(Readings: Jonah 3:1-5,10; Psalm 62:5-12; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20)
I greet you in the name of our Lord, our rock and our salvation. Amen.
I have been blessed to hear former Bishop Bavin speak and preach a few times during his current visit to Johannesburg celebrating the 40th anniversary of becoming Bishop in 1974. He retired as a Bishop 9 years ago and is now a 79-year-old monk living in England and is an amazing man. I have to share one of his stories:
One Sunday, a curate or assistant priest, was sent to a rural church to preach because the rector was ill. While preaching, the curate looked into the congregation and was alarmed to see a farmer sitting in the front pew with a shotgun on his lap. So the curate continued preaching but every time he glanced at the farmer, the farmer’s hand was getting closer and closer to the trigger. The poor curate was so shaken he finally stopped his sermon and asked the farmer what in God’s name he was planning to do. So the farmer replied “Don’t worry sonny, this isn’t for you, it’s for the one who sent you!”
It is amazing how the lectionary and the set readings for every day can be so relevant to our lives. Today Jonah goes to the very large and corrupt city of Ninevah – it could be Soweto, Johannesburg, Paris or Kiev – to tell them God’s message – that all people must fast otherwise in 40 days their city will be overturned. Lo and behold, everyone fasted and when God saw their commitment and that they turned from their evil ways, he did not destroy them. Where is our Jonah today?
Our psalm reminds us that no matter what our challenges in life, God alone is our rock, our salvation, and our refuge. The psalm also encourages us to trust God and pour out our hearts to him. It also says: “Put no trust in extortion do not grow worthless by robbery: if riches increase set not your heart upon them.” (Psalm 62:10 APB 1989) This is so relevant to the current looting of foreign-owned shops in Soweto, it is not only there – theft and corruption have become a national cancer throughout all communities. This recent looting is a symptom of a bigger problem, as set out in statements by Archbishop Thabo and the Jesuit Institute.
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians injects some urgency into our lives stressing that time is running out and we must act now and not take anything for granted as “this world in its present form is passing away.” (1 Cor 7:31 NIV) We often hear this message – whether it is to do with destroying our environment, the Eskom crisis or a future world war over water. Are we doing all we can to spread and follow Jesus’ message of love, hope and justice?
Time and commitment are also in Mark’s gospel story of Jesus calling the first disciples. He tells them: “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.” (1 Cor 1:15 NIV) Jesus asks them to follow him and promises to make them fishers of men. One by one – Simon, Andrew, James, and John drop their nets, and join Jesus. Once anointed with the Holy Spirit, they were able to go out and heal, preach and teach the good news of Jesus Christ. What is so exciting is that all of us, 2000 years later, are keeping Jesus alive in us and all we do in his name. The kingdom is still near and the good news remains that if we give ourselves completely over to Jesus, we can experience an exhilarating new freedom and peace of mind focusing on serving God and doing what is good and right.
Yesterday a few of us from St Andrew’s went to St Mary’s Cathedral to attend the glorious ordination of 3 deacons and 5 priests – who have been called to serve God full-time. It was also the installation of 11 archdeacons, including our own Archdeacon Rvd Diana Thorburn. Bishop Bavin led the retreat for them the whole of last week in preparation, and being a monk, he was a perfect leader to preach about the importance of humble service. While we all have different gifts and callings, he said not to guard them jealously but share them as gifts of God. He said from Jesus to his apostles to our own baptism, we have been anointed by the Holy Spirit to be servants of Jesus Christ and help establish the Kingdom of God here on earth. “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God.” He told the servant leaders – there is no such thing as `my parish’, ‘my ministry’, ‘my church’! All belongs to God!” (25 Jan 2015, St Mary’s Cathedral Johannesburg)
How can we be regularly fed or inspired so that we can serve God and spread His message to others in our everyday life? Often we get inspired THROUGH serving God. You can also get inspired through celebrating blessings in life, attending and assisting with worship, daily prayer and reading the Bible, enjoying music, being in nature, attending talks and especially through loving and helping one another – and remembering to bring God into it.
A recent example of “bringing God into it” is I am on a WhatsApp residents group chat which sends out crime news and alerts. On Friday there was an appeal to find a hijacked vehicle with an 18-month-old baby in the back seat. Yesterday, the group received the news that the abandoned car was found in Braamfontein. The baby was unharmed and reunited with his parents. So I messaged simply 2 words: THANK GOD! And all of a sudden there was a flood of messages praising God. I was fed. I was fed at the Cathedral. I am being fed today.
Praise God that we are all fed with the good news of Jesus Christ, who continues to inspire and live in all of us, today and always. Let us remember that when our service today ends, our service really begins. AMEN.