You have made us for your own, O Lord, and we are restless until we find our rest in You. Amen.
“Just beyond yourself. It’s where you need to be.
Half a step into self-forgetting and the rest restored by what you’ll meet.
There is a road, always beckoning. When you see the two sides of it,
closing together at that far horizon and deep in the foundations
of your own heart, at exactly the same time…..
That’s how you know it’s the road you have to follow.
That’s how you know it’s where you have to go.
That’s how you know you have to go. That’s how you know.
Just beyond yourself—it’s where you need to be.”
I came across this poem, by English poet, author and speaker David Whyte, several years ago. It’s called “Just Beyond Yourself.” I found it at a time when I knew I needed to make a vocational change, but couldn’t quite see what it was or how to make it. I had been the first woman rector of a small parish in Florida for about four years—a call I accepted after having my then associate position at a large parish in Texas eliminated. Yes. I got laid off.
It took quite a while—too long probably—to come to the place where I could make the decision to leave that little parish. I knew it was going to be hard on a lot of people I’d grown to love—I felt like I was letting them down. I knew my bishop was not going to be happy with me and I was going to miss my involvement with diocesan committees and a great group of clergy. I kept asking God to send some signs, to tell me when and how and what I should do, complaining openly to the Almighty when burning bushes didn’t appear.
I can’t say David Whyte’s poem was THE sign that got me there, but the timing of it was pretty significant. I got it, I heard God’s voice in it…..the place you need to be to make this decision is a little bit along the road, just beyond yourself. I needed to look just a little bit ahead. So for the first time in my vocational life, I made some clear decisions about what I wanted to do (it wasn’t being a rector) and what I wanted to see when I drove around and looked out the windows in my house (it wasn’t the beach, as beautiful as it was). For the first time, I was asking myself: what brings you life? What makes your heart sing? In your heart of hearts, Christie, what is your true call? And that’s how I got to this beautiful town and this wonderful parish and you beloved people! Half a step into self-forgetting and the rest restored by what I’ve met. It took trust: in God, in myself and in the beckoning road ahead of me.
[Note: Last night at the 5:00 service, quite a few people got worried at this point in the sermon. They said as they were leaving the service they thought I was going to announce I’m leaving St. James. I’m not leaving St. James. I’m never leaving St. James!]
I’ve wondered this week, as I’ve thought and prayed about our gospel, if the disciples felt any of what is reflected in Whyte’s poem. Matthew’s text doesn’t give any indication that there was thought involved in their decision to follow Jesus—they immediately left their nets and followed him. But what if they had been wondering, before they encountered Jesus, what their true calls were? What if they had been thinking and praying about signs? Maybe they were just on the cusp of making vocational decisions of their own, reading the poems of their lives, listening for God in their hearts, just beyond themselves. What if Jesus was their sign?
This morning, Matthew records the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry and he includes the calling of the first disciples in that record. “Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.” This opening sentence is unique to Matthew and there are a couple of reasons for it. First, he wants to make it very clear that Jesus’ ministry is separate and independent of John’s. (We hear a little about this in First Corinthians this morning: Paul addressing after Jesus' ministry the divisions in the early church between followers of Jesus and those of John, Peter and Apollos—who was a contemporary colleague of Paul.) Once John is arrested, we see no more scriptural contact between him and Jesus; and of course he will then be executed for his radical baptismal and rhetorical activity in effect, relinquishing his ministry to Jesus, who was just beyond him.
Second, Matthew constantly emphasizes that Jesus is fulfilling an ancient prophecy made by Isaiah, the one we hear this morning: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” “These people” as we hear, are from the land of Zebulun and of Naphtali, the latter being near Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. They had been exiled by the Assyrians in the 8th century BCE. Now, with Jesus moving to Capernaum, those in the northern area of the Galilee would be the ones to receive the light of God, seen in Jesus. Jesus was their sign! The kingdom of heaven had come near.
Many of us remember Joseph Campbell and his remarkable work on myth and the powerful ancient stories found in all cultures around the world. Campbell discovered that in those traditions, the beginning of a journey was often called a “Call to Adventure.” He wrote that these moments signify that “destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity to a zone unknown.” A zone unknown—I’ve made it my new mantra! Jesus is taking the disciples to a zone unknown! Changing their center of gravity through his life—the world would never be the same again.
Jesus, with the disciples, moved through the Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, telling people the center of gravity was changing, telling them the kingdom was near, and he showed them by curing illness and dis-ease. So not only did he call people to new life, he took away the barriers that kept them from seeing it, from grabbing onto it. Maybe this is where WE are at this moment, in this time and place. Can we see before us, as individuals and as a community, our Call to Adventure? Jesus’ call to Peter, Andrew, James and John and all the others was so ripe with possibility; he made it possible for them to move beyond the constraints of their lives to walk into their own zones unknown, without hesitation.
What were the seeds planted in them before they met Jesus, that allowed them to follow? What are the seeds being planted in us, right now, that will allow us to follow new paths, take on new ministries, say yes to new opportunities we might never have considered? The two sides of the beckoning road may well be coming together at the horizon in front of us as we feel, at the same time, a focusing deep in the center of our collective being. May we, like the disciples, leave our nets and follow Jesus. Just beyond ourselves is where we need to be.