Sermon: 3rd Sunday before Advent: Jonah 3, 1-5 &10, Hebrews 9, 24-end and Mark 1, 14-20
On Friday I was looking through the jobs page of the Church Times – don’t worry I am not looking for a job – but simply to see if I could find some material for this homily. And, I could! It seems that there are a lot of churches looking for leaders – inspiring leaders. READ ADVERTS
But not many churches are looking for followers. And, given that the first word that Jesus speaks to the apostles is ‘follow me,’ this is a bit strange. Maybe.
So here is a question: ‘which is harder leading or following?’
I think it is always harder to be a follower. The composer Leonard Bernstein was once asked ‘what is the most difficult instrument in the orchestra to play?’ Quick as a flash he replied ‘second fiddle.’ The problem with playing second fiddle is that it takes real humility.
We also have plenty of biblical evidence that people of faith find it difficult to be obedient followers: Jonah has to hear the Lord telling him to go to Nineveh for a ‘second time.’ James and John later in the Gospels get their mum to ask Jesus to elevate them to senior positions; one on the right hand of God and one on the left. Peter is to struggle with both John, the beloved disciple, and St. Paul. Following, playing second fiddle, it seems doesn’t for many folk come entirely naturally!
But as Christians it is undoubtedly the case that our first calling is to play second fiddle. Jesus, not us, is the head of the Church and, the Holy Spirit is our guide. Following, as Jonah was to learn, has comprises listening to the Word of God and then doing as he was told; listening, humility and obedience are the skills and virtues to be developed by the true follower of God. Do we listen, are we obedient?
One final thought: Jesus immediately after calling Andrew and Simon invites James and John to join his band of brothers. There is some suggestion that James and John were cousins to Andrew and Simon. In Luke’s Gospel we are told that they were business partners. We don’t know if their venture was successful, we don’t even know whether they got on. But we do know that they were all to be given a new identity as Disciples of Christ, or as ‘fishers of men.’ Andrew and Simon didn’t chose James and John; Jesus did. Sometimes in the life of the Church we simply have to accept that Jesus invites people to become followers who we might not intuitively warm to, and so we have to trust; trust that God knows what he is doing, that he sees things in other people that we fail to see. That his judgement is infinitely superior to ours.
So there you have it one skill – listening – and three virtues – humility, obedience and trust that are necessary for all who truly aspire to be a follower of Jesus.
So here is my final question, or challenge: Are you prepared to play second fiddle? It’s an important question because if we can all answer in the affirmative then we will fulfil our shared vocation to become fishers of people.
Rev. Andrew Lightbown