Our scriptures are full of stories of God and Jesus calling people. Last week you heard part of my call story. This week we have two call stories:
The story of Jonah and his reluctant response to God’s call. And also the story of Jesus calling Andrew and Simon, James and John. When I read these stories, I am always amazed at the response of these men. Jesus finds them by the sea and simply says, “Come with me and I will teach you to catch people!”
And I think this is a key phrase: Come, I will teach you! Jesus didn’t say, “Hey, go save the world. He said, “Come with me and I will teach you to fish for people.”
In my mind there is an enormous difference between the two.Compare that with what we heard of the story of Jonah. Jonah hears God’s voice saying, “Go to Ninevah!” And what does Jonah do? He runs away, as far as he can, as quick as he can.
Anyone of us who has children knows how much easier it is to get them to cooperate if we ask them to come and do it with us rather than tell them to go do it. In fact I wouldn’t limit that characteristic to children. Don’t we prefer to be invited to take part in something rather than to be told we must go and do something?
But as different as these two stories seem to be on the surface, I think that they share some important realities. These men all heard a call. Jonah responded reluctantly. In fact tried to escape the call. Ran far away… What you may not realize was that the Ninevites were arch enemies of the Hebrew people. Jonah’s reluctance to go to Ninevah was based on the idea God’s grace and inclusion were only for the Hebrew people. In fact, he didn’t want them to repent… he wanted them to suffer what was known then as God’s wrath. But God… as God so often does, uses unexpected people in unexpected ways to demonstrate just how big and how vast God’s love is. Every we try to exclude a group of people by drawing a circle to keep them out… God draws the circle wider.
In fact, Gordon Light, whose hymns are in both our hymnbooks, wrote a song about that:
Draw the circle wide
Draw it wider still
Let this be our song
no one stands alone, standing side by side,
Draw the circle wide.
Andrew, Simon, James and John immediately left their nets and their livelihood when they heard the call. What we don’t know is that perhaps these men had heard Jesus before… perhaps they had listened to his message more than once… perhaps Jesus had invited them to follow him previously, but they weren’t ready. But the important thing in these two stories is that the call was responded to. Don’t we find mirrors of those responses in our own lives and communities? Some of us respond enthusiastically and some of us respond reluctantly. But if we are open to hear the call we will eventually respond. For some of us it may take longer and we may initially run away and try to escape from the call. And others jump right in, confident that they will learn what is necessary to live out their call.
I think it is interesting that God called Jonah in loud voice and ordered him to warn the people of Nineveh that they would be destroyed unless they changes their ways. While Jesus asked the fisherman to come and be part of the new way of being God’s people. The way of inclusiveness. The way of equality. The way of love.
One was a threat. One was an invitation to share in the Good News. The good news that we are still invited to share in. Did God choose the right person when he chose Jonah? I think he must have. Jonah preached the shortest sermon on record. He said, “God says to stop doing bad things. If you don’t, God will destroy the city!” That was it. And the people stopped and listened to Jonah, and changed their ways.
Jonah is known as one of the minor prophets… and the prophets role in those times was not foretelling, as we often think of prophesy. But it was to remind people of how God wants us to live… and when we don’t live in that way, there are consequences. Not God’s wrath… but the predictable and inescapable results of our behavior. On a global level there are consequences to things like continued clear cutting of our forests and overfishing. The prophets role was to call the people back to ways of living that were good for all people.
David Suzuki comes to mind as a modern day prophet around climate change. I have no idea what religion David Suzuki follows or if he follows any religion, but in my eyes, he is a prophet… calling us back to living in a way that supports all life, plant, animal, trees, air, ocean and people.
Did Jesus choose the right people when he asked Andrew and Simon, James and John to follow him? He didn’t ask what their credentials were. He didn’t ask if they were prepared to die for what they believed in. He didn’t ask whether or not they were worthy. He simply invited them to follow him… Accompany him and learn from him as he met people… talked with people… touched people… considered what people felt they needed… and challenged people…
Those early disciples did leave their day jobs behind… and if you imagine that that’s what following Jesus requires, then it is limited to very few people.
One of the things I think we tend to forget is that further on in the gospels, after Jesus death and resurrection, the disciples returned home… home to their families, home to their livelihoods, home to their everyday life. And they shared the Good News of Jesus in their daily lives.
I wonder if we could think of this hour on Sunday as the time we spend with Jesus? A time when we learn about and experience Jesus? And then share that Good News with others during the week, in our ordinary day to day lives. In this time of declining church attendance and increasing secularity, we may be uncomfortable sharing our faith with others. For one thing, most of us have never been taught how to do it and we certainly plan on going knocking on doors. And we don’t have to… what we do have to do is find a way to share the Good News of following Jesus in a way that is right for us. There is much good news to share about what happens in this place.
Thanks be to God for the all disciples.
And thanks be to God for you. Amen.
Jonah 3: 1-5, 10
Mark 1: 14-20
January 25, 2015
St. Paul’s United Church