January 25th, 2015
St. Paul’s Within the Walls, Rome, Italy
“Have you lost your mind?”
“Will, you have really done it this time.”
These were the questions I asked myself on the first night in my new
strange home in Hong Kong two summers ago. It was unbearably hot, miserably
humid and the city smelled so foreign to me. Raised in a town of 2,500
people, I now found myself in a bustling metropolis of nearly 7 million.
Not to mention I was nearly 8,000 miles away from home.
Will, you have really done it this time.
That first night, while terrifying at the time, is something I look back
upon and smile about. It was the first night of my mission as a member of
the the Young Adult Service Corps – the missionary program of The Episcopal
Church. It was the start of a mission which would begin in Hong Kong and
eventually bring me here to work as the intern at St. Paul’s Within the
Walls Episcopal Church.
It was also the start of a mission in which many of my friends and family
would question my sanity.
Why do you need to go, they asked me?
You have a job here.
The answer was not an easy one – I felt called to go.
Each of the readings in today’s service are, at their core, about a call.
A call to go to a great city and proclaim the word of God in the case of
A call to change from violence to love in the case of Paul.
A call to drop the current work at hand, and follow Jesus in the case of
Have you been called to do something? And if you have, are you listening to
Perhaps you’ve been called to teach, to sculpt, to be a doctor, to be a
parent or perhaps to be a priest. If you have then you know that there is
little sense in trying to explain to friends and family what that call
Calls cannot be measured empirically.
They cannot be explained in charts and graphs.
And for those who are close to us, the lack of this evidence can drive them
It isn’t always about us though. Sometimes it is difficult watching someone
else, someone close to us, answer their own call.
In today’s gospel lesson we see James and John drop their nets and follow
Jesus. They were clearly answering a call. “Follow me and I will make you
fish for people,” Jesus exclaims. “Immediately he called them and they left
their father Zebedee in the boat.
“Immediately he called them and they left their father Zebedee in the boat.”
Now I have to wonder – what did Zebedee, father of James and John, think
about all of this?! My North Carolina country roots makes me think of an
angry old man standing up in his John boat, yelling “Boys, y’all get back
What is going on?
It is easy to romanticize this story by looking at it from the point of
view of James and John. But let’s think about the anger and fear that
Zebedee had for his children at their dropping their nets and abandoning
him to follow some stranger and “fish for people.”
“Fish for people?”
I doubt that James and John even knew what that meant when they heard the
words themselves that first time in a boat on the Sea of Galilee.
Nevertheless, they felt something. They didn’t know what it was. They
didn’t know who it was that was calling them. But they felt something. And
it didn’t matter that it was irrational, or was dangerous.
They dropped their nets.
They jumped out of the boat.
They left their family and they followed Jesus.
They followed what they could not prove to be right but what they knew in
their hearts to be true. They followed their calling, and Zebedee didn’t
But I’m sure that Zebedee was worried. I’m sure that it’s part of the bible
that was left out. The part about the grieving father – unable to sleep for
fear of what has happened to his sons.
I can imagine him and his wife pacing around their house waiting for their
boys day after day to come home and pick up their nets again. But that day
We never hear about Zebedee again in the bible – so who knows what really
happened to him. But we do know this : that his wife – Salome – was present
at the crucifixion of Jesus which says to me that Zebedee eventually comes
to understand the call – the call that drove his sons to drop their nets
To jump out of the boat.
To go and fish for people.
Callings can be painful and inconvenient not only to those who hear the
call but to the loved ones close to them as well. Zebedee is proof of this.
Callings can also be completely irrational – changing everything about a
person seemingly overnight. Perhaps it is then fitting that today’s gospel
reading about callings comes on the same day that we celebrate the
conversion of St. Paul on the road to Damascus.
Part of my job as an intern here at St. Paul’s is to do thanksgiving
blessings for newly-wedded Japanese couples coming to Rome. And in our
speech to these couples I always tell them about St. Paul. Specifically, I
tell them about St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.
“ Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is
not proud … And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the
greatest of these is love.”
St. Paul, I tell them, was an expert on God’s love, and the love that we
should have for one another.
But I don’t tell them the whole story. I don’t tell them about the dark
side of the Paul.
But Paul wasn’t always about love.
Paul was at was one time, a bad, bad man.
And as our Rector, Father Rios put it to our youth group last year, Paul
was like the Darth Vader of the Roman Empire. He was the one guy you didn’t
want to run into if you were a Christian back in those days. And he was
definitely the last person in the empire that you would find writing about
Jesus and the power of love.
Think about it.
Can you imagine Darth Vader writing poetry? I don’t think so.
But something happened. And in the blink of an eye, Paul was one day thrown
from his horse, blinded and converted to the very thing he had been trying
to stamp out.
He heard a call, and like James and John who came before him, he dropped
He jumped out of the boat.
He heard the call and he followed it.
I would like to ask you today to listen.
Listen. And not to the sounds of the city, the ringing of cell phones or
the rattling of windows.
Much like Jonah, James, John and Paul, we have all been called in some way
to serve God’s will on this Earth. Of this there is no question.
The question is, how have you answered that call? And how are you helping
other people around you answer their call as well?
Jesus said “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;
repent and believe in the good news.”
Well, my friends, the time is fulfilled. So I ask you:
Go into that great city.
Jump out of the boat.
Fall off of the horse.
Your call is waiting for you.