As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him.
Here we go again with that “immediately they left their nets and followed him” business. Last week we heard about Philip, who immediately followed Jesus. This week, Andrew and Simon are out in their boats fishing when this guy hollers out to them “Follow me!” With no better plan than “I’ll make you fish for people!” the brothers immediately drop their nets and follow Jesus. Really? What does it even mean to “fish for people?”
Apparently, these rough fisherman don’t care what it means. Simon and Andrew drop everything to follow Jesus…as do their buddies, James and John. James and John are so eager to follow Jesus, in fact, that they leave their father in the boat with the hired men mending nets and follow Jesus. As these stories are told, there’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Jesus calls, people answer. No game plan, no project design, no health plan or 401K, no nothing…except the call to “follow me”…which these men do. Immediately. Okay. We did hear about Nathanael last week, who received Jesus’ call with sceptical questions, “Can anything good come out ofNazareth?” and “How did you come to know me?” But still, after asking his questions, Nathanael quickly comes to believe in Jesus and follows.
I don’t know who the lectionary Gods are—the people who select the Scripture readings for each Sunday—but I am so glad they included the story of Jonah on this Sunday. Because if we only had the Gospel lesson—with Simon, Andrew, James and John dropping everything to follow Jesus immediately—we could get a little discouraged, couldn’t we?
…especially if we struggle with hearing and answering God’s call. Has anyone here ever heard God’s call and immediately dropped everything to follow it? Most of us, I’m guessing, struggle with our calls. What about our jobs and families and responsibilities? What if we’re scared? What if we can’t get any support? And, well let me just say it: What if we don’t want to follow God’s call?
That’s why this story of Jonah is so great. The reading begins, “The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time…” Do you remember what happened the first time the word of the Lord came to Jonah saying “Get up, go to Ninevah…and proclaim the message that I tell you?” He caught a ship heading in the opposite direction! And while they were sailing a big storm came up. Terrified, each of the sailors cried to his own god…while Jonah went below deck and fell asleep.
At a loss for what to do, the sailors cast lots to see who was to blame for the storm. The lot fell on Jonah. He sleepily told them, “Yeah. I’m the problem. I worship the God who created the sea, and well, I’m avoiding him. If you want the storm to stop, you need to throw me overboard.” The sailors were reluctant to do it, but in the end, they had exhausted all their options. They tossed Jonah into the sea. And the storm was calmed. And then, wouldn’t you know, they began to worship Jonah’s God. The joke’s on Jonah, huh?
Then we’re told that God had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. Talk about fishing for people! Jonah spends a few days in the fish…he cries out to God (sort of), repents of his reluctance to heed God’s call (kind of) and commits—finally—to doing what God is asking. And then—I love the NIV translation, that says—“the Lord commanded the fish and it vomited Jonah onto dry ground.” Very descriptive image.
So, it’s after all of this that “the word of the Lord comes to Jonah a second time…” This time, Jonah does what God asks. He walks through the city—a three day journey—and proclaims God’s message—“Forty more days and Ninevah will be overthrown.” Happily, for the Ninevites, they repent and the punishment doesn’t come.
See? Aren’t you glad the lectionary people included Jonah’s story alongside the call stories of all these “Messiah’s pet” disciples like Simon and Andrew, James and John? Jonah gives us a little more hope for ourselves on those days when it’s hard, hard, hard to follow God’s call. Even on those days when we just don’t feel like following God.
Allison Chamberlain receives a call from God. For her, it’s not so much that she doesn’t want to follow God as that she’s just not sure she’s heard God correctly. A novel called The Reluctant Prophet, begins with Allison saying, “I found Jesus seven years ago, but until that Sunday morning, I didn’t know what to do with him.” On the Sunday morning in question, Allison felt a holy Nudge. It wasn’t an audible voice… but almost as clear as an audible voice, Allison heard God say: “Go buy a Harley.”
Since she’d never driven a motorcycle and had never had an inclination to do so, Allison questioned whether this was a true call from God or just a bit of indigestion. But the Nudge was persistent, persistent enough that Allison went to the Harley shop to check out the bikes. It took selling an expensive car that someone had bequeathed her to do it, but Allison bought a Heritage Softail Classic and signed up for a riding class.
Allison questioned God’s call again when, during her first riding lesson, she ended up, first on the pavement, then in the creek. Maybe she had misunderstood. Maybe God hadn’t said, “Go buy a Harley.” Maybe instead God had called Allison to go buy barley and open a bakery. Because this Harley thing wasn’t working out too well.
Through some kind of divine intervention—or so it seems—Hank (short for Henrietta) shows up at Allison’s house the next day for private riding lessons. Through yet another miracle, Hank works with Allison until Allison—finally–is able to pass the Harley riding test.
If learning to ride the Harley was hard, learning to deal with the people to whom her bike led her was even more challenging for Allison. The classic somehow always led her to the seedy side of town…to the place where prostitutes walked the streets and addicts could get their fixes, to places where crime was rampant and where children grew up way too fast.
Having grown up in a wealthy family and being the member of a good little church, Allison never imagined her life having anything to do with life on the wrong side of the tracks. But before the novel ends, she has helped three former prostitutes get off drugs, fed over 100 hungry people in the park, and become the guardian of a wayward orphan. Allison’s call to “go buy a Harley” turns out to be a call to take God’s message of love to people who are completely different from her.
In that, Allison is similar to our friend Jonah. Jonah, too, was called to go to people who were alien to him, people he felt completely different from, people he might well have been frightened of. Allison is also similar to Jonah in that, like Jonah, it took a couple of calls before she was able to answer. Oh, she didn’t get swallowed by a big fish or anything, but she did question herself and God several times before she was able to answer God’s call.
Perhaps the most hopeful word in today’s Old Testament is “second.” “The call of God came to Jonah a second time…” That tiny word reminds us that we all have second—and third and fourth and forty-third—chances to answer God’s call.
Do you feel like you’ve missed a call or two from God? Maybe a call to a career change or a call to reconciliation or a call to a different kind of financial stewardship or a call to foster parenting or a call to serve people without adequate housing or food? Is there a call you’ve buried under busy-ness, a call you’ve forgotten, a call you’re still trying to get straight in your mind?
If so, there is good news today: We, too, get second chances. God’s calls aren’t a one-shot deal. If the job’s important enough—which, if God calls us to it, it is–God will call again…and again….and again…
Today’s sermon ends with the powerful words of Albert Schweitzer sung by the choir. I’m sure the choir’s enunciation will be impeccable, but just in case, I want to read the words for you…because these words remind us that, though God’s call came to people like Jonah and Jesus’ disciples, in the end, the call comes to us, as well. The question is always before us—will we respond that call positively…even if we haven’t done so the 37 times we’ve heard it before? Even if we thought God said Harley when he really said barley? Even if God is calling us to do something totally crazy and unexpected? The question for today isn’t how we have or haven’t responded to God’s call in the past. The question for today is, How we will respond today?
Hear now the words of Albert Schweitzer from his book, The Quest of the Historical Jesus.
“He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, He came to those men who knew him not. He speaks to us the same word: ‘Follow thou me!’ and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.”
[Choir sings, “He Comes to Us,” by Jane Marshall.]
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2012
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, 2“Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” 3So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. 4Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, andNineveh shall be overthrown!”
5And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. 10When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.