Listen: Christ is calling you, calling me, to follow, and our lives will be changed. That will be our witness. That will be the sign that God is in the world in love and light and hope.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Third Sunday after Epiphany, year B
Texts: Mark 1:14-20; Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
How many times had these four met Jesus before this, do you think?
It’s nearly impossible to believe this was their first encounter. A strange man, a teacher, walks up to them at their work, and says, “Follow me. I’ll teach you how to fish for people.” And off Simon and Andrew go. Then James and John, leaving Dad in the boat holding the nets.
John’s Gospel describes a previous encounter to this call. Andrew and John are disciples of the Baptizer, who points out Jesus as the Lamb of God. They start following Jesus, and Andrew runs to tell his brother Simon they’d found the Messiah.
Today’s story makes more sense if John’s story came first. Because if this is their first encounter, this is a stunningly spontaneous and even shocking thing these four men do.
It’s an important question, because it’s fair to ask how many times we’ve met Jesus, how often we’ve heard him, and whether when he calls we are ready to follow. Jonah today is easy to count: this is round two with God. Andrew and Simon, James and John, really early in their time with Jesus, drop everything to follow him. They utterly change their lives.
Why does that seem so foreign to us?
Maybe we’re a little awestruck by their changes, these Galileans and Jonah.
Jonah leaves house and home and, after running away, heads to the heart of the enemy to deliver God’s message. The four fishermen leave house and home, leave one of their fathers literally holding their business in his hands. These are dramatic life changes as a result of God’s call.
We like these kinds of stories. Some of us here have families who did the same thing: moved across the world in response to God’s call, uprooted home and family, went to strange islands or continents. These are inspiring stories.
But maybe we’re distracting ourselves from what’s important, focusing on such big-picture accounts. Most of us haven’t made changes in our lives remotely close to what our stories today tell, or what missionaries and their families can tell.
But if the only way Christ can call us to follow is by asking us to literally move our lives to another geography, then only a small number of Christ’s followers are actually called to follow.
That just doesn’t make any sense.
We’ve known Christ a long time. Some for over half a century or more.
How long do we have to know Christ before we start listening for our call to follow? Every day Christ comes to us in our home, at our work, with our hands in whatever it is we’re doing, and says, “Follow me. I’ll teach you how to fish for people.” This isn’t a call for others. It’s a call for you, for me.
We are called to reach people with God’s love in Christ, most of us – most of us – in our own worlds, homes, workplaces, not in faraway lands. But apart from the geography, our call is the same as any who packed their things and got on a boat or a plane. Once you’re where God needs you, whether Madagascar or Minnesota, the work’s the same.
We witness to God’s love in Christ by our lives that look like God’s love in the world. Created in the image of God, now in Christ the Spirit is shaping us to bear the likeness of God in the world. So our outside lives match our inside truth, our inner godliness.
Remember why God came to us in person: to make us like God, children of God.
To help us become in practice what we already are, images of God. Everything Jesus taught intends to help us find that likeness, to be like Jesus. Love as I have loved you. Forgive completely, as God forgives. Do to others what you would have them do to you. If your neighbor is hungry, feed her. If your neighbor is thirsty, give him a drink. Don’t let anger control you, but be reconciled with each other. Be careful not to look at people as objects. Don’t worry about food or drink, don’t seek wealth and riches, don’t trust in your own ability: put your lives in God’s hands.
We know all these teachings, and many more. Following Christ, dropping what we’re doing and heading up the beach with our God, is pretty simple. We just follow this way that’s summed up in love of God with all our being and love of neighbor as ourselves.
And let’s not fool ourselves: when we follow this path, walk in these teachings, everything will be changed.
Just try to do one of them every day, in every encounter, you’ll see. Just a month or so ago I was telling my spiritual director how frustrating it was to live in a self-giving way. I was trying to put my needs second to others, and in some circumstances, that meant that people were taking advantage of me. My mistake was trying to follow Christ as if that were a strategy: I’ll act this way, and then others will respond.
What he reminded me was that we don’t have a strategy when we follow Christ. Simon and Andrew, James and John, there was no master plan. They followed, and learned as they went. Jonah went with no plan. Letting go of my needs for the sake of the other, that’s the plan. Whether anyone responds in a way that I like is irrelevant. Follow me, Jesus said. Don’t worry about the rest.
When we follow this way, we are dramatically changed. When we decide we will no longer justify our unkindness or selfishness or lack of love by blaming others, or saying we can’t be anything other than we are, our lives are forever different, even if we never move. When we look at today, just today, as the day we try forgiving, loving, giving of ourselves, our lives are utterly changed.
Maybe people will notice. Maybe they won’t, at least at first. Over time, there will be a witness, in our changed natures, our softening and kindness. We will look more and more like the God who loved us into this new life, more and more reflect the divine image that is already in each of us.
And let’s not be discouraged by the seeming smallness of the light we’re asked to cast in the world.
These disciples we know and remember thousands of years later, they’re like bright torches. That’s why we remember their stories thousands of years later. Our sacrifices, our changed lives, the witness you and I make, these are candles in the dark, not blazing torches. But they are the light that is needed, and they are God’s grace for our world.
It doesn’t matter if we’re each the only ones who can see how our lives are changed. The point is being ready for the change, when God calls for it, and asking the Spirit for strength to follow through.
It will be the small candle of our changed lives, our grace, our forgiveness, that witnesses to Christ, fishes for people. It will be our changed nature when dealing with others, our kindness, our love when others are unloving, that will be the flicker of light and hope that tells others God has not abandoned this world.
Maybe we’ve waited long enough. Listen: Christ is calling. Will we follow, and be changed forever?
In the name of Jesus. Amen