230 years ago a fleet of 11 ships was sent from England to Australia to establish a penal colony for the sending of prisoners. On January 26th this week we remember that occasion as we commemorate Australia Day.
Just 50 years later Lutherans in Prussia would set sail to Australia to avoid becoming prisoners in their homeland because of their fight for religious freedom. Today thousands trek across dangerous oceans risking their lives and the lives of their children in flimsy leaky boats in search of freedom as refugees.
The human life is one that at times sees us taking a risk and journeying to unknown lands and situations. In our gospel reading today we see also that the journey of the first disciples of Jesus meant taking a risk, giving up security and following an unknown religious teacher by the name of Jesus.
John the Baptist began that journey as he left his parents Elizabeth and Zechariah to live a life in the wilderness eating locusts and wild honey wearing camel hair clothing. John didn’t know what the journey would bring about.
He most likely would not have expected that a journey called by God would lead to his imprisonment and subsequent cruel death by being beheaded. Likewise for Peter, Andrew, James and John – they left their livelihoods and family to follow a call by Jesus without hesitation when he called them to “follow me”.
Follow where? How will we survive? Will our family business survive without us? A call by God can be an uncomfortable call as we are sometimes called to give up the things that bring us hope and security. It has been the example seen throughout the Old Testament with God’s people constantly on an unknown journey following God’s call:
o Adam and Eve called out of the comfort and security of the Garden of Eden now needing to
fend for themselves.
o Noah and his family called to build an ark and let God take them on a journey to start a new civilisation.
o Abraham called to leave his country and family to a land God would show him.
o Jacob called away from his family to escape the murderous threats of his brother Esau.
o Jacob’s son Joseph also received a call that was totally against his will and power when he brothers sold him as a slave to Egypt – a call that would see him become the 2nd most powerful person in Egypt and in charge of a food bank that would save the world from starvation.
o Israel called out of Egypt to wander the desert for 40 years to their new home.
o And in our Gospel reading, Jesus’ reference to Zebulun and Naphtali was another journey as the first tribes of Israel sent out of their homeland and into exile as punishment as the people taunt them: Where is your God?
So we see that the types of call by God and the situations vary and sometimes includes an unknown destination, and uncertainty about how things are going to turn out. And sometimes, like Joseph, it may be against our will.
And it’s not always seen as a positive call. And that’s because our call is part of a bigger mission field of God that we do not always see or understand. As we look at the call of Peter, Andrew, James and John, it’s easy to miss the enormous sacrifice and difficulties of answering God’s call. But put yourself in their position. If you were to receive an undeniable call from God, would you leave your work, your family, your home?
It’s easy to say yes – until it actually happens.
They were called out of everything that gave them assurance for their physical future. They could have stayed in their comfortable lives as fishermen providing for themselves an income and even if money was scarce they always had a source of food.
Sometimes God calls the church out of its comfort zone for the sake of God’s mission. We live in a society where the mission field is growing bigger but the church is getting smaller. As Jesus once said – the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few (Luke 10:2) So God keeps calling. It’s nice to feel comfortable and have everything in church working like clockwork. But a call from God always seems to come at the most inconvenient moment. Just when we’ve paid off the loan at Knox an opportunity arose to build a new kitchen and reach out to the community. Then we lost 2 of our long term tenants of our church. But that’s how the call of God works.
Peter and the others could have replied to Jesus by saying that the time is not right at the moment. We’ve got lots of orders for fish and we’ve got some mounting bills to pay – now’s just not the right time to go with you. That’s not how a call from God works. That may be a situation also in your own life. Maybe God has placed a call on your heart. It may be a call to a certain task. It may be a call to visit someone you haven’t seen for a while at church. It may be a call to reach out to someone who has hurt you. If it makes you feel a little out of your comfort zone then the chances are that that is a
call from God.
Sometimes what we believe our gifts are for a particular ministry may not be what God calls us into. Peter, Andrew, James and John were fishermen. Matthew was a tax collector. It’s not always about the gifts we believe we have but what God sees in us for his mission work. So we need to listen and pray and not just say – I don’t have the time or I don’t the skills.
That’s up to God to determine and God will always equip us even if we believe we don’t have what it takes
Remember what Paul said to the disciples at Corinth when they were starting to doubt their strength and wisdom:
Remember that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. (1 Corinthians 26-28)
So when we are called and there are times when it seems like this is not working, that maybe God got it wrong, we need to remember that God never gets it wrong. God will always be there guiding us through. From the experience of John, Zebulun and Naphtali whose journey led them into dark times Jesus reminds us: The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” There are dark times in our lives and sometimes they come even when we have been faithful to God’s call. When Jesus came into the world the world was living in darkness but they didn’t notice it because they didn’t know any difference. So Jesus became the light that overcame the darkness. And seeing a light after a long time of darkness can be very uncomfortable.
So too in your lives when you follow Christ there will be a light calling you. And sometimes that call into the light can be uncomfortable. We must never be deterred or afraid to follow when Jesus calls even if it seems like this is not working out.
I’m sure John the Baptist must have wondered where things went wrong when he sent his disciples to ask Jesus whether they should be following someone else.
I’m sure Zebulun and Naphtali and all the tribes of Israel must have wondered “where is God in all this” when they went into exile. When the call comes to you don’t look at whether you’re good enough or have the skills to do it. God calls those whom he calls because God knows what he can achieve through us. Remember that God created the world out of nothing so he can use you to bring about amazing things when you follow his call.