Lent 2

“When You’re Able,” Bob Ryder

Matthew 4:18-22
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. He said to them, ‘Follow me, and I’ll show you how to fish for people” and that very moment they dropped their nets and followed him. As he continued along his way, he saw two more brothers, James and John – the sons of Zebedee, mending their nets in a boat with their father. Jesus called to them, as well.  And likewise, these two left their father and their boat and nets then and there, and followed him.

“It’s not getting what you want. It’s wanting what you’ve got.” Sheryl Crow

Our Lenten Series is following the theme “Journeying to Jerusalem with Jesus.” This morning we’re considering who might be our companions on the way. Who is your best friend? Or, if there’s more than one, who are they? Much more reliable than the Dow-Jones Industrial Average or the S&P500, you know you’re becoming wealthy when you can ask yourself who might be your best friend and come up with more than one answer.  I suppose it somewhat depends on how you define “friend.”  For me it’s about the people who’ve helped me become a better version of myself.

Easily Susan is the best of my best friends in that respect. Then there’s this job and this congregation, who also have been among my best friends for the almost 20 years we’ve been together. There’s a therapist I see here in town who’s helped me understand my strengths and weaknesses, and how to find my way forward less bound by resentment and expectations – she is surely among my best of friends.  As a teenager, I had a pastor by the name of Evelyn who was a godsend, helping me hold it together through the ravages of teenage angst. Many of these friends have been the padding on life’s rough edges, but best friends don’t necessarily always make things easier and more comfortable. There have been teachers in my life who’ve pushed me harder than I cared to be pushed at the moment – sometimes with rather blunt criticisms of my progress or lack thereof in their classes.  Although I wasn’t mature enough to appreciate them at the time, I certainly do now. By definition, good teachers help us become better versions of ourselves and deserve a place on anyone’s best friend list – I’m looking at you Mr. Wozniak, and you Mrs. Ford.  And then there are the friends who are just constant – there for you when you’re at your worst as well as when you’re getting on alright. The guy who’s been on my best friend list longest is Pete. He was my best man. He was my pressure valve in high school. He was the devil in my ear, and the arm around my shoulder a few times when life punched me in the face – and without ever feeling sorry for me. That’s a good skill.  He could always see the good in me – even when I was a mess. I wouldn’t be who I am – wouldn’t be as good a version of myself – without him. Thanks, buddy!

Pete went to law school while I was in seminary, and one time while we were catching up between semesters he told me this story from a professor in a course on litigation.  “Able and Baker are involved in a traffic accident. Able was driving through an intersection when Baker ran a red light and crashed into him.  The accident left Able with a concussion and a fractured hip requiring surgery, and prevented him from working for 3 months. The injuries also prevented him from visiting his father in a nursing home, and that father died before Able could see him again.  Baker was driving with a suspended license, and a breathalyzer test indicated his blood alcohol content was .14 – way over the legal limit.  This was his third DUI in 2 years.  Further, he was charged with resisting arrest and assaulting an officer.”  After describing the situation, the professor asked Pete, “Mr. Anderson, whom would you rather represent in court.” And of course, Pete answered, “Able – it’s easier.”  The professor continued, “Okay, Baker walks into your office. How will you defend him?”  The obvious point is that you don’t always get to pick the people you want to associate with, but you’re still obligated to do your best for them.

We’ll come back to that story shortly. For te moment, let’s turn our attention back to the scripture passage. Part of what strikes me about the story of Jesus calling his first disciples is the impromptu nature of the invitation.  Last week we heard the story that comes just before this in the Gospel of Matthew, in which Jesus took on a very intense time of preparation, fasting alone in the wilderness and facing powerful temptations to abandon his calling in exchange for quick satisfaction and success.  This offer he rejected three times.  And we can infer from his dedication that he was preparing for a ministry he took very seriously.  Yet in the passage for this morning, as he starts out on the journey of his public ministry, Jesus apparently invites the first people he comes across to be his disciples.  There’s no vetting process, no resumes or interviews or credentials, no time for introductions or any discernment whatsoever about whether these people are “right for the occasion” or “up to the task.” There’s no suggestion Jesus had any idea at all about their personalities or character.  He simply happens upon them at their work and extends the call to join him on his journey.  Wouldn’t you think he might have been even slightly particular about selecting people for a project so deeply important to him?  What made these two sets of brothers right for the role of disciples?

Come to think of it, I find curious that Jesus chose to recruit followers at all, never mind ignoring the issue of their qualifications.  In my imagination, it seems at least possible that Jesus might have preferred to conduct his ministry without the challenges of traveling with a group, might have done better to have conducted his ministry thus.  As the story unfolds, it becomes abundantly clear that having disciples wasn’t a low-maintenance affair. They didn’t have much aptitude for the message Jesus was promoting. They could be jealous of one other, competitive, slow to take his meaning, timid in the face of opposition, impulsive, even calloused toward those Jesus chose to help. Surely Jesus could have had more flexibility in his itinerary and covered more ground had he chosen to travel light. Maybe he could have found local volunteers to help him with whatever logistics needed attending, appointing them as temporary disciples just for the time he was in any one place.  Yet he invited not just two or four but a dozen random passersby to journey with him as part of an intimate community.  The benefits of their companionship, even such imperfect companionship as the motley crew of men he invited at random to join him, evidently eclipsed their liabilities.

Indeed, learning to be your best self with less than perfect companion was one of the main points of Jesus’ ministry. In some ways, we learn to be our best selves precisely by keeping company with less than perfect people. The gospel stories take us beyond the notion of selecting an “ideal companion.”  Rather, they suggest that we become the right companions for one another in the process of sharing something important. You’re in a cafeteria sitting at a table with an empty seat. Two people walk into the room. Able is smart, funny, good looking, successful, and always knows the right thing to say. Has a good career and a family who all get along. Baker has kind of a vacant expression – looks a little lost. Wears a stained tee-shirt that says, “Hold My Beer…” Stands too close in a conversation. Which one would you want to come sit at your table? Maybe you’re thinking, “I’d rather have Able, but I know Bob is going to say, ‘Baker comes and sits at your table. How will you befriend him.’” Well that’s partly correct, but I also want to point out that sometimes, in that story you are Baker!

Sometimes we’re the one wearing the “Hold My Beer” tee shirt. We need Ables as our companions when it’s our turn to play the fool. and to thank God they chose us as their companions without checking our references. And of course, sometimes we do have to play the role of Able for the “Bakers” who wash up on our shores. Let part of the Lenten Journey be a discovery of and appreciation for your companions.  The point of having companions is not to override their different agendas and harness them as a source of support for our own progress, nor change them into some version of their being that we would prefer.  Rather, learning to be generous in the midst of imperfection, accepting one another as we are, is at least as much the point of the journey as any more tangible destination. It’s the acceptance that lets us find our own way to a better version of ourselves as we become Able.

Who are your best friends? To whom would you offer your friendship? May our Lenten journey be a process of discovering the sacred mystery through the experience of companionship. Amen.