based on conversations, relationships, challenging one another, building trust. By Friday we were exchanging emails and recognizing that we would continue to rely on the relationship we had built over the course of five days, spending 3 hours together each day, learning, sharing, disagreeing, and recommitting.
You know what this means, of course. It means that every moment really is a beginning…..a sacred space in which God is present and active. It means that Jesus sneaks into the conversations in the fellowship hour after worship just as, and maybe even more so than in the most rousing hymns and the thoughtful sermons.
Jesus still calls us. And none of this negates how significant and life changing that is. But it is highly unlikely that call when come in a heart stopping, flash of brilliance singular moment. It’s an ongoing thing. Its all about the relationship that grows and matures over time.
The Spiritual but not religious among us may seek insights through the books that they read, the candles they burn and the beauty they contemplate…all good and necessary stuff. But ultimately they will need to be in relationship…in community…with people who gather around tables with wine and bread and remember….and gather around coffee pots and dream….in communities where imperfect people recognize that God is with them always and that each moment holds the potential for a new beginning.