We are in a season of call narratives in our lectionary cycle. Last week, we heard Samuel’s dramatic call story – how the sleepy, confused Samuel keeps trying to be faithful, but needs Eli to help him realize God is the one speaking. This morning we get two sets of stories. First is Jonah, perhaps Scripture’s worst follower of God’s call – who runs in the opposite direction God sends him, almost drowns a crew of shipmates and is swallowed by a large fish, who offers the weakest possible sermon of all time to the Ninevites, and then gets angry when God changes God’s mind. In fact, the Ninevites answer God’s call to repent immediately – they are the exact opposite of Jonah. Meanwhile, our gospel lesson today follows two sets of brothers who leave their family and livelihood in a lurch to immediately follow Jesus. Even our collect today, that opening prayer we say together says, “Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation…”[i]
In some ways, this time of year is a perfect time to be thinking about our call. We have all just celebrated the New Year, with the usual practices of setting New Year’s Resolutions. We just elected a new Vestry last weekend. Even Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman challenged us this week with her stunning inaugural poem, saying “There is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we are brave enough to be it.” The invitation is everywhere around us, just waiting for us to answer God’s call.
But despite the fact that motivation is all around us – from scripture, to secular practices, to inspirational events – few of us are feeling like we have the energy or even the emotional capacity to think about call right now. Many of our parishioners are living out inspirational calls – from the medical profession, to teaching, to civil service. But these are the very people are being pushed to capacity, who have had an exhausting year, and although they put on a good face, are just trying to put one foot in front of the other. Many of our parishioners have answered the call of parenthood, and most days can tell you about the joys of parenthood. But after almost a year of home and virtual schooling, and all the challenges being with your family 24-7 can bring, are lately wondering where God is in those relationships. And several of our more seasoned parishioners have told me that although they appreciate all the church is doing to help them feel connected, ten months of social isolation have left them feeling like they should be doing something more meaningful, but they just do not know how. When we are really honest, the last thing we feel like talking about is call – surely that is a conversation for when we are “back to normal.”
That is why I am so glad the Ninevites are in our call narratives today. Nineveh is a brutal power in Jonah’s day.[ii] They are known for their vicious treatment of the people of Israel. They are the enemy. But when the residents of Nineveh hear the judgment of the LORD – Jonah’s brief, half-hearted one – they immediately respond.[iii] All the people put on sackcloth, even the king and the animals; they take up a fast, sit in ashes, and turn from their violent ways. Talk about a 180! The Ninevites may not be ideal citizens. They might not even understand what a calling is. But they do act. And as one scholar points out, “Apparently God’s purposes can be accomplished with a minimum of faithfulness; and such faithfulness turns out to be a matter of not merely what one feels, but what one does.”[iv]
That is what all our call narrative actors do: act. Samuel, without fully understanding, does when he says, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Acting is what Jonah begrudgingly does and the Ninevites immediately do. Taking action is what brothers Simon and Andrew and brothers John and James do – against all logic of leaving home and security to follow a man they barely know. Our invitation this week is do the same – find ways to act. For some of us, that action is going to be to keep showing up: for your kids, for your clients, for the needy. For some of us, that action is going to mean taking those feelings of isolation and doing something: finally taking up that Connection Challenge and calling, emailing, or sending cards to fellow parishioners (who feel the same way, by the way!). For others of us, we may need to channel all those feelings into different action: whether we write to our local representatives to advocate for the disadvantaged, whether we finally call that nonprofit we have been admiring and offer our services, even if they have to be offered from home, or whether we ask God in prayer what acts we are being called to do for others. We do not have to feel like being the light this week. We simply are invited to be brave enough to be the light. God will do the rest. Amen.
[i] BCP, 215.
[ii] Callie Plunket-Brewton, “Commentary on Jonah 3.1-5, 10” January 21, 2012, found at http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1214 on January 22, 2021.
[iii] Joseph L. Price, “Theological Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. B, Vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 270.
[iv] Lawrence Wood, “Homiletical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. B, Vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 269. Emphasis added.