Saturday, January 24, 2015

Third Sunday after Epiphany, Year B

God Don’t Sponsor No Flops

Readings: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:6-14; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

God calls us, not once, but again and again throughout our lives. God calls us to renew our baptismal covenant, to renew our life in Christ. Sometimes we are called to choose new priorities. Sometimes we are called to leave behind the things that have been keeping us from God, things that impede our discipleship. Sometimes we are called to make changes in our lives. Often a call comes to us when we are facing crises in our lives, for those are times when change is not only necessary, but even welcome. Whatever our call, it is a call to action. What is happening right now for us as individuals, as a church, as a nation? More importantly, how will we respond? Those are good questions for us to ponder during this season of Epiphany.

I was visiting my sister many years ago. I was sitting in the living room with my then teenaged niece. We were chatting, getting caught up. My sister called her to come and help with setting the table. She ignored her mother completely and kept on talking to me as if she had heard nothing. My sister called again a little louder. Once again it was as if Deirdre had not heard a word that was said. I asked her, “Why aren’t you answering your mother?” Her reply: “She isn’t mad enough yet?” Of course, my sister did eventually really lose her cool. Then Deirdre got up and did as her mother demanded.

When God calls on us to act, it can present a very similar reaction in us. We can find many excuses. “I didn’t hear you!” “I don’t understand what you want!” “It’s too hard!” “Find someone else!” “I don’t have enough knowledge.” “You couldn’t possibly mean me!” The real reason is far more likely to be “I don’t want to” or “I’m afraid.

Consider the story of Jonah. God’s call to Jonah was a call to action. No ifs, ands, or buts! He was to go to the people of Nineveh to give them a message from God. God wanted him to tell them that he was going to overthrow them because of the evil things they had done. Jonah was their last chance. And you know! He refused. Like my niece with her mother he heard what God was saying to him. He ignored the message. God went to great lengths to move him to action. He even had him swallowed by a great fish and thrown up on the shores of Nineveh. Still Jonah was reluctant to act. Finally God got through to him. He began his walk through the streets of Nineveh. “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” he cried out to the people. And, much to Jonah’s astonishment, perhaps even disdain, they heard and believed. They changed their ways. They proclaimed a fast and everyone put on sackcloth. The whole of Nineveh’s society got involved in changing their ways. Nineveh was spared.

The Gospel is about the call of the disciples. Jesus comes to Galilee preaching a message very much like his predecessor, John, a call to repentance. Yet it is a call to far more than simply asking for and receiving forgiveness. It is a call to renewed faith and radical change.

You know the story well. As Jesus is walking by the Sea of Galilee he sees brothers, Simon and Andrew fishing. He calls out to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people."

Surely that is one of the memorable lines in Scripture, even with the change in wording. It cannot help but speak to each of us. It draws us into the story with its very simplicity. At the same time, it raises some questions. How could it possibly be that easy? How could a few simple words spoken by Jesus be heard with such clarity by these simple folk? Did it really happen that way? Had Jesus known them for a long time and built up a relationship with them? How could anyone respond so completely and so quickly to God's call? Would I have responded as Andrew and Simon did? I suspect I’d be more like Jonah in my response.

William Clare Menninger, a distinguished American psychiatrist, toured the states for years as a lecturer and consultant. Frequently people asked him for the secret of a good and happy life. He always said: "Find a mission in life and take it seriously."

It is good advice. Even more important for us as Christians, it is our call. It is our call to find the mission to which God has called us, and to take it seriously. Jesus offers us that mission. He proclaims, "The kingdom of God has come near." The kingdom with all its spiritual blessings and possibilities is here, now, in this place, at this very time. Turn back to God. Repent. Accept the Good news. Have faith. Act on it.

No matter what our worldly vocation, we are all invited to share in the redemptive dream of God for this world of ours. We are called to use our own special gifts and talents to ensure the success of the kingdom. We are called to follow, to love, to forgive, to witness, to serve, and above all to hope, to hope that our offering will make a difference.

I suspect that is the most difficult thing to overcome. We look at the task and think, 'it is just too much. There is too much to do. I can never make a difference.' When we think that way it is very easy to convince ourselves that there is no point. But if we are to live up to the hope of our calling, we must trust that we are part of the solution. We must trust that God's plan will ultimately prevail. We must trust that God will enable us to accomplish what we are called to do.

There is a wonderful story about Ethel Waters, the black actress and singer. She was performing in New York when Billy Graham was holding a crusade back in the fifties. She went one evening and slipped into the choir. Reporters found out and questioned her, "Aren't you afraid to identify yourself with something like this? You're famous. You have a reputation. This might fail." She replied, "God don't sponsor no flops."

God calls us, not once, but again and again throughout our lives, to renewed life in Christ, to choose new priorities, to leave behind the things that keep us from truly serving God. Like Jonah, God may call to us through the crises of our lives. Like the disciples, God may call us from the ordinary routines of our lives. The question remains, how will you respond to God's call? Whatever your call may be, remember that "God don't sponsor no flops!"

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