Sermon 22 January 2005

Epiphany – the season that we are in at the moment, is our reminder that God does not remain in the glittery wrappings of Christmas for very long. It is our reminder that we are dealing, in Jesus Christ with someone who encountered people. Someone who looked people in the eye and said – “Come follow me.”

Last week we were considering the call of Samuel. This week we have the call of Simon and Andrew casting their nets into the sea. Jesus looks at them. Sees what they are doing and says, “Come, and I will make you fish for people”.

But before that, we heard just a bit of Jonah’s fishy tale. The bit where he too is called.

There is a big difference between Jonah’s response and that of the disciples by the lake. They hear the Lord and walk. They hear what Jesus has to say and go with him.

I’m rather fond of Jonah’s response to God. You will see that this is God’s second attempt to get through to him. The first time was the time when he heard God speaking telling him to go east to Nineveh, he promptly set off west, tried to run away, got tossed overboard from a ship and promptly swallowed up by a whale.

Jonah’s whale story, of course, is not like our London whale story which has been unfolding over the last few days with every move documented by cameras. His story is firmly in the realm of myth – truth told with narrative and story, not with photographs and rolling news channels.

Jonah’s whale ends up coughing him up right where he started from and, guess what, God calls him a second time and says, “Get up, go to Nineveh”. And off he goes, to great effect.

Jonah’s story is important because of all the minds that change in it. Jonah changes his mind and wisely decides that going in God’s direction will be easier in the long run than being gobbled up by Leviathon. The people of Nineveh change their minds and decide that living just lives would be better for all of them than the anarchy of doing their own thing.

And then God changes his mind too, an idea that give the lie to the notion that everything we do is programmed and fixed forever by some disinterested God.

When we run from God, (And who has not tried?), we find ourselves gobbled up by things outside our control. By and large, I think that people do know how to make good choices. By and large, I think people do know good from evil.

But the call to Jonah is not just to make a right decision. It is not just to choose between right and wrong. It is to go and sort out the world – to go and put Nineveh right too.

The book of Jonah is a short book. You can read it in one go. It is like a postcard from God saying, “Look, I know what it is like to be a human being. No matter who you are, no matter how belligerent or sulky you feel, I’ve something for you to do. Get up. Go. Sort out the world. Put something right and in doing so you will put something right within you too.”

Of course, the call to the disciples by the Sea of Galilee was no postcard, it was a person. A person that they could have said no to.

We are sold a Jesus who is so compelling that he seems irresistible, but I wonder who turned him down that day. As he walked the shore, did he ask others who went on fishing? Did he call to others who turned their faces to their boats and remained doing what they knew?


However, for some reason, these four responded. These four, Simon and Andrew, James and John, they said yes. These four set off on a journey. And what a journey!

I believe that God calls us all. When God calls us we have two choices. How do we answer? Do we turn our faces towards the direction in which God is going? Or do we turn away. Do we turn towards the people whom God wants us with or do we turn away from God and remain with what we already knew?

On with God towards the city of Nineveh or try to outrun God in the other direction?

On with Jesus towards Jerusalem or remain with the boats and the fishing?

They all had a choice.

We all have our own choices. Not in the land of fishy tales and mythmaking but in the land of Monday morning. In each moment, God calls us. In each decision, God says, “Come, follow me.”

How will you answer?

Jonah’s story is ages old. It tells us that when we go contrary to God’s directions we end up swallowed up by our own desires and ultimately travel nowhere.

The story of the disciples by the lake is different because their answer was different. They responded to the call by saying Yes. No-one could pretend that they had an easy life, but no-one could doubt that they travelled a long way from their fishing nets.

Come with me, Jesus said, I will make you fish for people. And what has ever changed?

Come with me, God says to each of us. Come with me. Walk my way.

Come follow me.

And it is for us to decide how to answer.


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