For the Third Sunday after the Epiphany
January 24, 2021
Remember way back before caller ID when our phones rang and we had no idea who was on the other end? If you are under the age of 35ish and can’t remember these ancient times, call your grandmother and ask about it. (And while you’re in the conversation ask what it was like to have the phone tethered to the wall in your home, it’s not part of my point here but it will lengthen your conversation and you’ll learn something and make your grandmother happy.)
When our phones rang, we answered. Nowadays if we don’t recognize the number, or we are avoiding the person calling, we just don’t answer. We choose our calls.
Let’s take another step back in time – when as kids we spent the whole of our non-school days outside playing with our neighborhood friends. When my parents needed us, they couldn’t call or text us. They might try calling a neighbor or two (from that phone tethered to the wall) to see if we’d been through their kitchen for a beverage or snack recently but the most effective thing was to walk outside and call our names. Most of the time when we heard our names we’d respond, stop whatever it was we were doing, and follow them home because we knew it meant supper and family time. But if it was for dentist appointment or grocery shopping, we’d pretend like we didn’t hear them, the precursor to choosing not to answer our phones.
In two of the stories from our readings today, we see different responses to a call. Jonah didn’t want to respond to God’s call. Jonah didn’t want to do what God was asking and so he tried to pretend he hadn’t heard his phone. Look how that turned out for him. Yet, even though Jonah was reluctant, God didn’t reject him. God still chooses to work through us even when we send the call to voicemail.
In the story from Mark’s telling of the good news, Jesus is walking the neighborhood and calls out to Simon (who gets his named changed to Peter later), Andrew, James, and John and immediately they stop what they are doing and follow him. Imagine being so dissatisfied with life that at the word of a stranger we’d drop everything for something better.
These men are the lowest of the working order. They spent every waking moment of every day fishing for food that wouldn’t even feed their families but was for the top of this governmental pyramid scheme. They weren’t even paid enough to purchase back that which they had caught, born into a system that loved power and money and used people to get it. These men were cogs in the machine that made the rich richer and kept the poor poor. Sounds shockingly familiar?
Jesus comes along and offers them the opportunity to trade their transactional life for a life centered in relationships. He says, “follow me and I’ll show you how to fish for people, how to cultivate real relationships, how to live in a world where people are loved and money and things are used instead of the backwards way you are caught up in. I’ll show you what life is supposed to be as God intends it.” This was very good news for them.
It is very good news for us. Your phone is ringing. Don’t be afraid or annoyed. Don’t pretend you don’t hear it.
At the center of God’s call to us, isn’t a list of rules or demanding duties1. At the center of God’s call is love and relationship. This is why God calls us – because we are beloved children and it’s time for supper and family time. Sometimes, though, we need to go to the dentist because it’s good for us.
We have a choice. We can keep struggling to do things our way and pretend like we don’t hear God. Or we can let go of those things which are keeping us too busy to be aware of God and hear the good news that we are loved, as we are, where we are. We aren’t just a piece of a machine built for others. We are citizens of God’s kingdom made up of people in relationship with God and each other.
Come on home for supper and some family time.
1If you want to read an excellent book on God’s call for all of us, I highly recommend Os Guinness’ The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life. You can also find videos on Youtube of Os talking about our calling. It is time well spent.