Called to Life – Br. Geoffrey Tristram
Luke 5: 1–11
This evening I am so full of thanksgiving that after more than a year we brothers are able to welcome you back to our Tuesday evening Eucharist. It is so appropriate that our Gospel today is all about vocation: about how God calls us to life.
The monastery is here because in 1866 Richard Meux Benson, Charles Grafton, and Simeon Wilberforce O’Neil answered God’s call and founded the Society of St John the Evangelist. We are all here tonight because in different ways we too have heard the call of God in our own lives and have said yes.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls Peter, James, and John to follow him, and they say yes. It is one of those passages that give me goose bumps, as I imagine what it must have been like to have had Jesus come up to you and look into your eyes and say, ”Come follow me.” Those first disciples must have been amazed, puzzled, perplexed. “Who is this man who so draws us to him, and in whose presence we so profoundly sense the presence of God and the Spirit? Who is this man?”
And those crowds in this story are no different. Crowds and crowds, so many that Jesus was beginning to get swamped by them. He looks around at the lakeside and he sees two boats, and he turns to Simon who owns the boats and asks him if he would put out a little way into the lake so that he could better speak to the crowds. After speaking for a while to the people he spoke again to Simon and says, “Simon, put down your nets into deep waters. Simon did not want to do so. He had been at it all night and caught nothing: there were no fish around here. But because Jesus asked him to, he does so. And this time the nets are full to breaking with fish. It is as if this was a sign to show how Simon’s life was about to change. Until now, until this encounter with Jesus, his life was pretty shallow, but now his life was to be fulfilled in a way he could never have imagined. Simon began to live life abundantly. The same is true with James and John. When they had brought their boats ashore, they left everything and followed him.
What I love about these stories of Jesus calling men and women to follow him is that we are always told their names. Jesus does not just choose another few men or a couple women. It says he chose Simon and called him Peter. He chose James and John. When Jesus calls us to follow him he calls us by name.
In the following chapter of Luke’s gospel we read that Jesus spends a whole night in prayer before, the following morning, he chooses his twelve disciples. And the next day he chooses each one by name. I think that is very important about vocation. In Isaiah chapter 43 we read, “Thus says the Lord who created you, who formed you. Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name, you are mine.” Those disciples were called by name, and so are we. Remember those first pages of the Book of Genesis, when God created the heavens and the earth. Everything he created he immediately named. “God called the light day, God called the dome sky, God called the dry land earth.” God called me Geoffrey! God called you by your name, for we are created for relationship. God yearns to know and love everything he has created intimately.
The first important thing about vocation then, is that God creates us and calls us by name. The second is that when God calls us by name he calls us to be fully who we ARE and not to become somebody different!
There is a story I like about the Russian rabbi Zusia. One day some students were talking with him and the first said, “Rabbi Zusia, I am afraid that when I appear before the Holy One he will ask me, ’Why did you not have the faith of Abraham?’ A second student said, ‘I am afraid that when I am before the Holy One he will ask me, ‘Why did you not have the patience of Job?’ Then a third student said, ‘Rabbi I am afraid that when I stand before the Holy One he will ask me, ‘Why did you not have the courage of Moses?’
Then they all asked Rabbi Zusia, ‘Rabbi, when you appear before the Holy One which question do you most fear?’ Rabbi Zusia answered, ‘When I appear before the Holy One I ‘m afraid he’ll ask me, ‘Zusia, why were you not Zusia?’”
So often we look around and compare ourselves unfavorably with others. ‘I wish I were really intelligent like her. I wish I were as confident and accomplished as him. If only I had her gifts. But God made you to be YOU. And God does not make mistakes! He does not create you and say, ‘I want you to be like him or her.’ God calls you to be more the ‘you’ that God had in mind when he created you. My vocation is not to become like someone else, perhaps the image of a saint who I think I should be like, but to become more ‘me’. My life is about becoming more that wonderful person whom God created me to be. I am not there yet. Sin and selfishness and pride all hold me back, but I do dare to hope that, by the grace of God, I am on the way! I believe God longs for each of us to become more and more that marvelous person God created us to be. There is a great Psalm, number 139, which puts this beautifully: ‘for you created my inmost parts: you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will thank you because I am marvelously made.’
I wonder how often in your prayers you pray that sort of prayer? We are so often aware of how we have messed up, sinned, fallen short. Why not, when you are praying, try looking at yourself in the mirror, in the presence of God? Don’t look and say ‘O no another gray hair!’ No, look at yourself and say in holy wonder, “Thank you God that I am marvelously made.”
“I am made in the very image and likeness of God”: so look in the mirror at someone who is marvelously made in God’s very image, and give thanks.
Every day God calls us to become more fully who we were created to be: to grow in holiness day by day. St Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians puts it this way: “All of us with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” (Ch. 3: v. 18)
God wants us to become fully the person he created us to be and not to settle for anything less: to become so alive that when people see us they actually see something of God radiating through us and glorifying God. I think that is what those halos which painters put around holy people are about, trying to express the sense that they were reflecting God’s light. This church this evening is full of extraordinary people – you and me. Each one of us is a unique vocation. Each has been called into being by a loving God, and called by name. God longs for each of us to become the unique person that God made us to be, and to reflect the glory of God out into the world.
So what is your vocation? Who are you at the deepest level? When Jesus looks at you and loves you, who does he see? What is it which truly makes you come alive? Have you discovered it yet? Is God inviting you to take a risk and to go deeper?
You can be sure that like those first disciples, God will never abandon you to a life lived in the shallows. In today’s gospel, Jesus I believe offers us a challenge and a promise.
The challenge is, “Let your nets down into deep waters”.
The promise is, “You will be filled to overflowing with abundant life.”
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Wonderful. Thats all I can say.
Today is 2/22/16 and as I sit here with the sun rising I want to share that the message you wrote in 2011 has had a powerful effect on me this beautiful morning. I have been in a low spot with my health for several months, nothing terrible, just adjusting to my body getting older. Psalms 139 is reminding me that I need to be the best Marilyn I can be today, not the Marilyn I was yesterday! The messages I receive from ssje are powerful and I appreciate them whenever I read them, God bless all of you for sharing your faith. I am truly thankful.
Excellent sermon, Br. Geoffrey! Encouraging and inviting … I am listening to your advice to “Let your nets down into deep waters” … and trusting that I will be filled to overflowing with abundant life, … in due course!
When I think on my inadequacies as compared to people I admire I imagine how puny my faith must look in Gods’ eyes. My self flaggelation stops when I go to scripture. I read about Moses’s insecurities, Peter’s denial, Davids’ mistakes, Martha’s complaints’, Jesus own very human cry of forsakedness on a cross that was ours, not His to bear. This God who created all of us as immortals, allows us to run from Him, even ridicule and hate Him, yet provides the Christ for an open door back to His presence. We have been given a lifetime to discover we are loved as deeply as those unique individuals in scripture who also were totally human, broken, suffering, handicapped, flawed, sceptical, rebellious. God promises to transform us daily as we accept the working power of the Holy Spirit to guide us into truth…and into becoming a Christ – bearer (Christopher) especially for those whom we label marginalized or have deformities that cause us to cry to God as to why. They are no less loved. Nor are they mistakes. We are all myriad states of imperfection heading towards the promise of perfection. God promises to restore all things to wholeness in His kingdom. We are called to be the daily love, forgiveness, healing and restoration in our corner of this world as much as God gives us the ability, as much as we can accept our responsiblity to really love.
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Thanks for letting me return to this. At many times in my life I have felt God call me to go deeper, and was shamed or alienated particularly in the church as a result. The fish in the depths are unfamiliar, cold, slimy and unwelcome in a world suffering from terminal niceness. However, I am finding my solace in being who God created me, and when I speak from this place of strength, rather than the pain and suffering of not being like the others who have settled for the superficial answers, I find myself in a place of loving and understanding, if not one of being loved and understood. And it’s all good.
When I was young I did not like the name, Christopher or Chris, I was given. I think it maybe because I was the only one in my school and my friends that had this name. I wasn’t like everyone else. I was not John, Fred, Bob, Rodney, Peter, etc. I was Christopher. It was unique. But as I grew up, I changed and grew to love my name. It represents the something that I have had to work for to grow to love and continue to seek its true meaning.
This sermon makes me think deeply. Number one, how overwhelming the choice must have been for Simon , James and John to drop everything and follow Jesus. I find myself wondering how I may do the same. How can I make a change in my life and answer Gods call. I hear him calling me by name, but I don’t know how to begin my journey in his service. In prayer, I ask God to show me his will, to help me put my trust in him. I fear the same as the rabbi Zusia. Being asked by God upon my judgement ” why were you not the Allen I created?”
I’m not sure that I agree with brother Geoffrey’s statement that God does not make mistakes. What about the unfortunate individuals who were born with severe deformities? I do agree that we are all fearfully and wonderfully made because the human being is such a marvel such a miracle. And I’m not sure I agree with his statement that we are created “to be ourselves.”I think we have been created to be conformed to the image of Christ to be transformed and not left to be ourselves thank God.
The “unfortunate individuals who were born with severe deformities” is a human perception and judgment, and unfortunate at that. These people are beautiful if only we have eyes to see with our hearts and with true wisdom. God does not make mistakes, and these beautiful ones are indeed made in God’s image. We humans make the mistake when we refuse to see what and how God sees.
Br.Geoffrey, thank you for this good sermon.
I am reminded of a little pupil I taught who had many emotional problems. His mother had tried to kill him when he was an infant. His 80-yr-old grand-mother was raising him. Once he came to me crying during recess on the playground. I asked his problem. He replied, “They’re calling me names!”
I found out that they were taunting him by calling him his own name. I worked at trying to build his self-image to be positive.
If God called out our name, would it be a positive or a negative thought for us? If it be negative, he can and does transform us to love our own name. We must love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves. I love who I am because God made me.
You raise a deeper issue for me here. How can I as a person and we as church be the bread of life to one another in hearing God’s call to our individual and collective vocations? I am not alone in letting my nets down into deep waters, and being told I come to the wrong results, or that I need to follow a prescribed and contrived set of choices in order to be filled to overflowing with abundant life. Fortunately we live in a rich diversity of people and tradition in the church, and need to remember to call and feel called exactly where we find ourselves and relate to in life. We can no longer accept others on our terms to fit our programs. When we seek to be transformed into the “same image” of the Apostle Paul, the glory can and does allude us all. Rather, I will be grateful, finding my brothers and sisters to repair my nets at times, to pick out seaweed or to deal with the big, scary sea monsters of the deep at other times. Whether it’s unveiled faces, rolled up sleeves or the vulnerability of being stripped naked by life changes, I will keep showing up to be moved and changed, and it’s good.
GRACIAS !!! I do thank you for making me aware of the challenge and the promise ..
“we are not to become somebody different”
Sounds too close to a half-truth.
Of course we are to become our full selves.
Of course, in gospel terms, that means we become different, changed persons, transformed.
To say that we are not to become somebody different is an odd way to state the truth that Saul, or rather St. Paul, was trying to tell us was so glorious about the gospel and the Spirit’s work. We shall all be changed. That change has begun. Thanks be to God. 2 Cor 3
Ah, Good Brother Geoffrey,To be sure there is much talk about being ourselves, etc. The reality is that we are quite malleable and even permeable and in fact over time will quite often not recognize ourselves. The self – so-called real self – may in fact be unrecoverable. God bless the Rabbi’s but medieval notions may not be much help. On the other hand vocation may be – not in the sense of self-discovery (some hidden essence) but rather in time how by heeding and following the call, the self changes. Which is not a bad thing. It is the call (what Brother Roger of Taize called the “theme” of one’s life), underwritten by the Spirit which allows us to be other than ourselves and yet true. So the search should be on the call and not so much on the self.
Best to you
Those of us who have throughout our lives so far worked at this “being ourselves” are (often) in need of encouragement and refreshment as well. In such cases it’s not the new call but the renewal of a standing call, long understood and taken seriously, to hear God’s word and respond faithfully. Being responsible and reliable as well as faithful in this calling is hard sometimes: it would be easier in some ways to take on a simpler occupation or let certain areas of work go by-the-by.
But that’s not one of the choices, not really. Thanks for the reminder to pick up the haversack and keep climbing. Prayers asked for sustenance along the way.
Yes, there are a lot of cold, ugly and slimy fish of the depths of the sea, and these too have names. I believe that this story gives me permission to gather them, love and explore them, even in a world, and often a church, that prefers the piety of neatly packaged nameless breaded frozen fish sticks. I feel called to be present to them in grace, in myself and in others.
Not sure whether my comment got through so I will repeat it. Brothers,Friends, commenters ,Jamie and team,interns,:you all are awesome. Thank you and thank God for leading me to you.
Now that I am retired and have all this time to study and read God’s word, I have found that new vocation. I allowed the daily demands of work to stand in the way of service in Christ’s. Christ was always there… as a refuge from the stress… an inspiration for, “why am I here?” But, He was not the primary vocation. Family and work took that forefront. I do not think I was any different than any other person between 20 to 50 years of age. That’s the shame of it.
Thankfully, I have made it to the “other side”… I can see, indeed, live this new identity in Christ Jesus.
Dear Br. Geoffrey,
Your words today helped me to see that I can attempt to follow Christ in a new way. Instead of worring about giving away all my worldly goods to get through “the eye of the needle”, I can concern myself first with giving away my need to be right (to feel safe), my need to be smart (to be admired), me need to impress (to feel as if I’m good enouth to belong) etc, etc, etc. I can start by giving away myself to build up the other and see where that leads me.
This so resonated with me. Many of you know me as Chepi but in reality God called me to be Josephine and today I claim my name. I ask that all begin to refer to me as Josephine. I know for some this may be very hard. My family has always known me as Chepi as someone once said to me: “Why be called by a child’s name?” and I rebuked that person but he was right. I so choose to continue the life that my parents chose for me. Chepi never grew up but Josephine remained fighting to get out. Today I reclaim my true identity. The name that God calls me to be. Josephine. Shout it out to the heavens and whisper it in the inner depths of who I really am. Called to Life. (There are some who lovingly call me Josie and you can, too if you wish. Thank you Br. Geoffrey for giving me the courage to become who God wants me to be.
PS I chose to put this on my Facebook page. Many may not understand.
Thank you so much br Geoffrey. I needed to hear that I don’t need to be someone different, but just to be the me who God called me by name to be. It is an insult to God to want to be someone other than how He made each of us to be. Blasphemous really. The media and peer pressure make us feel that we have to be different to be better. You need this or that product to make you this way. I feel as if it is Satans’ work in the world. Only when we truly seek God, do we realize that we need only be what God created us to be. We don’t need to attend to all the ads and hype which tell us to be more than we are and better than we are if we will just get this or that product. We will find that in order to put God first in our lives, we need to have faith in Him that all is well. He loves us the way He created us. If we just accept this simple fact of faith, then we can relax and just be.We will be dependent only on Him, and all will be well.
I endorse Lu Ann’s appeal for a book of your sermons.
I print off many of the Brothers morning readings, but it would be wonderful to have a book to take around with me.
I was the first child in the generations I searched through who was not born in Scotland. My Christian name was that of one grandmother (and had been gifted to dozens of Christinas before me.) None of my children have that name, and neither do my grandchildren. I have always had a sense of regret that this has happened – the thread that linked generations has gone, even though they are all their own persons.
Blessings for your wonderful words. Christina
Dear brother Geoffrey,
When are you going to give us a book of your collected sermons?
They are so completely marvelous.