Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Following Jesus

It's that time of year again:  it's the time of year that we hear Jesus calling disciples as he walks alongside the sea.  It's the beginning of his ministry.  He has gotten baptized, and gone into the wilderness, and now here he is, saying "Repent, the Kingdom of heaven is at hand!"  And he walks along, and he sees Peter and Andrew, and simply says, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people."  And they follow him.


This blows my mind.  I mean, simply the word "immediately" blows my mind.  They don't have to think it over?  They don't have to make a list of pros and cons?  I just can't imagine "immediately."  They just leave everything they know in order to "fish for people."

They are fisherman, and some people think this is what is so attractive, this is the thing that intrigues them.  They fish for fish, and Jesus says they will fish for people instead.  Jesus has used exactly the right words to catch them.

Right now, though, I'm thinking about this.  All they know about Jesus is one phrase:  "Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven has drawn near."  That's all.  He hasn't healed anyone.  He hasn't preached.  He hasn't multiplied any loaves or cast out any demons.  He has said this one sentence, and it is "Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven has drawn near."  And then he calls them.

And they follow.  Immediately.

He gives them no details.  They don't know where he is going.  There is no "strategic plan", no monthly goals to meet.  I'm not saying that Jesus doesn't know where he is going, but he doesn't tell them, at least not at this point.  Later on, he will let them in on the secret of his death and resurrection, but the words will not sound so clear to the disciples as they do to us.

I keep looking for something that will explain the disciples' eagerness to follow.  Immediately.  Perhaps when they heard the words "Kingdom of heaven" they saw a vision -- maybe those words conjured up a dream.  What kind of dream could it have been?  What did they think the kingdom of heaven was, that made them want to get up and start fishing for people?

What could someone say to you that would make you want to leave everything behind?  What is so good that you will risk everything for it?

The Kingdom of heaven.  A place where there is enough.  Where you don't have to lock your doors.  Where the leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations, or for you.  A place where those crushed by life will be restored.  A place where they would finally be out of debt, forgiven, free.

Is that what it was?  Is that what made them follow?

What could someone say to you that would make you want to leave everything behind?  What is so good that you will risk everything for it?

Friday, January 17, 2020

Just Mercy

Last Friday my husband indulged me by going with me to the movie "Just Mercy", which had just opened up in our community.  It's not that he didn't want to see the movie, but that I had read Bryan Stevenson's book in 2015, shortly after moving to this community from Minnesota.  I remembered the strong emotions the book elicited, and its stories that put a human face on many death-row prisoners -- some of them guilty, some of them innocent.  I remembered its main story well, about Walter McMillan, framed for a murder he did not commit, and the irony that his story took place in Monroeville, where Harper Lee wrote "To Kill a Mockingbird."

Very near the beginning of the movie is this small vignette, which I remembered from the introduction to his book.  Bryan Stevenson is still a law student, and he is going to visit an inmate on death row for the first time.  He doesn't know the young man, and he doesn't have good news.  He is anxious about the contact on many levels.  He wonders if this inmate will be bitter and abusive to him.  But when he goes to the prison, that's not what he finds.  He finds a young man who is much like him, who had a similar church background, sang the same songs, lived in similar kinds of experiences.  He tells the young man that he will not be executed in the coming year, and he reacts as if it's the best news he ever heard.  Now, he says, he can invite his wife and children to visit him, because there's no danger that he will be inviting them on the day of his execution.

They ended up talking well over the one hour limit (which raised the ire of the prison guard).  As the angry guard pushed the prisoner back out of the room to his cell amid Stevenson's protests, the young man suddenly burst into song, "Higher Ground."  He sang with conviction in a deep baritone voice,

Lord lift me up and let me stand
By faith in Heaven's tableland
A higher plane, that I have found
Lord, plant my feet on Higher Ground.

Stevenson says that in that moment he experienced grace.  He did not expect to receive hope from this young man on death row.  He wondered how many people we meet, in how many circumstances, we do not really see.

The words Jesus speaks in this week's gospel are his first recorded words in John's gospel.  They are all provocative in their own way.  "What are you looking for?"  "Come and see."

But today I am thinking that it is the third time that is the most powerful.  Andrew brings his brother Simon to meet Jesus.  Jesus looks at Simon and sees him, and says.  'You are Simon, son of John."  But that's not all he says.  He continues, "From now on you will be called Cephas" (which means Peter).  Jesus sees Simon, and he sees a Rock.

Bryan Stevenson has spent his life working for justice for those many of us do not see.  He sees people battered by life experience, struggling against disability, some wrongfully imprisoned, some trying to rise above the worst they ever did.  But before he could help them, he had to see them.  It's not as easy to do as it is to talk about it.  But it is a moment of grace.  Both to see -- and to be seen.

How many people do we meet, in how many circumstances, that we do not really see?