The Third Sunday after the Epiphany

“Is God Calling Us?”

Let us pray today’s collect again: Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Our Gospel reading from Mark today tells us how Simon and Andrew, James and John are called by Jesus and respond immediately. I know for myself and likely many of us, this is the way we would like to respond to a call from Jesus. Respond immediately, drop everything, follow Him and never look back! For me, the reality is a lot more like Jonah in our first reading. Hearing the call but afraid and running off to do other things, assuming God will find someone else to fulfill his request.

Today I want to look at the story of Jonah with you. The reading picks up the story where Jonah obeys God, goes to Nineveh, proclaims God’s displeasure, the people repent and God forgives them. It sounds like it all went smoothly. I want to look at the part of the story that precedes this, where Jonah struggles with the call and what God had to do to get him to accept his call and instruct him a second time.

God calls Jonah to go to Nineveh to tell the people he is displeased by their wickedness. Jonah hears him but takes off in the opposite direction, even boarding a ship to get away. While he is onboard, God sends a violent storm that threatens to destroy the ship. The sailors fear for their lives. But where has Jonah gone? He is asleep below deck, unaware and unconcerned about the danger. The captain has to wake him up to pray.

Jonah tells the sailors he is running away from God. He instructs the sailors to throw him overboard to calm the storm. They are sure he will die but they finally do it. Immediately, the sea becomes calm. Jonah falls to the bottom of the ocean, sure that he will die, but God, in his mercy, sends a large fish to swallow Jonah and save him. While he is inside the large fish, Jonah prays.

Then, at God’s prompting, the fish deposits Jonah on the beach and God tells Jonah a second time to go to Nineveh. This time a shaken and wiser Jonah goes. He tells the Ninevites that their city will be destroyed by God in forty days. Everyone including the king repents and God spares them from his punishment. Now (spoiler alert) does this make Jonah happy? No, he sulks. He knew that God would forgive them and feels he has wasted his time. He wanted to see Nineveh destroyed.

This makes me think of a poster I saw years ago that stated “God uses more energy in converting one sinner than in creating the world for the world did not resist. “ God wanted to save 120,000 people in Nineveh but first he had to get through to one Israelite prophet.

Other prophets were reluctant to serve but Jonah is the only one who tried to run away. What did God have to do to get Jonah to respond to his instructions? He sent the violent storm, he had the drawing of lots fall to Jonah, he intensified the storm so the sailors could not outrun it, he sends a giant fish to save Jonah from the bottom of the sea, he directs the fish to deliver Jonah to the shore and then finally instructs Jonah once again with his message. Only through repeated intervention, did God get Jonah to Nineveh and get his warning proclaimed.

Have you ever run from God’s call? I have but, like Jonah, I found that when God calls, he does not give up. Sometimes, he uses difficult events to bring people back to him. My parents raised me with a strong faith in God and prayer. After college, I felt called to religious life and joined a Dominican community for two years. After working and praying with my Formation Director, I had to decide whether to continue on to the next step. l knew I was not ready to make that commitment and left feeling that God was refusing the life I was offering. I tried to recapture my life of faith but my heart was not in it. I drifted away from church and God for the next ten years. I still considered myself a Christian but without going to services or being involved in a church.

I got involved in my job, went on for an advanced degree, joined clubs and organizations but I felt frustrated with my life. Something was missing but I did not recognize it.

I met my husband, who is Jewish. After four years, we decided to marry but neither rabbi nor priest was willing to officiate at the wedding so we had a justice of the peace with a ceremony at the reception hall. I was upset with the response of the rabbis and priests so I stayed away from the church. Then, three years later, my first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. I was devastated and cried for weeks, depressed and angry with God. About a year later, I had a beautiful healthy baby girl and devoted my time to her and my job.

After two more miscarriages and much grieving, a good friend said to me “I think you want to go back to church.” I didn’t think this was the answer but after a few weeks, I got up one Sunday morning and went to church with her. I cried through most of the service because I realized what I had been missing: the relationship with God that had been the foundation of my childhood.

Eventually, I discovered the Episcopal Church where I have been worshipping faithfully for the last twenty five years. It took some very difficult situations and time and effort on God’s part to get me back to my faith. God had a wealth of things in store for me once I opened myself to him. And I found that rather than a burden, being involved in my faith and in a church is enriching and joyful. Both my parents recently passed away and while the parting has been difficult, knowing through the gift of faith that they are with the God they loved and together with each other has made me able to rejoice for them. God blessed my life for seventy years by their presence in it and I know I will see them again.

During this time of covid, political upheaval, social injustice and unrest, is God still calling us? It can be harder to hear but I believe he is calling us, asking us to stay with him, trust him and listen closely to hear the “still small voice”. What can we do to hear his voice? How can we be prophets to our own communities? By believing in the power of prayer, by believing that God is still in control, by believing that God has better days coming, by sharing our faith and hope with others.

Listen closely. Is there something that needs to be done but you are afraid to try it? Does someone need you to support them with a phone call or visit? Trust God to give you the talent, tools or words you may need.

Is there an organization that needs your support? Is God asking you to support the accomplished women who formed the Anti-Racism Task Force? The new diocesan directives ask us to have Morning Prayer with lay leadership once a month to encourage lay leadership and preaching and to give Pastor Jane time to do strategic planning, pastoral care and outreach. Are you called to lead a morning prayer service? Are you able to put your thoughts into a two or three minute reflection on the readings? Can you help behind the scenes with Altar Guild? Can you lend your time to serving on the Vestry? Offer your help and trust that God is drawing you to it for a reason. When you say yes, amazing things can happen.

I will never forget the first time I led morning prayer and preached. The supply priest we were to have was rushed to the hospital. With fifteen minutes until the service started, our senior warden came into our Bible study group seeking a volunteer to lead the service. No one offered. He asked if I would do it. Fortunately, I didn’t have time to be afraid or get nervous. I led the service, delivered the sermon and got compliments after it. From that experience, I found that I liked leading and preaching though I prefer more than fifteen minutes to prepare! I would never have chosen to do this but once I did it, it has led to a whole new ministry for me and discovery of a gift I didn’t know I had.

As I have learned, when God calls you, he will not give up even if he has to send a whale to take you where he wants you!! So…. listen now for the call… the nudge… it likely will not go away… it may seem like too much to take on, too scary, but know that it may just be the whale, the life raft, the life saver that you need right now. Amen.

Let us pray: Heavenly Father, we worship you today and want to serve you. Help us to hear your voice, to be willing to give up some comfort to follow your call; to be grateful for the guidance and experience that you are drawing us into. We cannot know what you have in store for us until we follow where you are leading. Help us to be open to being your messengers to the world around us. Amen.

Collect  Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Jonah 3:1-5, 10   The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

Psalm 62:6-14

6 For God alone my soul in silence waits; *
truly, my hope is in him.

7 He alone is my rock and my salvation, *
my stronghold, so that I shall not be shaken.

8 In God is my safety and my honor; *
God is my strong rock and my refuge.

9 Put your trust in him always, O people, *
pour out your hearts before him, for God is our refuge.

10 Those of high degree are but a fleeting breath, *
even those of low estate cannot be trusted.

11 On the scales they are lighter than a breath, *
all of them together.

12 Put no trust in extortion;
in robbery take no empty pride; *
though wealth increase, set not your heart upon it.

13 God has spoken once, twice have I heard it, *
that power belongs to God.

14 Steadfast love is yours, O Lord, *
for you repay everyone according to his deeds.

1 Corinthians 7:29-31   I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

Mark 1:14-20   After John was arrested, 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 Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.