Bishop Bill Ind, when he was Bishop of Grantham, once said that in reading Mark’s account of the call of the disciples it was as if Jesus walked along the beach and called the first people he met. Of course it wasn’t like that in reality – even though we have no means of knowing what the reality really was. But Bill Ind’s comment does underline something important for us to recognize about discipleship – and it is to discipleship, a shared journey with Jesus, that these men were being called. What is important is that the call comes to the most unlikely people in the strangest places. No one is excluded – every one is invited to set out on that journey of faith with Jesus.
Discipleship is essentially that – a journey of faith shared with Jesus Christ. And that is as true for each one of us in church this morning as it was for Simon and Andrew and James and John then on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Bishop Bob Hardy once said in a confirmation address that the Christian life was a day-by-day walking with Jesus Christ. And the disciples were called to follow Jesus, to walk with him – they literally walked with him for several years.
Jesus calls these four fishermen – just as a little later on in this chapter he saw Levi, the son of Alphaeus, sitting in his tax office and he called him. In fact Jesus called a motley crew by our way of reckoning. Management consultants would probably cast a very sceptical eye on the human resources skills of Jesus judged by the group he chose – which included at least one zealot who hated the Romans intensely as well as a tax collector who collaborated with the Romans! Not to mention the several hot-headed individuals he chose as well. The internal dynamics of the band of disciples must have been interesting, to say the least!
In fact there is a spoof Management Consultants’s report on the twelve disciples which concludes:
“It is the staff opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education, and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. They do not have the team concept. We would recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.
One of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind and has contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious, and responsible.” Yes, you guessed it, they recommended Judas Iscariot as Jesus’ controller and right-hand man! And the rest of the twelve they rubbished!
Yet it was that, by human standards, very flawed and unlikely group that Jesus chose to be his disciples. He called them to follow him, to learn from him and, as they were able, to share in his ministry. It was a journey that would take all of them far from their comfort zone; it was a journey on which they often lost the plot and just didn’t get what Jesus was on about; it was a journey on which they came to a realization of what he was about only slowly and fitfully; a journey on which they often disappointed and failed him. Yet it was a journey to the end of which all of them save one came – chastened, changed beyond recognition from the group that set out a few years before. They did so because they were, even in their worst moments, held by the love of God – a love that saw their potential and worked in them until it was achieved.
For Simon and Andrew, James and John read your name – for the call of Jesus to follow him was addressed not just to those men 2,000 years ago. The call comes to us also. Indeed it has already come to us – it came in our baptism. We were then made to share in the death and resurrection of Christ. But that call must be made intentional – we must at some time, in some way, realize exactly what it is to which we have been called and desire to go deeper. That had to happen to the disciples as well – when it happened for them we cannot for certain know. But it happened – and despite the difficulties and discouragements on the way they followed Jesus on that journey to the end. It will happen in different ways for each one of us, for God loves each one of us as a unique individual. He loves us as we are – but he loves us too much to leave us as we are. And so he invites us to take his call seriously and to follow him on a journey that will last for the rest of our life. On Thursday evening Sister Maureen of the Community of St Francis spoke to a small group of us about some of the new ways of expressing that call to discipleship all of which involved links in some way or other to a religious community. In that talk she often used the word “intentional”, a word I have already used this morning.
What characterizes all of those new approaches is that people make an intentional decision to follow Jesus Christ in a deeper way. They all recognize that there is more to the spiritual life than coming to church on Sunday. If our spiritual journey is to be fruitful there must be a commitment to set aside time in a disciplined way to deepen out relationship with God, undergirded and inspired above all by love.
But we do not all have to get involved with a religious community for this to happen – though most of us would probably benefit from some support (whether from a community or in other ways) as we try to take the call of Christ seriously and try to follow him and be drawn more deeply into his life and his love. For some it may mean having a Spiritual Director, or Soul Friend as some prefer to refer to them. The word “Director” should not make us think this is someone who tells us what to do. Rather it is a person more experienced in the ways of God, a person of prayer, with whom you can share the problems you experience in your spiritual life and who can help you see more clearly where God may be at work in your life. Above all they should be a good listener. They may be lay or ordained – and some of the greatest have been lay people.
The spiritual journey isn’t easy, of course, which is why help from others is often of great value. And that is exactly why the parish clergy are also seeking to provide a variety of ways within St Mary’s for deepening our spiritual life and helping us on our journey of faith. Those are deliberately varied – there are the evenings that introduce us to different approaches to spirituality – be they Benedictine, Franciscan, Carmelite or Jesuit in inspiration – and they are only examples of what has been on offer in recent months. Or maybe sitting quietly for half a hour reflecting on the gospel for the coming Sunday may be more your thing – which is what Lectio Divina on Saturday mornings is about. Or maybe a period of silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament may be what you find helpful – we do not adore the wafer in the Ciborium but the Lord it represents. It is a focus for our prayer to God through Christ (and many find a focus for prayer, be it an icon, a lighted candle or a cross, or the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, helpful). Or maybe some of the Teaching Evenings, like the one last Thursday, may help and inspire you.
My prayer is that some of the things on offer in the parish will help you to grow in your spiritual life and inspire you to make your journey more intentional. I end with a quotation I first met on a sabbatical course on Franciscan spiritual direction 12 years ago. It, too speaks of the spiritual life as a journey. It says:
“The journey becomes intentional to the extent that a person makes a commitment to give serious and consistent attention to the quest for holiness of life as a disciple”.
At its heart this is all about the extent to which we realize how deeply we are loved by God. And how much we want to respond to that love with our love. Putting it another way, has our spiritual journey become intentional?