I was at a University Chaplain’s gathering in May of 2018 in Paris, Ontario, when I had the chance to see and meet with other Lutheran Chaplains from across the west and Ontario, meet for the first time many other chaplains of various Christian churches from across Canada, and reconnect with a few long time colleagues from other churches that I had not seen for years. One of whom that was a great surprise and delight was Pastor Ralph Carl Wushke. I know some in our congregation know Ralph Carl well. Our paths crossed in my Seminary days when he was serving a Lutheran Congregation in Saskatchewan, and later at Lutheran’s Concerned events, especially at National Conventions, as those advocating for LGBTQ rites in the church gathered to try and call the church into a new relationship with pastors and others who were queer within and outside the church. I also knew Ralph Carl through his writing and advocacy and something of his story: a Gay Lutheran pastor, ordained in 1978, who came out in 1984 and left his parish in Saskatchewan, fought to be recognized but was removed from the roster following a 1988 decision by the ELCIC banning practising LGBTQ pastors from ordination and/or call; and who subsequently was ordained as a United Church minister, and served a Toronto parish and UofT chaplaincy until his retirement in in 2018. It was great to see him again and do a little catching up after so many years. He met with some of us “Lutherans” one evening, and it was surprising and gracious and profound for us to hear Ralph Carl say, that while forever grateful for his life and ministry in the United Church of Canada, he longed to be recognized as a Pastor again in his own Lutheran Church. Well, some of you know, and may have heard the CBC Radio interview on Monday on “As it Happens,” it happened! Last Saturday in Toronto Pastor Ralph Carl was reinstated and installed in a new call to serve First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Toronto. I’m not sure there is a better Gospel word for this RIC Sunday than the sad truth and joyous hope of this interview with Ralph Carl that I’d like to play for you: (https://www.cbc.ca/radio/asithappens/as-it-happens-monday-edition-1.5433234/gay-pastor-forced-out-of-lutheran-church-in-the-80s-becomes-1st-to-be-reinstated-1.5433241) Applause?
A few things strike me about this moving and significant day for Ralph Carl, his partner David, and family and friends, and for the ELCIC. With great sadness, how we got things so wrong as a Church together, and the harm it has done and continues to do to many; how long it took us to get it right, and how, even after we overturned the 1988 action in 2011, why it took so long for us to create a process to reinstate those who were pushed out by the church, and shockingly, wanted to return? That we need to always remember, and confess, and seek to be more faithful, even as other expressions of human sexuality and gender identity come to light and we are challenged once again to ask if new loving and honouring relationships are a barrier to living and serving as God’s diverse and faithful people together. I hope and pray we will not repeat the same sins and failings of the past.
What also struck me was the strength of Ralph Carl’s sense of call. As a child on the front steps of his home praying and preaching to his brothers, to the amazing courage to continue, struggle, challenge, fight, and know rejection from the church of Christ he loved; but find a church and way to continue serving Jesus’ calling faithfully for years… what a sense and commitment to Jesus’ calling!
A common response to hearing today’s Gospel reading is how these four disciples could have dropped everything and followed Jesus as Jesus invites them to come and fish for people, and sympathetically, what about the poor folks left behind. Acknowledging all of the problems in the “fish for people” image, what the immediacy of the disciples’ response seems to convey is that Jesus’ invitation is the same for everyone blessed to hear these words, from the gospel writer of Matthew’s community up to ours today. And that their immediate and fantastic response, can’t be their doing. It’s God’s! And the graciousness and tenacity of God’s calling out to each of us in Jesus to follow, making it possible for any and all of us to do so. And what a challenge and adventure and struggle and joy it is, for all of us, not for pastor’s only or first! but all of us together, in God’s Word, in the waters, at the table, and in the community gathered in and by God’s grace.
One of you sent me a link this week to a weekly online article based on each Sundays’ Bible readings by Debie Thomas. https://www.journeywithjesus.net/essays/2507-i-will-make-you It is thoughtfully titled, “I Will Make You.” An important point in her article which is worth reading, is that she used to hear these words as demanding her to be something completely different than she was, and the more sacrifice and the more that is left behind like fishnets on the shore or even people, the better. Thomas suggests instead, hearing that Jesus is inviting the disciples into a way of being that Jesus “will make of them,” and referencing that calling with their own vocation as fisherfolk, is a calling to live fully into the people they/we are, who God has made each of us and all of us to be, in all God’s creative diversity, and wonderful imaginings of how we each serve God’s dominion of love and transformation and justice and compassion and peace and hope and joy together.
I will conclude with Debie Thomas’ words: “In the end, Jesus’s invitation is Gospel, or “good news.” If it’s not good news, it’s not God. If it’s not good news for all — it’s not God. Evangelism becomes abusive when we twist it for our own convenience, severing it from its social, economic, and cultural context in order to institutionalize and idolize what is not God. It becomes abusive when we focus on numbers, formulas, and glossy success stories, forgetting that Jesus came to call people. “Fish for people.” People who are caught in the nets of exploitation, corruption, poverty, war, exile, homelessness, violence, disease, climate change, racism, sexism, homophobia… the list goes on and on and on. What would count as Good News for them?
The four disciples “immediately” left their nets and followed Jesus. In time, they made the Gospel their own, sharing its radical power through the details of their own lives and stories. What is the Gospel according to you? What is your Good News, and how will you share it in the turbulent waters of your particular time and place? (Jesus says) “Follow me and I will make you.” Jesus is trustworthy. Jesus will.” In you, in us, in all our relations, let it be so. Hych’ka Siem. Amen.