St. Philip Presbyterian Church
August 12, 2012
As we begin the Gospel reading today we find Simon who is called Peter and his brother Andrew tossing their nets into the sea. They had accompanied Jesus on at least one journey and while Jesus was temporarily residing in Capernaum he had allowed them to return to their old occupation. Jesus issued an invitation for them to follow him and listen and watch him work. They walk a little further and he saw James and his brother John sitting in the boat with their father mending nets and called out for them to join him too. Listen for the word of the Lord as we hear him call to the out to ordinary people, just like us, going about their daily business.
16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him.
19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets.20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
This is the word of the Lord…
Let us pray. Oh Lord, we come before you with grateful hearts for this day you have given us, this time to gather and worship together and for the time we spend in your presence. Open our hearts and minds to the words you have for us today. Amen
There are moments in time that can’t be caught by a camera’s eye but they stay in the eye of your brain long after they have passed and call out to you again and again. One such moment is a day in the market in Akobo. It was just a split second flash that has stayed with me, resurrecting its view from time to time when I question why Jesus called me to Akobo.
"Thousands of child soldiers are now
running in South Sudan anxious
for their future - (wishing) to trade
their guns for games, their bombs
books and their hurt for hope"
says Mr Ali Mahdi, National Director
SOS Children's Villages Sudan.
Photo courtesy ofhttp://www.soschildrensvillages.org.uk
It is the flash of a young boy, long and lanky arms and legs, thin as a rail body as he skitted through the market with an AK47 strapped to his back. Our eyes caught and held each other for a brief second as he tipped his head in surprise at seeing me there. Then he was on his way and I never saw him again. I shook my head, as I realized he was no older than my grandson Alex. My Alex, marching his way through his first year of high school, full of fun and life and excited by all the adventures a freshman football player can experience. I was stunned by the contrast between these two boys from worlds so far apart. Alex, reveling in the joy of life in the US and the possibilities that lay before him; this young boy, with a look of fear on his face, and blank eyes that had seen too much for one so young and had lost all hope, racing through the market with a gun strapped to his back, his face indebilbly stamped in my memory.
There are words on a page that reach out and call to your heart strings and like the image of the boy in the market, they stay in the eye of your brain long after you have read them. This is the story of an independent NGO working in South Sudan, bent on redeeming people, not in a spiritual sense, but to buy them back and set them free. People who have been conscripted by the Arab Muslims from the north against their will and held in slavery. The story is of a young girl, an ordinary girl like many in our congregation, working at the local mall selling clothes in the GAP, who heard the call of Jesus and answered the call to raise money to buy the slaves back from their captors, made a trip to South Sudan and recorded some of their stories as they were freed…
|Photo courtesy of
From a young mother… My father was running away. He didn’t go far. The Arabs were on horseback. They shot my father. They shot my husband. His name was Keul. He tried to defend us, but he had only his shield and fighting stick. The Arab’s bullets went through his shield. I saw him shot down in front of me. Everyone started running, but the Arabs shot anyone who ran, so I stopped running. I was separated from my little daughter. I have not seen her since. The mothers of our congregation have their children to love. She longs for hers.
|Photo courtesy ofhttp://www.twylah.com/UNICEF/tweets/221306131350433793|
From a twelve year old boy…Everyone from our camp, who wasn’t killed, was tied to a long rope. I saw the Arabs kill four older boys who tried to flee. They tied them together and chopped their heads off with pangas. The Arabs said we would be killed in the same way if we tried to escape. Our boys play with their friends, track mud in the house and leave things in their pockets for us to wash. He watched his friends die.
|Photo courtesy of|
From a young girl… Muhammad beat me with a stick and broke my nose we were brought to a camp and made to study the Koran and those who were slow in learning were denied food and water. Five girls tied to horses. I slept outside with the cattle, my bed was cattle dung every night for three years. Our girls worship freely, sleep warm and safe in their beds at night. Her bed was cow dung.
The story goes on to say the leader of the group told her “It hits me sometimes. Like this is an evil that screams to be crushed.” If we open our eyes and look we can see Jesus calling through their tears and their suffering and their stories.
|Photo courtesy of |
Sometimes it is the images on a movie screen that call out to our souls as the images play across the screen. As I watched scenes of the Africa I have come to love play across the screen I watched a story of determination unfold as well. It is the story of an 84 year old Kenyan man determined to do whatever it took to learn to read and receive the education the government promised. As the story unfolded images of the Africa that calls to me filled the screen interspersed with an old man’s memories of a harsh time in Kenyan history when the Mou Mou tribe rebelled against the Brittish Colonists. Scenes much like what the people of South Sudan are suffering today…No matter what obstacles they threw at him he persevered. Not only standing strong for himself in the face of adversity, but setting an example of fierce determination and never dying hope to the young students he learned with, not only learning, but teaching about their history and culture as well.
It is also the story of a young teacher who defended his right to learn. She stood strong in spite of opposition from local people, government officials, in spite of false accusations that threatened her marriage and standing as a teacher. She stood tall and proud, and reached out as Jesus called her to defend the rights of one man. Our elders have built prosperous lives because of their education and live in places like Parkwood. At 84, he studies by candlelight in a mud hut. Our teachers teach in freedom, she fought for his.
Mogue, the 84 year old student, taught the school leaders the day he left his remote village behind and went to Nairobi to fight for the teacher that fought for him, trading his only goat for a ride. He hobbled into a government meeting and demanded to address the leaders. He stripped his jacket and shirt, turned his back, held his head high and slowly raised his arms to expose the scars that stripped his back. He stood there as he told the education leaders these are the scars of fighting for freedom. They whipped me until I bled. They chopped off my toes. I had a wife and two children I watched massacred before my eyes. These are the scars of a generation that fought for the right for you to be here. Bring her back.
A thought crossed my mind as I watched the scene unfold, an image really. The image of Jesus on the night before his crucifixion, the whip marks across his back streaming blood, as he answered the call of God to save us all.
And between the scenes of the film and the history it records, there stands Jesus holding out his hand, calling them all to never give up hope and reminding them they are never alone.
Many of these stories of these horrible atrocities are our stories as well. They have been lost in our freedom, our peace and in our prosperity, but they are the stories embedded in our history. They are stories of families running in fear in the dead of night, escaping marauding soldiers and “wild Indians”, and they fleeing from “us”. Stories of people captured, removed from their homes and families, sold into slavery. Stories of men who watched their families murdered before their eyes. Stories of women who had their children ripped from their arms. Are the stories of our past so different from the stories being played out throughout the world today?
Many of you in our congregation have fought them on foreign lands. Chidren of this church fight them today in Afghanistan, Iraq and other places throughout the world. You and they have seen Jesus calling and answered.
Fredric Buechner tells us "the place God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the worlds deep hunger meet”. That place does not have to be the wilds of Africa, Afghanistan, Iraq. That place is where Jesus is standing with his hand out, calling you.
He may be calling you down the hall to answer the phones in the office. He may be calling you to serve on a church committee that you hadn’t considered. Jesus calls many in this church to visit the hospitals offering his hand of love, care and compassion. To me, that is answering a far greater call than me going to Africa. I can’t do it.
We have a white flower on the table this morning to honor the life of Jim Mc Gwiggin. Jim heard Jesus calling and answered when he answered the call to serve as a deacon. Many others, down through the ages in our church history, have heard Jesus calling and reached out, grabbed his hand and answered the call. From the founding members who risked all when they took out mortgages on their homes so that we can worship here today. A few others come to mind, and I am sure you can add many others to the list as well. Louis Bradley and his beautiful cards and words of inspiration that reached half way around the world to a remote village in Africa, who not only lifted me but others around me who came to recognize his envelopes and waited for the beautiful pictures to come out. Nancy Hilger and her gentle teaching, Kay Lynn and her pantry, Hal Shane and his nurturing, our Stephen Ministers and those who have answered the call to serve on presbytery staff positions and committees. Those who teach VBS, Sunday School, open their doors to small groups and volunteer in the office. The list is too long for me to mention, all have reached out to Jesus calling and answered. You are the ones writing the legacy that will be carried down through the years in our church’s story.
Jesus stands with his arms out calling you to provide food for the hungry, clothes for the poor, pray for the needs of the world, or to drop a check in the offering plate to support the works and missions of this church and his church as a whole. And some, do not yet know where Jesus is calling, and that is ok. The important thing for all of us is to reach out. Reach out through prayer and discernment. Stop and listen and learn where he is calling you.
There is a point on the road to Granbury, just before you enter the town, where, the hill rises to meet the sky and for a split second, the world before you disappears. You hang, for a moment, not knowing what lies ahead. Yet, you keep going, trusting the road will continue on the other side.
It is like that when you hear Jesus call. That is the point, where the road meets the sky for you, that moment, you are suspended in time, where you reach out in faith and trust the road will lead to where Jesus is calling. One more turn of the wheels and it is all laid out in front of you and the road becomes clear. That is the point where in the blink of an eye, the turn of your wheels where you meet Jesus. Reach out and touch his hand. Trust him to lead you to the place, to the work he is calling you to.
It is easy to think, I can’t do that, I am not qualified. I don’t know how. Who me? Are you kidding? But think again. Ponder for a moment, just who has been called since the beginning of time.
Many of you have known me for years. Many were surprised when I first talked about being a missionary. I know the only time I ever heard Steve Jester completely speechless was the day I called him up and said, “Hey Steve, I want to be a missionary.” You’ve heard my stories before, but there are no words to describe the feelings. The doubts, the fears and just like Moses and others down through the ages, I said, “Who me? Are you kidding? I’m no one special, I don’t have the education, heck, I don’t even have a job right now.” And the list went on. No matter how many objections I could come up with Jesus kept calling.
There was a cartoon on facebook this week, Jesus telling someone, where there was one set of footprints that is where he carried them. Those long grooves over there? That is where I dragged you. Sometimes we go willingly sometimes we are dragged, digging in our heels. The moral of the story is Jesus doesn’t call the extraordinary he calls the ordinary to extraordinary things. I can relate to that cartoon. There are grooves that reach from here to Ethiopia as I kept asking, “Are you sure?”. There are one set of footprints going to Akobo and back.
In Genesis God called out to Abraham, a successful rancher and shepherd, an ordinary business man of his day. Abram didn’t know where God was calling, he just trusted and answered and allowed God to lead him.
In Exodus he called Moses, also a shepherd. David the youngest and smallest of his brothers. Mary, a young girl, looking forward to her wedding day. Joseph, a carpenter. Jesus called the disciples - fishermen, a tax man, a physician, a tent maker, and in the words of Warner Bailey a few weeks ago, “Judas a self-proclaimed rat fink”. … down through time and history God calls the ordinary person, just sitting there doing their job on an ordinary day. Down through time and history when Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John were cleaning their nets Jesus has reached out his hand and called. Down through time, ordinary people like me and you have answered.
This is a great time in the history of our church and I believe Jesus is calling us to do great things. It is time to carefully and prayerfully discern where Jesus is calling us next. It may be time to throw out some of the old and make room for new works and new missions. It is time to open our hearts and our minds and our doors to the new and exciting things we are being called to do, as individuals and the church as a whole.
The Rev. Neal Presa, was elected moderator of the 220th General Assembly (2012) Presa, said he “brings a pastor’s listening heart and a non-anxious presence” to his new role as moderator, called for the whole church to be missional, which he said “at the very center and circumference is to be gathered and sent where God is at work, in the church and in the world, meeting people eye-to-eye and face-to-face and to see Jesus Christ alive in them.”
Jesus calls us from the words of John 13. In this chapter we find Jesus raising from his last meal, removing his outer clothing and wrapping a towel around his waist. Taking on the role of a servant. He washes the feet of each of his disciples and pats them dry. Then he tells his disciples, and down through time, us as well, to go out and do the same for others, and if you do you will be blessed.
Remember the young girl I told you about earlier who traveled to South Sudan to redeem the slaves? I think she describes the feeling of answering the call of Jesus best. “The thing she was doing no longer struck her as bizarre but seemed perfectly natural, something she was meant to do. A gusher of joy sprang from her stomach into her throat, and for a second she thought it would fly right out of her mouth in a birdlike cry, like lyrics that made you so happy you could not contain them inside yourself but had to sing them out loud.”1
I invite you to prayerfully consider where Jesus is calling you, to reach out, grab his hand and let your heart sing with the joy of knowing you too are answering his call and receive the blessings that are being offered to all of us.