Third Before Advent Jonah 3: 1-5,10 Mark 1: 14-20
The readings from Jonah and Mark are about calling and also about following. The gospel reading is only 7 verses but absolutely packed with information. John the Baptist had just been arrested and Jesus is launched on his ministry. He was preaching about the coming of the kingdom and was passing along the Sea of Galilee. In the days of Jesus, Josephus who was Governor of Galilee and later a historian tell us that there were about 330 fishing boats that sailed Galilee. Fishing was the main occupation and here we meet Andrew and Simon casting their nets from the boat and then James and John. Mark gives the impression that it was a call from nowhere, but John’s account of this story tells us that Jesus had contact with the fishermen before this day. Jesus had talked and they had listened - but this day it was time for the talking to stop and for them to answer the call. It is not always so for very often when God calls man stalls – a good example is that of poor Jonah. The first time God called Jonah and asked him to go to Niniveh which is east towards Iraq, Jonah fled in the other direction towards Spain and we know what happened to him? (He got himself into a whale of a mess)
But as Jesus’ call rang from the shore, one would have anticipated a delay in the response, but Mark tells us there was no pause, not even a second look. No brotherly discussion, shall we – shan’t we? I’ll go if you go. Instead we have that favourite word of Mark, immediately they left their nets and followed him. You will find lots of immediately in Mark’s gospel.
I wonder what poor old Father Zebedee thought about it – he was left in the boat, along with the paid fishermen while his two sons walk off with a total stranger. The call of God down through the centuries has been costly for many; for those who have gone out into new ways and for those who have to remain in the boat. Yet the call will not be silenced and sometimes we just have to drop the nets and move on.
Countless men and women heard a call to arms and responded in both the World Wars and the many conflicts since.
Looking back I wonder did these fishermen talk about their lack of hesitation. What had made them so sure this was right? Maybe they were just bored and restless at the thought of a lifetime of fish – or maybe it was as simple as it reads ‘they heard the call of Jesus’ and they responded.
It certainly was a radical call – what exactly was on offer. ‘Come with me and I will make you fishers of men.’ That meant their little secure lives were going to be expanded. These guys were just fishermen from Galilee and probably had never been further than Jerusalem for a festival – this was about to change. By the way Jesus didn’t mention martyrdom – later we know John was to become Bishop of Ephesus before his exile to Patmos where he died, Peter would go to Rome before being crucified and Andrew would go as far as the Russian border preaching the gospel.
But following is hard, if in our first flush of enthusiasm we could know where it would all lead would we ever begin?
It was hard for Jonah. He had heard the call, God felt he could give him a preaching job; but Nineveh was a bit more than Jonah bargained for, so he thought we would put some distance between God and himself, a cooling off period, time to sort things out. But God doesn’t go in for arbitration. Following is not easy – and Jonah had to have several goes before he got the message and did as he was told and went back to Nineveh.
Following is hard. When Jesus was arrested Peter followed from afar, falteringly, trying to be loyal, hedging his bets, trusting his doubts, overcome by fear and indecision, finally tipping over into denial.
And we have all been in similar circumstances I am sure, wondering just what we’ve let ourselves in for this time.
Many years ago when I was in basic training in the RAF we were taken out to the Fens for an endurance test. It was November and freezing cold. There were six of us, one contour map, one length of rope, one compass and one set of co-ordinates. We each had a packet of sardine sandwiches, a tube of Spangles and four pennies for the telephone in case of emergencies. We got lost, it began to get dark then Lindsay a rather forceful member said she knew the way, we should all hold the rope and follow her – we had to stay close, keep holding on, through nettles and bog, we were all moaning, we all had blisters, we were all wet. I don’t know about the others but I was scared, but the alternative was even worse: let go of the rope and end up lost and alone. Following is not easy but it is the best and sometimes the only way.
‘Come,’ follow me is like a proposal of marriage... There is a leaving – and there is a cleaving. A leaving of nets and networks; of all that is safe, secure and assured and cleaving to the wild, winsome maverick Son of God, wherever that might lead us.
We know that following is hard
May God give us grace to stay close.
To trust in the darkness, that which
we know to be true in the light.
To be assured that at the end of my rope
You will be there.
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Today Remembrance Sunday is being observed in churches all over the world. In Repps there will be a short service at the War Memorial on the Wednesday 11th at 11am but we cannot leave today without joining with the countless men and women who will stand at 11am to remember, to give thanks and to pray for peace.
Many heard the Call in 1914, but it was a call to arms. Countless young men rushed to join up, it was exciting, for so many it was an adventure – but we all know the carnage that followed. And then in 1939 perhaps not such a rush from those who had been before but still many answered the call voluntarily before compulsory conscription – and countless thousands since then – serving Queen and country – answering the call. All who join the armed forces know the cost of serving and many have paid the ultimate price, many more will go on paying for the rest of their lives.
We wear our poppies with the familiar red and green, not as a symbol of blood and death, but as a reminder that the first thing to spring up from the war torn battle fields in France was field after field of poppies.
They are then a symbol of hope. Those seeds trampled under boots and mud had survived to flower once more This morning we remember them, we promise never to forget, we give thanks for them we pray for peace for them, we pray for those left behind.