Deciding Yes + Third Sunday after the Epiphany by The Rev. Esme J. R. Culver

Lessons:

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

Psalm 62: 6-14

1 Corinthians 7: 29-31

Mark 1:14-20

In this scenario…..it is four o’clock in the afternoon and it’s still a busy day. You have been working through a multi-layer of tasks and yet sense only a little headway. You didn’t count on that long phone call, that need to attend to the dog, the long wait at the doctor’s office, the long unscheduled conversation…. and you still have a lot to do before you can say your work is done for the day…..whether you are at work or at home. And then someone walks in and, with a great sense of urgency, says “you have to come and see this….right now.” And you do…and you drop everything you are working on to go and see. Or you say….. “it will have to wait….I have work to do,” and you do not go to see.  We all probably recognize elements of our own experience in this little scenario and there have been times when we made the right decision to keep our heads down and keeping working, or “going and seeing” turned out to be the best decision we could have made……perhaps to catch a beautiful sunset, or witness an accident in the street…..opportunities to see or not see an infinite number of happenings beyond ourselves.

It’s our own decision to make. We decide yes…or no.

I can share another scenario from my own life which you, too, might recognize. The family gathers, as did mine, at Christmas time. We enjoyed a lovely time together and vowed to gather more often in the coming year than we did in the year past. We all carefully found space in our calendar’s for times that seem to work best for us all. As I turned to the times that seemed best for us all, the pages of my calendar looked pristine….without a mark suggesting that there could be a conflict. Nothing, I vowed, not one thing would erase my writing on those clear pages….dinner with family. As time goes on, more and more entries appear on those pages. And…..as we come closer and closer to the date, the original entry, so neatly written “dinner with family” becomes harder and harder to find as more and more writing edges in….surrounding it with the shapes and shadows of changes……additions and subtractions…..and perhaps, an overarching obligation …..an event that cannot be avoided……that obliterates the entire page.

And we find ourselves at another place of decision. What will our decision be? How do we prioritize what we want to do, what we should do and to what we are called when there is urgency or deep importance in each direction we are called to move.

It is ultimately our decision to make. We decide yes…or no.

So it must have been for the disciples Simon and Andrew, James and John as they worked…fishing and mending nets.   Their survival depended on their daily work schedule and the efficiency of the tools they needed for the job…their nets. Their day was probably finely timed with the coming and going of the tides and they needed to be ready. Their families waited at home for food and they depended on the market times for selling their catch of the day. Perhaps there was a special religious celebration scheduled, or a birthday….a birth….a wedding….an illness…..a homecoming of relatives….or many other events and activities they knew to be part of their day. So, while they may not have had a shared Google calendar or even a calendar made of paper, they most certainly had a schedule of events that needed to be counted upon.

And yet, for all these possibilities, when Jesus walked by Simon and Andrew and said to them “Follow me and I will make you fish for people,” they left their nets and followed him.  Likewise, when Jesus encountered James and John, mending their nets and called them, they simply left Dad in the boat with the hired men, and followed Jesus.

How could they just leave their nets…how could they leave Dad in the boat? Could we do that? Leave Dad in the boat? “See you later, Dad. You’ll be OK with Hank and Billy….but I’ve got to go now. Let everyone know at home that I don’t know where I’m going or why, but I won’t be home for dinner.”

Typical of Mark’s Gospel the sense of urgency is palpable. There is no stopping to consider consequences…no weighing of the pros and cons…no wondering about how others might perceive decisions made…no sense of obligation to anything other than the call that they heard from Jesus.

The same urgency is heard in Paul’s letter to the Church in Corinth. “The appointed time has grown short,” he writes. “The present form of this world is passing away.” So no need to worry about all that worldly stuff, like marrying, mourning, shopping for new furniture…..all that is very, very yesterday.  And when God called Jonah to go to Nineveh, Jonah set out and went….albeit God had to ask him twice.

So it’s pretty clear from all our scripture readings today and from God that when we hear God’s voice calling us to act in some way we have a decision to make. Do we analyze the conversation or do we simply drop everything, in order to respond and follow the call. Sometimes we need to heighten our awareness of when and where the call comes. Are we called to begin something new? Or to be a part of something new? Are we entering into a deep unknown? Or do we have an idea of where our decision to go might take us?

And what is the price we pay to ignore God’s call? What will we miss and will our decision to forego the call leave us feeling somehow left behind?

When Jesus called to the disciples along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, he was just beginning his ministry. Just starting out. He had a good sense of God’s call to him and the direction his ministry was to take, but the disciples did not. Yet, somehow, Jesus was able to convey not only a sense of direction and focus, but a compelling urgency to act on God’s call rather than the world’s.

Jesus picks up the baton from John, now exited from Mark’s stage, with the proclamation of God’s good news. Jesus picks up the theme of repentance and the need for an urgent response to the theme. Jesus’ preaching highlights the kingdom of God and the urgency of our need to repent, or turn away from our worldly “yes” decisions to answer “yes” to God and God’s decisions.

In our world we might feel that our regular attendance at church on Sunday mornings is, indeed, a response to God’s call for our attention. Perhaps, however, we can look at this in a different way. Perhaps we are called to gather in community on Sunday morning so that, as a community, and individually, the voice of God is made more audible. Perhaps we come in order to hear God’s voice, rather than attending as a result of it.

Perhaps our attendance this morning is more about taking the opportunity to find out what God is calling us to do and less about thinking that, by our being present here this morning, we are fulfilling God’s call to us. The end.

No, my friends. It is not the end. Just as it was for the disciples who were found by Jesus at the edge of the sea….in the midst of their daily work….. so it is for us….a new beginning.

Sunday morning is just a part of an eternally evolving new beginning for us. New insights, new directions, new decisions, new growth into the Kingdom of God. As we grow into and become more part of God’s kingdom, the world’s hold on us lessens.

End
Written to the Glory of God
The Rev. Esme J. R. Culver+
January 25, 2015