Saturday morning, I finally got a moment at the end of an otherwise hectic week, and in the midst of busy Old Stone marriage preparation weekend, to bring my thoughts into focus for my message today. I was a little torn because I wanted to attend the women’s march that was scheduled to happen outside of my Public Square condo at the same time but was pretty sure that particular moment would be the one and only time I would have to write my sermon.
As the crowds started to gather beneath my window – 15,000 people according to the Cleveland Police – I was quickly distracted, however. Of course, I kept getting up out of my chair to take some photos to post to Facebook and Twitter, but there was something else drawing my attention toward the Square. I saw an elderly woman carrying a sign that read: “Feminism? I Can’t Believe We’re Still Having this Discussion!” I saw a little girl about 9 or 10 years of age with a sign, too. Her’s read: “I don’t want to live my life in fear.”
But the sign that really spoke to me was being held by a young woman in her 20s – she was about the same age as my daughter who lives in London. Her sign read: “This is what happens when you tell a woman to calm down.” It made me chuckle at first. I’ve known for years that you don’t tell any woman to “calm down,” especially the strong women in my life. But then I started thinking about my daughter, and the kind of world she is living in today, and all the things that Jesus promises her, and you and me: a world of peace, equity, justice and compassion. I thought about my grandmother, my mother and my beloved, Beth, and all the things they have worked so hard for throughout their lifetimes. The things they have endured, and they Christian faith and strength they have exhibited. I saw the grand dame of Cleveland, the Old Stone Church watching over the rally the way Old Stone has watched over so many of the historic events in our great city with a steadfast faith and with prayer.
It was then that I felt an acute sense of urgency about the day: I needed to be on the Square, and I needed to be there now. It’s where Jesus was going to be. And it’s where Jesus wanted me to be. My sermon, if I was going to have one at all, could wait. Besides, it is absolutely impossible to write a sermon about any biblical topic while there are 15000 women, men and children on your front lawn marching in solidarity against misogyny, racism, homophobia, racial inequality, religious intolerance, bigotry, nationalism, abuse of power and fear – in other words, all the things Jesus himself preached against and lived and died in opposition to.
Let’s not forget, Jesus was that amazing, 1st century, radical, cosmopolitan Jew who crossed just about every line and human division you could possibly name in order to reach us: religion, nationality, gender, ability, illness and disease, class and economy. And in the end, he crossed the line between life and death and restored us to God and God’s unwavering grace, all the while, holding out for us the promise of life eternal and life abundant.
I imagine that’s why those early fisher-folk responded to the call of Jesus with such a sense urgency, too. Simon-Peter and his brother Andrew, James and John, the sons of Zebedee dropped everything to follow Jesus – fishing nets, boats, even family. They followed “Immediately” says Matthew. Immediately they dropped their nets. Immediately they left their father.
In Hellenistic Greek the word is “Eutheos” – just to let you know that I’ve done a little homework here. It’s a word that shows up a lot in all three of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) – especially that one with the awesome name “Mark”, which uses the word “Eutheos” no less than 40 times in 16 short chapters. Mark’s gospel says that after Jesus was baptized, “eutheos” – “immediately” he saw the Spirit of God descend on him. And after that, “eutheos” – “immediately” the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness. It’s like the gospel writers want us to understand that now that Jesus is in the world, the kingdom of God is in our very midst, in the here and the now. We are a “Now Testament” people: Jesus calls and “eutheos” – “immediately” people follow.
Sure Simon-Peter, his brother Andrew, James and John, probably knew Jesus before that day at the docks. They had time to mull over, or consider who Jesus was or what his mission in the world was going to be. After all, Jesus lived in Capernaum at that time. Matthew’s gospel says that after John had been arrested, Jesus moved “up the lake” so to speak – to the small fishing village of Capernaum – a town of only about 1500 or so. Capernaum was a place where folks easily knew each other. They bumped into each other at the docks, in the market, or in the synagogue. I’m sure they knew Jesus before that historic encounter when Jesus actually called them.
But something happened that day, didn’t it? Something clicked there by the boats, the way Jesus’s call clicks in all of us – it stirred a sense of urgency within them until finally moments of indecision were replaced by a need to get up and go with Jesus; an acquaintance had now become a relationship of commitment. Eutheos!
Being a child of the church and a preacher’s kid, I wrestled with my call for a long time before I felt that sense of urgency. It’s been said that everyone likes sausage, but no one likes to know what goes into making the sausage. That’s how it was for me as a preacher’s kid; As a preacher’s kid, I had the insider’s view of the church – the late night phone calls, the grumbles and complaints, the gossips, the relentless committee meetings, the board meetings, the Presbytery meetings – none of them ever seeming to go anywhere! From my perspective, being a Christian seemed like you were always working on a great ship, the church, that never left dry dock, and I didn’t want any part of it. I wanted to get out and sail! And besides, everyone who had little or nothing to do with Jesus – the non-Christians in my world – seemed to be having so much more fun than the Christians!
And if you know me, you know that as a teen, I wanted to be a rock star, or an urban planner, a homesteader in the North West Territories, hunting, trapping, fishing – anywhere, doing anything else but with Jesus in the church.
But one day, Jesus got me. He shook my bed in the middle of the night and told me it was time to get up! It was time to tell people about just how much God loves them, and the world. It was time to tell folks the truth: there is a better path life than the one they’ve been living. So I got up, and Jesus made me a fisher of people, too!
Friends, sometimes God’s “Eutheos” – the immediacy of our call as Christians – comes quickly – kind of like those who have experienced love at first sight; other times it doesn’t arrive until we’ve wrestled with God and the inner voices for a while, or walked in relationship with God for a bit. But in the end, I believe, “Eutheos” – the “immediately” that the gospels keep talking about is that moment when everything finally crystallizes for us. It’s that moment when we know that we can no longer sit at home in the armchair working on a sermon while there are 15,000 people outside your front window crying out for justice, trying to find and build strength in one another and to spread a little light in an otherwise dreary world.
Maybe eutheos is that moment when you finally decide that you’ve got to get up and out of bed on Sunday morning and come and worship God, and not just because God needs you there, but because you’ve been overwhelmed by a sense of urgency about your own need to be there. Eutheos is that seaside-moment when you feel Christ calling you away from the safe and the familiar, the easy or the comfortable, and invites you be a part of the new and the now that he himself is ushering into the world – the “what should be and what will be” – the kingdom of God here on earth.
May God bless you today with a sense of urgency in your own life. May God strengthen you and bless you with courage so that you can drop what you are doing, come and follow Jesus and his word and become a fisher of people, too.