January 22, 2012 – 3 Epiphany B
Jonah 31-5,10; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
It won’t be a surprise for me to begin this sermon by saying that each of us is called by God. Not just priests and those who enter full time work in the church, but all of us are called by God. That call is not just a one time thing that we either answer or ignore. God calls us, each of us, each and every day. That’s where we start today and the question is quickly recognized: how might God be calling me at this point in my life? Those calls shift and change along with our circumstances. Primarily God calls us to accept his love, enter the joy of his kingdom, and serve our Lord, to put God and others even ahead of ourselves. There are many kinds of calls, because there are many kinds of people and because there are many kinds of places that we find ourselves in our lifetimes.
In our Gospel lesson, Jesus is calling the first of his apostles. He comes upon some fishermen and calls Simon and Andrew, James and John, two sets of brothers. Jesus calls them to put down their nets, their current ways of life, and follow him in this new mission of spreading the good news of salvation. I imagine that their picking up and leaving was preceded by a period of thinking and wondering, a time of excitement where they had heard of this figure Jesus, a time when they were being drawn into the new message of hope. But, while I imagine this time of becoming caught up in the excitement of the message, today we read about the sudden movement of following. So quickly it seems, they just pick up and go. They’re young men, probably craving some adventure, perhaps a little disillusioned with the arduous life of fishing, maybe disillusioned with society in general. Young men and women don’t count the cost of decisions quite like folks who are a little older and have more to protect. But the point of the story, and the example for us, is that they jump up and follow Jesus. They respond. They commit. They move. They put down an old way and pick up a new way. They say yes and they go with Jesus.
Sometimes in life, maybe more often when we’re younger, but even when we’re much older, God calls us to pick up and move. Sometimes that’s a very literal picking up and moving. We take on new jobs. We enter new ventures. We have new opportunities. We move to new cities to be with our children and grandchildren. We move to a retirement facility or a nursing facility. We stop working, or change careers. We step away from what we’ve grown used to doing and we take on something else. Sometimes it just seems that life is throwing us a curve but maybe, just maybe, the hand of God is at work in those calls to move. Typically we resist them because they mean so much change but, as we go along, we find God revealing the goodness of the venture. Maybe you’re being called to move in some fashion.
The story of Jonah reminds us that sometimes we’re called to move and usually we don’t like that. Jonah is called to move to Ninevah. He tries everything he can think of to go in the opposite direction but he lands in Ninevah. And much to his surprise, even to his dismay, he is remarkably successful. He calls the people to repent and they change dramatically. The course of their history is altered. When God wants us to move, he usually starts with a gentle invitation but God can get unscrupulous if we don’t eventually respond.
St. Paul speaks of another kind of call, maybe one even more difficult than the calls to move or change. Paul speaks of the call to remain right where we are, the call to wait, the call to be patient when it appears that the promises of God are being withheld or delayed. Timing is such a challenge in life. Certain things seem to happen too quickly but so many things just don’t seem to happen quickly enough. We’re ready to get promoted and it doesn’t happen. We’re ready for our marriage to grow and our partner seems completely unwilling. We’re ready to find a mate and no one out there seems to fit. We’re ready to retire and there’s just not enough money. We hate our job but we can’t find another one. Our children are difficult and we’re ready for them to grow up and become responsible but that’s a long way off. We’re ready to feel better but the disease still holds us. We’re ready to die but our bodies cling and linger.
Accept your situation, St. Paul says, accept it as the place where God will make himself known. Accept it, not as the place where you will be forever, but the place where you are now, the place where God will do his transforming work. Accept your situation, not out of resignation, but in trust that God will take us to a new place in God’s time.
God’s calls to us are numerous, constant, ever deepening. And each of God’s calls is for our own good and the good of the world. In all things God is calling us closer to the center of the kingdom of heaven. Open your heart and know that God is drawing you into his love.