Every contract is sealed with consideration—in our business world, that consideration is often cash.  But in the dog world, consideration may be a nice pat on the head, an affirming word: “Good dog”, or—in the case of extraordinary performance–bacon.

When my dog, Dursey, was quite young, a friend recommended that I teach him an “Alert” command.  A command that…no matter what was happening…he would stop in his tracks, make eye contact with me, and wait for the next command.

How do you teach a hunting dog to resist his natural inclination and yield control to his human partner?  I had no idea where to begin, so I hired a trainer to get the ball rolling.  By the end of day one, she had trained Dursey to respond to the word “Alert” by making eye contact and sitting. 

There was a lot of bacon involved that day.  One pound of it.

Once Dursey knew the word Alert, we practiced the command on our morning walks.  Over time, we added subsequent commands.  Alert!  Sit.  Wait.  Come.  A year ago, we added silent commands using sign language:  Alert!  A Sign for Sit, then Wait, then Come. 

Because this command is critical to his safety, the very best treats are reserved for a good training session.  And Dursey knows it.  When he has done it and done it well, he runs back to me licking his chops, ready for the payoff. 

Paul is a very successful businessman.  He’s a pharisee…a temple leader.  He’s well-educated, well-traveled.   His life seems to be on autopilot….he’s got all the bases covered.  He has enough free time on his hands to pursue a breakaway religious faction who claim that Jesus—the Galilean prophet–rose from the dead and has made himself known among his followers.  Word about Jesus is traveling fast.

For Paul—then known as Saul–, the break-away faction threatens his world view…his interpretation of Torah.  Paul is bothered enough that he’s headed to Damascus armed with Temple papers for the synagogues in Damascus.  If there are followers of “the Way”–followers of Christ–he will round them up and bring them to Jerusalem for trial.

A funny thing happened on the road to Damascus.

The Risen Christ said:  Saul, Alert!

And Paul stopped. 

His metanoia moment—his turning away from what he had been…toward who he will be—begins when he stops.  He yields control of his life to the voice he cannot see, the voice that calls him by name, the voice that suspends his eyesight, the voice that will draw him into flourishing…completeness in God’s life.

Peter and the disciples are fishing in the Sea of Tiberius.  It’s a familiar scene to us…because it is like their first calling….when Jesus first invited them to follow him into his earthly ministry.  The disciples fished all night and have caught no fish.  The Risen Christ calls to them from the shore, “Throw your nets on the other side”.   Even though Christ has been among them twice already, they do not recognize him.  Yet, they cast their nets on the other side of the boat.    

The nets fill with fish.  It is a Sign to them…a Sign they recognize.  The Risen Christ is again among them.  Now Christ says, “Follow me”.  Their story as disciples of Christ is just beginning.   

Today’s readings from Acts and the Gospel of John are reflections on calling…God’s invitation to each of us to come, to participate in God’s life, to follow.

The disciples knew Jesus well.  They walked with him, broke bread with him, and were first-hand witnesses to the Divine Signs he performed…healing people, feeding people, raising people.  Throughout their journey with Jesus, they slowly begin to realize that he is the Messiah, the promised one.  And then the unthinkable:  Jesus is crucified.  And then the Divine: Jesus, the Christ, is raised.

Their walk with Jesus of Nazareth ended at the cross.  Their journey with Jesus, the Christ, is just beginning.  The scene on the Sea of Tiberias shows us faithful living.  A man they do not recognize tells them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat.  And they do it.

They don’t google “pros and cons of casting nets on the port side of a boat”.  They hear a voice calling to them and they follow. 

The net fills with fish… confirmation of their faithful response to God’s call. 

Paul is a faithful, religious man.  He hears God’s “Alert” command…and stops…and then he follows.  Paul did not have a personal relationship with Jesus of Nazareth.  But he will have a profound relationship with Christ.

Last week, Dursey and I hiked in Colorado.  Every day we hiked 6 or 7 miles in the San Juan National Forest.  The area has a lot of deer, elk, squirrels, and chipmunks.  For a hunting dog, it is Heaven on earth.  But this hunting dog is also a working dog.  He knows that it is his responsibility to know where I am at all times…and to scout the trail for danger.     

On one of our longer hikes, I heard Dursey barking.  He was behind me, a couple football fields, and I could just see him through the trees.  A quarter-mile behind me on the trail, he had spotted another hiker.  Dursey positioned himself between the perceived threat and me.  His barking was meant to alert me…and the oncoming hiker.

The other hiker stopped…he recognized that Dursey was in protection mode…and he seemed unsure of what to do next.  I called to Dursey, “Come”.  He didn’t budge or stop barking.  I used a more urgent tone and shouted to him again.  He didn’t budge. 

I called one more time, but this time, I used the Alert command.  He immediately turned toward me.  I gave him the silent signal to Wait….and then the signal to Come.  He ran as fast as he could toward me…

For three years, we have practiced the Alert command…without knowing whether we would ever use it in a real-world experience.  Through the repetition of our exercise, training, and consistent communication, we built trust.  The fruit of that trust is the partnership we share in our daily lives.

Christ’s commandment to his disciples is straightforward:  Follow me.

We are called to practice our faith through regular worship and sharing in the Eucharist, reading Scripture, Prayer, listening for God’s voice, and following that voice.  This is how Christ is made known to us.

All of have those moments when we feel God’s tug to follow.  Sometimes we follow and sometimes we rationalize another way.  I remember sitting in St. Martin’s pews 20 years ago…when we first began a Stephen Ministry program.  I knew at my core that God was drawing me toward that program.  But, I was busy….work was challenging, I was traveling a lot.  And, hey, I’m an introvert.  Why in the world would God call an introvert into ministry?  Surely there was something easier that I could do.

So, I ran for vestry and became a member of St. Martin’s vestry.  {For the record, this was not easier than Stephen Ministry!}

But two years later, the feeling that God was calling me to Stephen Ministry was still gnawing at me.  I would finally take the plunge and become a Stephen Minister…and a member of the vestry.  It was the beginning of my awareness that pastoral care is part of my calling. 

Like Paul & the disciples, St. Martin’s is in a season of Easter beginnings: 

         We are beginning our ministry with a new rector.

         We are beginning our ministry in a covid-aware era, where technology invites hundreds of people to watch our ministry of worship every week.

         We are beginning the reunification of our diocese to the Diocese of Texas.    We are beginning to grow our Christian Formation programming beyond anything we have ever imagined.  We welcome people from all over Texas and the US to our Zoom classes.

         We are beginning to imagine our pastoral presence in our community with new ideas.

         And we are doing all of it with a firmer, shared understanding of what human flourishing means in our Christian ethic.

It is an exciting season of Easter for St. Martin-in-the-Fields. 

Paul, the disciples, you and I are first-hand witnesses that following Christ is not the path of least resistance.  It is the path to our greatest fulfillment…to flourishing in God’s life.

May the Risen Christ be known to us in the breaking of the bread.

May we hear Christ saying to us:  St. Martins—ALERT! Follow me.

May we say, in one voice, Here I am….I will follow.