God calls us... do we follow?
SJF • Epiphany 3b 2015 • Tobias S Haller BSG
Jesus said, Follow me, and I will make you fish for people
Our scripture readings today present us with variations on a theme, and the theme is “Transformation.” The transformation takes three different forms, but all three forms have God as their author. And these three forms of transformation have the advantage of being a version of the “three R’s” — in this case Repentance, Renunciation, and Renewal.
We hear the middle movement of the “Jonah Symphony” this morning. You recall the first movement: Jonah rejected God’s transforming call — to him! He ran away from God and ended up repenting in the belly of a fish. In today’s passage we see him finally doing as God instructed him, and preaching the message of repentance — one which he himself has learned so well, up close and personal, and under water. The great and the small, the folk of Nineveh, respond to the call of God, and repent, turning, each of them, from their evil ways. But notice this: God calls through Jonah, himself called, and himself knowing in himself the need for repentance; and perhaps that is what makes his preaching so persuasive: and the people respond and repent.
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Saint Paul delivers a different form of God’s call to the people of Corinth. He wants people to detach from the normal courses of life because all of life is about to be transformed — the present form of this world, he says, is passing away. So Paul commends a kind of transforming renunciation — acting in a way that takes no mind of the situation in which one finds oneself, whether married, or mourning, or rejoicing, engaging in commerce or worldly matters: because the world itself is about to be transformed, and radically so!
What I’d like to note is that this too reflects some of the backstory about Paul, just as Jonah’s preaching had some relation with his own earlier life. He also had himself gone through a tremendous transformation when God called him out — literally knocked him down and senseless. His old world passed away on that road to Damascus, when God made him realize that all the things he was so sure of, all of the things he believed with all his heart, all his reputation and even all of his religion, were to be regarded as so much rubbish. Next to the call from God, nothing else in this world mattered. He no longer needed to lay claim to being a Jew born of Jews, a Pharisee among Pharisees, a star pupil of a great Rabbi — for the greatest Rabbi of all, Jesus himself, had taught him a lesson, had turned his whole world upside down, leading him in the end to renounce all that was past and to reach out to what was promised.
And so Paul too passes on what had been delivered to him: the transforming power of God to renounce all worldly expectations and values that could stand in the way of proclaiming the Gospel and leading a Gospel life.
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Finally, we come to the gospel itself, which portrays the calling of the first disciples. Jesus passes along the Sea of Galilee and finds four fishermen — he tells them literally to drop everything and follow him. He calls on them to change their livelihoods and their lives — to leave behind the boats and the nets and even their family in order to follow him. And in this call, they will be transformed by being renewed. What was there in them will somehow remain, but be transformed and renewed. Their catch may change but not their way of life: now they are going to catch people instead of fish.
Their catch may change, but not their way of life: and in doing so they will still be sailing out — metaphorically — into dangerous waters, risking their lives and taking a chance. Their fishermen’s skills will be called upon and put to use, but in new ways. They will still need the keen eye that can read the signs of sunset and sunrise, and the sharp nose that can smell a change in the wind. They will rely on the sense of balance that can feel from the movement of the boat where the next big wave is coming from. And above all they will need the patience to wait wait wait in quiet, and then the strength to pull pull pull to haul in the catch. Jesus is calling to these fishermen to go with him in search of the greatest catch the world had ever seen — they are going to cast their nets abroad and catch the whole world itself with the message of the gospel.
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It is the call, my friends, that is important; the call and our response to it, whether it is a call to repent, renounce or renew: God’s transforming call. When we hear God’s call, does it lift our hearts and move us forward to do the work that God assigns? Does it empower us to change our direction if we are heading the wrong way, or to free ourselves from the world’s distractions, and renew our energies? Does God’s voice sounding in our heart, his call and command echoing in our ears, fill us with inspiration and move us to leave behind the safe and the familiar and to follow him, bringing with us nothing but the skills that God has given us in the first place? Or do we allow the complacency and comfort of our condition, or the cares of this world, to limit the scope of our response to God’s call?
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Roland Meredith tells of an experience he once had one night early in the spring out in the country when he was young: In the midst of the quiet night, suddenly he heard the sound of wild geese in their seasonal flight back home. He ran up onto the porch to call everyone out to see them, because the sight of wild geese flying in the moonlight, is one of the great beauties of nature, singing their peculiar song as they fly the night sky. As he was enjoying this beautiful, wonderful sight, he noticed the tame mallard ducks that lived on the family pond. They too had heard the wild call, the honking of the geese, and it stirred up something in their little breasts. Their wings fluttered a bit in a feeble response. The urge to fly, to take up their place in the sky for which God had made them, with the wings God had given them to do so, was filling their little breasts — but they never rose from the water. They had made a choice, you see, long ago; the corn from the barnyard was too secure and satisfying — and fattening — to risk a flight to who knows where. The security and safety of that little pond kept them from fulfilling the call of the wild to that wild and exciting life for which they had been made.
My friends, God is calling us to a wild and exciting life — the mission of his church to the ends of the world. He is calling on us repent our sins, renounce our worldly attachments, and renew our lives; to spread our wings — the wings he gave us; to leave behind whatever might hold us back, and yet to bring with us all the gifts and skills with which he has equipped us all along — the steady hand and the patient heart, the ready will and joy in the spirit; and above all the good news itself which we have received and are called upon to share. This is his rule in all the churches. It doesn’t matter if we are wage-earners or executives, working or retired, single or married, buyers or sellers, rich or poor — whatever our condition God can make use of it through his call.
So will you join me on this quest? God is sending us out from this place to fish for people — to spread the word and to bring in the catch of friends and family, of coworkers and associates, of strangers we meet on the street and the companions of our breakfast table, here, here to the banquet, where we feast upon the word of God in Scripture and in broken bread. It is a high calling my friends — high as the sky and as broad as God’s good, green earth. But God has called us, and his call is transforming, as we repent, renounce, and are renewed: so let each of us resolve to lead the life that the Lord has transformed and fitted us for, and to which we have been called. The one who has called us will not take No for an answer.+