I’ve always been fascinated by craftspeople who repurpose items that might otherwise end up in the trash or discarded. The act of “repurposing” is using items for a purpose other than what was originally intended. A discarded window becomes a planter and shelf; an old tire becomes a rubber swing; a bunch of mismatched silverware becomes a pretty, beaded windchime to catch the breeze on a summer’s day.
People will pay a lot of money for this kind of creativity. There is an artist who creates amazing pictures of animals out of discarded plastic trash and she is currently overbooked for special commission work. She has so many orders she is able to do this work full-time.
In our gospel passage for today, there is both mending and repurposing. It’s a well-known passage, Jesus calling a bunch of fishermen, those first disciples, down by the sea of Galilee. A couple of brothers—Simon and Andrew—are doing a day’s labor, casting nets in the water and waiting for a catch. There’s something in Jesus’ voice and manner that compel them to leave those nets and take up another vocation—they will still be fishing, but seeking people instead of fish.
Their skills as fishermen—hard labor, patience, teamwork, and a big dose of conviction that there are fish to be found—all will be needed in this endeavor. And immediately, Mark says, those new disciples leave their nets and follow Jesus into a new vocation where their skills will be repurposed to God’s purposes. Later in the story, those three friends walk a little further on, and there they find James and John, the sons of Zebedee, doing a day’s labor mending their nets.
Anyone who has fished for a time knows that repair-work is just part of the call. Nets become torn and ragged, lines become snagged and cut, and boats spring leaks and need to be fixed. When I was little, we used to go crabbing with my grandmother, usually standing bayside along the Chesapeake. We’d gather up our supplies—a couple of nets, twine, and chicken necks—and head out for a day of crabbing. And yes, those nets could tear in the sharp claws of the crabs, particularly if they got twisted or stuck in the net. We’d mend the holes as best we could and then cast our lines again. Present day fishermen sometimes use inclement weather or the “off” season to mend their nets, fix their boats, and patch their sails. There is a rhythm to the fishing business as there is in most endeavors; taking time to mend is part of that rhythm.
What have you had to mend in this “off-season”? What in your life needs a bit more of your attention and patient repair?
Recently, it has become fashionable to stitch proudly over tears in clothing in colorful and eye-catching thread. What is old has become new again, but one doesn’t seek to hide the stitches of repair. There are numerous tutorials on how to darn socks and all manner of holes in sweaters and fabric. Suddenly, mending has become chic and “a thing.” How might you mend in your life more boldly instead of regretfully?
Even so, repurposing goes beyond just mending garments or making repairs simply to use again.
James and John are about the business of mending and Jesus notices this and offers them the same invitation that he issued to Simon and Andrew. “Come along with me,” he calls to them, and they follow, leaving their nets, in midst of their mending, to pursue a different kind of vocation.
It is a different kind of call—but not entirely. These disciples and their skills and talents will be repurposed for a vocation that takes them beyond their little harbor, their small provincial concerns, and the fishing minutiae that has become tedious, if not rote.
Jesus brings to them a breath of fresh air, a larger calling than they imagined for themselves. In that, he helps them re-purpose their lives in a way that doesn’t just bring food and drink to the table, but instead feeds their very souls and their passion.
This past week, I watched as Bernie Sanders and his knitted mittens were all over the internet. We talk about God being omnipresent. If you need a definition of “omnipresence,” the memes and quirky photos of Senator Sanders in his humble attire photoshopped around the world in the same short span of time is a secular example. Laughter bubbled out as Sanders joined in the fun and quickly commissioned his photo on a sweatshirt that could be purchased with all the proceeds going to Meals on Wheels in Vermont. That is repurposing and transforming in the best way—for the good. Now, besides people getting a chuckle out of a photo, Meals on Wheels will be able to reach hundreds more of the food insecure.
And what of those mittens that Sanders wore? They were created from bits of scrap, parts of wool and parts of sweater, lined with fleece from recycled plastic bottles. Their creator, a 2nd grade Vermont teacher, Jen Ellis, has sold out of the now iconic “smittens”—she had sent a pair to Bernie years ago—and amazingly, he kept wearing them.
It’s such a simple thing really and yet, so remarkable, the good that can come from transforming the most modest and discarded of things into the most needed and wanted.
Just as Jesus called a couple of fisherfolk to use their skills and their livelihood in a different, repurposed way, God takes our broken nets, our damaged egos, our castaway dreams, our trashed hopes, and our ugly mistakes, our hard luck, and, somehow, in the Divine economy uses them to better purpose.
I cannot help to think that if a pair of repurposed knitted mittens by a schoolteacher in Vermont can help feed hundreds and bring a smile to millions of downhearted Americans, imagine what God can do with our bruised and hurting souls. Imagine what we can accomplish when words written by the youngest poet laureate, Amanda Gorman, are truly taken to heart and are transformed into a new reality. She began to breathe that new reality into being when she said,
“It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit,
it’s the past we step into
and how we repair it…”
Later she said,
“We will rebuild, reconcile and recover
and every known nook of our nation and
every corner called our country,
our people diverse and beautiful will emerge,
battered and beautiful…”
Using an adaptation of Gorman’s words, I might say that being Christian “is more than a pride we inherit, it’s the past we step into and how we repair it.” Siblings in Christ, we follow a God who can repurpose the “battered and beautiful” Christian church, this pandemic, and this unholy division in our country to good purpose, but—like Jesus—God needs our conviction, our trust, and our willingness to respond to the call now and not at some future time. Like Simon, Andrew, James, and John, we may need to begin with our mending before we can envision the need to completely repurpose our lives and our church. Like them, we may need to leave our half-mended nets in the sand when Jesus nudges us to take a risk and follow him to different terrain, to seek and embrace people, rather than spending so much time and resources mending the equipment of our faith. Like those disciples, we may need to leave behind a few things to embrace our future and to respond more clearly, decisively, and immediately.
Yet, whenever the kin-dom of God has come close, in that moment, we will gladly trade our worn out bits and pieces, knowing that in God’s great economy, nothing is truly lost and those scraps of our lives that we thought wholly unimportant or even embarrassing will become part of a larger story and used to better purpose.
 Amanda Gorman, https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/20/politics/amanda-gorman-inaugural-poem-transcript/index.html