Following Jesus In a Bar: Ordinary Discipleship, Ordinary Time

Following Jesus In a Bar: Ordinary Discipleship, Ordinary Time February 10, 2019

Then Jesus said to Simon,
“Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”

When they had brought their boats to shore,
they left everything
and followed him.
Luke 5:10
Lectionary Gospel text for February 10th, 2019

My coworker at the bar forgot to finish their side-work again and I am raging mad.

Maybe this sounds like an overreaction. I’m sure it was. But working in close quarters with the same dozen people for 40 hours a week can unbalance your sense of proportion until feathers can bowl you over and tiny resentments lodge like sand in your boot and rub your ankles raw.

I was already testy, and stress was making me rigid and unkind. But then when I went into the back bar and saw that every single sugar caddy was still on the table instead of sorted neatly on trays for tomorrow’s cleaning, I felt like my gut was going to bust open. Are you freaking. Kidding. Me. 

Me and my coworker had already been snappy that night, and my worry that it had been “my fault” made me that much more self-righteous when I realized that they had left without finishing their work. I felt validated that they had done something wrong and I couldn’t wait to tell them so. I whipped out my phone to start a text message.

“Hey, hon – ” 

Oh no.

I held my phone open in my hand for a long minute, looking at that blinking “hey, hon – .”

That little dash is so unholy.

I was reading Osheta Moore’s book, “Shalom Sistas” that night, and it was sitting with my cheerful notes about following Jesus scribbled on a piece of server paper. Following Jesus means being a peacemaker, Osheta said. Following Jesus is making peace.

My text wasn’t a peace treaty, it was a grenade.

I couldn’t send that text, and also say that I was following Jesus right here, right now.

I held my phone for another second, now not only angry at my coworker but angry that I didn’t get to be mad and self-righteous. Giving up feelings that pit us against our neighbor, but make us feel safe or powerful, always feels like a little death.

Dying to self isn’t very glamorous most days.

Give All You Have To The Poor (And Follow Me).

It’s hard to accept that “taking up our cross and following Christ” looks a lot less like performing moral heroism, and a lot more like biting our tongue, or passing on that delectable piece of gossip.

I’ve always loved the hard sayings of Jesus. I love “call stories” where everyone drops their nets, their jobs, their “boring everyday lives” to go on an adventure with Jesus. Adventure stories make my heart sing, and nothing feels less like an adventure story than collecting sugar caddies in the back room of a tavern while not sending a nasty text to a coworker.

It sure doesn’t feel like “fishing for men,” like Jesus tells Peter in today’s lectionary text. It sure doesn’t look like radical discipleship.

But what matters is a helluva lot smaller than we think. We get obsessed with what is big and flashy that we miss the smallness of the Gospel – all of Jesus’ parables about missing coins, yeast in bread, a mustard seed. Small things matter to God. Our lives are built one minute at a time. Small thing add up to make our lives less painful, more joyful, more just. Kindness, which is love in the small places, sends out ripples that make our small sphere more gentle, more thoughtful, and more welcoming.

That’s also true of unkindness. Small moments of lashing out because we feel threatened, or fill ourselves up at the expense of people around us, or give in to impatience or envy – that spreads.

That can feel kind of discouraging.

For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly.
Psalm 136:6,
Lectionary Psalm for February 10th, 2019

I don’t need another lecture about being kind to unpleasant people, but God knows that I need the energy to do it.

It’s easier to have energy to jump out of the boat to follow Jesus than it is to listen patiently and alertly to that very old lady in Bible study tell very long stories about her grandchildren. It’s easier to have energy to go on adventures than it is to have the stamina to be gentle with others when we’re overtired and feel like everyone should be gentle with us.

Strangely, that night at the tavern while I was stomping around with my tray, petulant grabbing sugar caddies off tables, so frustrated I felt like crying – I thought about Jesus hollering at the fisherman in the boats, telling them to drop everything and follow Him. I thought about the prophets and disciples, Abraham packing his tent to go a new country, Paul blinded on the road and quitting his career, Zacchaeus in a tree and Anna in the temple –

and for just a second, I knew that when I put down my phone and walked away, I was surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who also had learned to follow Jesus on the narrow road.

Our small things are huge. These small ways of loving people – love that is patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not proud, is not rude, is not self-seeking, keeps no record of wrongs, doesn’t delight in evil, and rejoices in the truth – are what it looks like to jump out of the boat and follow Jesus.

And even if we get to ministries that are more exciting or end up living a more culturally radical life – we’re still going to have to practice all those small things in that life too, because the core of Jesus’ radical discipleship is in the small ways that we make peace with our neighbor.

God knows that I’m still truly, truly terrible at this. God knows that nine times out of ten, I’m going to bungle it – say the wrong thing, snap back, prioritize myself, wrestle my own demons and then lose. And it’ll suck for me, and for my neighbor. But somehow, it helps, thinking about all those ancient people picking up to follow God into the unknown, and know that somehow – in that 1 time out of 10 when I take a tenatize, halfassed, momentary step towards shalom instead of selfishness – we are all in this together. And these small things matter.

Your decision to love, anyway, at the expense of your pride or impatience or greed or fear – that is the decision of a person dropping their nets to follow Jesus. It’s small and huge at the same time, like yeast that works its way through the whole dough. Like a mustard seed, that grows until the birds can rest its branches. Like a baby born in a garage in the middle of winter.

If I speak in the tongue of men and of angels, but have not love, I am nothing.

And if I don’t have the gift of prophecy, and can’t fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I don’t have a faith that can move mountains, but I do have love – I have everything.

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