What do you do when you don’t want to do what God tells you to do?
Let’s pretend that you’ve heard the voice of God. And God has given you clear instructions. You are to do something very important. Go out, God says. But you just can’t bring yourself to do it.
Now, that was the case with Jonah, who we heard a little about in our first reading. Now the selection we heard, skips over all the good stuff, so let me tell you the tale again:
Jonah, was a real piece of work. Now here was a grumpy old prophet if you ever saw one. He really took no joy in anything. And really, he just didn’t want to leave his couch.
God spoke to Jonah the first time and said, “Jonah, I want you to go to Ninevah and set those people straight.”
Ninevah? Ninevah? Who wants to go there? You may as well ask me to go to Cleveland County! (No offense to those from Shelby)
The point is, Ninevah was not a place that Jonah wanted to go. But rather than ignore God’s call, he openly defied it. Got himself on a boat and set sail for the farthest place he could get—far, far away from Ninevah.
Now, you can imagine this did not sit well with God. So God sent a storm, and the boat’s crew got scared, and tossed Jonah overboard. And, well, you know, a fish came and swallowed him up.
And I guess when you’re sitting in the belly of a whale, you’ve got some time to think a little bit and reflect on your life choices. And Jonah realized that it was foolish to try and run from God’s call. So he prayed and repented and the whale spit him out on the shores of Ninevah.
And you heard just a few minutes ago what happened next. Jonah went to Ninevah and called them to repent. And what do you know…those mean old Ninevites repented.
What do we do when God calls us to do something we don’t want to do? Or perhaps we’re too scared to do? Or feel completely inadequate to do?
Now, the pious among us would probably say, saddle up. Do what God tells you and get over it. I mean, look at the text in Mark: Jesus says, drop your nets and follow me. And immediately they left their nets and followed him. That was simple.
But that’s not really the way things work in real life now is it? We have this great ability to put things off, to procrastinate, to just set it over there and not look at it, ignore, deflect, project.
God can speak to us in ways that can be inconvenient, to say the least. And we have a whole toolbox to keep God at bay.
But, if we look a little closer at the stories in the Bible, we see this pattern emerge. God talks to a lot of people, and tells them to do things that they don’t really want to do: Go to Egypt and let my people free. Go out and speak to the people of this place or that. Be my servant. Feed my sheep.
And these holy people, saints, ones that we admire and strive to be like… well, they deflect. Moses pleads that he has a stutter, Isaiah begs that he comes from the wrong type of family, and Jonah just runs for the nearest ship.
Even the most admirable people in the Bible experience doubt and fear and feelings of inadequacy.
We are meant to laugh at Jonah. It’s really a parody of a prophet’s story. But underlying it all is a serious message. God is persistent. God will not let us off the hook so easily. Even if it takes a really big fish.
But through it all, this part of God’s message is also clear: Don’t be afraid, I’m with you. I will help you do these things. I will be right there by your side.
Jesus goes straight to the point here: Come with me and I will make you fish for people. Through it all, Jesus is there. Calling them out of their lives that they have grown so accustomed to and put them on a different path.
I wonder if the disciples dropped those nets so readily because they could already tell, through Jesus’ very presence, that God was with them. That God wouldn’t abandon them, even in the face of the worst types of betrayal and danger.
Last week, I asked this congregation to think about what God is calling you to do. How is God making himself known to you on this day? And today, I want to tweak the question just a little bit: What is God calling you to do—that you don’t want hear?
And how can you gather that strength, muster that courage to make the big leap. To truly follow God with all your heart and mind. To drop your nets—whatever those may be—and go to Ninevah. What will it take? What do you need to be successful in your mission?
We know through Jesus that God doesn’t leave our side—even in the face of death. And in this, God has given us a community, this community, full of people ready to support and love one another, even when the going is tough. God has given the word, written in the pages of this book, in our songs, in our hearts, in our world—that guides us down the path. God has given us the gift of a meal to sustain us and water to revive us.
So we come each week to remind ourselves of this fact. That though God may confront us with some inconvenient challenges, we are not alone in our journey. Come with me, Jesus says, and follow me. You all will be fishers for people, fishers for hope, fishers for love. Big fish await. And what a catch it will be.