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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Better than the best day at work (A03O)

Jesus would have had to be a heck of a salesman to pull me away from fishing with a “follow me.”
But I guess I’ve always been a reluctant disciple anyway.

What was I pulled away from to be a church musician? Steve Earle has a song about John Walker Lindh, "the American Taliban," that tries to give a more compassionate look at a person who might take up arms against his own country. The song is called "John Walker's Blues." It starts like this:
I'm just an American boy raised on MTV
And I've seen all those kids in the soda pop ads
But none of 'em looked like me
So I started lookin' around for a light out of the dim
And the first thing I heard that made sense was the word
Of Mohammed, peace be upon him
Refrain:A shadu la ilaha illa Allah
There is no God but God...
For Peter, James, and John in the first century, and for you and me in the twenty-first century, we know deep down that there's something seriously wrong. We also know that there's almost no way to extricate ourselves from the morass, and that even "moral" structures like the church are complicit in sinful structures. Somebody like John the Baptist, and then Jesus, proposes an alternative reality. For John Walker Lindh, it was "the word of Mohammed," a violent version of which he took to heart as an alternative way. The difference between the paths is the difference between life, peace, and non-violence on the one hand, and on the other the use of the structures of the oppressor (war, threat, and sanction) to replace one status quo with another. Scripture is pretty clear, as the gospel unfolds, that the disciples were imagining a political movement, possibly a violent one, that Jesus would lead. Jesus gradually revealed a different path, a replacing of power structures with service, as the core of his movement. Peter, James, and John left their careers as fishermen to follow Jesus, I think, because they had also heard John the Baptist, and knew something was wrong and wasn't going to get better. They saw a different way that pulled them into a new life.

What was I pulled away from to become a church musician and prayer leader? I guess I wouldn’t be so much like one of the apostles as maybe a scribe or someone who had been brought up in the “system” and then found that Jesus made the system itself make more sense. His teaching was more consistent, helped me see my life in the context of the cosmos better than I had experienced before. I heard his “follow me” in the joy of music, and pursued him there, where he had sought me, I guess. And I got music and, apparently, if occasionally, fishing, to boot.

I’m aware that some of us won’t hear those words in Sunday’s gospel, as time-frugal deacons and presiders will end the gospel pericope with the stunning if familiar words of Jesus’s first message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The section about the call of the first disciples is optional, but it certainly helps flesh out the beauty of the scriptures’ evocative imagery. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,” that is to say, freedom is afoot. Freedom is on the march right in the land of slavery. Something new is bubbling under the noses of the fishermen at their nets, scraping to make enough to pay the taxes imposed by Roman occupiers and temple authorities. A different empire is calling for their and our allegiance, and the amazing thing is, it’s right before our eyes. Or rather, all we have to do in order to see it is turn around, and walk in a different direction.

Music for this Sunday (2014):
gathering:  Christ Be Our Light (Farrell)
resp. psalm:  Psalm 27: The Lord Is My Light (Haas)
prep rite:  The Summons (Bell)
communion:  Lord When You Came (Gabaráin)
closing: We Are Marching (Siyahamba) (arr. Bell)

gathering: The Summons
psalm 27 - Haas
prep rite: Turn Around
communion: Christ, Be Our Light
closing: We Are Marching

Most of this Sunday's songs were pretty obvious: “The Summons” is John Bell’s brilliant little text and tune that explores the lanes and byways of the road down which Jesus beckons us in a series of questions. “Lord, When You Came” is the English version of “Pescador de hombres” (Fisher of Men), whose gentle tune and humble text so warmly invite the participation of the singer into the life it describes.

I suppose it's mildly ironic, maybe sad, that like Peter, James, and John at the end of the fourth gospel (John 21:3ff), I find myself today in Jesus's post-resurrection narrative, beset by the encroachment of "real life" upon the world I had hoped for, and thinking to myself, "I'm going fishing."