Sunday at Scarboro – January 21, 2018

Worship Start Time:  10:30am
Preaching: Rev. Lee Spice
Co-Presiding: Rev. Erin Klassen
Theme: Called to be Disciples - Anyone Listening?

The coffee is hot at 10:00am, come in and get comfortable. Service begins at 10:30 and is followed by coffee and conversation in the Memorial Hall.

Come and explore what we are being called to. Are you listening?

“Anybody Listening?” - Real Consequences
January 21, 2018
Rev. Lee Spice

Jesus calls four fishermen – Simon, Andrew, James and John, and they immediately drop their nets and follow.

I love the aspect that Jesus call would become the most important thing – that answering this call would be a liberating step towards wholeness – that answering this call would be the way that a person could make a difference in the world…. “Here I go – I’m following Jesus!”

It is life-changing.

…but I have this vision of James’ and John’s poor Dad, Zebedee, sitting in the boat, watching them leave.  He has been left behind.

I have the suspicion that, when Mark wrote this narrative, he was hoping that we’d understand that the disciples were leaving behind their beloved old religious community, and pursuing a new path in following Jesus.  Zebedee was symbolic of their religious roots.

But I can’t get this vision out of my mind, of the old guy sitting in the boat, watching them leave.

He doesn’t know what the future holds, but he has to let them go.  He will be alright – if they have hired hands, they are not badly off, but to watch them go is to watch them leave behind the security of their occupation, the comfort of their family, their standing in the community, and the predictability of their daily lives.

All this they leave, to follow an itinerant rabbi who has this vision of God’s dream for the world.  Father Zebedee, like so many parents, shakes his head.

“Kids these days.”

And maybe he wonders if they’ve gone a little off the rails – spurning the values that he has held so dear; turning their backs on the ways that things have always been done.  The things that they think are important now, well, they’re not the same as the things that he thinks are important.

The disciples, not knowing what lies ahead, take a different path.  The only thing that they can be sure of is the uncertainty of the journey, and that they are being called by Jesus.  It is a tremendous risk to follow.

When James and John look behind and see their father sitting there, do they have a moment of regret?  Do they consider that the things they leave behind are valuable and honourable?  And yet, they go.

I wonder how strong it was – that draw to turn back – to return to the life of tradition, certainty, and stability.  Those ties are very strong.  They are anchors.  They’re not bad things – they’re good things – family and home and responsibilities.  Faith, the way it has been for generations. A certain predictability of how things have always been done.

Traditions and certainties of life are extremely powerful.  As Jonah found out in the Old Testament story, so are the assumptions that one has about life, and about the way things have always been.

To catch us up on the story – God had called Jonah to go preach to the people of Nineveh.  He didn’t want to do it.  The Ninevites didn’t worship the same God.  In today’s world, since Nineveh is in modern-day Iraq, they would probably be Muslim.

Jonah assumed that they didn’t have the same values. Or so he assumed.  They were known to be exceedingly cruel to their enemies. Unreasonable.  Inhuman.

Jonah had demonized the Ninevites.   It was a part of his upbringing to have these assumptions.

So, Jonah took a side trip, hopping a boat to the resort-like city of Tarshish, getting swallowed by a great fish and being spat up on the shore.  The next time God called, Jonah went.

He proclaimed to the people of Nineveh that God was so angry at them that they were going to be overthrown.  To be careful – this wasn’t so much a conversion call, but a call to “shape up!”

Jonah was convinced that the Ninevites were so bad that they wouldn’t listen.  Practically wringing his hands with glee that his old enemies were going to be destroyed, he continues to walk about the city, calling them to repent.

To his shock, in this city in which he is a minority, the Ninevites listen, and they do repent.  In a comic turn of events, the whole city turns out in sackcloth and ashes, including the animals.  Yah, a little bit of literary hyperbole – but the point is that the situation blows Jonah’s assumptions out of the water.  He has to leave behind all of the biases and pre-existing points of view that he had about the Ninevites – why, they might be God’s children, after all!

In both of the stories today, something has to be left behind.  There are real consequences to following the call of God.

The disciples, when following Jesus, had to leave behind the stability of their old lives.  In the Jonah story, old assumptions about “the other,” or strangers outside of the community, have to get left behind.

There are costs to following Jesus.  There are real consequences.  Of course, there are the things that are ahead – the opportunities and blessings along the road that a person might not even imagine.

But there are also things – whether they be good things, like stability and security – or bad things – like prejudices and old hatreds…things have to get left behind.  And they are powerful things.

It is tempting, sometimes, to pack up the old life with us, and take it along.  Clearly, the brothers on the beach were not going to pack up the old Dad and cart him along…but I think sometimes we try.

Picture this – you have a car load of groceries, and you have to head off to another appointment.  You have exactly 7.5 minutes to unload the groceries, put them away (or, at least, put the stuff that needs to go in the fridge away), and get back in your car.

The temptation is to load up with as many bags as you can as once – two looped over each arm, maybe then holding a couple more in front. Maybe one in your teeth.  Then you get to the door, which has conveniently slammed shut…and you have to put something down in order to open it. Huh.  It ends up not saving any time at all.

The church, too, has to remember that we, as church, must continue to listen to the call.  I think churches make the mistake of believing that, once church has been built, the creed written, the liturgies established, the structure organized; that the job is done.

As church, we have to remember that sometimes even our churchy accoutrements end up being the heavy load that we have to leave behind in order to follow the call of Jesus.

Recently, the Globe and Mail had an article about the Catholic Church.  It seems that many Christians, over the years, have been uncomfortable with the line in the Lord’s Prayer that says, “and lead us not into temptation.”  I’ve had that very discussion, myself, with our beloved Laura Duncan.  How could God lead us into temptation?

Turns out there is some difficulty with translation – modern scholars translate that line, “Save us from the time of trial,” and Pope Francis approved the French Catholics to say, “Let us not fall into temptation.”  The English alternative is still under debate.

But if the Catholic Church could leave the old words behind, in order to make the translation more understandable, then other Christians can do the same.

What church accoutrements do we have to leave behind?

Sometimes, when people hear preachers talking like this, they get anxious.  Visions of drum sets on the chancel and praise bands become worrisome.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

People do worry that chasing the millennial church-goer will happen at the expense of alienating seniors.

But the question is, to what new directions is Christ calling?  For seniors and millennials alike?  Where is God already working, transforming people…calling the church to stop dragging around the barriers and the “that’s how we’ve always done its” and step forward on a new path?  Where is the something new, the something important?

Here, at Scarboro, the leadership – particularly the mission team leaders and the board -  takes very seriously the call to follow.  The question is always being asked – what is our ministry? Where is Jesus calling?  And in that question – what do we need to leave behind?

Some of our sister churches are engaged in new ministries – taking some steps into new territory.  You’ve probably heard of Knox, building a café right off the sanctuary, and leaving behind some of the notions of what church and sanctuary is meant to be.  Or Northminster, doing a “supper church,” and leaving behind the idea that church can only be on Sunday.

And us? There are some exciting initiatives in which we are involved – the work we’re doing with the Indigenous and non-Indigenous women’s ceremonies is one area; the burgeoning senior’s ministry is gaining some traction; and there is work on the horizon for Scarboro to become a community hub.

Where else are we being called?  What is our special path?  Where is God already working in our midst?  And what notions must we leave behind?  Here we go!  We’re following Jesus.

Let us spend a few minutes in silence, in order to listen to God’s call.


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