Kenora Epiphany + 3
24 January 2021
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
God of salvation, the splendour of your glory dispels the darkness of earth ,for in Christ we see the nearness of your kingdom. Now make us quick to follow him, and eager to proclaim the good news of the gospel. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.
Have you ever wondered what it too, what it takes to be called by Christ? To be a prophet? A priest? A vocational deacon? Or even a leader in your chosen field of expertise?
I think it interesting to look at these readings from this perspective because it’s becoming increasingly rare to talk, or to consider the term “vocation” or even the idea that we are “called” to this or that occupation, including ordained ministry.
So, since I know people aren’t all that familiar with the word ‘vocation,’ I looked it up online. Bing defines the term vocation as “an occupation to which a person is especially drawn or for which they are suited, trained, or qualified. Though now used in noon-religious contexts, the meaning of the term originated in Christianity.”
So, with that in mind, we’re blessed in the readings, today, to find such widely differing examples of what it means to be called by God out of our day-to-day patterns of life. To be called to fulfill what God alone knows our particular skills are able to provide.
Now, this isn’t a journey, a call, or a discernment of vocation that will be fulfilled in the same way in each of our lives, although for the purposes of comparison, lets look at the roles of the priestly, or prophetic, which are still needed in today’s world.
I also want to note, and if we read all of Jonah, he’ll confirm this, that the call to be what God needs us to be isn’t a one time thing. It’s not a 30 day free trial, rather it comes and if this is truly what God directs for our lives, it will come back.
In my own life, the call to serve came twice, because the first time I wasn’t ready to hear the will of God.
So, I become what is called a second career path minister. I went out into the world and tried a number of other things, career options, and jobs before following where God led, and how.
We are able to see this in the book of Jonah. In him, we see someone who is so reluctant to fulfill the will of God in his life that he actually packed his bags and tried to run away.
As a prophet, even a reluctant one, he didn’t want to proclaim the word of God to the people of Nineveh, and so he did all he could think of to get away from such a calling.
As we read all of Jonah’s story, we are able to see how God takes his reluctance in stride and turns it and him around to bring him and the message of God’s displeasure to the people of Nineveh so that they have the opportunity to turn their lives around.
“4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.” (Jon 3:4-5)
So, although he was a reluctant prophet, although he really wanted to see the destruction of Nineveh by God, he accomplished what God set out to do, and that was proclaim the message so that the people have the opportunity to turn their lives around.
Then we see that Paul is a completely different person from Jonah, in his embrace of a call to ministry, in his enthusiasm for the message he carried, and in his determination to see it all carried out so that the word of God was shared across the whole world.
At one time, Paul was on the fast track to success and advancement in the Jewish religious hierarchy until he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus. He was rather zealous in his attempts to keep Judaism as the only monotheistic religion in the roman empire.
But then he encountered Jesus. He had his turning point, and through that experience he was able to turn his zeal to sharing the word he’d been attempting to contain and stamp out.
And we are able to see, from his overall contribution to the New Testament how completely he’s embraced the message of God’s love and shared it with all of the Roman empire.
Paul has shared his journey with us as well as with the people of Rome, Corinth, Philippa, Galatia, Ephesus, Colossus, and Thessalonica, and his words continue to encourage each one of us, still today, to put Christ and each other first in all things, and that one emphasis, with each changed heart, we are able to change the world.
And then we turn to the gospel, to the good news, and we meet Jesus. We meet the one who was prophesied to come, and whose teachings and quiet enthusiasm continues to reach across the centuries to touch each of our lives and hearts.
Still today, Jesus continues to call each one of us out of our lives, to encourage us to “follow” as he calls us, as he calls Simon and Andrew, James and John.
“Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”” (Mk 1:17)
Now, these days, we seem to be divided into two groups: two camps. There are those who know early in life what they’re called to do, to be, and they move forward with that. And this is a wonderful thing, a fabulous gift.
And then there’s the rest of us who weren’t so certain and we needed, perhaps, to explore some different career options before we heard God’s call to follow where God leads.
In my own life, before I answered God’s call to ordained ministry, I worked as a cleaner, a file clerk, a house painter, a bookkeeper, a travel agent, and as a car salesperson before I heard and heeded God’s call to be a priest, a minister.
But the point is that in the end, it’s God who directs us to use our skills, our gifts, our talents for the benefit of all of creation, in one way or another.
So, today, I would encourage us to consider if God is fully using our skills, our talents, our innate abilities in our current occupations, or are we called, by Jesus message, today, to something different?
Do we hear his call tugging at our imaginations, at our hearts in the words as he says “17b “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” (Mk 1:17b)
Or perhaps you know of someone in your life who you just have a feeling is able to do so much more than they’re currently doing in their lives?
Do you know someone who might be called to ordained ministry? To be a deacon, a priest in the church? After all there is such a wide job description to those words than we often remember or even acknowledge.
Perhaps they have the skills, the talents, to be a member of the clergy, a deacon or a priest, although they, might not feel they’re in possession of such skills, yet, but God shows us the way, every day, every step of the way.
We have to remember God doesn’t call the equipped, rather he equips the called.
After all, Simon, Andrew, James and John, just walking away from their lives as fishermen were with Jesus for three years learning how-to live-in God’s love, learning at Jesus’ side before they stepped into the leadership roles God knows, today, that they’re going to fulfill, when they’re ready.
And we’re not possessed of just one set of skills, one pattern of interests.
After all, with God as our guide, we’re able to be so much more than we could ask or imagine. No one in today’s world is just one thing. In my life, I am a full-time member of the clergy, but I retain those other skills, (except the ability to sell a car, I was never good at that) and I enjoy the periodic home renovation project, making sure I can find files when they’re needed, and so on.
I enjoy the hobbies that fill my life, and help me to see where the beauty of God’s creation is, so that I can bring that into my work, here, with each of you.
So today we turn to the readings, once more, and we find that we’re presented with three very different ways to live in God’s grace, yet each one is following where God leads, and how God leads.
We see Jonah who resisted the call to be God’s prophet at absolutely every step, yet when he finds himself on the road to Nineveh, he fulfills the task that God gives him to fulfill, and through his proclamation, encourages the Ninevites to the path of redemption.
We’re able to see Paul’s zealous enthusiasm for the love of God. Through his writings we see how a love for God, a love of God dominates his every word, as he seeks to inspire the spread of Christianity throughout the world he knows.
And we’re able to see Jesus, in whom we see the embodiment of God’s love for each one of us, expressed in the direct invitation “Follow me.”
So, with that in mind, I return to my original question of whether or not you or someone you know may hear these words calling your heart, calling you or someone you know to contemplate a life of ordained ministry: the diaconate, or even the priesthood.
If you feel compelled, speak to a trusted advisor, someone like me, or someone who encourages you on your path in positive and heartfelt ways, and be prepared for the most interesting adventure of your life.
All because Jesus says “Follow me.”