Rev. Eric Dillenbeck
January 22, 2012

Scripture: Jonah 3:1-5, 10 & Mark 1:14-20

Epiphany is more than the day we take down our Christmas decorations; it is a season in which the church is reminded each week of how God makes God’s power and purpose know in the midst of our daily world. The Biblical stories set out for us to explore and digest during Epiphany are all about ways in which God makes God’s-self known to us, and ways that we are called to participate. Today’s passages highlight two very different profiles of discipleship in response to God’s call. Let us listen for God’s call to us this day from these call stories found in scripture.

The first story is from the 3rd chapter of the Book of Jonah. Jonah was a reluctant prophet. When God originally called him to go to Nineveh, Jonah fled to Tarshish. Denying his call, he boards a boat and sets sail, only to be thrown overboard by the crew after they discern that the storm pummeling their ship is a wake-up call from God for Jonah.

Our piece of the story picks up after all of this action, at a time when Jonah finally accepts his call.

READ Jonah 3:1-5, 10

In the Gospel of Mark we find another profile of discipleship as we encounter a grown Jesus beginning his ministry, calling out to those who would respond to his call to “follow me.”

READ Mark 1:14-20

Here it is; here is God’s big plan for initiating God’s reign in the world. Use humanity to spread the word and work of your kingdom. First, make sure baby is born in Bethlehem! – CHECK!

Second, journey to Galilee to proclaim the Good News of God in that region. – CHECK!

And HERE is where God’s plan gets really good. As Jesus passes along the Sea of Galilee he meets a couple of ordinary fishermen, Simon and his brother Andrew. Jesus says to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” He goes on a little farther with Simon and Andrew in tow, their feet sinking ever so slightly into the soggy shore as they begin this new journey. They meet James and John the sons of Zebedee, more fishermen, who were mending their nets. Jesus wastes no time in calling out to them and they follow him, “immediately,” just as the other’s did.

These guys leave everything; Simon and Andrew immediately drop their nets and walk away from all they had ever known. James and John drop those un-mended nets and walk away from their bewildered father who was working with his hired laborers. These normal, everyday guys just get up and leave all they knew because Jesus says “Follow me.” Don’t you wish there were more to it than that? What made them so ready to move, so willing to accept the risks and uncertainties that went along with becoming fishers of people? They left their families, customs and traditions, all of their routines and schedules, all of the things that defined their identity. They just followed.

Jonah, on the other hand, does all he can to resist. He runs in the other direction, he denies that he is being called, he even allows himself to be thrown overboard to avoid the call God has placed in his life. I get it! His call was particularly scary. To travel to Ninevah was dangerous, to confront their wicked ways with nothing more than the Word of God must have been terrifying.

Sometimes it seems that in the Bible the opposite of faith is not sin or heresy but the refusal to get up and move. In Alvin Toffler’s book, Future Shock, he taught his readers that in a time of rapid change, when everything is moving and nothing is pinned down you and I are inclined to create for ourselves what Toffler called “personal security zones,” areas of life that are stable, unchanging, often nostalgic. Regardless of the fact that faith is described as a journey, a moving from here to there, we want stability. We do not want to follow God into a new and uncertain future. We want things to stay the same. I bet it was no different for Jonah, who was called to prophesy, not to his own people, but to angry, battle ready warriors.

But God called Jonah from his “personal security zone” to speak God’s Word, to embody God’s will on earth. From the “personal security zones” of their lives Jesus called the first disciples. In the same way, Jesus calls us. He walks along East 55th and Carnegie and sees all of our homeless brothers and sisters looking for shelter and a warm meal. The Living Christ walks through Terminal Tower and hears our neighbors and friends who live on the margins pleading for help as others shop and go to work. Our Prince of Peace sits beside the beds of our wounded soldiers and in the bombed out cities of Iraq, Afghanistan listening to stories of anguish and pain.

From these places and from so many more Christ strides up to us and calls out, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” Do we drop everything and go or do we cling to our nets out of our need for safety and consistency. Do we act like Jonah and head out for Tarshish instead of going to Ninevah? It is almost too easy to miss that call and there are too many reasons to ignore it.

We are imperfect people who are filled with fear and pain and deep sadness that we cannot ignore. We are busy people with much on our plates and too many commitments and responsibilities. We have aches and angers which haunt our minds and hearts. We tell God that there must be some mistake because I am not qualified for that task, but God has a different opinion.

God sees our flaws, those things we try to avoid and hide away from others. God feels our brokenness and anxiety, but God reminds us that we are children of the covenant who God pursues with constant love and faithfulness. When Moses said “no, you must be thinking of someone else, I stutter and don’t speak that well in public”; God reassured him that God’s presence would guide him and tell him what to say. When Jeremiah said, “Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a child” God reassured him that God’s presence would provide a way. When Jonah fled for Tarshish God pursued him and eventually brought him safely to Ninevah.

God hears our cries of inadequacy and feels our trembling feet at the thought of change. These first disciples might have had the same feelings, we do not know. We are not told if these people have any special training in discipleship, of if they have any particular natural gifts for following Jesus. In fact, from the rest of the story we see that these disciples continually get it wrong. Peter sinks into the water because he begins to doubt and fear; he denies knowing Jesus in the garden as the rooster’s crow echoes in his ears. The disciples fall asleep at crucial moments and never seem to understand what Jesus is talking about.

But Christ does not give up on them. He urges them again and again to live faithfully on the journey.

In the same way, God urges us to live faithfully into our calling and reminds us that God’s abiding presence will be here to guide, comfort and uphold our way.

God’s imperfect plan for our salvation is that Jesus is not a One-Man show. Don’t get me wrong, he is the star of the show and had some amazing monologues and he knew parts of the story that none of us could imagine were coming, but through it all he depends upon, expects and needs people to live faithfully, not perfectly, into their calling.

To this day the Good News of the Kingdom of God is about what happens to people, but it is also about community and how God is active in it. It is about us responding to the call that was placed in our hearts and minds so long ago to include all people in God’s kingdom; to be fishers of people.

So, as we prepare to take another step in our journey of faith together, as we prepare to search for a new pastor let us pause to listen for Christ’ call to us this day.

Let us look into the future expectantly, wondering where the journey will lead us while we whisper the words, “I will make you fish for people; I will make you fish for people.”

Where is God calling you this day? What is God’s vision for this congregation? What is our part in working out that vision in our daily lives? How shall we respond?

Will we run to Tarshish or will we drop our nets and follow?