January 25, 2009 III Epiphany (RCL Year B)
Jonah 3: 1-10; Mark 1: 14-20
Maybe it was in a Junior High School history class—I can’t really remember when—that I first learned a bit about the 18th century philosophical movement called “Deism.” I’m not sure what the context would have been—perhaps in learning about Thomas Jefferson or some of the other members of that group we call the Founding Fathers, who would have been associated with this idea.
I was always struck I think that George Washington himself served so many years as a Vestryman and Warden of Pohick Church in Virginia, in the Truro Parish, yet apparently as a matter of personal conscience and integrity never received Holy Communion.
Believers in a universal moral and physical force, sometimes called “Providence,” with a capital “P.” The image I remember: God the Great Watchmaker. He creates the mechanism, winds the spring, and then departs to allow the machine of the universe to operate on its own. An appreciation of a power, not exactly a spirituality, but an acknowledgment of a universal principle, in some sense the sum and total of all the physical laws and operations of the cosmos. An affirmation of a power greater than ourselves—but it is an objective power, a super template, removed, detached, disinterested.
All that to say, how different the world the scriptures ask us to enter this morning, and in all these weeks after the Epiphany. A world of a Creator God who remains active and interactive. Engaged. Last week the story of the Calling of Samuel. The Voice of God waking the boy from sleep, calling him by name—Samuel, Samuel--and seeking his reply. I have something to say to you, and just to you, just for you. That we would make ourselves available to each other. The old priest Eli says, “That’s the LORD calling. Next time you hear the voice, answer. Say, ‘Here I am. Speak, for your servant hears.’”
And then this morning, and first this part the story of Jonah, when Jonah finally gets to Ninevah, after all his running away, his time in the Great Fish. Fleeing from this God who is no distant "Watchmaker," but who has a claim on him personally, who has a specific job for him in particular to do.
And now here in Ninevah, the word proclaimed. A God who stands for righteousness, for judgment, but who seeks even more, reconciliation. Who remains open to the very last minute, to the possibility of change. (And I guess that is a word that we all have in the environment around us this week.) Open to the possibility of change. Reformation. Repentance. Transformation. A God ready to respond to us, to move with us in a new direction, eager to be the source of healing and compassion. To say that a God who can have a change of heart, truly has a heart.
And then finally this morning in this passage from Mark. The One who is himself the Word and expression and presence of God doesn’t leave us alone to work out our own lives and our own destinies under the relentless order of a cosmic inevitability. But he calls us personally, knowing who we are.
He comes to the place where they are, those fishermen, by the sea: where we are, not waiting for us to come to him. Seeking us out. He’s got something for us to do, a work, a calling, a sense of purpose, a sense of growing and challenging relationship. Not a Divine Idea, but a Divine Person.
“The time has come. The Kingdom of God is near.” Let’s go fishing together. Come, be a part of it with me. Let’s work alongside one another, with one another, to make it happen. God’s kingdom. The call deeply and absolutely personal and intimate. “Come, follow me.”
The word for us as we in one part of our response to this invitation come forward to the Table. That he knows us. That he is walking this way with us. That he asks us to come with him.
When I was in Sunday School a teacher told me once that in his three hours on the cross Jesus had time to think of every person who had ever lived and who ever would live. Not even just time to think of their names or to picture their faces, but to see and know and experience every day and hour and minute of our lives, the high moments and the ones we are ashamed of. Victories and failures. Every moment, sharing every moment of our lives—our past, every secret thought, this present moment this morning, the lives we will live tomorrow and next week and next year.
That in those three hours on the cross as he suffered and died he knew us perfectly, each of us, better than we can ever even know ourselves. And that with all that he knew, he loved us, embraced us, gave himself for us, offered himself to be ours forever, as we would be his. A thought I have whenever I see a representation of the crucifix. The one who calls us each by name. The Bread of Life, the Cup of our Salvation.
Come with me, he says this morning. Not to all of us in general, but to each of us in particular. To you. To me. Come, be a part of my life now. Come, follow me.