Sunday, January 21, 2018

Epiphany 3
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Psalm 62
1 Corinthians 7:29-31 (32-35)
Mark 1:14-20

Immediately they left their nets, and followed him.

Mark often uses the word ďimmediately.Ē He uses it again just two verses later. There is a sense of urgency to the mission throughout the Gospel of Mark. The kingdom of God was at hand and Jesus knew He would not have very long to teach the disciples. Jesus never forced faith on anyone. He was received and believed through the grace of God. ďNowĒ was the time to act; there was no time to wait or think or consider the cost.

Simon and Andrew, James and John were fishermen. Most scholars will tell you that they were not educated beyond the schooling they received as children. They were surely familiar with the scriptures, learned at the feet of their mothers. They may have had enough knowledge in the common languages of the day so that they could conduct their business. It is likely, however, that they were strong, dirty and rough, mouths filled with foul language. Though they could have recited the psalms, they were probably more likely to tell an off-color joke. They were surely not prepared to follow Jesus. They were men of the sea, hardworking, patient and willing to endure hardship, but the life of wandering the wilderness or hanging with crowds in the villages was beyond their experience. Worst of all, they were not preachers or teachers. How could God possibly call these guys to this life?

I think most of us, at some time or another, ask the same question of our own lives. ďHow could God possibly call me to this life?Ē I donít mind following Jesus, although Iíd much rather if He led me in the direction I want to go.

However, Simon (Peter), Andrew, James and John left their fishing boats ďimmediatelyĒ and followed Jesus. This has always struck me as amazing. Even with the Holy Spirit urging them to faith and obedience, I find it difficult to identify with someone who would leave everything without thought or consideration for the cost. Iíd want a few answers, first. Where are we going? What will we do? How will we survive without nets, or jobs, or our families? Can we go home and get a change of clothes and hiking boots?

It seems to us that they heard the call of a stranger and just left everything for him. Yet, as we look at the whole story we realize that the four fishermen were familiar with Jesus and the work he was doing. As a matter of fact, this story does not happen until chapter four in Matthew. In Luke, Jesus healed Simonís mother-in-law before He called the fishermen to follow Him. We donít know how long it was between the wilderness temptation and the calling of these disciples. It could have been months or even a year. We do know from Mark that the time was right; John the Baptist was arrested, decreasing so Jesus could increase. These fishermen didnít drop everything at the call of a stranger. Andrew was a follower of John and heard John tell the crowds that Jesus was the One for whom they were waiting. He told Simon that they had found the Messiah.

The fact that these guys had time to think about it doesnít make it any less amazing. As a matter of fact, thinking about it might have been the worst thing they could do. Who really walks away from a good living without considering the cost? Hereís the most amazing thing: Jesus could have chosen far more capable people to be His disciples. What made him pick this rag-tag group of men? Why would He choose fishermen? Why would He pick men that have no experience with ministry?

He chose them for that very reason: those disciples were clay that could be molded. The religious establishment was too set in their ways, there was too much for Jesus to overcome. He chose people who werenít afraid, who could learn, whose hearts were open to the Holy Spiritís guidance. They werenít perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Even after traveling with Jesus and spending all their time with Him, they did not understand. Even to the cross, the disciples thought that they were picked for a different purpose. James and John thought that Jesus would choose them to be His right and left hand men when He became king. None of them expected Jesus to surrender. They wanted to follow the Messiah. Would any of them have really followed immediately if they thought Jesus would end up on the cross?

Iím not sure I could immediately leave my life and follow Him. Now that my children are grown I have more freedom to follow Godís expectation of my life, but it was much harder when my children were small. I had opportunities to travel, to speak, to teach, but I always had to consider the cost. Could I get away from the children for a few days? Would Bruce be available to be there when they got home from school, to cook them dinner, to tuck them in at night? Bruce was active duty military and I worried that he might get deployed while I was gone; I wondered if I could get home in the case of an emergency. Even now I have to consider my relationship with my husband when I make decisions, just as he does the same for me. We struggle to follow because weíve made promises to each other.

Paul honored marriage, but in todayís epistle lesson he talks about a reality that we do not often consider. Paul wrote that the time had grown short and that Christians should keep their eyes on Jesus, even living as though one did not have a spouse. It meant turning away from family in their greatest time of need. It meant ignoring the joyous times of life. It meant giving up all their stuff. It meant giving up all dealings with the world. This seems rather extreme to us, after all Jesus was not against marriage.

Paul is not telling us to reject earthly things like marriage. He is more concerned about sparing the Christian from the trials that occur when distracted from their calling from God. A spouse, the responsibilities of work and children, the care of a house and property keeps us from time that might be devoted to Christ. It is not only a matter of time. It is also a matter of the emotions that come with the relationships and responsibilities. Our hearts are torn every time we have to choose between family and the calling of God.

Jonah had to go to Nineveh. Over and over again Jonah tried to find ways to avoid the work God has called him to do, but God kept calling. Jonah struggled with the assignment because he knew it meant his enemy would benefit. He fought Godís grace. God drew him into the mission, not forcing him to do something he didnít want to do, but convincing him that it was right and good and true. Jonah gave in and went to give the Ninevites the message from God.

God threatened to destroy Nineveh, but He changed His mind and spared them when they repented. We are bothered by the idea that the omniscient God who knows everything from the past into the future could, and would, change His mind. Was He wrong when He threatened destruction? No, He wasnít wrong. He hoped that they would change. Thatís why He sent Jonah. We see in this story that it is OK to change our mind. God calls us to share His grace and expects us to be merciful even if we donít think they are worthy. If God, who is perfect, can change His mind, we can be like Him and change ours, too.

The scriptures for this week teach us that faith means changing our point of view. It means seeing the world from a whole new perspective. Jesus turned our world upside down, calling us to live in the world even though we are no longer of the world. Faith means that we are called to take God into our neighborhoods, to share a word of hope that comes from the reality of Godís grace. It means trusting in God, leaving our burdens at His feet and letting Him bring about the change that will truly make a difference. It means looking at those parts of our life that matter to us, like our marriages, from a new point of view, remembering that God is not only a part of our individual lives, but that Heís in the midst of our relationships, making them new as well. Faith means doing a whole new thing. ďLet go and let GodĒ seems almost cliche, but it is the best word for those who are in the midst of uncertainty and transition. Trust in Him. He is there, taking care of everything. We make it harder for Him to accomplish His good purpose for our lives when we try so desperately to stay in control. Jonah fought God all along, but God knew that Jonahís heart was right. He kept offering Jonah the chance to change the world, calling him over and over to help the Ninevites to back to Him.

The psalmist writes, ďTrust in him at all times.Ē David was probably the writer of todayís psalm and he was having troubles of his own. He knew that the best way to deal with trouble was to trust in God. David had so many enemies. His enemies wanted him dead or at least off the throne. His life and his honor were at stake. However, he knew that he could not defeat his enemies on his own. He waited on God because Godís plan is always right and good. He writes that God is a rock and a fortress. He the foundation on which our life is built and He is the refuge to which we can flee to be safe. He is our strength and our hiding place. In Him we can find rest and restoration. We need not carry our burdens because He will carry them for us.

Trust in Him, for He will take care of those who rely on Him alone. This is especially important to remember as we face the new things to which God is calling us in this world. We may not always like the assignment. We may have to face our enemies. We can respond to the calling like Jonah and try to find ways to avoid it. Or, we can let God turn our world upside down and realize that He is drawing us into His presence by offering us a chance to share His grace with the world.

Changing course in the middle of a journey is hard, but it is exciting, too. I canít tell you how many times Iíve set a particular route for a trip, but for some reason find myself turning another way. If I find myself in the middle of a traffic jam, I may decide to go to a different store. If I leave at an unusual hour, I might go a different direction. When it comes to my life, I am certainly going a different way than I ever expected. When I was in college, I expected to be a teacher. I didnít expect to ever leave Pennsylvania. I never planned to be a writer. Iím not sure what I would have answered if you had asked me thirty years ago where I would be today, but I never would have envisaged the life with which God has blessed me.

I canít imagine what it must have been like to be those first disciples. Did they know what they were getting themselves into? Did they know that Jesus would be taking them on a long and dangerous journey? Did they know theyíd have to speak Godís Word into the lives of people who would not listen or believe? Did they know they would face demons and persecution? I find it hard to believe that they knew what they were getting themselves into when they left their nets by the sea. And yet, like the Ninevites, they heard the Word and believed. They turned to God.

The texts remind us that God should be first in our lives. His calling is urgent and He expects our obedience to be immediate. Can God accomplish the work without us? Of course He can. Can we accomplish anything without Him? No, absolutely not. When God calls us to join Him it is because He has chosen us to the task. He does not need us, but He wants us to follow. We may want to make excuses, try to follow later, but we should not be encumbered by the cares of the world. Though we might want to focus on other things, He should be first in everything. The things of this world do not offer us anything but vain hope. Through it all, we can trust that when God calls, there is power in His Word. God alone is our salvation; He calls us to see the world through His eyes. Jesus calls us to change direction, to respond to His Word and follow Him wherever He might lead.

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