“Follow me”

January 21, 2018   3rd after Epiphany, B


      “Jesus calls us, o’er the tumult of our life’s wild restless sea…” (from Hymn 550)


      What kind of calls have you received? When I was a child the only call I thought about was my mother calling me in for supper. Or I might go with her to “call” on a friend.

      Today “call” usually means phone calls, of course—and they get easier to ignore all the time, what with message machines and caller ID.

      There’s another call I responded to—the call to become an ordained minister in God’s church. That was one call I could not ignore or turn off.

      Jonah had a call from God. He was called to “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” He ignored that call.

      Now Nineveh was home to people Jonah hated and feared. The Assyrians were violent, cruel, ruthless, bloodthirsty. Jonah had no desire to go there, and certainly no heart to preach to them.

      So when God called, Jonah said no—and tried to sail away to Tarshish, in the other direction. 

      But when God calls he is persistent. He won’t give up on a busy signal or a hang up.

      God keeps calling.

      Jonah encountered problems trying to run from God—you know the story about the storm at sea, and Jonah being thrown into the sea to calm the storm, and the “large fish” (usually called a whale) that swallowed him.

      I have to admit that there have been times when I said no to God—did what I thought was the right thing instead of listening to that little voice that I shouldn’t have ignored.

      Thanks be to God that I never encountered the problems Jonah had to face! And thanks be to God that he was there to welcome and guide me once I turned back and listened.

      Jonah turned back—he had little choice being in the belly of the fish for 3 days and nights!

      Again God sent him to Nineveh, and this time he went and called them to repent and turn to God and God would forgive them.

      And they did—and this made Jonah very angry. Like many of us, Jonah wanted his enemies to suffer and be punished, but that is not God’s way.

      Jonah thought that he was being righteous to hate the Assyrians, but God showed him that it was not righteousness but self-righteousness, pride. Jonah heard only his own call, not God’s.

      Simon, Andrew, James and John heard and said yes to God’s call when Jesus asked them to follow him.

      Jonah turned and ran in the other direction, these four “immediately” dropped everything and followed.

      And they were not desperately poor men looking for a better life. They had homes and families and good fishing businesses—but Jesus’ invitation was more important than all that.

      Jonah’s no—the disciples yes. I wonder where we are on that scale?

      I guess it helps to know just what this call is all about.

      When Jesus says “follow me” he is inviting us to get in line behind him and let him lead. We follow Jesus by doing what Jesus did—not like sitting on the sofa to follow a show on tv or a team.

      One way to follow Jesus is to worship—to gather as the Body of Christ and say that we trust in God’s goodness and give praise and glory to God and be filled again with Christ to be his Body in the world.

      Another way to follow Jesus is to be steeped in Holy Scripture. All the ministry Jesus did, all his life, brought to life God’s love for his people. We can come to know God as we spend time with him in the Bible.

      And we can come to know God as we spend time with him in prayer. Not the kind of prayer that needs just the right words or ideas, but prayer that is listening time—silence.

      This is also called meditation—and it’s the best way to stay open to God’s call, so it’s a good spiritual practice. Meditation also helps our bodies as it lowers our heart rate and blood pressure and increases our immune system, so it’s a good physical practice, too. Another gift from God.

      Another thing this practice of prayer shows us is that what we consider sacred is not separate from what we consider profane or worldly.

      God is not “up there” somewhere, distant and apart. God is here with us—not just here in our worship but all the time, all the places.

      So while church may be a place to start our journey with Jesus, it is not the end. Most of our journey with Jesus is out there, in the world. He leads us into life that is filled with good and bad, with joy and sadness, hope and fear, peace and violence. He leads, and we follow.

      Jesus called his disciples while they were at work, not while they were at prayer. We know that they did worship, but most of the ministry of Jesus and his followers—healing, forgiving, giving hope and joy—this was in the world with ordinary people doing ordinary things.

      Jesus calls us to “fish for people” by being bait that will draw people to God so that they will experience those same gifts—healing, forgiving, hope and joy and love.

      Our call is to share our faith in ways that are exciting and contagious. That’s what Jesus did, and that’s how we follow him.

      His invitation wasn’t just to Simon, Andrew, James and John, and the others. His invitation is to us, not just once but every minute of our lives.

      In the words of St. Teresa: “Christ has no body but ours, No hands, no feet on earth but ours, ours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world, ours are the feet with which he walks to do good, ours are the hands with which he blesses all the world. Christ has no body now on earth but ours.”

      And from our hymn, “Day by day his clear voice soundeth, saying Christian, follow me.”

The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details