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January 21, 2018

A week ago, I went to the movie theater. As I was coming out of the theater, I decided that I was going to stop in the restroom. I found myself following another person, A man was in front of me that I thought was strange looking. He was heavy set and not dressed well and I thought he had kind of a wild look about him. When we got into the restroom, I saw an employee mopping up the floor. Suddenly the man in front of me, the man I thought was wild looking, said to the employee, “thank you so much for keeping the restroom clean” and the employee thanked him for his comments. I was instantly ashamed of myself. I had judged the man as a strange person and yet he was the one who treated the employee with respect. He had demonstrated how all of us should act, caring for others and thanking them for their work. I realized again that we can immediately judge another person and yet our instant judgments of others can be so wrong. In Mark’s gospel today, we have another case of immediate judgment and action. Jesus was walking along the Sea of Galilee and he called on two sets of brothers to come and join him. In both case, the two brothers immediately dropped what they were doing and followed Jesus. Unlike my judgment, however, the apostles made a good choice. Their judgment, their choice to follow Jesus, was a good one. Our readings during this Epiphany season have been about the revelation of God: Jesus being revealed to the three wise men; John the Baptist declares that Jesus is the Lamb of God. We now take one more step in the process. Jesus declared that God’s kingdom was at hand and then called others to follow him. I believe that God does call us. It might be hard for us to recognize a specific call from God. As we have previously discussed many do not hear messages from God. But we have so many other ways to understand God’s call. We have the words of Scripture and we have the teachings of the church. We have the advice of good people who are with us and each of us has a conscience that helps us to know what we should or should not do. Our scriptures reflect several different ways that people responded to Gods call and some advice about how we are to behave. Let us consider the question of how others responded quickly, how God’s call can remain in someone’s heart for a long time, and how others have dealt with the question of balancing God’s call with the other things that happened in their lives. Perhaps we can find some lessons that may apply to our own situation. In the book of Jonah, the people of Nineveh responded immediately to God’s call for repentance as given by Jonah. They changed their ways. God showed his willingness to forgive and be merciful. Jonah’s story is also a reminder to us that each community is called to listen for God’s word and follow God’s call. It is not just something we do as individuals. It is something we do in community with others. Let’s consider the story of Jonah just a little deeper. You probably remember that the first time God asked Jonah to go to Nineveh, Jonah refused. In fact Jonah ran from God and got on a boat as if he could escape from God’s call by going someplace else in the world. You know how Jonah ended up in the belly of a fish and asked for God’s forgiveness for his lack of obedience. That is what brings us to this reading. Jonah finally did go to Nineveh and tell them to repent. I hear two possible messages to us in Jonah’s situation. First, It is probably not a real good idea to avoid God’s call for us since God will continue to ask us to do God’s wishes. The second message is that God will be with us as we seek to do his will. Jonah went to Nineveh and God was with him as Jonah shared God’s message with others. God is with us as well. I think about how to interpret today’s gospel as well. This reading suggests that the apostles left their families behind and left their careers as fishermen behind. Jesus wanted the apostles to do nothing else now but to be evangelists for God. If you are like me, it makes you feel as if you too are supposed to drop everything that you know and leave everyone behind. But if you read the entire gospel and think about other stories, it didn’t really work that way. Jesus stayed in Galilee for much of his public ministry. Soon after Jesus called these four apostles, Jesus went to the house of Simon Peter’s mother-in law and healed her along with many other sick people. Simon may have become a follower of Jesus but he didn’t leave his family behind totally. There are several stories about Jesus being out in a boat. In one, he fell asleep on the boat and a storm came up. Everyone was afraid but when Jesus was awakened, he calmed the storm. In another, the apostles took a boat and went across the Sea of Galilee ahead of him. Jesus came walking on the water and Peter soon followed. The apostles who were fishermen didn’t leave their original vocation that far behind. In some way, the family of the apostles and their fishing background became a part of their new lives as followers of Jesus and fishers of people. Perhaps you might think that Paul is encouraging people to leave everything behind as followers of Jesus as well. He encouraged people to set aside everything in this world and focus their life on God. Married folks are to set aside their spouse, those who spend money should act as if they had nothing and so on. Let us just remember that Paul believed that Jesus was going to return soon. That has still not happened. How does Paul’s encouragement fit in a world which has continued for so many centuries? Can we stay true to Paul’s advice? In the short time we have on earth, I believe Paul would still want us to remain committed to God above all. Immediate response to God’s call, God’s consistent call to us and the issue of whether we should drop everything to follow Jesus - How do we make sense of all of this today? I would suggest that it all begins with our unwavering commitment to God as the first thing in our lives. It doesn’t matter when we learned about Jesus and whether we immediately responded to the call of being a Christian. What matters is that we follow Jesus in our lives. Once we make our commitment to God, then I would suggest that we ensure that all of our lives are guided by God’s spirit. For some, answering God’s call may be a total change in their lives, for others not. God should guide our married lives and our work lives, our social lives and our recreational lives. When we live that way, I think we are consistent with the response the disciples gave to Jesus, an immediate response to follow him. I ask you to remember that God’s call will remain the same for a long time. Jonah refused God’s wishes the first time around but God was persistent. We don’t know how God called Jonah to bring the word of repentance to Nineveh whether it was spoken or came to Jonah in another way. We don’t know how strongly Jesus called his apostles in Galilee. Was it an authoritative command, a gentle request, or prophetic words? I often think that God was calling me to the priesthood for many years but I wasn’t listening closely enough and did not respond until later. I only hope that the experiences I gained in my lay life have helped me to become a better priest as I live my vocation today. Let us pray that God will speak clearly to each of us and that we will listen to the words of Jesus and follow him in all that we do. This week, I heard many quotes from the most famous poet of Scotland, Robert Burns, whose birthday is celebrated this week. There are many more famous quotes from Robert Burns but I offer these to you today as his most meaningful for us in our Christian lives, and that God will help us to understand exactly what God wants us to do in our lives. “O thou great, unknown Power! Thou Almighty God, who hast lighted up reason in my breast and blessed me with immortality! I have frequently wandered from that order and regularity necessary for the perfection of thy works, yet thou hast never left me nor forsaken me”. Let us be thankful for God’s presence in our lives and the grace we receive to follow his ways. Amen.

Last modified on Wednesday, 28 February 2018 22:51