(Year B) Jonah 3: 1-5, 10; Mark 1: 14-20
Good morning on this winter weekend, and grace and peace. The story from St. Mark’s gospel is I think a familiar one to all Christians, and perhaps especially so for those of us members of parishes under the patronage of St. Andrew. Since this is the reading we hear, appointed for St. Andrew’s Day, with all the echoing of bagpipes, at the end of every November. This vocational moment. The calling of the first disciples there by the Sea of Galilee. Andrew, Peter, James, and John. We know the Christmas stories of course and the Baptism at the Jordan River. But somehow this story has the feeling of the beginning of things. “Come with me.” Jesus says. “Let’s get going.” And we hear the evocative marching orders that have echoed through all the centuries. “Follow me, and I will made you fishers of men.” Fish for people.
We see and experience this moment of course as a familiar and recurring theme and pattern of the whole Biblical story. God calls Abraham to leave the land of his Father and to come to a new land, where he will establish a new nation loyal to God alone. God calls Moses at the burning bush to leave his father-in-law’s homestead in the Sinai and to return to Egypt and to lead his people from slavery to freedom again, renewing their covenant with him and to be restored in their loyalties and to return again to the Promised Land. God calls Samuel as he goes to sleep in the shrine at Shiloh. David from the sheepfolds of his father Jesse. The great prophets. Elijah and Elisha. Jeremiah. Again and again through the Old Testament. And of course as we think through the New Testament we would remember as well the dramatic vocational experience of Paul as he is thrown from his horse on the Road to Damascus. God calls.
The compilers of our lectionary give us the contrast this morning as we remember what happened with the Prophet Jonah. We remember how he is called at first by God and commanded to carry the message of repentance into foreign territory, the capital city of the ancient enemy. Fearful of what might happen to him if he were to attempt that mission, Jonah hightails it out of town in exactly the opposite direction, finally getting on a ship and sailing away. And of course we remember that story. The storm, the great fish. And then we see the second part of the story this morning. Amazingly, improbably, Jonah’s mission is successful. He gets there. He calls the enemy to repentance. And they hear the message and immediately turn away from their corrupt and evil ways to experience God’s mercy and forgiveness. But then this odd twist: Jonah isn’t satisfied. He apparently has his own agenda. It’s almost like he’s embarrassed. It would have made him feel better if the enemy hadn’t repented, and if his words of warning had all come true, and the fire of God had fallen from the heavens to consume and destroy the people of Ninevah.
From first to last, in this story, Jonah wants to have his own way. It’s all about his concerns, his agenda.
I remember a poster I saw once back in the 1970’s, maybe. During that long stretch of time when the thought of the atom bomb, nuclear war, was so much more on the front burner of our consciousness. The poster shows a city outline in the background, and over it the terrifying image of a mushroom cloud. In the foreground we see people fleeing in terror. And one young woman, with her hand to her forehead, is saying “but what about my career?”
It was a funny image. The contrast. This huge and unimaginable catastrophe—and all she can think about is her own personal situation.
Self-centered. Turned in on ourselves.
Jesus addresses Peter and Andrew, “and immediately they left their nets and followed him.” Jesus then spots James and John sitting in their boat not far away, and “immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.”
Immediately. The Greek, euthus, an adverb St. Mark uses frequently in his gospel. One thing happens, and then “immediately” something else happens. And so here. Hardly time to catch your breath between the thought and the action. Jesus calls, and Peter and Andrew follow. Immediately. Right then.
It is startling, to see how ready they are to hear. How quickly they respond. How they don’t run away.
I love the hymn we sang here. So haunting, deep. “Young John who trimmed the flapping sail, homeless,in Patmos died. Peter, who hauled the teeming net, head-down was crucified.” And so for all of them. The journey ahead. Did they catch a glimpse of all that, of any of that, in that moment? Conflict, opposition. The road to the Cross. What did they see when they looked at him? What did they hear in his voice?
These vocational moments. Sometimes the big “burning bush” life changing moments of our lives. And sometimes he comes more quietly, in the ordinary routines and decisions of our day to day lives. “Put that down, and come with me.”
Lord Jesus, what a mess I am, caught up in the nets of my own occupations and preoccupations. So often with my eyes closed, turned away. Not paying attention. Missing what I shouldn’t miss.
So wonderful this morning to see them again this moment by the Sea. Peter and Andrew, James and John. “You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea, in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea, for the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too.”
Simply to pray this morning Lord that you would come in by the window when I have the front door closed and locked. Lift up my head, open my eyes, unstop my ears. Prepare my heart. To know you when you come, to hear and know your voice. To experience your presence and to have the courage to follow you. To be ready when you call.
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.