St. John's Episcopal Church

Sermon for January 21, 2018

The Third Sunday after the Epiphany

The Rev. Carol Hancock


St. John's, Centreville
January 21, 2018
3 Epiphany B
Mark 1:14-20
     God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
     The theme running through the lessons both last Sunday and today is calling, God calling people to listen and follow. Last week, we heard the calling of Samuel in the Old Testament, and the calling of Philip and Nathanael as Jesus' disciples in the gospel lesson.
     This morning, in our Old Testament reading, we have the calling of Jonah. God calls Jonah to go to the city of Ninevah and tell them that God will destroy them if they do not repent of their evil ways. But Jonah does not want to go to Ninevah as the Assyrians are a tough group of people. So Jonah tries to hide from God and gets on a boat going in the opposite direction. A storm arises and Jonah is thrown overboard where he is swallowed by a whale that spits him back on shore after three days. Finally, Jonah follows God's direction and goes to Ninevah where he stands in the center of the city and tells the people that God will destroy them if they do not repent and change their evil ways. Surprising both God and Jonah, the Nivevites repent, which angers Jonah because he wants to see God destroy them. But God accepts their repentance and does not destroy Ninevah.
     In our gospel lesson, we heard the story of the calling of Simon and Andrew, James and John, two sets of brothers. There is no recording in any of the gospels about what interactions these two sets of brothers might have had with Jesus before they dropped everything to follow him. Perhaps they had heard him speak. Perhaps they felt the charisma of his presence, the sincerity and love in his eyes, or the authority he projected. Someway, somehow, these ordinary fishermen were drawn to Jesus.
     These disciples that Jesus calls are common people. For the most part, they are fishermen, going about their daily work, mending nets and catching fish. Jesus meets them, not in a synagogue or during worship, but where they are, in the midst of their everyday work. And Jesus calls them to leave everything they have, leave their vocations, their boats, their families, and follow him.
     This story raises a lot of questions that Mark does not answer. How could they just leave their businesses? How could they leave their families? Didn't they have responsibilities to them? How would their families support themselves without the income from selling the fish? What were these men saying yes to? Did they know what they were getting themselves into, or did they follow Jesus on trust alone? Good questions but no answers.
     Author Barbara Brown Taylor looks at this passage from a different perspective. She writes, "If you ask me, this is not a hero story but a miracle story, as full of God's power as the feeding of the five thousand or the raising of the dead. Listen to the language of the miracle stories in Mark: "Be made clean", Jesus says to the leper and he was made clean. "Stand up, take your mat and go home", Jesus says to the paralyzed man, and the man stood up, took his mat, and went home. "Go, your faith has made you well", he says to the blind man, and immediately he regained his sight. "Follow me", Jesus says and immediately those he was calling left their nets and followed him."
     "This is no story about the power of human beings to change their lives, to leave everything behind and follow. This is a story about the power of God - to walk up to a quartet of fishermen and work a miracle, creating faith where there was no faith, creating disciples where there were none moments before. This is not a story about us. This is a story about God, and about God's ability not only to call us but also to create us as a people who were able to follow."
     What is our response when Jesus calls us to follow him? Are we like Jonah who tries to run away and hide from God? Are we like the disciples who drop everything in order to follow him? I would guess most of us are both. Sometimes we are filled with God's spirit and we realize the strength God gives us to do God's work in the world. But sometimes we are like Jonah who tries to run away from God. God's callings are not always to do big, hard things, but God calls us also to minister in God's name in small, almost unnoticeable ways.
     I think sometimes we feel unworthy of the call. Not me, Lord. Send someone else. That's what Moses said to God when God calls him to be a leader of the Israelites and lead them out of their slavery in Egypt. "I am not eloquent and am slow of speech and tongue. Send, I pray, some other person." (Ex. 4:10) But God doesn't let Moses off the hook. God needs Moses to be the leader of the Israelites because of the kind of person Moses is, because of the gifts and abilities Moses has. But God does call Moses' brother Aaron also, to speak for Moses. God doesn't let Jonah off the hook either. God convinces Jonah to do what God has called him to do.
     In Mark's gospel, there is a sense of urgency. The author of Mark's gospel uses the word "Immediately" many times. There is no time to waste when it comes to doing God's work. The Jesus we meet in Mark's gospel not only promises to change our lives, he promises to transform them. Jesus is not looking for us to follow him eventually when we feel the time is right, or when we have more information, or when the economy is better or the children have finished school or we are near retirement. Jesus will not settle for casual curiosity or following when it is convenient, when we can fit into our busy schedules. Jesus calls us to follow immediately with all that we are and all that we have, to commit ourselves fully to the work of the gospel.
     God calls us to do God's work. We may feel our heart stirring or our passion rising about some injustice and we know we need to do something. That is God calling us and working in and through us. Sometime we feel we need to say something to someone and find out later that is exactly what that person needed to hear at that time - God working in and through us. When we accept God's call to minister in God's name, we may touch people's lives in ways we are not even aware of.
     The fisherman dropped their nets, left their boats and followed Jesus. What will be our answer to God's call? Will we get rid of the things that stand in our way of becoming followers of Christ? Will we drop whatever we are doing and follow God's call to be a disciple? How will we respond? The choice is ours. Amen.
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