Much thanks to Heather Lee for preaching the following sermon this past Sunday, January 15!
I’ve known my husband a long time, and the whole time I’ve known him, he has collected life lessons. There are quite a few of them now, but the first one, from before we were even married is this, “the hero is the guy who just wants to finish his beer and go home.”
I believe that this life lesson just might explain why Jonah is his favorite story in the bible. Because Jonah was a guy with a good job as a local prophet, when God called him out to do something extra ordinary. Something he really didn’t want to do. In fact, it took being vomited out of a fish for him to finally, grudgingly, do what God asked.
So, being left with no choice, he proclaims destruction on Ninevah.
You will note, Jonah does not preach repentance. He does not evangelize. He couldn’t care less about the Ninevites, he is just trying to finish the job so he can go home. And yet, through Jonah, the kindgom of God draws near. The Ninevites believe God, they believe this cranky disgruntled prophet of God and their instinctive response is towards sackcloth and ashes. Towards repentance. And what happened? “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.”
I bet you didn’t know Jonah was a hero. Unless you’ve been cornered by my husband at coffee hour, you might never have considered a hero in quite that way. We tend to think of heroes as doers, as people in charge of a situation, people who get things done. People who solve problems. Heroes are people who know that “any minute now, I am going to be called to be more than I am.” Clark Kent, awkward reporter, Peter Parker, inept photographer. But at a moment’s notice, Superman. Spiderman. Hero.
The disciples are heroes of this sort. The sort that make mothers and fathers and spouses fear for their sanity. Jesus wanders along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and I imagine he says this to everyone he meets. “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” I have to wonder if the gossip got ahead of him. “Some crazy man is walking along the beach looking for help netting people. I sure hope my kids don’t get any dumb ideas.”
What were Simon and Andrew thinking? Did Simon have a fight with his wife that morning? Was he already wondering, what if I just dropped this net and walked away?
What did Zebedee say to James and John, when they jumped out of the boat? Did he call after them, reminding them that this was their inheritance they were walking away from?
How did Simon and Andrew and James and John know that this minute was the minute they were being called to be more than they were?
How did they know, that this call was the call, the one worth walking away from what they had, what they knew, what they were? Like those fishermen, we are always facing choices that are bigger than we can really grasp at the time. Do I take that job? The one in a different state? Will it be good for my family? Will it change the world?
I believe we all want to change the world, we all want to do something that is bigger than ourselves, something that will leave a mark. That’s not the same as famous or popular or rich, although that is what it means for some people. I don’t want to be famous, but I’d still like to be a hero, even if I’m the only one who knows that I’ve done something heroic.
As Christians, we want to leave the world a better place than we found it, create a place that looks a little closer to the kingdom of God than we understood it, for people we know and for places we will never go. That’s what those fishermen did, even thought they had no idea, not in the moment, how it was all going to turn out. Still, somehow, by some faith, they knew they were being called to change the world.
Jesus is calling heroes. God is making heroes whether they want to or not. Are you already a hero? Or is there something holding you back? Is it the fear that you might have to leave everything behind? Do you believe being a hero is only possible if you go on a long perilous journey against your will or if you abandon your family to follow a man in strappy sandals?
Sometimes the most world changing thing we can do is stick around, to stay home, to keep on doing the right thing, the thing right in front of you, even if it’s boring, or frightening, or completely lacking in glamour and prestige. Sometimes staying in relationship with someone or something impossible is absolutely the most heroic thing anyone ever did. Sometimes, it’s letting someone go.
Sometimes the most heroic thing anyone can do is look at the present situation as though it were, in fact, part of the kingdom of God. It’s easy to say the future is going to be better, (or worse), than the present. It’s easy to look at the past, and imagine it could have been something else, it could have been perfect. It is often really difficult to look at the present and say, this is what it is, this is where I am, this is where God is doing great things. Even if we can’t see anything heroic about it.
This is what I think Jesus said to those fishermen. “Leave those fish for people who can only see fish. The kingdom of heaven has more than fish. I know you. I know you can see more than fish. Bring all that you are, all that you can see. It’s going to be more important and more useful than those fish.”
Jesus wasn’t looking for fishermen, because he wasn’t looking to catch some fish. He was and is looking for some visionaries, for some heroes – the kind who want to stay home and the kind who want to fly. He is looking for some people who can see the kingdom of God, and who can show other people, right in this present moment, that the kingdom of God has drawn near. Repent. Believe in the Good News. For the kingdom of God is here.