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Bible readings:

Proper 3 Year B (January 25, 2015)                                                 St James', Peace River

The Bible is full of people being called. And if we didn't figure that out last week, with the call of Samuel, and Philip and Nathanael – we're sure to get it this week, as we hear about Jonah, called by God to prophesy against Nineveh; and then Simon and Andrew, James and John, the first of the core group of Jesus' disciples. Of course it doesn't stop there. We could run through the callings in the Old Testament, everyone from Abraham and Sarah to the various prophets, and for that matter King Cyrus of Persia, called by God to come and set his people free.

And then a steady refrain throughout the gospels, of Jesus calling people to come and follow him: Matthew the tax collector, the rest of the twelve, Mary Magdalene and the other women who Luke says “provided for them” all, blind Bartimaeus and various other unnamed people who wanted to be part of what Jesus was doing. And then the ones who were called but didn't follow, or at least not right away: Nicodemus, who came to Jesus by night; and the rich young ruler who went away sad because of what Jesus asked him to give up first. Then Peter again, after the resurrection; and Paul, on the Damascus Road. It never stops – as Paul keeps reminding the people he writes those epistles to, we are called too. We can't invent a relationship with God out of whole cloth. But God calls us, and we respond.

Think about how God has called you, and why. There can be lots of different answers to the “how” question. Some of us point to the Bible and how clearly it speaks to us. Some of us have been inwardly and inexplicable moved – as John Wesley described it, our hearts were “strangely warmed”. Many of us would point to the church itself, either through family members who raised us in faith or through friends who invited us and drew us in. In all these ways and more, Jesus calls us. But that's the point, isn't it? However we would answer the “how” question, it comes down to this: Jesus has called you. Every disciple in the gospels and beyond met Jesus, in one way or another, and heard him say, “come to me, follow me, come with me”. You are a Christian because Jesus wants you, and because Jesus asked you – speaking through a page or a person or a vision, but it was Jesus.

What about the “why” question – why did Jesus call you to follow him? Again the answer could be unique to each of us. We are not interchangeable parts. Jesus calls you, and you, and you, because each one is precious. There isn't a certain skill set that Jesus needs in his followers – look just at the first twelve and you'll see how different they were from each other, fishermen, tax collectors, guerrilla fighters and goodness knows what else. So we don't qualify for our calling on merit. We qualify because in Jesus' sight, we matter. And in particular, we matter enough to be called out of wherever it is we otherwise would have been.

I don't know if any of us can truly imagine what our lives would like if we were not disciples. But you can make an educated guess. What are the habits and tendencies you have to struggle against most within yourself? Where does your faith get to work, even if not always successfully, in reshaping who you are? And what would you be like if those elements of your character had been given free rein instead? How much more anxious would you be, or selfish, or angry, or spiteful, if Jesus hadn't said, come with me and let's work on that?

I think it's important to start there, when we're wondering why we're called. Mostly it's for our sake. God cares enough about us to be willing to work on us. We see that in Jonah's story – the part we read today was actually Jonah's second chance to follow God's direction, after he had hightailed it off in the opposite direction and been swallowed by the fish! We see it in Peter's too – Peter was constantly a work in progress, from the time Jesus took him away from the nets – together, Jesus and Peter worked on his brashness, his insecurity, his anger, his need to always be doing something – not erasing Peter's uniqueness, but taking the raw material and making something amazing out of it. That is what God is doing with you and me, too. How might God be asking if you can get back to work on you, right now?

It's not simply about ourselves, though. There's an appropriate humility in acknowledging that God calls us because we need work – but that's not the whole reason. It seems like every time Jesus calls someone to follow him, there is a real sense of urgency behind it. The gospel today links the call of the first disciples to Jesus' announcement, which I would translate as: “It's time! God's kingdom is as close as it's going to get! Turn around, and step inside!” The fishermen disciples responded to that urgency – they knew it was time too. Mark keeps saying, “immediately” they did this and immediately they did that. There was no time like the present. But they were also called to present that same urgency to the people around them. They didn't take Jesus' message on board and share it as they had the time and the inclination. They left their nets, and followed.

If we go back to Jonah, we can see that immediacy at work in a similar way. The Ninevites didn't need much convincing. Jonah preached for about three seconds – and the city made a complete turnabout. All they needed – all God needed – was for someone to show up and say the word. Now, not every prophet had that kind of success rate! There were certainly plenty of them who were called by God to speak messages no one would listen to. But they did that faithfully too – maybe more so than Jonah. The point seems to be that you're not responsible for whether people take God's message to heart or not. You're responsible for giving them a chance. And the time to do that isn't tomorrow, or next year, or when the strategic plan for evangelism says would be best. The time is now, because God is here.

How do we translate that into twenty-first century terms? Do we really believe and act, right now, as though God is present and active, and reaching out to us and our neighbours in this present moment? What would it look like for us to embody the urgency of God's presence in the way the first disciples did? Paul's advice to the Corinthians actually is as relevant now as it was then – he says, put everything in perspective. You can have a job, a family, a business, a life – but all of those things are relative to your first priority which is the absolute preeminence of what God is doing in your world right now. Frame everything else around that, and you will be a hugely effective communicator of God's message.

And it's not like people don't want or need to hear that message today. Nothing's changed on that front. When we live God's love and express God's desire for people to live in a different way – people respond. It doesn't take much. Just give them the chance. Not everyone is going to “pull a Nineveh” and say, oh of course, I just need to totally change my life, why didn't I think of that before? But, actually, some people do when they're given that invitation. And others will start a journey of being reconciled to God, and that's good too. And even if you don't see it in anyone, what you do in your faithful discipleship does make a difference. Simply by putting God first, you are sending up a flare or lighting a beacon that someone, somewhere, at some time will see and recognize as God's way of calling them.

Reorganizing your life around the urgency and immediacy and absolute priority of God isn't a simple challenge. In a way, it's part of that whole process of God and me getting to work – reshaping and correcting and rebuilding who I am. But to say that it's a process doesn't mean that it can wait. Quite the opposite. It starts now. So ask yourself, “What is God calling me to today?” And keep asking yourself that question, every time a new “today” happens. Because today is the day that God is looking for you, calling on you, inviting you to leave something behind so that you can start something new. And today is the day that God is sending you, with good news that other people need to hear just like you've needed to hear it too.