Jan. 25, 2015 Annual Meeting Day
After our worship service today, when you all come to the Annual meeting and Potluck, you’ll see in the powerpoint presentation, a slide with picture of Jesus, pointing out to us. It’s based on the old WWI recruitment poster of Uncle Sam pointing and saying “I Need You!”
In the Jesus version I have it says, “Jesus Needs YOU for a Sunbeam.”
While these weren’t Jesus’ exact words Jesus used to the fisherman along the lake, it does point out a truth that is inherent not only in Jesus’ recruiting of his disciples, but in God’s interaction with humanity as recorded all throughout scripture, and even remains true today.
God is in the calling business.
God calls YOU. God calls me. Not only to be a Sunbeam, but a witness to God’s love and power in the world… To be a co-creator and partner with God to accomplish God’s purposes in this world, to make God’s kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven. That’s what we pray every time we say the Lord’s Prayer, isn’t it?
If you’ve been at St. Michael’s the last few weeks, you may be noticing a theme around God’s Call.….
Two weeks ago, the lesson was about Jesus’ Baptism, and the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove, with God’s voice crying out, “You are my child, my beloved. With you I am well pleased.” Our guest preacher, Fletcher Lowe, spoke about how we are called to remember our baptism every time we wash our face… and to live out our baptism covenant each day as we go into the world to strive for justice and peace, and to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves.
Last week, our Deacon, Becki, preached about Call as well, as we reflected on God’s call of the boy Samuel in the temple, and Jesus’ call of Philip and Nathaniel in the Gospel of John, and God’s call to us to evangelize, to share Good News.
And while some of you might think, “Who, me?” when told that God is calling you, it’s true. This morning, we’ll take some time to look at God’s Call of Jonah and Jesus’ call of the Disciples to see what we can learn about God’s call on our own lives. So if you can just trust me that God has called you, what can we learn about hearing and responding to God’s call from today’s lessons?
First: To follow God’s Call, Don’t Run Away. But don’t stay put, either.
Our Old Testament reading this morning only has a little snippet of the story of Jonah, but most of you know it, even if only from the Children’s bible version. Jonah was a prophet, and God called him to go and preach to Nineveh, an idolatrous, foreign city, smack dab in the center of Assyria. God asked Jonah to call them to repent and turn towards God, so that God wouldn’t destroy them. Jonah didn’t want to go. These were the bad guys. Jonah would have been perfectly happy if God would have just wiped out the whole place. So, Jonah runs away, taking a boat in the opposite direction. Well, long story short, he ends up being thrown overboard, swallowed by a fish, and after 3 days and time to reconsider, he gets thrown up on land and finally goes and does what God wanted, and the results are phenomenal. The whole city repents.
Sometimes, when you and I sense God calling us to a new way of life, or living out our faith in some new concrete way, we want to run in the other direction, like Jonah. Maybe you sense God calling you to help with some cause, like advocate for better public transportation in Richmond, or help with child literacy, or or begin some community project, like helping to launch St. Michael’s community Garden, but you hesitate because you feel like you’re too busy or not skilled enough.
Maybe you sense God telling you to spend more time visiting with and helping out your elderly neighbor, the one who spouts off opinions you don’t agree with, and whose house always smells a little funny, the one you’d rather avoid, but who really is lonely and needs a tangible experience of God’s love.
Maybe you sense God calling you to a whole new vocation, which might mean moving, or going back to school, or giving up the security of a stable income.
As we can learn from Jonah, and I can tell you from personal experience, when you run away from God’s call, you will often find yourself in the stinky belly of a whale, until you decide to follow God’s lead.
So, when called, don’t run away. But Don’t stay put either.
Following God’s call means there will be some movement, if not physical, at least emotional and spiritual. The fishermen in our Gospel immediately set down their nets and followed Jesus. They couldn’t follow Jesus by staying where they were, probably much to James and John’s father, Zebedee’s, consternation. They knew that following Jesus’ call meant life would be different.
I think this is an important point. Following God’s call is not just doing particular tasks that you feel God would approve of.
Following God’s call means becoming and living into being the person God wants you to be.
So secondly, Following God’s Call means things are going to change. You are going to change.
“Follow me and I will make you fish for people,” Jesus says. This makes it sound as if fishing for people were a task. And while I understand our New Revised Standard Version of the bible wanting to use inclusive language, I really prefer the old King James’ Version here… “You will no longer be fishermen, but fishers of men.”
“I will make you fish for people” gives us one more activity to work into our datebooks. (“Right, Jesus, fish for people. How about every fourth Monday? Can anyone else do fourth Mondays?”) But “I will make you to become fishers”? That promises a whole new life.
Heeding Jesus’ call to “follow me” is an invitation to discipleship. And there’s a difference between discipleship as a task and discipleship as an identity.
If being fishers of men, fishers of people, is a statement about identity, then it must involve something other than doing good works in the narrow sense. The rest of the Gospel of Mark begins to suggest a richer picture. If we can take Jesus at his word—that if the disciples follow his call, he will make them fishers—then the story of the disciples shows what fishers’ lives look like. They find themselves astounded at Jesus’ teaching. They witness the rebuking of unclean spirits, the healing of sick people, and the cleansing of lepers. They must look for find Jesus again when he isn’t where they expect him, because he has gone off to pray. And this is only chapter 1.
Living into God’s call in our lives means we need to be willing to let go of our expectations about how things will be in the future.
No doubt, Zebedee expected James and John would inherit the family fishing business and carrying on the family trade. I imagine James and John had the same plan, until they followed Jesus’ call.
I think our New Testament reading is also trying to get at the fact that we are called beyond the expectations of our current time and season in life.
“The appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.”
So while we still live in a world where we still deal with the everyday issues of relationships, grief and joy, abundance and scarcity, civic and economic interactions, those things are not meant to have ultimate sway over our lives. We are called to follow Jesus no matter where we find ourselves in the spectrum of life’s constant flow.
Often times, I’ll hear someone speak about service in the community or a ministry in the church, and they’ll say something like, “Well, now is not a good time for me.” Or “I’m not really equipped.” And they will go on to list why they can’t do whatever is being asked of them.
And of course, certainly, there can be very valid reasons for saying, “no” even when asked to do a very good thing. The question I want you to engage is not whether or not you should do a particular task or work but to listen for and explore what might be the deeper transformation toward discipleship Jesus is inviting you into through that work or ministry or calling.
It wasn’t convenient for Jonah to follow God’s call to Nineveh. The disciples probably didn’t feel equipped to become fishers of people, when they had been dealing with sea creatures up to that point. But following God’s call means things are going to change. You are going to change.
Which brings me to my last observation about God’s call — for this sermon at least.
God nurtures the Seeds of Who you Are, calling you to blossom into the person God imagines you to be, to bear good fruit for God’s Kingdom.
Jonah was a gifted persuasive speaker with a travel bug; it just needed to be turned in the right direction. Simon and Andrew, James and John loved fishing, and Jesus greatly expanded their passion into new territory. God has called each one of us to follow him, in ways that will use the best of who we already are
I think that applies not only to us as individuals, but to us as St. Michael’s as we look to our future. God calls us into an uncertain, unstable, unpredictable future, where the old things are passing away, including some of the old ways of being and doing church. It’s a dynamic and admittedly scary place to be. The exciting thing is, when you follow God’s call and step out into places yet unknown, you will experience miracles first hand.
God’s call transforms us, individually, and as a community into more than we can ask for or imagine. So, don’t run away, don’t stay put, get ready to change, because Jesus Needs You!