It was on a hot, humid, sultry August day that I left Nashville to move to Sewanee to begin seminary. Loyal friends had come over early that morning to help me load all of my worldly possessions into a rented truck.
Now the apartment I had lived in for seven years was empty, the truck and cars were full, and it was time to leave. But first I wanted to walk through my empty apartment one last time to make sure I had not left anything behind and to say goodbye to the home that I had enjoyed so much for so many years.
After the final inspection was complete, I walked out and put my key in the doorknob for the last time and turned it. As I started to pull the key out of the door, it broke in the lock.
I stood there looking at the top half of the broken key that I held in my hands, and I realized there could not be a better symbol for what I was about to do.
At age 35, I was leaving behind a career that had brought me enjoyment, satisfaction and success – not to mention a steady paycheck ; leaving behind a wide network of friends; leaving behind a congregation that I loved – all to go to seminary.
As I looked at the broken key in my hand, I realized with sudden clarity that I was making a significant break in my life. Just as now I could not go back into my former home, I also would not be able to return to my former life. Even if I came back to Nashville after seminary – which at the time was what I thought would happen – life would not be the same.
Geographically, I was only moving 90 miles down Interstate 24, but the other changes in my life could not be measured in geography. I still keep that broken key on my keychain as a reminder to myself that God continues to call us to new ways of life.
A broken key could also be a symbol for Peter and Andrew and James and John, the fishermen who left their nets, their boats and their families to follow Jesus.
The story of Jesus’ calling of his first four disciples is simple and dramatic. We have no indication that any of these fisher folk knew who Jesus was before that day. There is no record of Jesus wowing them with miracles or astonishing them with his insights and teaching.
All we know is that Jesus said to them, “Follow me.” And they did. Simply, directly, dramatically they break away from their old life and begin a new one by following Jesus.
This story of Peter and Andrew and James and John and their dramatic response of obedience to Jesus’ call is often held up as the paragon of what it means to be a disciple, of what it means to respond to God’s call in our lives.
Yet if we take this story of the four fisher folk too literally, it is easy to dismiss it as irrelevant to our own lives.
“Yes,” we might think, “it was okay for Peter and Andrew and the others to leave everything to follow Jesus. But I can’t do that. I have a spouse and children and a mortgage and responsibilities at work.
“I can’t walk out on all of that on some quest to follow Jesus. That is not being responsive to God. It’s being irresponsible to everyone around me.”
And most of the time those who think that are exactly right. Abandonment of family and responsibilities is not the way to discipleship.
But if we think that because we cannot simply walk away from our current lives into a dramatic new life, we are let off the hook of being disciples, we are very wrong.
Jesus’ call to the fishermen of Galilee was indeed more dramatic than anything most of us will experience. But each of us is called by God to some life task.
We will not all be called to a radical external change of life. For most of us the task of answering God’s call must be done within the life-situation in which we find ourselves.
The word vocation is from the Latin word vocare, which means “to call.” We often use the word vocation in terms of religious lives and works, but the truth is that each one of us has a vocation, a task to which we have been called.
Our jobs – whether they are at home, or in the business world, at school or in the community – are the primary context in which most of us are called to live as Christians.
In every form of work there is the opportunity to serve God.
As Martin Luther said many centuries ago, “There is no work better than another to please God; to pour water, to wash dishes, to be a shoemaker or an apostle – all are pleasing to God.”
Among the most important tasks that those of us who do work in the church can do is to help others make the connection between faith and our daily lives and routines, between Sunday and Monday.
British writer Dorothy Sayers bemoaned the church’s shortcomings in this area. “In nothing has the Church so lost her hold on reality as in her failure to understand and respect the secular vocation,” she wrote.
“She has allowed work and religion to become separate departments, and is astonished to find that, as a result, the secular work of the world is turned to purely selfish and destructive ends, uninterested in religion.”
“But is that astonishing?” she asked. “How can any one remain interested in a religion which seems to have no concern with nine-tenths of life?
“The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays.
“What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand his religion makes upon his is that he should make good tables. Church by all means, and decent forms of amusement certainly – but what use is all of that if in the very center of his life and occupation he is insulting God with bad carpentry?”
There are times when God’s call to discipleship results in the dramatic, radical gesture – and so we have the Albert Schweitzers and Martin Luther Kings, the Andrews and Peters, and Johns and James, the forgotten missionaries and martyrs throughout history.
But for most of us, the call to discipleship, the call to follow Jesus, means taking a look at where we are now, and figuring out how in our daily routines we can live in a way that shows faithfulness to God and increases the reality of God’s love in the world.
When we begin to do that we may soon realize that our lives – and the lives of those around us—are indeed radically changed.