Epiphany 3 – January 21, 2018

Rev. Lyle McKenzie      Lutheran Church of the Cross of Victoria
Jonah 3:1-5,10; Psalm 62:5-12; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

God when you call, help us to hear and respond – not by assessing what will be required, what will happen, what will be the result, as if we could know, but to your compelling love and purpose that Jesus followed, and calls us to do the same. Amen

For those who were here last Sunday, I said, “This is a calling Sunday.” And concluded every Sunday is a calling Sunday.

Well, this Sunday is another calling Sunday. Like last Sunday with more examples of the calling of God’s people to turn around and join the work of God’s dominion. And the second part too, about every Sunday being a calling Sunday.

Jonah and the people of Nineveh, Andrew and Peter, James and John, and Paul, are all called by God, called by Jesus, to follow. And they do. Well, mostly. Jonah requires extreme measures. Paul pretty much too. But the first disciples in response to Jesus drop everything and follow. Why? What changes things so much that they are willing to change everything. Is it what they see and hear in Jesus? And what does Jesus see in them, to call each one?

I want to read the prologue to a novel by Canadian author Will Ferguson. (The Shoe on the Roof, Simon and Schuster, Canada, copyright 2017 pages vii – viii)

I appreciate this brief story, because of the surprise of something more going on, beyond what we can explain, that changes how we perceive everything else, and maybe changes everything. I have just begun the novel, so I don’t know all the connections to the story. But I appreciate this way of beginning.

I wonder if these calling stories, if all God’s/Jesus’ calling stories are like this. There’s more going on than we imagine, much of which we don’t know, but something we see and hear changes how we perceive things, maybe everything. And we follow.

There’s more going on in Jonah’s story, and it’s much less subtle than a shoe on a roof, but no less life and death.

In response to Jonah’s total resistance to go to Nineveh – an Assyrian Capital, the centre of enemy territory for Israel, God takes extreme measures (a great storm that nearly sinks the ship Jonah’s taken in the opposite direction; a sailing crew with more heart than Jonah reluctantly throwing him overboard; Jonah swallowed by a fish and living in its belly for three days; Jonah’s pious prayers of pleading that he’ll do better and the fish throwing him up on a beach so he can follow God’s call.) Yea, fairly extreme… all of it to see Jonah, in the words we hear today, proclaiming God’s word of Nineveh’s impending doom and all the people of the city, great and small, joining in a fast and putting on sackcloth in repentance; And God changing God’s mind not to bring calamity on them for their evil ways.

The story is a parable, reminding God’s people of God’s ways of mercy even for our enemies, over against our ways that would rather have them lost to punishment and suffering forever. The story ironically and even humorously contrasts the repentance and faithfulness of the evil people of Nineveh with the resistance and reluctance of God’s “faithful” servant Jonah.

But everyone is changed. And as hearers of the story, we are called to change with them, to let go our prejudices, our desire to see other’s punished, and let God save people from evil, including us, and to follow God in that saving work.

The ecumenical study this past week focused on prejudice and how pervasive it can be for us and our world. Prejudging others because of where they are from, from one nation or another, their skin colour, their head coverings or other clothing, their sexual orientation or gender identity, their culture, their religion or spiritual practices, their challenges, their need for healing and God’s saving hope. The hope is that the stories that were shared and the conversation between people of our different communities challenged and encouraged us to be changed, from prejudice to openness and compassion, following God, following Jesus in ways of repentance and greater mercy.

There was a brief story this week from the Maskwacis community of four indigenous nations that is located near Wetaskiwin, Alberta. It is a community that was well known in the area when we lived there, with no small amount of prejudice. It was reported there have been 14 deaths by suicide in the community of about 17,000 in December and January.

Some were calling for a state of emergency to be declared. Other’s focused on the need for community based healing and support. The problems are great and complex, but the need for healing and hope is greater. What is God calling for, calling even us to do in response to the crisis for far too many indigenous people and communities? How do we repent and be changed? How do we follow?

There’s more going on in Paul’s story. Convinced that the time has grown short and “the present form of this world is passing away,” Paul suggests everything needs to be different, from married life, to grief, to joy, to commerce to any dealings with this world. Paul, as much as we know, was never married. No holy wonder and probably best when he makes comments like this. But that Paul perceives everything is changed, and calls us to a completely new way of being in the world, – with others, I would suggest, including spouses, and the grieving and rejoicing, is the call of God that Paul follows, and calls the community of Jesus in Corinth to follow as well. For Paul everything has changed, the dominion of God is near. And as hearers of Paul’s words, we hear God calling us to the same urgency, the same transformation and hope. How do we follow?

There’s more going on in this calling story of Jesus and the first disciples. As John is imprisoned and his ministry of preparation comes to an end, Jesus takes up his calling to proclaim in words and actions that the dominion of God has come near, repent and believe the good news. And he calls Andrew and Peter, James and John, to follow him. To quote commentator Lamar Williamson, “The only words are the words of Jesus. He calls, they follow. We are not told whether these fishermen had previously enjoyed their work or detested it, whether they were prosperous or impoverished. We do not know how the two pairs of brothers got along with each other, nor how the sons of Zebedee related to their father.” The absence of these details helps us see the call of Jesus and the response of the disciples is the heart of the gospel. Lives are turned around, people believe and follow Jesus. And they are called to this same purpose, “to fish for people;” meaning, to call others to see the dominion of God coming closer than we could have imagined in Jesus, and to follow him.

And with no information of what will be required, what will we do, what will the outcome be, what is the duration, what are the risks, will there be training and support, all these practical questions and concerns unanswered, Jesus calls, and people follow. Jesus calls, and we follow.

It is true of so many before us, it is true for so many among us, it is true by God’s grace for all of us. So much more of God’s dominion coming near in Jesus is going on, often unseen. Where and how and what will be, is mostly unknown. But that Jesus calls, and we follow, that is the gospel truth.

It’s another calling Sunday. Every Sunday and everyday is a Jesus calling day. To change everything and follow is pretty much crazy, unless we believe God has a lot more going on in this world, around and within us, than we perceive or imagine. And so today, and every day by God’s grace, we follow.