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Responding to God's Call

(Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:5-12; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20)

I’d like to set the stage for the gospel reading for you:  John the baptizer has appeared in the wilderness proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  People have responded and he has baptized them in the Jordan River.  John has proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.  I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”  Jesus has come from Nazareth of Galilee and been baptized by John.  As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.  And then he heard a voice from heaven say, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  The Spirit then drove him into the wilderness for forty days, where he was tempted by Satan, accompanied by wild beasts, and waited on by angels.  After all of this, Jesus has returned to Galilee and proclaimed, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the good news.”  Jesus is now ready to begin his ministry and fulfill his mission.  The stage is set.  All he needs are 

some other players.  So, he goes for a little walk along the Sea of Galilee.

As he is walking along, he sees the fishermen, Simon and his brother, Andrew, casting a net into the sea.  He says to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”  And, right then and there, they follow him!  They leave their nets lying on the beach and follow him.  A little further down, Jesus sees James, son of Zebedee, and his brother, John, who are also fishermen.  They are in their boat mending their nets.  He calls to them, too, and they follow him, leaving their father and the hired men behind sitting in the boat.

Now, imagine that you’re fishing at the Farmington River and some guy comes along and says, “Hey, follow me and I will make you fish for people,” and you just leave what you’re doing and go with him, just like that!  That’s pretty much what happened with Simon, Andrew, James, and John.  They were just doing what they do, and Jesus came along, called them, and they followed him.  Why do you think they immediately answered his call and followed him?  The writer of the gospel, Mark, doesn’t give us any clues.  We don’t know if they had heard about Jesus and knew who he was.   We don’t know if they thought they’d be better off following him and fishing for people than they were staying and fishing for fish.  We don’t know if they believed in Jesus or understood his mission.  All we know is that they were compelled to follow him.  Although they were compelled to follow Jesus, as the rest of the gospel story unfolds, we learn that they really didn’t understand him, they ended up on a journey that perplexed and confused them, and they didn’t even know where they were going.  It appears that the disciples responded to Jesus out of faith – not a faith that understands everything, takes only calculated risks, or seeks after rewards, but a faith that responds to a call that remains unclear and even frightening. 

At the time they said yes to Jesus’ call, the disciples didn’t know the rest of the story – they didn’t know what they were getting into.  As time went on, however, they witnessed the conflict that was building between Jesus and the religious and political authorities, they noticed the opposition that was growing against him, and they discovered that the life of a disciple was not cushy and comfortable but challenging and difficult.  I wonder if they ever had second thoughts.  What do you think?  As Jesus began talking about how it would be necessary for him to go to Jerusalem and be persecuted and crucified, it’s easy to imagine Simon, Andrew, James, and John thinking to themselves, “Yikes!  What have I gotten into?  I wish I were fishing in the Sea of Galilee right now, sitting in the sun, having a snack of olives and dried fish, thinking about what I’ll be doing after work.  What am I doing here, instead?”  We know from the gospel story that when Jesus was arrested the disciples scattered.  We know that Peter denied him three times.  It appears that they did, indeed, have second thoughts about following Jesus through all that his mission required of him and of them.

Like the original disciples, Jesus calls us to be his disciples, to go on a journey of faith with him.  If you’re sitting in this church, or joining via Zoom, or watching the Zoom recording later, you’ve either already said yes to being Jesus’ disciple, you’re contemplating doing so, or you’re finding out what it means to do so.  If you’ve already said yes, you’ve taken that first leap of faith the disciples took and you’re on the journey of faith with Jesus.  If you’re contemplating saying yes to Jesus’ call, you’re thinking about taking that first leap of faith.  And, if you’re finding out what it means to do so, you’re gathering information about the journey.  Wherever you’re at on the journey of faith is valid.  You can be right smack in the middle, thinking about what it will be like if you begin it, or finding out what it’s all about.  

The essential thing is that you’re on a journey of faith with God.  You’re in an active relationship with God.  And that’s wonderful.  It means that – in some way, shape, or form – you’ve opened your heart and mind to God and he’s transforming you into his image even as we speak.  God is leading you to follow his will and walk in his way.  And God’s way is the way of truth and of life.

That way of truth and life can be a difficult and challenging way, however.  To be a disciple of Jesus is to respond to his call and to do what is he is asking us to do where he is asking us to do it.  So why do we respond?  Why do we leave our fishing nets and boats and follow him?  Why do we leave what is comfortable and follow him?  Why do we get out of bed early on a Sunday morning and go to church?  Why do we consider doing church differently than we have been doing it for decades, as we will be doing this year?  Why do we allow our lives to be interrupted by requests for prayer?  Why do we leave a comfortable job to pursue a job that is closer to who we are as God created us?  Why do we support people who are going through a challenging time?  Why do we stand up to corruption in the ways we are able to rather than just go along to get along?  There are countless ways we are asked to follow Jesus when he calls us.  Why do we do it?  Wouldn’t it be easier to not worry about what God is asking of us and just do whatever is comfortable, whatever is familiar?

As you know, I lived in New York City during my twenties.  In the city, I was exposed to pretty much all the false gods that promise fulfillment and end up robbing us of it.  I’ve seen what following false gods does to our lives.  At the least, it kills our spirits.  At the most, it kills our bodies.  Following false gods means that we walk in the way of falsity and death instead of truth and life.

Even though I was exposed to false gods – and even tempted by some of them – I was blessed to hear clearly God’s call and to follow it.  I feel that God led me to truth and to life.  I feel that God led me to Jesus.  I feel that I am the recipient of God’s grace.  In gratitude, I now work on God’s behalf as much as I am able, given my limitations as a human being, in general, and as Amy Johnson, in particular, and aided by God.

When I have second thoughts about having answered Jesus’ call and become his disciple, I remind myself that it is the way to truth and to life.  However difficult and challenging it is, the alternative is falsity and death.  The way can be challenging, but the reward is great.  Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).  When I follow Jesus, I receive abundant life and I contribute to others having abundant life.  What greater thing is there to do?  I get to participate with God in creating abundant life.

Wherever we are in our journey with God as individuals and as a church, I pray that, like the original disciples, when we hear Jesus’ call, we respond to it and follow him.  Even though we may not understand everything about him or his mission, even though we may end up on a journey that perplexes and confuses us, and even though we may not know where Jesus is leading us, I pray that we respond to him out of faith, faith that we will be walking in the way of truth and of life, faith that there is no greater project in which we can be involved than working to make the kingdom of God present here and now.  And remember, it’s okay to have second thoughts, as long as we continue on the journey and keep putting one foot in front of the other, both as individuals and as a church.

I’d like to end with a quote from Leon Joseph Suenens:  “Christ cannot live his life today in this world without our mouth, without our eyes, without our going and coming, without our hearts.  When we love, it is Christ loving through us.”   Jesus has set the stage.  He needs us to be his players.  May we faithfully be the body of Christ – his mouth, his eyes, his hands and feet – as we come and go in this world.  Amen.

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Sermon by the Rev. Amy R. F. Johnson, Canton Community Baptist Church, Canton, CT, Sunday, January 21, 2024, the Third Sunday After Epiphany.

 

1. Walter Brueggemann, Charles B. Cousar, Beverly R. Gaventa, and James D. Newsome.  Texts for Preaching:  A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV – Year B.  Louisville:  Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993, 123.

2. The New Book of Christian Quotations.  Compiled by Tony Castle.  New York:  The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1984, 34.

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