Mark 1. 14-20, Lectionary 3B, January 25, 2015
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
An old Gather magazine tells the story of Ben and his mother. One of Ben's teachers gives him a unique exercise: If he had a million dollars, how would he solve one of the world's problems? For Ben, this is not just a school assignment - it is a faith-filled challenge.
Ben decides to tackle the problem of homelessness in his community. He is already aware of the church program Families Moving Forward where homeless families are hosted in the church. As Ben is working on this project, he is moved to tears. He cries out to his mother, "I just don't understand it, Mom. These kids don't even have a bed. Why do some kids like me have so much, and other kids have so little?"
This problem is no longer a theoretical project for Ben. It is a real challenge faced by so many. Yet he does not have a million dollars to build housing for the homeless or to provide social workers for these families. Ben's mother then encourages him to make a difference in a way he can: On Valentine's Day, instead of handing out cards and treats to his friends, he will donate one dollar for each valentine to Families Moving Forward. Ben and his mother continue to be involved in this program long after his assignment is finished. (From "Unlikely Disciples" by Allison Johnson, Oct. 2014 Gather p. 17-19)
Ben's story may not sound like a call story, yet it is. He doesn't have some grand vision from God, but he is moved to action. His teacher may not have known what a strong effect this project would have on him. That is where God comes in. God inspired Ben to make a difference in his community, even if it is a small donation.
This small child called by God to help the homeless is a stark contrast to Mother Teresa whom I talked about last week. Mother Teresa gave her whole life to helping the poor and homeless, a sacrifice that truly transformed her into a Saint. We are not willing to make such a life changing decision, and God might not be calling us to it. Yet, God does call us to more realistic ministries. We may not be a saint like Mother Teresa, yet God sees the saintly in us. God calls us to make small differences like Ben did. All of those small donations of time and money add up.
Last week was all about how God calls us - either in extravagant visions or in crowds shouting for change. Yet this week, the focus is on who. Yes, God calls the Saints to life-changing ministries. Yes, God calls seminarians to drop everything to become pastors. Yet God calls you too.
Take Sue Halpern, for example. Sue is the author of the book A Dog Walks Into a Nursing Home. Sue taught ethics to medical students. She knew the theoretical aspects to what she taught, yet she rarely experienced these dilemmas herself. Then, after her daughter went off to college and she had more free time from work, Sue realized that her dog Pransky was restless. Roaming through the woods behind her house was not enough for this labradoodle. Pransky was too smart to be content with a quiet life at home. She needed to work. So, over many long months Sue trained Pransky until she passed the test to become an official therapy dog.
Every Tuesday after that, Sue and Pransky head to the local nursing home and visit the residents. Sue quickly became amazed at how many of these people opened up when they started to pet Pransky. Almost every resident started the conversation by saying, "I had a dog once." Over the months, Sue became amazed at the resilience of these residents. Despite their many ailments, they found joy in seeing Pransky. A simple dog can make a big difference.
Sue doesn't talk much about faith in her book, yet it seemed like God was working through Pransky. God might have been calling Sue to something more when she first realized how restless Pransky was. Then, as they visited resident after resident, Pransky bought God's simple joy to these people.
Sue is another ordinary person called to ordinary ministry. Sue is someone just like us, and I think Jesus' disciples are like us too. Jesus intentionally chose his disciples not from the elite in his society, nor did he choose from the destitute or homeless. Instead, Jesus chose quite ordinary fishermen to be his disciples. As we continue to read Mark and see how confused the disciples are, we can put ourselves into their shoes and be just as confused.
So, when Jesus says, "Follow me, and I will turn you into fishers of people," (Mark 1:17 NET), Jesus is talking to us as well. We can do this in so many simple, ordinary ways. We may look at the Saints and think, "But they are so extraordinary! Certainly I can't be like them." Even so, we need not always seek out extraordinary opportunities to make a difference.
In our annual meeting today, we will hear and read about the dozens, if not hundreds, of ways that we as people of Zion have taken ordinary opportunities to make a difference for each other and in our community. Every Sunday, we welcome each other into this space where we worship God. Every Sunday, we welcome children into our basement to learn about God's love. Every week, many of you return to church for bible study, meetings, and other opportunities to brainstorm what God might be calling us to do.
Through our in-kind donations, we have fed families in Princeton, LeClaire, and Davenport. We have provided towel bundles to children in residence in Waverly and Ames. Through our financial donations, we have supported the larger Church, including programs like ELCA World Hunger, the ELCA Malaria Campaign, and Lutheran Services in Iowa. We also have supported local camps, Illowa, and Churches United.
What cannot be counted in our annual report is the many ways that you bring God's love into your everyday life. Your faith in God shapes how you care for your children and grandchildren, how you use your time in work or in retirement, and how you donate outside the church.
Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton recently wrote, We "should never discount the ways we bring the fullness of life to everyday existence. Our way of passing on wisdom, of forming community, of weaving together ordinary life events into a meaning-filled tapestry moves our communities beyond mere surviving to thriving...We are the people of an incarnational God. The extraordinary revealed in the ordinary, the infinite in the finite, Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary. The incarnation of God's love in Jesus makes all of our lives holy, even the ordinary. Especially the ordinary." ("Especially the Ordinary," July/August 2014 Gather, p. 18-20) Amen.