Leaving Things Behind
Rev. Joshua D. Gill
A few years ago, First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta developed a Business Incubator program called Epiphany. The program is an incubator and an accelerator for entrepreneurs with innovative ideas to address social challenges. People from their congregation and outside the congregation act as coaches. They coach these entrepreneurs on business formation and infrastructure, branding and marketing, digital operations, and funding. They also give them a grant to help the business. First Presbyterian of Atlanta has invested in an Automotive training center that focuses on students from age 15-to 25, teaching them life skills and automotive repair. They have invested in a coffee company that provides training for refugees; another company focuses on employing the formerly incarcerated. Still, another focused on housing issues in the city of Atlanta. Many of these businesses are not faith-based but are doing God’s work through blessing their own community.
Our lectionary this morning focuses on the call of Peter. The lectionary skips over a few events. Without going into great detail about them, they are helpful to understand what we see in Peter’s call to follow Jesus and leave everything behind. This call isn’t as out of the blue as it might seem. Peter has been following Jesus for at least a page or two. Jesus steps in and heals his mother-in-law and many in the community. Then he goes and begins proclaiming the good news to the local synagogues.
Following these events, Jesus begins teaching at Lake Gennesaret when the crowd begins to grow. He clearly knows Peter and borrows a boat from him, Peter sits in as Jesus teaches. Peter and his crew have been working all night. After Jesus finishes teaching, he tells Peter to put his nets in one more time. I am sure Peter probably thought this was a little ridiculous. But Peter lets down his nets. The catch is astounding; it is so large that another boat needs to be called in to help. This catch represents many things, a blessing to Peter and those who work with him, a benefit to the community that eats the fish, and God’s abundance given to the world. Peter goes to his knees, and instead of calling Jesus master, he calls him Lord and begs him to leave because of his sinfulness. Jesus tells him to be unafraid, and Peter leaves his nets behind to follow Jesus.
This got me thinking about what does the church need to leave behind. Peter is asked to leave his nets. What nets do we need to leave piled up on our seashore? As I reflected over this past week, two things came to mind.
The first thing we need to leave behind is a narrow understanding of belief. So often in Christianity, when we say we “believe” something, we associate it with the truth. It is usually a sort of litmus test. The assumption then is that you are somehow wrong if you don’t “believe” in the same way. But this is a misunderstanding of this word. In The Heart of Christianity, Marcus Borg wrote the following:
Prior to the seventeenth century, the word “believe” did not mean believing in the truth of statements or propositions, whether problematic or not. Grammatically, the object of believing was not statements, but a person. Moreover, the contexts in which it is used in premodern English make it clear that it meant: to hold dear; to prize; to give one’s loyalty to; to give one’s self to; to commit oneself. It meant. . . faithfulness, allegiance, loyalty, commitment, and trust.
Most simply, “to believe” meant “to love.” Indeed, the English words “believe” and “belove” are related. What we believe is what we belove. Faith is about beloving God. . . To believe in God is to belove God. Faith is about beloving God and all that God beloves. . .
To believe something is to give our trust, our allegiance. It does not desire a specific outcome; instead, it creates the possibility of becoming something different. A different person, a different community, a different church. So, the question becomes, what are you going to “belove” into this world. How will “beloving” change the way we interact with others. 
The second net the church needs to leave behind is the idea that resurrection always looks the same. One of the greatest gifts we have is that gospels give us multiple accounts of the resurrection. For example, the original ending of the gospel of Mark ends at verse 8. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James go to the tomb and find it empty. A man in a white robe tells them Jesus is not here. He has been raised. The women flee the tomb in terror and amazement and refuse to tell anyone what they saw. A later editor added a fuller account of the resurrection to this gospel. But we see this in the other gospel accounts as well, these same women meet an angel in others, sometimes Peter is with them, sometimes he is not, and in most, they meet Jesus as they are fleeing the tomb. In each of these accounts, the author views the resurrection from a slightly different angle, emphasizing what they felt was of importance to their audience at the time.
The vision team has been diligently working and thinking about this resurrection process for our church community; in fact, we met three times over the last week and a half. As we know, the church has changed. The average age of someone attending a worship service at Eastminster is 74 years old, and the average age of someone pledging to the Church is 75 years old. We know that these trends will need to be reversed for the church’s long-term health and vitality. We also know that our church is a vibrant community for its participants. We also know that we can no longer rely on past methods. We need to seek out how God is actively connecting with our world here and now.
Depending on your perspective, the resurrection process for Eastminster will look different. For some of us, processing change might be terror-inducing. Some of us may want to flee and, in the process bump into a Gardner who is calling us to a new level of “beloving” and calling us to leave our nets behind and discover where God is moving in the world today.