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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

About Discipleship: Gods 2x4s - 05/05/2019

Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Hello again friends! How’s the discipleship going this week?

I have a couple of stories I want to tell you that I hope may open up one of the experiences of discipleship our scriptures highlight this week – specifically, the lengths God will go to in order to get our attention in these lifelong disciple journeys of ours.

Sometimes I call it the 2x4 upside-the-head experience because it seems to me that when God really wants us to understand something or do something and we are just not getting it through our thick skulls, God will persistently try to get our attention, getting a little louder or more obvious with each attempt … even if God practically has to hit us upside the head with a 2x4 to get our attention. It’s not always a painful experience, although it certainly can be. Often it can be pretty humorous, if not immediately, at least in retrospect.

However it happens …. “Good grief,” we find ourselves saying, or perhaps something a little more colorful, “What are you trying to tell me, God?”

So the first story is part of my call story. You may already know that I felt called to a religious life very young. At 12 I decided not to be a nun and put that sense of call on the back shelf for a long time.

Then we fast forward through a lot of life and I’m in my mid-40s. Some of my kids had already left the nest. I was well into my marketing-communications career and in fact, climbing the career ladder and even thinking about starting a business. I was very happily and actively involved in my church community – I organized communion bread bakers, started a prayer shawl ministry even though I don’t know how to knit. I was a choir member, worship assistant, WELCA member. I couldn’t get enough really.

And I loved living in Negaunee … all the snow, the quick jaunt to Marquette and the big lake and so many mountain bike trails right out my back door. 

I was quite content, or I should have been, I thought. I couldn’t figure out why this idea of going to seminary and being a pastor kept creeping into my thoughts and imagination. It didn’t seem to make any sense personally, professionally, financially. So I just tried to push it down for several years, never saying anything to anyone. But it wouldn’t go away and only seemed to get louder and louder.

Still I was convinced that I knew best, so I went to talk to my pastor thinking he would talk some sense into me. I was sure he’d suggest that I would be smarter to just keep working my job and staying involved at church. I figured he would echo my concerns that I was just too old anyway – that ship had sailed, just like the roller derby ship.

And do you know what he said? He said he thought I could be a good pastor and maybe that actually was what God was calling me to.

Instead of leaving the office affirmed that the status quo was the way to go, I left enrolled in lay school and with the beginnings of plans to enter candidacy and seminary.

And there it was … that proverbial 2x4.

For Saul – who later becomes the Apostle Paul – this is a 2x4 experience in our reading from Acts today too. We are reminded, perhaps painfully, that Paul did not start out as a Jesus-following preacher and evangelist. He started out as an agent of Rome, which even after Jesus’ death on the cross had to contend with the growing pockets of people of The Way, as in Jesus’ Way, and more critically, the Way of the Risen Jesus.

Saul didn’t just grab up the random Jesus-follower who crossed his path either. He sought them out and shipped them to Jerusalem for persecution.

I think we can feel pretty certain that God tried to break into Saul’s heart before this incident today … perhaps through an encounter with someone who looked deeply into his eyes, or in a dream or some nagging voice inside that said what he was doing was a crime against humanity, God’s humanity.

But he must have pushed those voices and inclinations down because where we catch up with him on the road to Damascus today, God’s pulled that 2x4 out again. And this time, God gets Saul’s attention. Following a life-giving encounter with one of the people he would have been persecuting, Saul immediately “began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’” (Acts. 9:20)

Here’s another 2x4 example, from my own life. For years now, I’ve been interested in way the traditions of our indigenous siblings can teach us to be in better relationship with God’s creation, particularly, other animals.

It’s the kind of wisdom I think St. Francis of Assisi or St. Brigid of Kildare must have tapped into. We can learn a lot about ourselves or gain a new perspective by observing how others of God’s creatures behave and survive.

So for example, one of my favorites is spider, because I’m afraid of them, basically. So I was looking for reasons to like spider. And lo and behold, I read that in some native traditions, spider is said to be creator of the alphabet. Well, I’m a writer and that inspired in me a powerful appreciation of the spider’s web work.

So, anyway, this 2nd story I want to tell you takes place when we were living downstate in the Detroit area, just before we made a move over to the west side of the state near Kalamazoo and Battle Creek where I was going to start a new job.

I was excited about the job and also lamenting leaving parts of our life in the Detroit area, particularly some friends and all the dog training stuff Larry and I were doing at that time.

So anyway, for weeks on my way to the dog training classes, I was having these weird squirrel encounters. Squirrels are not anything out of the ordinary there, but this was different. They would run in front of me on the road all the time, like every time I drove to dog training. Or I’d see them in odd places, like sitting in a lawn chair or on a swing set or something.

Every time this happened, I’d think, “I should look up squirrels.” But then, I’d get busy and forget. Until, one time on the way to dog training, I was driving down the road and I had my window cracked open because, I confess, I was a smoker for years.

Anyway,… I was driving and ahead, up in the tree canopy, I spotted another squirrel. As I got close to it, it looked like it threw something. And I’ll be darned if a nut didn’t come right through that little crack in the window, pop me in the head and fall to my feet.

There was that dang 2x4 again. It definitely got my attention and in a humorous way too.

I laughed right out loud and I looked up squirrel as soon as I got home.

Squirrel, it turns out, is noted for its persistent work to get ready for a long winter, which can be a big challenge … like a move across state or, as it also turns out, quitting smoking.

I have to add something here, as I have been thinking about this story for the first time in years, it occurs to me that I was not a regular worshipper at this time in my life. I don’t even think I was quite sure I actually wanted to be a Christian.

Yet, God found a way to get through to me, even in my disbelief. I find a lot of hope in that realization. God finds ways to love us and reach out to us throughout these discipleship journeys of ours.

And this squirrel story also reminds me of the humorous scene that has taken place on the beach in our reading from John today.

We don’t know how much time has passed since the Risen Jesus appeared to the disciples and sent them out to continue the ministry.

 “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When (Jesus) had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’” (John 20:21-23)

But instead they went fishing. They’re trying to go back to their old ways as if nothing has happened at all. It’s time for one of God’s 2x4s. And so Jesus plays a little joke on them. Did you catch it?

The disciples decide to return to their lives of naked fishing and they catch nothing, all night long. When they start to return to shore in the morning, Jesus is waiting there for them. “You didn’t catch anything, did you, Children?” he hollers out at them, and tells them to cast the netS again.

Instantly they catch 153 fish! And they start to realize who he is. So they begin to making their way to the shore, Peter now dressed and soaking wet, and the others dragging the full net behind the boat. And there is Jesus, comfortably and patiently waiting for them on the beach …..  with fish already on the grill.

Now God’s got their attention. And God says to them through Jesus, not to go back to the old ways, but rather … feed my lambs, tend my sheep, follow me.

I think these are relevant and relatable stories to show us how God sometimes calls or incites us into discipleship, especially this weekend/today as we baptize Cohen Everett Long into the The Way of the Risen Jesus.

This is one very important way we uphold our baptismal promise to Cohen and all who we welcome through these waters. … we nurture the gifts of baptism in one another, including the gift of learning to trust God … we are promising to help Cohen trust the ways in which God stirs his passions and interests, and even one day breaks his heart and incites him to act on behalf of others. These will be the ways in which God will love to work through Cohen, for the good of creation.

And, Cohen will also at some point need to be reminded by his baptismal community, as we all must be from time to time, that in those times when he may not be listening for God or trusting God’s wisdom over his own, he shouldn’t be surprised if our persistent God pulls out that 2x4 to get his attention too.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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