January 21, 2018

Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Mark 1:14-20

“A Moment and a Lifetime”

I wonder if you can remember the moment when your journey with Jesus began. I know some people who can name that moment, when they first prayed and asked Christ to come into their heart, when they first decided that they wanted the focus of their lives to change, and were ready to embrace the “Jesus Way” of living in the world.

It’s a moment like that in the lives of some of Jesus’ first disciples that we hear about in our Gospel reading today. Simon and Andrew were fishing that day. James and John were in their boat, mending their fishing nets. Jesus came along and issued an invitation: “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And they did.

When Jesus was choosing his disciples
they sure didn’t stop to tie their shoes.
They left all their nets with no regrets
for a calling that they could not refuse.

Lord, I will follow you wherever you may go.
I want to be a reaper of the seeds you sow.

We hear the story about that key moment when the first disciples made the decision to drop their nets, leave their usual routines, and follow Jesus in ministry. And doesn’t it make you wonder about what came before that moment?

Was Jesus really a total stranger to these fishermen, who interrupted their work and told them that their new occupation would be “fishing for people” from now on? If so, these guys must have been extremely trusting – almost reckless, I would say.

But I imagine that they might have heard some of his ideas before, or listened to some of his teaching. Certainly, this is the moment when these guys make the leap into a new way of life and a vocation of bringing the good news of God’s coming kingdom to people.

We can only speculate about how God got them ready to drop everything and follow. We can only guess about what came before that moment. But we do learn a little about what happened with the disciples after that moment of calling and decision. All we have to do is keep reading through the Gospel of Mark to find out.

And, you know, if you want one Gospel to read through and get a sense of the whole of Jesus’ story, Mark is a good one to start with. First of all, it’s the shortest version of the story. You could sit down with your Bible and read through Mark in a couple of hours if you wanted to really get a sense of the first followers’ story of discipleship.

And what you will discover is that their journey is along a rather bumpy road. After their first faith-filled response to Jesus’ call, they struggle with understanding what Jesus’ mission is about. They make mistakes, they act selfishly, they have doubts about Jesus’ identity, and they abandon the cause when it starts to get dangerous.

Yes, there are a few high points too, when they profess their faith and do good work with Jesus in healing, and feeding, and bringing good news to people. But these disciples are no super-heroes. They’re a lot more like most of us – just trying day-by-day to learn and grow in faith, and serve God and each other. Today’s passage, interpreted in the context of the whole Gospel, reminds us that becoming a faithful Christian disciple takes both a moment and a lifetime.

This morning we also heard a short passage from the Book of Jonah that emphasizes something similar. You may remember that Jonah’s reaction to God’s first call was not quite as faith-filled as the fishermen’s response. When God commissioned Jonah to go to the city of Ninevah and tell the people there to repent and turn their lives to God’s ways, Jonah didn’t want to do it.

He was scared, so he ran away. He went in the opposite direction, and got on a ship to get as far from Ninevah as he could. Then a storm comes up, and Jonah gets thrown into the sea where he is swallowed by a big fish. (That’s the best-known part of this fanciful story.)

From the belly of the fish, Jonah does some praying and some soul-searching, and soon the fish spews him out onto the beach. And that’s when God calls him again. God says, “Get up, go to Ninevah, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” And this time, Jonah went.

In the course of our lives too, God calls to us in many and various ways. Sometimes we listen and respond with faith. Sometimes we ignore the call, or avoid the call, or have trouble figuring out what the call is all about. But I do think that remembering and celebrating those key moments when we responded to God’s call (perhaps for the first time) can help and sustain us as we continue our discipleship journeys.

I think it’s kind of like when we celebrate our birthdays. You take a day each year to remember that special moment – the day you were born. You don’t literally remember that day, but you remember it nonetheless because of its significance as the first day of your life. Those who celebrate with you proclaim that your birthday is special because your life is special. You celebrate a moment as you live out a lifetime.

I think it’s also kind of like when we celebrate our wedding anniversaries. I think about the fact that my wedding day was the beginning of a new way of living and being in the world as someone who is committed to and partnered with another person.

There was stuff that happened before the wedding – meeting, falling in love, getting to know each other, growing in commitment and care, and deciding that marriage was something that we wanted to do.

But the wedding day was when we made the vows and promises before God and our community. It was a key moment of decision that marks the beginning of a life-long journey that is marriage. Remembering that day, repeating and renewing our promises, and giving thanks for God’s guiding help through all of the ups and downs of our relationship can be good for our marriage.

Do you remember Marie Hirota? Some of you knew Marie during the year or so that she spent worshipping with us at First Church before moving to Ontario in September to get married.

Marie had been introduced to Christianity by her aunt in Japan, but during her time with this congregation, she grew in faith and wanted to become a Christian. I had the joy of meeting with Marie a number of times during my first month here as your minister, and preparing her for baptism.

It was a key moment for Marie, as she publicly professed her faith, promised to turn away from sin and towards God, and to follow Jesus with her life. And it was a blessing for us to share in that moment with her.

Corresponding with Marie on email, I have learned that her discipleship journey continues. Together with her husband, Ben, she is studying Scripture and doing a daily devotional. They haven’t yet settled on a congregation home, but they have been attending several churches together as they figure that out. We celebrate Marie’s key moment of baptism, and pray for God’s blessing on her lifetime of discipleship.

I wonder. Can you identify a key moment in your life of discipleship? Maybe it was your baptism also (whether as an adult or as an infant). Maybe it was a formal profession of faith when you claimed the promises of your baptism and became a professing member of the church. Maybe it was something less formal, but no less meaningful – a moment of turning, a moment of decision, a moment of knowing God’s presence and being assured of your identity as God’s beloved child.

Moments like that may happen at the beginning sometimes, but very often they happen some time along the way. Our job is simply to listen for Jesus’ voice calling us to follow, and to respond with faith and joy.

If this was a more explicitly evangelical church, this would be the moment for the altar call. I would invite you to make this one of those special moments to remember. I would invite you to come forward in faith, and to pray together with a church leader, turning your life away from sin and towards God, promising to follow Jesus, and inviting the Holy Spirit into your heart.

But since we are in a Presbyterian Church, let’s do it like this. I’m going to sing a little more of a song by my Presbyterian friend, Rob Ellis. And I’ll invite you to make the chorus a renewal of your profession of faith.

Lord, I will follow you wherever you may go.
I want to be a reaper of the seeds you sow.

 When Jesus was choosing his disciples
they sure didn’t stop to tie their shoes.
They left all their nets with no regrets
for a calling that they could not refuse.

Lord, I will follow you wherever you may go.
I want to be a reaper of the seeds you sow.

I picture myself there on that morning
and I was the one you came to choose.
To start on my knees might not be easy,
but all that I have, I have to lose.

Lord, I will follow you wherever you may go.
I want to be a reaper of the seeds you sow.

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