Why are you on this planet? Such a question can be raised when we hear the words of Mark that, “immediately,” the fisherman left their nets to follow Jesus. It is a word Mark uses over and over again in his Gospel to convey a sense of urgency in the discipleship business. So again, why are you on the earth? Why are you a worshiping community? Why gather here at the First Community Bank to celebrate this meal of thanksgiving we call the Eucharist? Does our sense of mission and ministry have a sense of urgency to it?
The words of St. Paul today, out of his sense of urgency, may speak to us when he says: “The form of this world is passing away.” Perhaps you know this better than some. You had to shift from one reality to another as one form of your world was passing to another. Rather than scattering to the four winds you had to decide whether you were going to continue as a community of faith as Episcopalians. I admire you for your decision and the faithfulness you exhibit. Although in a different context from St. Paul, you too must be preparing for a different future, one that is not yet known except for one thing – God is with you and among you, for his love of you will never fail.
Sometimes in life we get wake-up calls, you know, those times when we are caught up short, perhaps confronted in some significant way when we ask ourselves about purpose and meaning. There was a moment some years ago when I was in the office of a parish church I was serving. It was late on a Saturday when no one else was around and things were pretty quiet. I was finishing up preparations for Sunday when I heard some laughter and conversation coming from an area of the back porch of the parish hall that faced a body of water. I walked back to find the source and looked out the window, undetected, to see two teenage guys drinking cheap wine and smoking funny cigarettes, if you catch my drift.
Without thinking too much, I popped open the door and said in as firm and authoritative voice I could muster, “Boys, get in here!” To my great surprise they actually did. They must have been so startled, perhaps scared, they didn’t know what else to do. We sat down in my office, I told them I wasn’t going to be calling their parents unless they did not cooperate, and I asked them the first thing that came to my mind, “Why do you think God put you on this earth?”
So we talked and the deal was in order for me not to call their parents, they had to come and see me each Saturday afternoon for three more weeks just to talk. I know it doesn’t always come out this way, but today one of those boys is a physician with Doctors Without Borders and the other is a businessman in his community with a wonderful family. They had their wake-up call.
I have seen similar things happen when I have joined young people on missions to El Salvador. High school teenagers often are forming a sense of how they believe they might spend their life vocationally, yet because of their experience on mission many of them change their sense of vocation radically to dedicate themselves to serving the oppressed, the poor, and the least of the world. I know of one young woman, now a priest, in part because of her experience among the people of El Salvador. She too had a wake-up call.
So too for us. If we are the Body of Christ as St. Paul understands us to be, there is a reason for our presence individually and as a community of faith. We, in our parishes and worship communities, live in odd times. The cultural realities around us are shifting faster than to which we can respond. Add to that our in-between time in South Carolina as we engage yet unknown possibilities for our future. The old ways of doing church are gone forever. Many of us are anxious, even fearful about our future. Yet we do have a choice and we, like those first century fisherman, are also being called to leave our nets, immediately.
We can live out of fear and hunker down in survival mode, or, we can see this time as a gift and call from God, even when gathered in a bank, empowered by the Spirit to reorient, plant our feet once again deeply in God’s love and listen for the possibility for us to re-awaken to our purpose for being as a community of faith in the discipleship of Jesus.
God, in Jesus, is always looking to restore his people in every age, in every time. It is why he called forth Jonah: “Get up and go to Nineveh.” It is why he called forth St. Paul who said in response: “the appointed time has grown short.” It is why his Son became flesh. It is why you have been called forth here in Cheraw, at a bank, for it is just as true today as it was when Jesus asked those first century fisherman to drop their nets and follow him to fish for people.
It may look different in every age, but we do know that God desires to be in relationship with us. Out of that relationship we take on God’s agenda, God’s dream of justice for the world, a world where all things are set right in our relationship with God, one another, and the entire creation. It is why you are on the planet. It is why you are here today.