Sunday, January 22, 2012

Openness to God's Call

A sermon based on Jonah 3:1-5, 10 and Mark 1:14-20
January 22, 2012

What would you find compelling enough to leave everything and everyone you know behind and go for something new? It would take a whole lot, wouldn't it? Some folks will leave roots that they have built in one place in order to find a job or to take advantage of a career opportunity. Some will move for a relationship - move across the country to be with either a significant other or to be near children or grand-children. It would have to be something worthwhile to take such a risk.

It might be hard to find something worthwhile for an individual to take such a risk, but it would be even harder to find something worthwhile for a group of people. Sometimes family members will move together, such as in immigrating to a new country. Sometimes members of a religious group will move to a place where they are free to practice their faith. In order to motivate a group of people, either the current situation has to be really bad or the possibility has to be really good.

Simon and Andrew, James and John were all fishermen. That is what they knew, how they supported themselves and their families. And yet, they left it all behind to follow Jesus - their family, friends, homes, livelihoods.

We do not know what these disciples were thinking, or what other information they might have had. Were they happy or satisfied being fishermen or did they already have a sense that there was something else that they should be doing? Was this the first time that they had ever seen Jesus? Or had they heard Jesus teaching earlier? Or had they heard from others about Jesus? Did James and John know Simon and Andrew and were encouraged to follow Jesus by their example? We don't know.

All we know is that Jesus called and they followed. There must have been something powerfully compelling about Jesus.
-so compelling that these and other disciples left all they knew to follow
-so compelling that people followed Jesus wherever Jesus went, seeking wisdom and healing
-so compelling that Paul stopped persecuting Christians and became one himself
-so compelling that Christians throughout the ages have been martyred as witnesses to the power and love of Christ.

It can be discouraging if we don't always feel that compelled. We should remember a few things. Not everyone Jesus  called followed him. There was the rich young man who went away disappointed, and there was the person who wanted to bury their father. Not everyone Jesus taught understood or believed him. And not everyone responds at first, but might later.
We need to be open to hearing God's message, to hearing Jesus' call to follow him. Openness is important, because it makes us easier to reach. I have some noise-cancelling headphones that are really great, they make it easy to tune out the world around me. If I have them on, then to get my attention you have to wave in front of my face, tap my shoulder, or yell loudly. You can still get my attention, but it is much harder. Openness helps.

How can we be open to hearing God's call to us? There are numerous strategies to open ourselves up to God’s call, but I have four to talk about today.

1. Be open to the fact that we might not be doing right or might not be doing our best where we are right now.
-This is important, because if we are dead certain that we are completely right or doing our best then we are resistant to those who tell us otherwise, and there is always a chance that there might be some truth in what they have to tell us.
-Paul and the Ninevites were likely somewhat open to the fact that they were doing wrong. The Ninevites responded right away to Jonah. Paul did have a miraculous appearance from Jesus, but he still could have ignored it. It is surprisingly easy to ignore the obvious, what is right in front of you sometimes. Simon, Andrew, James and John were open to the fact that there was something else what God was calling them to be other than only fishermen.

2. Be open to change
People are always changed by entering into a relationship with God.
-Sometimes these changes are obvious to others - it was obvious to others that Paul was changed by his experience of the risen Christ because his behavior and beliefs did a complete turnaround.
-Sometimes these changes are not so obvious, but you don't stay unchanged by a relationship with God. Such a relationship challenges us to be better than what we have been, to seek our full potential.

3. Be open to risk and discomfort.
-This is obvious, easy to say, but very hard to do. I , like many others, try to avoid risk and conflict whenever I can, and often that is fine. But there are times in which risks must be made.
-The disciples took a risk by leaving behind their homes and jobs to follow Jesus. Paul took a risk by becoming Christian because he was suddenly on the side of all those he had persecuted and on the opposite side from all his anti-Christian friends and associates.

4. Be open to wondrous possibilities
-This sounds easy, but it often isn't because of our own expectations and prejudices.
-Jonah wasn't open to the Ninevites repenting and turning towards God - that is why he initially ran away when God told him to go and that is why he got so upset when he finally delivered God's message and the Ninevites were spared. Jonah did not want God's mercy for the Ninevites, because that was the capital city of Assyria, which were big enemies of Israel in his day. It might be human nature to despise enemies and want their downfall, but we cannot limit God's mercy and gifts to only the people we care about or agree with. That would be such a sad world. Instead, we have to be open to God working in whatever ways that God wants to work in, and for whatever people God wants to work for. We need to be open to wondrous possibilities of God's choosing.

Our gospel lesson this morning says that "Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news." As followers of Christ, our mission is to spread the good news of God's love for all people which was particularly demonstrated in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as well as sharing the hope of God's kingdom.

God calls us - not just as individuals but as a community. There are certain things that are easier to accomplish or even only possible when done by a group of people rather than by an individual. Jesus didn't have 1 follower but many. Later his followers were sent out in small groups, often by twos, in order to teach and baptize. They were not alone.

God might not choose us to serve in dramatic or big ways - but however we serve God will be for good. It is hard to open ourselves up to serve, to follow where we are called - but this is part of what it means to be a disciple. Disciple is just another word for follower or student. We are called to study and follow Jesus' example and teachings, and in turn teach others to do the same. This week I encourage you to think about how God is calling you, and if you don't hear God's call or are unsure of what it is then I encourage you to focus on how to open yourself up to better hear. I encourage us all to discern how we are called as a community - how are we as a church supposed to share the gospel, care for those in need, and show God’s love in the world? I encourage all of us to focus on opening ourselves up to God's call, because we never know what wondrous things might happen if we stop hindering and start building God's kingdom.