Sunday, 22 January 2012

Come Follow Me - A Sermon for the Third Sunday after Epiphany: with reference to Jonah 3:1-5, 10; 1 Cor 7:29-31 and Mk 1:14-20

Jonah 3:4 On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.”
1 Cor 7:29 What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short.
1 Cor 7:31 …this world in its present form is passing away.
Mk 1:15 “The time has come,” he said. 
As someone said, and you’ve no doubt heard me say before, “God is the fastest checkers player in the world. It’s always our move.” Forty more days. The time is short. The time has come. The time is here, now, every day—probably several times a day. To do what? What Jesus says.
Mk 1:15 …Repent and believe the good news!”
Repent. The first word of the Gospel. Change our minds. Redirect our lives. Change course. Without Jesus and his leading, we will end up off course and on the rocks like the Costa Concordia. Stop what we’re doing which we know displeases God. Stop what He is not calling us to do.

Believe. The question, writes CS Lewis in Christian Apologetics[1], is not whether Christianity and following Jesus is a good way to live or not. The question is, “Is it true?” If it is, it is of “infinite importance.” If Jesus is who the Bible says He is and if He rose from the dead. That changes everything. My life must show that. So must yours.

Having repented and believed, we must do what God the Father is saying to us through Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. What is He saying?
Mk 1:17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said.
Where to? Wherever He leads. What does that look like? We have some examples in all of our readings this morning.

In Mark, Jesus called Simon, Andrew, James, John to stop what they were doing and to start doing something else that He wanted them to do. It was not that they were doing something they shouldn’t have been doing. He called them to do something different and more important.

Similarly, in our 1 Corinthians passage, Paul calls the Christians in Corinth to change the way they were living.
1 Cor 7:29 …From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.
Following Jesus is to live in His direction. Salvation is to be found in no one or no thing else. We are to live to the LORD in our marriages, in our emotional lives, in the things we buy and the things of world, writes St Paul.

And in our OT reading, Jonah is also called to do something different, to leave his place of familiarity and comfort and to go somewhere else; to follow the LORD’s direction. How did the people in our readings respond?
Mk 1:18 At once they left their nets and followed him.
Mk 1:20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
Simon, Andrew, James, John all listened to what Jesus said and left to follow Him at once. Instant obedience.

We don’t know how quickly, or even if, the Corinthians obeyed Paul.

Jonah we know about. He disobeyed at first. He didn’t want to go to Nineveh, so he tried to run away by setting his own course to exotic Tar-shish. Once again the ill-fated Costa Concordia comes to mind—it ended up on the rocks, Jonah ended up in the belly of the fish. But Jonah got a second chance and because of his belated and reluctant obedience, the people and animals of Nineveh (Jonah 3:11) got one, too.

Why were all these people called? In the final analysis, so that Jesus, as last week’s collect says, is “known, worshipped and obeyed to the ends of the earth.”[2]
Mk 1:15 “The time has come,” Jesus said. 
For what?
Mk 1:15 …Repent and believe the good news!” 
Have I repented of everything in my life that does not go His way. Have you? Do I believe He’s true? Do you? Then,
Mk 1:17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said.
And then, sooner or later; sooner seems to be the theme through today’s readings; I must act; do something in response to Jesus’ call. So must you. I’ll probably have to stop some things and start others. Change my course. How?

Six verses before the beginning of this morning’s Gospel, John the Baptist proclaims that Jesus is The One who will baptize you and me with the Holy Spirit (Mk 1:8). Along with God’s grace, it is the Holy Spirit in us who empowers us to do things we are unable to do on our own. Notice what Jesus told Simon and Andrew:
Mk 1:17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”
Follow Jesus and, in the power of the Holy Spirit, He will make us into whatever we are called to be.
So who am I more like today? Simon and Andrew, or Jonah? What about you? In a Jesus direction at once, or heading in the opposite direction?

Is the prospect of being baptized in the Holy Spirit a Nineveh for you; a call you are resisting, from which you’re running away? You may need to repent of unbelief and fear.

Or is the Nineveh I’m trying to avoid a place where there are lost people who need to be loved and served in the name of Jesus and who need to repent and believe in Him, who need the second chance only the LORD can provide and from who I am heading in the opposite direction as fast as I can? Like Jonah, I’ve bought the ticket, packed my bags, climbed up the gang plank, and I’m on my way.

Is there something Jesus is calling you or me to leave behind at once. Right now. So by the power of the Holy Spirit we can follow Him in a new, saltier, more radiant and fruitful, way.

Are there ways in which Jesus is calling me to live as if I had none, as if I did not, were not, as if not mine to keep, as if I’m no longer engrossed in just things? Empty of these things but full of the Holy Spirit. Living in a Jesus direction. How would that be for you?

[1] Quoted in The Business of Heaven: Daily Readings from CS Lewis, Ed. Walter Hooper (Collins, 1984), p30
[2] Collect for the Second Sunday after Epiphany, BAS, p349