Do you remember Mr. Gower, the old pharmacist in it’s a wonderful life? Do you remember, in particular, the way he was portrayed in the portion of the movie meant to show George what the lives of his family and friends would be like if he had never been born? Without George to intervene in the medication mix up Mr. Gower became the disgrace of the town, disliked by everyone, taunted, disheveled, with a tendency to drink too much. That’s the image I have of the person in this joke:
So, a disheveled, disoriented man stumbles across a baptismal service on Sunday afternoon down by the river.
He proceeds to walk into the water and stand next to the preacher. The minister notices the man and says, "Mister, are you ready to find Jesus?"
The man looks back and says, "Yes, preacher, I sure am."
The minister dunks the fellow under the water and pulls him right back up.
"Have you found Jesus?" the preacher asks."Nooo, I didn't!" said the man.
The preacher then dunks him under for quite a bit longer, brings him up, and says, "Now, brother, have you found Jesus?"
"Noooo, I have not, Reverend."
The preacher holds the man under for even longer and then brings him out of the water, and says, "My God, man, have you found Jesus yet?"
The man wipes his eyes and says to the preacher, "Are you sure this is where he fell in?"
Where is Jesus? Where is God? Are themes of our readings this morning. And, along with the wondering where God is, we hear the theme of people who follow Jesus, follow God. It’s quite amazing, in the reading last week and this week, that these people drop everything to follow Jesus. Last week Philip and Nathanael drop their nets and follow. This week Simon and Andrew, James and John, drop everything and follow. Out of the water that has been their life, these fisherfolk turn, and follow Jesus, just like that. Did it feel impulsive to them? Or did it feel right? Or were they hesitant but did it anyway?
When Dan and I were first married we went to Salt Lake City for part of our honeymoon, where we met my extended family. That was followed by a week hiking in Estes Park, Colorado. One of our first days in Salt Lake we drove east to Park City. It was a beautiful August day, and we leisurely wandered the roads and mountain side. As the afternoon was growing late we decided to head back. I felt certain, based on a vague childhood memory, that there was a back-road over the mountain that would drop us into Salt Lake City. So we wandered on this dirt road for a bit, going deeper into the wilderness and over ever more challenging roads. We were driving a little green Gremlin, or Pinto, I don’t remember, some old car my dad had. But which-ever it was it was definitely not built for the rugged terrain we were on. Sure enough we bottomed out – took out some part of the undercarriage necessary for driving. This was in 1985, no cell phones, no GPS. We were good and stranded.
Thankfully some young guys were driving their pickup through the back-roads and came to assist us. We had to leave the car in the woods and accept a ride back to a gas station on the main highway where we called my dad and aunt to come get us. The next day we returned and pulled the car out of the rut.
Sometimes we get on a path, and even if it is not the right path, we just can’t figure out how to turn around and get to a better place. The people of Ninevah were in such a place – stuck in their self-destructive ways. Jonah comes and proclaims their demise and in doing so turns the course of events in a significant way. The people of Ninevah change their ways which provokes God to change God’s mind, thus sparing the people of Ninevah. Here we have an example of how God’s actions are always contextual – God always acts in relationship to our actions.
And so our readings this morning focus us on the idea of a relationship of actions - of turning, of change, of humans turning and changing and in response, God turning and changing, always in relationship to creation, to us.
In Jonah we hear of God changing God’s mind. In the Psalm we hear of the steady presence of God. Paul, in the letter to the Corinthians lists the ways in which the qualities of life pass away and change, but God’s presence is steady. And then in the Gospel we hear that God challenges us to pay attention, to recognize God’s call to us to change our ways, to turn and to follow God.
Perhaps one reason these fisherfolk in the Gospel turn and follow Jesus may be that they remember the story from Jonah, of what happened, later, to Jonah when he fails to follow God – and ends up in the belly of a whale. Perhaps, fearing that all could go wrong if they follow the wrong path, take the wrong road, these fishfolk discples-to-be take the chance on following God by following Jesus. Somehow they know in the core of their being that following Jesus is the way to go. In fact they come to learn that following Jesus is the not only the way to go, BUT the way to LET GO. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians speaks of the many expectations that we must let go of. Following God often means we must leave behind the ways in which we have become settled and complacent, overly comfortable, and set in our expectations. In the process of letting go - the disciples, the people in Corinth, and the people of Ninevah – all find their true path, the way to God.
This year we are focusing ourselves on what it means to be disciples – to follow God. The Gospel of Mark will give us clues even as it begs the question, “Where is God?” We have talked about finding God in and through the various things we do. We have considered the ways in which we find God in other people and the ways in which we are the hands and heart of Christ, we are the love of God made manifest in the world.
Today you will find the annual parish report ready for you to take and read. The booklet is filled with reports from the various commissions and committees of the parish on the work we have done over the last year. It’s a record of the fine ministries that take place at Christ Church, of the way in which we strive to turn and follow God.
Next week we will have one service at 10am followed by the annual meeting. At that meeting we will elect new vestry members, hear the report on our finances and budget, and have the opportunity to thank the outgoing vestry members. In addition we will thank T.H. for her years serving as the Chair of the Finance Committee. It will be a time of celebration and thanks giving for all the blessings of this parish. It is a wonderful life, after all, and each of us really do make a difference in the lives of others.
So, as you prepare for the meeting next week, and as we prepare for the year ahead, remember our readings today and their call to discipleship. Even if it doesn’t mean abandoning everything you have known, how might following Jesus come to mean something new in your life?