Behind every tragic death, car accident, burning building... Beneath the surface of every shooting school, campus, or nightclub shooting...Under the layers of peaceful protests and rallies gone horribly wrong there are untold stories we rarely hear or expose ourselves to. The untold stories of the first responders for whom every call is always personal.
The officer first on the scene, who discovers the bodies. The paramedics who work on the accident victim in an ambulance only to learn he or she didn’t make it after they got to the hospital. The ER nurses who literally feel life and death slip through their hands on any given shift. The firefighters who run into a burning building with hopes of saving someone, only to realize, despite all their efforts, the outcome was not what they had hoped. We don’t always think about the untold story of what it takes emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually on the women and men called first responders.
Are they perfect, no. Are they to be put on a pedestal and idolized, no. Are there some who make bad choices or go too far, yes. Are there some who allow power to go to their head, yes. Is there systemic brokenness in the institutions they serve, yes. Should that keep us from thanking them for holding the line, keeping us safe, and responding to our needs, no. Should that keep us from recognizing the sacrifice and toll it can take on them and their families, no. Does it mean we forget about the ones among them who do their job and do well, with integrity and character? No.
I believe we can learn something about courage, commitment, sacrifice and self control from them. It takes courage to stand in harm’s way on purpose or by choice; to confront danger, to face unknown situations, to talk down a volatile or violent stranger, to make life and death decisions in a matter of seconds. It takes commitment to stay the course when the course is nothing but rough roads, blind corners, long nights, hard times, intense people, endless calls, and unpredictable circumstances. It takes sacrifice to give a lifetime of service to a role that often takes you away from those you care about and love; to be called away from family gatherings, your child’s birthday party, a cook-out or dinner party with friends, or give up holidays and planned vacations at the last minute. It takes self-control to offer aid and care to someone who doesn’t want you to or would rather die. It takes self-control to NOT let disrespectful name calling and hate-filled vulgarities distract you from what you are called to do. It takes self-control to stand in the face of anger, violence, instability, danger, and sheer chaos and make rational, clear minded decisions.
The people we call first responders take enormous risks every time they step out their door, put on their gear, load the truck, start the squad car, or begin their shift at the hospital; it is not something they just do, it is a life they live. That got me wondering. Isn’t that how we as followers of Jesus need to live our lives? With courage, commitment, sacrifice, and self-control? I wonder if we aren’t to be “first responders” of sorts - people dedicated to living out and living on the spiritual front-lines? People responding to the cry of the needy, the plea of the broken and being the face of Jesus and the love of God.
The writer of the gospel of Mark 1:1-20 tells us of four “first responders.” Four fishermen, who upon hearing Jesus’ request, drop their nets (and their livelihood) and follow him. Jesus tells them he will show them how to fish for people! Depending on the translation, we are somewhat misled. Many translations of the call of these first followers has Jesus implying that he will teach them to fish; a new technique or method perhaps. It is an implied action / verb. The Greek actually means Jesus promises to make them fishermen; to shape them into a new kind of fishermen. It’s a noun, not a verb.
It wasn’t about the latest in net technology, bait or high level leadership fishing skills, it was them Jesus wanted: their hearts, their life, their humility and moldability - their willingness to learn, grow, change, and build a new community. This is a story about more than just four fishermen. It is also about us, now, and what we are going to make of the realization that the kingdom of God is here and now and in need of first responders. This text calls us to consider whether or not we might identify as first responders in faith.
Do we live our faith with courage and commitment? Do we speak out for those who have no voice? Protect the vulnerable? Listen to the marginalized? Or do we let someone with more training do that? Do we respond and engage our faith from a place of sacrifice? Do we go without so others might go with? Go the extra mile even when we know it will go unnoticed or unappreciated? Or let someone else handle that part of it? Do we practice and improve our self-control? So that we can walk alongside those who think differently or live differently? So that we might show kindness, respect, and compassion in the face of mean spirited criticism, harsh judgmentalism, and emotionally charged situations? So that we might better ourselves rather than belittle others. Or do we let the professional Christians do that?
It might look and sound a little different but it is still us that Jesus wants - it is our moldability he seeks. Especially in today’s world, in our current climate and state of affairs. We need first responders of faith: people willing to walk into tough places of the head and the heart and ask the hard questions when no one else will or face uncomfortable situations when others look away. We need People open to transformation, theirs and others. People who can love Jesus more than their political views, cultural differences, social norms and more than their desire to be right. People who can let God be God and put their trust in the Holy Spirit more than their ego, position, or experience.
I pray that on this weekend when we celebrate our country's independence and freedom, we realize it comes with a price, not only paid by those in the past but those first responders of today. I pray we recognize that not all are free, and until they are, none of us are. I pray that all of us will take a moment to thank a first responder and not let the actions of some taint the service of all. I pray all of us will reflect on what it means to be a first responder of faith and how we can live our lives differently, more fully and more completely. I pray all of us will find healing and hope in the One who first responded to us.
In Jesus name, amen.
Paster Jenothy Irvine