The Third Sunday after the Epiphany
The Rev. George Pejakovich
Mark 1:14-20

IN OUR READINGS FOR TODAY WE HAVE TWO VERY DIFFERENT RESPONSES TO THE CALL OF GOD. IN THE FIRST, THE FAMILIAR OLD TESTAMENT STORY OF JONAH, WE PICK UP THE ACTION AFTER JONAH TRIED TO RUN AWAY FROM THE CALL OF GOD. HE, AFTER LEARNING SOME LIFE – LESSONS IN THE BELLY OF A FISH, RELUCTANTLY FOLLOWS THE CALL OF GOD TO PREACH TO THE PEOPLE OF NINEVAH, WHOM JONAH DETESTED. IN THE SECOND STORY, JESUS CALLS SIMON AND ANDREW, AND JAMES AND JOHN THE SONS OF ZEBEDEE, AND THEY DROP WHAT THEY WERE DOING AND IMMEDIATELY FOLLOW AFTER HIM. WE HAVE TWO VERY DIFFERENT RESPONSES TO THE CALL OF GOD, AND ONE MIGHT WONDER WHAT TO MAKE OF THIS.

IN THE STORY OF JONAH, GOD CALLS THIS RELUCTANT AND PREJUDICED MAN, WHO WAS APPARENTLY SO UNLIKABLE THAT THE SAILORS DID NOT EVEN HESITATE TO TOSS HIM INTO THE SEA WHEN THEY DISCOVERED IT WAS HIS FAULT THAT THEY WERE IN DANGER. WHEN HE FINALLY AGREED TO FOLLOW THE CALL OF GOD TO PREACH TO THOSE HE HATED, HIS PREACHING SUCCEEDED FAR BEYOND HIS EXPECTATIONS, AND THE WHOLE CITY REPENTED. THIS, OF COURSE, DID NOT MAKE HIM HAPPY, NOR RELIEVE HIM OF HIS PREJUDICE AGAINST THE NINEVITES. GOD CALLED AND USED THIS MOST UNLIKELY AND UNLIKABLE CHARACTER TO ACCOMPLISH HIS WILL TO SAVE THE PEOPLE OF THE GREAT CITY.

IN THE GOSPEL ACCOUNT, IT IS NECESSARY TO PROVIDE A LITTLE BACKGROUND INFORMATION TO GRASP THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STORY. SINCE FISHING ON THE SEA OF GALILEE WAS A NOCTURNAL OCCUPATION, AND WAS A HARD, DAILY HAND TO MOUTH EXISTENCE, FISHERMEN WERE CONSIDERED BY ALL THE GOOD PEOPLE TO BE LITTLE BETTER THAN SLAVES; THEY WERE JUST ABOVE SHEPHERDS ON THE SOCIAL SCALE. TO ADD TO THE CONTEMPT THE GOOD PEOPLE HAD FOR THEM, THEY WERE GALILLEANS; JEWS WHO LIVED AMONG GENTILES, AND WHO WERE CONSIDERED AS SPIRITUALLY AND RELIGIOUSLY CORRUPTED.

THE TIME MUST HAVE BEEN JUST BEFORE DAWN, SINCE SIMON AND ANDREW WERE STILL CASTING THEIR NETS, WHEN THEY SAW JESUS STANDING ON THE SHORE. IF WE COMPARE THE ACCOUNTS OF JOHN AND MARK, THEY MUST HAVE KNOWN HIM FROM WHEN THEY WERE AT HIS BAPTISM IN THE JORDAN, AND WHEN JOHN THE BAPTIST POINTED HIM OUT AS THE LAMB OF GOD. ANDREW CERTAINLY MET HIM THERE, AS DID NATHANIEL, AND THE WHOLE GALILEAN PARTY MUST HAVE TALKED ABOUT HIM AFTER HE DISAPPEARED INTO THE WILDERNESS. THEY HAD PROBABLY HEARD ABOUT HIS COMING TO GALILEE AND PROCLAIMING THE MESSAGE OF THE BAPTIST TO REPENT AND BELIEVE IN THE GOOD NEWS OF GOD, AND NOW, SUDDENLY, THERE HE WAS, STANDING ON THE SHORE AND CALLING TO THEM TO FOLLOW HIM; WHICH THEY IMMEDIATELY DID.

WITH SIMON AND ANDREW IN TOW, JESUS WALKED AROUND THE LAKE TO WHERE THE SONS OF ZEBEDEE WERE MENDING THEIR NETS, AND CALLED TO THEM ALSO TO FOLLOW HIM. JAMES AND JOHN LEFT THEIR NETS AND FOLLOWED, LEAVING THEIR FATHER SITTING IN THE BOAT WITH HIS HIRED MAN. IMAGINE THE SHOCK FOR ZEBEDEE AS HIS SONS LEFT HIM TO FOLLOW THIS ITINERANT RABBI, BUT FOLLOW HIM THEY DID LEAVING LIVELIHOOD AND FAMILY FOR THE UNCERTAIN FUTURE OF THE CALL OF THE LORD.

THERE IS NO PREPARATION FOR THE CALL OF GOD. ONE MIGHT, LIKE JONAH, OR ME, OR STEVE, NOT WANT TO HEAR IT, AND IN HEARING IT TRY TO AVOID IT, BUT THE CALL OF GOD IS ETERNALLY PERSISTENT. ONE MIGHT, LIKE THE DISCIPLES, BE HOPING FOR SOMETHING OTHER THAN THE DAILY GRIND OF CASTING, AND HAULING, AND MENDING NETS, WHEN, SUDDENLY, THE CALL TO FOLLOW COMES IN THE EARLY MORNING LIGHT. IN EITHER CASE, ONE KNOWS NOT WHERE THE CALL OF GOD WILL LEAD, PERHAPS EVEN TO PLACES AND THINGS WE WOULD RATHER AVOID, BUT WHEN THE CALL COMES, WE HAVE ONLY THE CHOICE TO FOLLOW WHERE HE LEADS OR NOT. THE CALL COMES TO US IN THE MOST UNEXPECTED MOMENTS, AND GOD’S REIGN AND RULE BREAKS INTO OUR HEARTS IMMEDIATELY WHEN WE FOLLOW HIS CALL, AND COMES TO US AS THE PURE GIFT OF GRACE.

AS LUTHER EXPLAINED IN HIS SMALL CATECHISM, “I BELIEVE THAT I CANNOT BY MY OWN UNDERSTANDING OR EFFORT BELIEVE IN JESUS CHRIST MY LORD, OR COME TO HIM. BUT THE HOLY SPIRIT HAS CALLED ME THROUGH THE GOSPEL, ENLIGHTENED ME WITH HIS GIFTS, SANCTIFIED AND KEPT ME IN TRUE FAITH. IN THE SAME WAY HE CALLS, GATHERS, ENLIGHTENS, AND SACTIFIES THE WHOLE CHRISTIAN CHURCH ON EARTH AND KEEPS IT UNITED WITH JESUS CHRIST IN THE ONE TRUE FAITH. IN THIS CHRISTIAN CHURCH DAY AFTER DAY HE FULLY FORGIVES MY SINS AND THE SINS OF ALL BELIEVERS. ON THE LAST DAY HE WILL RAISE ME AND ALL THE DEAD AND GIVE ME AND ALL BELIEVERS IN CHRIST ETERNAL LIFE.”

EVERY BELIEVER IN JESUS CHRIST HAS BEEN CALLED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT TO FOLLOW JESUS. GOD CALLS ALL KINDS OF PEOPLE, EVEN PEOPLE LIKE YOU AND ME. RICH, POOR, MAN, WOMAN, CHILD, EAGER, RELUTANT, WE HAVE ALL BEEN CALLED TO FOLLOW JESUS BY THE GRACE OF GOD. WHEN WE FOLLOW HIM, WE ARE IMMEDIATELY LED INTO THE KINGDOM OF GOD, AND BECOME HIS CHILDREN FOREVER. WHILE WE MAY NOT KNOW WHERE THAT CALL TO FOLLOW JESUS WILL LEAD US, WE DO KNOW, WITH AN ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY, THAT OUR ULTIMATE FUTURE IS WITH GOD.

AS WE CONSIDER (OR HAVE CONSIDERED) THE SHAPE AND DIRECTION OF OUR MINISTRY TOGETHER IN THE ANNUAL MEETING, WE CANNOT KNOW WHERE THE LORD WILL LEAD US, OR TO WHAT WORKS HE WILL SET US. SOME THINGS WE WILL FIND TO BE EASY AND ENJOYABLE, YET OTHERS WILL BE HARD AND MAKE US UNEASY. ALL WE CAN DO IS WHAT WE ARE CALLED TO DO; FOLLOW WHERE OUR LORD AND GOD LEADS. SECURE IN OUR BAPTISM, WE CAN FACE THE FUTURE FOR THIS PART OF THE BODY OF CHRIST WITHOUT FEAR, FOR WHEREVER OUR LORD LEADS US HE WILL BE WITH US AS HE HAS PROMISED. THAT PROMISE IS OUR SOURCE OF COURAGE, STRENGTH, AND DETERMINATION, FOR IN FOLLOWING THE GRACE OF THE CALL OF JESUS WE HAVE TAKEN THE FIRST STEPS IN OUR ETERNAL WALK WITH GOD.
AMEN

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