“May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.”
I don’t always remember to use that prayer to start out my sermon each week. But when I do, it helps to ground me and to remember why I preach. I offer my thoughts on the scripture reading, I try to share stories of how I’ve experienced a Divine Presence in my life, I try to hear and amplify God call for all of us – as individuals and as a community; I attempt to glorify and focus on God without trying to steal the spotlight and making it all about myself.
That being said, here’s a story about me.
Part of my seminary training involved interning in a hospital as a chaplain. Clinical Pastoral Education, or CPE, is meant to train chaplains and clergy to provide pastoral and spiritual care to a wide variety of people with a spectrum of life-situations and beliefs. Sometimes, we were requested by a patient but often we simply went room-to-room on a unit, knocking on a door and asking if the patient would like a visit.
The moment before knocking was always one of the worst. With fear and trembling, I’d be filled with doubts: What if the patient doesn’t want to talk to me – or worse, what if they do? What do I say? How can I help them? What if I make their situation worse? Am I good enough to do this?
While struggling with this as I went through CPE, I heard some advice that a social worker friend had received from their boss: before walking into the room, ask God to go in first.
But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
As Simon Peter witnesses the amazing work of Jesus, he is filled with doubts and fears: “I’m not good enough to follow you.” And Jesus replied “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”
The Bible certainly has some odd ways of describing God’s people. Sometimes, it can be pretty insulting: we’re sheep – dirty and smelly and stubborn, needing to be herded or we wander off and get ourselves into trouble. Or we’re fish, needing to get grabbed up by a net and hauled out of our environment gasping for air.
This is one of those verses that has been translated in a variety of ways: from now on, you’ll be fishers of men; you will fish for people; I’ll ask you to bring Me people instead of fish; from now on you will be catching people.
I like the term “catching people” better than “fishers of men.” Instead of picturing folks in nets struggling to get away, I think about the ways that we are called to catch others; to be there when others fall – and how others are there for us when we feel like we’re falling.
I confess that I still have many of the same doubts as when I was in CPE. Even when I remember to pray first, even when I remember to ask God to go before me, I still wonder if I’m good enough to follow.
I’ve been able to hear from Miss Rachel about the “My Voice Matters” initiative that she’s introducing to the youth musicians. I love the concept and I believe that it’s something we can all learn from.
God calls us each to use our own voice- to amplify the unique gifts that we’ve each been given. God believes in us, we need to have faith in ourselves.
It’s not about doing it perfectly. It’s not about singing with a fancy voice or preaching with fancy words or helping others solve all of their problems. It’s about being present; fully present to each other as Christ is present to us.
We won’t always get it right but if we approach situations prayerfully, hoping that our words and our actions are acceptable in God’s sight, if we’re intentional about following Jesus, we can have faith that we’re headed in the right direction.
When we say “I’m not good enough,” Jesus says, “follow me.”
When we say “I’m better than that,” Jesus says, “follow me.”
When we say “I’m doubtful,” “I don’t know,” “I’m scared,” Jesus says, “follow me.”
Jesus shows that at we can be better than we ever thought in ways that we never even considered. Simon Peter was scared to be near Jesus because he didn’t think he was a good enough fisherman. Jesus told him that he would do even greater things – catching and helping people.
“When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him. “
It’s time to leave everything behind: our doubts and fears, our resistance and reluctance; our conceit and our quest for perfection.
How is Jesus calling you to follow? What is God asking you to do with the gifts you’ve been given?
“May the words of our mouths, the meditations or our hearts, and the actions of our bodies be acceptable in God’s sight. May we find our voice and know that it matters. May we hear God speaking our name and choose to follow.”
And all the people said “Amen.”