Princeton University Religious Life

Called Together

The Rev. Dr. Alison L. Boden
Princeton University Chapel
January 22, 2017
Matthew 4:12-23


            At this time in January each year the churches are encouraged to preach and to reflect upon Christ’s calling of his first disciples.  After all, we have just celebrated the Advent of the Messiah’s arrival, then his birth, his family’s forced migration to Egypt to escape the pogrom of Herod against all Jewish baby boys.  We’ve celebrated the young man Jesus’ baptism by John, and now it is time for him, as it were, to have the “launch” of his ministry.  This is as close as the Bible gets to an initial public offering - and Jesus is inviting some very ordinary people to join his organization and to invest in his project at its outset.  This team of founders is comprised of guys who catch fish for a living, and presumably not much of a living at that.  What I particularly like about Matthew’s telling of the call of the very first disciples is that they are called together, in pairs.  I’d like to reflect with you in these minutes about what Jesus’ ongoing call to us can mean - both his call to us as individuals and especially the ways in which we, too, are called together

In what ways might you be hearing Christ’s voice, and call, and how does he ask you to follow him?  You are certainly not being called to save the world.  That’s Christ’s job.  It’s covered.  So what other words might be coming to you, or feelings, or hunches, as you pray, walk, listen to music, read, eat, exercise, knit, or, God forbid, listen to sermons?  I believe that God and Christ communicate to us sometimes through what we call our conscience.  Has your conscience been poking you, wheedling you, sneaking up on you?  In what directions does it lure you or are you sure that you are not being called to any new attitude, efforts, belief?  Are you sure that you never have been?  Please keep listening anyway, in case you feel something that you identify as a new direction for you, albeit separate from the concept of “call.” 

So, we’ve ruled out saving the world.  That leaves a lot else!  Sometimes we are called by Christ to the gentlest and most local of actions, like to extend caring and a deeper friendship to those around us or to one person around us.  Holy work.  Sometimes we are called to do costly things - things with deep ramifications for our lives, such as to get out of relationships of any kind that have become toxic, that perpetuate any kind of harm, that justify meanness (and hopefully never violence), that tear down rather than build up.  Sometimes we are called to make a new thing happen, and sometimes we are called to help an old thing thrive.  Sometimes we are called to speak, and sometimes we are called to shut up and listen.  Sometimes we are called to get going, and sometimes we are called to just be still.  Sometimes we are called to advocate for others, and sometimes we are called to advocate for ourselves.  We are always called to speak the truth as best we can discern it, wherever we find ourselves.

As we consider the small and large things to which we’re discerning a call some things to keep in mind are these.  (These might be particularly helpful if you are not a person who feels they’re experiencing the clearest direction from our Lord.)  First, who are you - how do you understand your identity and also what you are good at.  Answering any call well will involve a thorough stock-taking of what you have to work with, and that’s based in who you are, what you know, the gifts you’ve been given, and where you find yourself at this moment in your life - both physically and spiritually.  Of your God-given talents, which ones could you deploy now to whatever you are led to see as holy work?  Are you an artist, a word person, a numbers person, all of the above?  Are you an organizer, follower, motivator, techie?

Which brings me to my second point of consideration: how do you express yourself?  How do you act?  What vehicles do you use?  Writing, parenting, singing, teaching, researching, marketing?  What well-worn ways of being, tried and true, do you have to contribute as you discern Christ’s voice calling to you in whatever good boat you are seated in?  The first disciples were fine people engaged in good endeavors.  Jesus called them to a new level of fishing - of doing more of what they could do.  What more can you give the Lord of what you do well? 

And third, as you listen for a holy voice nearby on the shore, think about what gives you life.  Where is your joy - where does it reside - either quietly or bombastically?  What makes you come alive?  Rest assured that is God-given.  Maybe it’s kids.  Maybe it’s education at any level.  Maybe it’s faith.  Maybe it’s nature.  Maybe it’s science, or literature, or spelunking, or any active endeavor.  Maybe it’s games, or contemplation, or cooking.  Really - the things that make you most alive are the treasures you always can thank God for.  As you listen for the call about where to serve or what to do, even in an infinitesimal way, reflect upon what gives you life and know that more of that thing is a wonderful way to engage with God and Christ.

Now let’s think about how we are called together - not called to “parallel play,” but truly called together to a shared discipleship.  The question, “Who is Jesus Christ for me today” is always timely, but I especially am intrigued always by the question, “Who is Jesus Christ for us today?”  We do belong to a global community of disciples, and we are called, as were Simon and Andrew and James and John, to work together for the coming of the Reign of God.  Who is Christ for us today?  How shall we manifest his love, presence, and promises in our shared and public life?  How are we disciples together, and what is Christ calling us to do and be?  

This is inauguration weekend, a moment that people across the political, social and religious spectrum believe to be extremely important, a turning point, a very critical moment.  There is broad agreement that we are in a new political reality with massive and long-lasting ramifications.  I know from my conversations with a number of you that this community of faith comprises people from all political perspectives and voting histories, from around the world, including any number of international people who have many opinions but can’t vote.  We have differences of identity and region and denomination and theological perspective.  All of this diversity is what continues to make me want to work here!

 Different as we are, the grounding element for our discipleship together is none other than the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Saying that is the easy part, inhabiting a Gospel vocation - together - is the hard part.  Beneath our political persuasions, nationalities, races, sexual identities, genders and everything, we wish to be faithful to the Gospel.  Can we agree on what that means?

I’ll proffer some ideas, based not in response to particular political actors but to issues.  An immediate question amongst us is whether millions of citizens will continue to have health insurance.  Is there Gospel guidance?  I am certain that God and Christ see no difference in value in human beings and that all persons have a right to live an equally healthy life, regardless of their income.  How shall we Christians act?

There may be, if political promises come true, a ban on refugees entering the United States.  How does this square with a Gospel imperative to love one’s neighbor, to aid those in peril, and to practice at all times a ministry of hospitality?  There have been political promises to ban, to register, and to intern the Muslims among us.  Nowhere does Christ’s Gospel ask us to discriminate against or harm people from other religions, no matter what we think of their truth claims.  Rather, we are to be the light, the beacon, of understanding, grace, and extravagant welcome.  We are always called to practice love.

And there have been calls for a return to the practice of torture.  God help us!  Christ was tortured publicly before his execution, and of this he did not say, “Go and do likewise.”  On the contrary.  We become what we hate when we become like them.  Jesus identified with, he hung out with, and he died for the supposedly useless, the truly wrong, and the genuinely bad.  This past week my husband reminded me of a phrase in the Barmen Declaration, written by pastors in Germany in 1934 as they resisted the political corruption of their Church.  They affirmed, “We reject the false doctrine that there could be areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ.”  Indeed!  There are no areas of our life that are outside the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  Let us not attempt to separate out political areas of our common life and say they are unrelated to our faith life.  Let us hold up the Gospel as a mirror in every instance and see what it will reflect back to us, and compel us to do.  Christ is always recruiting, always calling new disciples for his project of salvation, a project both begun before the advent of time and still always a start-up.  I am so grateful for the privilege of discerning with you the way to be disciples together in the days and years to come, for we are indeed called together.


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