You Are Never Alone

"pairs..." Image by Sabbir Ahmed, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This past week, I had an appointment with my therapist whom I had not seen in eight months. This session was likely the last time I will meet with her in person after eleven years. She is relocating. And evidently, I have completed my treatment plan. That sounds more clinical than she meant or than I mean. That is, I have worked hard to get to where I am and now, I am in a place where I can arrange a check-up if needed, either by Skype or a phone call.

I said to her as we hugged, “You saved my life, you know.” And she said to me, “You did that yourself, Karoline. But I am glad I could help.”

Sometimes, I think we forget that being saved by Jesus, to follow Jesus, means that you have others around to save you on a daily basis. To remind you of who you are and who you are called to be. To see you and appreciate you and celebrate you. To tell you how far you have come and where God still needs you to go. To come alongside you so that you realize you are not alone.

When Jesus calls the disciples in Mark, notice what’s absent — no individualism, no being left on your own, no pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. No, “you can handle this, so, buck up, buttercup.” No, “follow me and good luck with that.” Rather, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” That is, follow me and more followers are to come. Follow me and you will never be by yourself. Notice — Jesus calls them together, not separately. Andrew and Simon. Then James and John. Discipleship is not an autonomous profession.

God knows, Jesus knows, we cannot do discipleship on our own. We cannot do life on our own. We cannot live into our vocations, our truth, on our own. We cannot follow Jesus on our own. We cannot preach on our own. We need each other.

We need advocates and mentors. We need peers and colleagues. We need friends and neighbors. We need community and camaraderie. We need others to take risks, knowing that we will take the next ones, and vice versa. We need others to wear black so that we know we are seen and heard and known. We need to tell our #MeToo, #ChurchToo stories so that others can tell theirs. We need each other to be able to name deference to a person in power whose character is antithetical to the Gospel. We need each other, Dear Working Preachers. That is what I hear in the calling of the disciples this time around. More than ever.

I don’t know about you, but it’s easy to feel alone these days. Trying to preach the truth of the Gospel when the Gospel has been misrepresented and misinterpreted. Trying to preach the expansiveness of the Kingdom of God when time’s up for Salvadorans. Trying to preach the love of God when leaders denigrate entire countries using expletives. Trying to preach that fishing for people is not for them to avoid condemnation but for the sake of collaboration and the diverse community God imagines.

I ache for companionship in this whole preaching thing. I long for conversation partners with whom to talk about the texts and with whom to question in what ways the texts challenge me. I am grateful for my Sermon Brainwave co-hosts from whom I learn and who keep me accountable to the text in front of me, rather than escape to the text I wish I had. I am grateful for my beginning preaching students taking an intensive this week who ask the important questions, right up front.

And I am so grateful for you, Dear Working Preachers. You are my saviors. Having in mind your weekly challenge of preaching in your particular contexts saves me from benign and banal claims about the texts, claims that will save no one — and never have. Your weekly charge to render the Bible relevant for the sake of real people in real situations saves me from generalizations about beliefs in God that save nobody. Your weekly call to make this thing we call Scripture pertinent saves me from stupid and nearsighted claims about Scripture that too many deem adequate interpretation of God’s Word.

And so, “Follow me,” is much more than mere following, if that means an acquiescence to accountability only for the sake of some sort of an end result that secures salvation and not for the sake of now. It’s believing that you follow a God dedicated to discipleship that depends on dependability. It’s believing that you follow a God who cannot NOT invest in a relationship with you and how to nurture, encourage, and empower your relationship with others. It’s believing that our God who calls us into this calling provides so very many to accompany us in this calling. Do you see them? Who are your Andrews and Simons? Your Mary Magdalenes, and the Marys, the mothers of James, and Salomes? 

Follow me, says Jesus. And you can. Others can. How? Because there are others there with you. That, Dear Working Preachers, is the Gospel of this text.