When Dan and I were first married we went to Salt Lake City for a portion of our honeymoon, where he met my extended family. One of our first days in Salt Lake we drove east to Park City. It was a beautiful August day, and we leisurely wandered through the city and then drove through the back roads and mountain side. As the afternoon was growing late we decided to head back to Salt Lake. I felt certain, based on a vague childhood memory, that there was a back-road over the mountain that would drop us into Salt Lake City. So we wandered on this dirt road for a bit, going deeper into the wilderness and over ever more challenging terrain. We were driving a little green Gremlin, or Pinto, I don’t remember, some old car my dad had. Whatever it was it was definitely not built for the rugged terrain we were on. Sure enough we bottomed out – took out some part of the undercarriage necessary for driving. This was in 1985, no cell phones, no GPS. We were good and stranded. Thankfully some young guys were driving their pickup through the back-roads and came to assist us. We had to leave the car in the woods and accept a ride to a gas station on the main highway where we called my dad and aunt to come get us. The next day we returned and pulled the car out of the rut.
Sometimes one gets on a path and discovers that it is not the right path, yet, one just can’t figure out how to turn around and get to a better place. The people of Ninevah were in such a place – stuck in their self-destructive ways. Jonah comes and proclaims their demise and in doing so turns the course of events in a significant way. The people of Ninevah change their ways which provokes God to change God’s mind, thus sparing the people of Ninevah. Following God can lead to transformation. Jonah, angry and bitter that the people changed and God relented, went the other way turning from God and getting lost in the belly of beast.
The Psalm speaks of the steady presence of God. Paul, in the letter to the Corinthians lists the ways in which the qualities of life pass away and change, but God’s presence is steady. And then in the Gospel we hear that God challenges people to pay attention, to recognize God’s call to humankind, to change our ways, to turn and to follow God. Our readings today provide us with examples or assurances of God participating in the lives and actions of human beings.
Perhaps one reason the fisherfolk in the Gospel turn and follow Jesus may be that they remember the story from Jonah, of what happened, later, to Jonah when he fails to follow God and ends up in the belly of a whale. Perhaps, fearing that all could go wrong if they follow the wrong path, take the wrong road, these fishfolk-disciples-to-be take the chance on following God by following Jesus. Call it inspiration. Call it holy spirit inspired. Call it having the capacity to listen and the courage to follow, these fisherfolk come to learn that following Jesus is not only the way to go, BUT the way to LET GO. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians speaks of the many expectations that the people in Corinth must let go of.
Which reminds me of a joke:
A disheveled, disoriented man stumbles across a baptismal service on Sunday afternoon down by the river.
He proceeds to walk into the water and stand next to the preacher. The minister notices the man and says, “Mister, are you ready to find Jesus?”
The man looks back and says, “Yes, preacher, I sure am.”
The minister dunks the fellow under the water and pulls him right back up.
“Have you found Jesus?” the preacher asks.”Nooo, I didn’t!” said the man.
The preacher then dunks him under for quite a bit longer, brings him up, and says, “Now, brother, have you found Jesus?”
“Noooo, I have not, Reverend.”
The preacher holds the man under for even longer and then brings him out of the water, and says, “My God, man, have you found Jesus yet?”
The man wipes his eyes and says to the preacher, “Are you sure this is where he fell in?”
In a way our readings are asking us to let go of expectations that things must be a certain way or of finding God or Jesus in a particular way and just wonder, “How am I called? Or, to repeat the question from last week, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Letting go of preconceived expectations or biases, and wondering, Can anything good come out of me, you, us? Can any good come out of efforts to listen, to pray, out of being open to possibility?
My response to these questions is a clear and certain, yes. Good can and will come from any and all efforts to try to faithfully follow God.
This year, through our readings with the Gospel of Mark, we will focus on what it means to be disciples – to follow God. The Gospel of Mark will challenge us as it begs the question, “Where is God?” To follow God we need to be open to possibility, and through prayer, reflection, and discernment, as individuals and as a community, become open enough to hear God and courageous enough to follow.
Today you will find the annual parish report ready for you to take and read. The booklet is filled with reports from the various commissions and committees of the parish on the work we have done over the last year. It’s a record of the fine ministries that take place at Christ Church, of the ways in which we strive to listen to and follow God. Following this meeting you can attend the financial forum and hear the story of how we are striving to be faithful stewards of the gifts we have been given and use those gifts as God is calling us, to partner with God in bringing forth God’s kingdom now.
Next week is the annual meeting. At that meeting we will elect new vestry members and have the opportunity to thank the outgoing vestry members. In addition we will thank Sean Jackman for his many years of ministry here as the Director of Music. We are entering a time of grieving, of celebrating, of grieving some more, and of change. Times like these naturally bring some anxiety and yet, used well, they can be times of curiosity and exploration, a time to ponder what God is calling up in us now. It is a time when we will be listening in some specific ways for what God is calling forth in and through us, a time that asks us to be wide open to possibility. Times like these invite communities into their highest potential for creativity, and explore in ways we never thought possible, just how it is that something good can come from us, from this church, for this time and place.
So, as you prepare for the meeting next week, and as we prepare for the year ahead, remember our readings today and the call to discipleship. How might following Jesus come to mean something new, something life giving and transformational?
a reflection on the readings for Epiphany 3B: Mark 1:14-20; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Psalm 62:5-12; Jonah 3:1-5, 10