Jonah 3:1-10, Mark 1:14-20
January 22, 2006
In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus calls the fishermen – two sets of brothers. This is a story I remember from some of my earliest days of Sunday School. I remember my teacher reading this story to us, and I think she even had one of those “flannel boards.” Do you remember those things? I remember her putting the characters on the board and telling us how Jesus said, “Follow me and I will make you ‘fishers of men.’” I thought that sounded funny in those days. It still does, I suppose. “Fishers of men.”
I’d like you to put yourself in the fishermen’s place for a moment. I’d like you to try to think about what might have been going through their heads. I’d like to ask you three questions:
1. Did they know what they were in for?
2. Did they know who this was who was calling them?
3. Did they know what their job would be?
Think about that. (Repeat)
I want us to try to understand what it must have been like to hear this call of Jesus and obey. That was always amazing to me. There was no questioning, here. There was no arguing. In fact, there wee no words from these fishermen at all! Scripture tells us nothing other that they rose, they left their boats and followed.
That’s what happened with the first two brothers, Simon (who would become Peter) and Andrew. In the case of the second set of brothers in this story, it was even more amazing. Jesus went to them – James and John – and he said the same thing, “Follow me.” And they got up and followed “immediately” – like Simon and Andrew. But then Mark tells us one more little detail. It says they left their father Zebedee in the boat… ! And they followed. They left their father, and the other hired helpers, and went off with this man Jesus.
Wow! Would we have done that? Even if we had heard of Jesus before, would we have left everything and followed him? Somehow I doubt it! And remember, to answer my second question, they didn’t really know who he was. Oh I’m sure they had heard of this new Rabbi who was creating quite a stir in those days. There was no questioning about who he was. It may even have been that it was an honor for a good Jewish boy to take up with a Rabbi as part of a following. But they didn’t know what we know about Jesus!
I believe this story is very much indicative of the kinds of things we must consider when God calls us. Think of what it means for God to call us. (We just sang that hymn. “Jesus calls us.” Do we believe that.) Think of those three questions I asked about the fishermen. When God calls us, Do we know what we’re in for? Are we sure of who it is who calls us? And do we know what our “job” will be?
Think of that First question. When God calls us, “Do we know what we’re in for?” The answer is, “Maybe.” Maybe we’ll know, maybe we won’t. But, do we have to know what we’re in for before we answer God’s call? If you think about it, we don’t. We don’t have to understand everything. Sometimes we think we do. We think, “God, I’m going to have to have all the details before I’ll follow!” Or perhaps like the “would be disciples” later in the Gospel we say, “Let me first do this, or let me first do that, then I’ll follow.” You may remember how Jesus discouraged them – because they had a problem with answering the call. They just didn’t seem to have their hearts in it.
When God calls us, he calls us to the way of faith. But when God calls we need to learn to answer the call, even though we might not know what it’s all about. That’s not always easy! Remember the story of Samuel. When he heard the voice of God calling in the night, Eli instructed him to say, “Speak, Lord, for thy servant hears.” He didn’t tell him to say, “Ok Lord, if it’s really you, let me know what you want and then maybe I’ll get on board!” Faith. Trust. Obey. Those are three important words to remember when God calls.
Then there’s the Second question. When God calls, “Are we sure of who it is who calls us?” That’s a hard one. I don’t want to make it sound like God’s call comes in an audible way, or by phone, or by email. When God calls, it takes a lot of prayer. It takes a lot of “discernment.” That means being able to distinguish between what is God’s voice and what is not. That means asking God to help us to recognize when he is calling. Often, the biggest part of that discernment is familiarity. When we are in regular communication with God, when we are “familiar with God,” we will be able to recognize his voice when he speaks.
It’s just like when you answer the phone. How many people call someone on the phone and then play the “recognize my voice game?” If God played the recognize my voice game, how many of us would get it? We need to be in regular communication with God, and to strive to the best of our ability to hear God’s call on our lives. Because I’ll give you one piece of truth in this. God calls everyone who follows him! Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice – and they know me!” But how many people would recognize God’s voice if he spoke to them?
Then there’s the Third question I asked. When God calls, “Do we know what our ‘job’ will be?” The disciples wouldn’t necessarily understand that for some time, even though he did say to Simon and Andrew that day, “…I will make you fisher’s of men.” I don’t think that was just a convenient metaphor, because they were fishing! The call was to go and call others.
My friends, I believe that’s what God calls us to do. And that may be where we fail God the most. God wants us to be telling other people about him. Remember John 3:16. It doesn’t say, “God sent his only begotten Son so that whoever believes in him might not perish, but have everlasting life.” (“Gee, I thought it did!”) No. It doesn’t start with the sending and the belief and the everlasting life. It starts “God loves the world!” He wants us to have everlasting life in relationship with him. It’s not just the not “dying for us” part. God loves us! And he wants us to tell others of his love.
But how many of us are doing that? The fact is, too many Christians are too silent about their faith. God doesn’t want us to be silent about him. He wants us to enjoy this life. He wants the very best for us. He wants us to be fully alive. And he wants that for all his people. And each of his people are called to tell about that incredible love of God. That’s why we “evangelize.” Not because we need more people! Not because we need more money! We reach out because of this unbelievable thing!! The God of the universe wants us to share life with him, and he wants us to tell others how much he wants to share life with them, too!
Yet, his people make excuses. Many times they even think like old Jonah here. What did he do when he first was called to preach to the Ninevites? He ran away! Hey, the Ninevites were the Gentiles! You know what the Jews thought of the Gentiles! They were not the chosen people, and Jonah didn’t like the idea of preaching to them – even though it was God who told him to. So he ran away. And God taught him a big lesson. And I’m not talking about being swallowed by a big fish. But that wasn’t the biggest lesson in this story.
The lesson was in how these Gentiles responded. I get the impression that Jonah didn’t give this his all in this task – even after the fishy part of this story. He went to Nineveh, like God said. But still his heart wasn’t in it! He hardly said anything. Not much of his preaching is recorded. In fact, all he said was, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” That’s it! And yet look at the reaction of the Ninevites! They fasted, and put on the all the signs of repentance – every one of them! From the greatest to the least! Even the King, when he heard it, he too repented.
That was the big lesson! God loved those people and he touched them, and they responded. But even that didn’t help Jonah’s attitude. When he saw what happened, when he saw the salvation of the Ninevites, “it displeased him.” That’s what it says in the beginning of the next chapter. He complained to God.
We must realize that we are called to tell others of our faith in God. And we may not see how it’s going to happen. It may not even make ay sense to us. We may not think that a person will be receptive. We may not necessarily see the results. We may not even like the person! We may not ever see any difference in another person’s life. But that doesn’t matter. The fact is that we are called to tell!
This story tell us that when God calls us – and he does call us – he calls us to call others. What is our response? What should our response be? It is my challenge that we will respond. It is my prayer that we will increase our efforts – all of us – to tell others about God‘s love. And it is my hope that we have a lot to tell them! I believe there’s a lot that God is doing right here at Eddington! Let’s not let it be a “well kept secret.” Let’s get the word out! Let’s invite! But more than that, let’s grow in the love of God ourselves.
We tend to tell others about things that are important to us. We tend to tell about things we are excited about. If our relationship with God is not something that’s important to us, if it’s not something we are excited enough to tell about, let’s do something about it! Let’s seek with all our being to grow in that! Then, let’s share it! Let’s tell others about our faith and our Church. Let’s weave those things into conversations. We are called to call others. When we do that, it will be amazing what God can and will do through us!
Eternal God, help us to reach out. Help us to know your enthusiasm in our hearts. Help us to be eager to tell others the good news. Give us the courage and the boldness to spread the wonderful story of your grace! For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.