Toorak Uniting Church

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Called to life

Mark 1: 14 – 20   Psalm 62: 5 – 12
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
22 January 2006

The story we just read from Mark is a fascinating story.

When I read it again this week it first of all reminded me of Bob Randall, the aboriginal man I met in Alice Springs whose program to give breakfast to aboriginal kids we have been supporting. He is going to come over in June for the aboriginal arts exhibition we have been planning for Kinross house and because of that we have been on the phone a few times in the last couple of weeks.

His life story, and some of you have read the book that’s been written about it, is a sad story. Taken away from his mother at the age of 4 or 5, he has lived through many ordeals and traumas since. What most impressed me when I met him was that although with everything that has happened to him he could have easily become an angry, bitter and resentful person instead of the lovely, soft and generous man he is. He says it is Christ in his life who has made it that way.

Perhaps you know people like that, special people, whose answer to Jesus call is clear in the way they conduct their lives and communicate to others. Special people.

The four men in the gospel will be such special people and the story about their call recounts how their following of Jesus came about.

They make a choice. A radical choice. And it can’t have been an easy choice, although the story does not dwell on the psychological aspects of the separation from family and the leaving behind of good and steady jobs, we can all imagine that it must have been quite something.

What they do also goes against everything that is regarded as sensible, reasonable and responsible mature behaviour.
A responsible person does not up and go just like that when some rabbi or other comes past and calls. Sensible, mature behaviour would have them consider, ask for time to get their lives in order at least. Sensible, mature and responsible behaviour would never be for two sons to walk out on a father and his business all at once.

Does a call from Jesus cancel all responsibility and duty to care for our loved ones? Or are the disciples displaying adolescent irresponsible behaviour?

It is really very odd when you start to think about it. And it is not something we, as a church, would want to propagate as desirable behaviour. Or should we? Do we, in our part of the Church identify being Christian perhaps a little bit too much with never rocking the boat and being pleasant and agreeable middle class people, putting duty and commitment before anything? Should we be more rigorous perhaps, drop everything and…..

Aren’t we told however, elsewhere in scripture, that to be Christian is to be sensible, hard working and caring. To be measured and restrained at all times and never throw ourselves into some silly adventure without careful thought and consideration first?

And yet.

14 verses into the gospel and here are 4 pillars of faith abandoning their jobs and their families to put their hand into the hand of Jesus and step out into the future with him in what looks like blind faith.

I don’t think there is a need for us to abandon our jobs tomorrow, I also think that it is good to be responsible, honour our commitments and treat our parents with loving care and consideration. And not get into all sorts of eratic and impulsive behaviour.

At the same time: I think the story is telling us is that there are things that are more important than being good and obedient little people. That there may be times when we will be asked to make other choices. Choices that will not sit comfortably with what in the normal course of events people would be expecting from us.

Right in the first chapter of Mark we hear that following Christ can be a risky business that may cost you everything. If you decide to put your hand in the hand of Jesus and let yourself be led by him other priorities are put upon you, other commitments come into play, other duties call.
There may come a time where you will have to come to the conclusion that where you are now, doing what you do, is not the right place for you to be. That you are not free to give of yourself as Christ would want you to. That you cannot serve well enough and that the only option is to leave the nets that have been entangling you and step out into the future with only Christ to hold on to.

For some of us, to be free and able to follow Christ, radical measures need to be taken. There are many things that can become traps in which we get caught like fish in a net, limiting us in our capability to live out the gospel and follow Christ in our lives. We probably all know exactly what they are for us. The things that make us struggle, that bind us, that take away the joy of life and gobble up positive energy and replace it with negative. The relationships that tie us down and keep us from living out the love, grace and mercy we receive from God. The set ideas that limit us in being generous with our love and forgiveness. All sorts of things, things we all need to fill in for ourselves.

This story tells us that we don’t have to stay in those traps just because it seems to be the most sensible and responsible thing to do.

The disciples make a choice, a choice to step into the future with nothing but the hand of Jesus to hold on to. The gospel will go on to tell that their journey will not be a smooth and easy ride. It will take until Jesus’ death and even after for them to really start understanding what they have let themselves in for. To live dangerously. Only gradually will Christ grow in them and will they grow into the image of Christ. Only gradually will they become what Jesus has called them to become: Followers of his way. Their initial choice will have to be made again and again. To live life trusting that if they live it the way Christ did without holding back, miracles will start happening in the world and the Kingdom will come near.

It is a journey that takes a life time to learn and do. Because putting our hand in the hand of Jesus and just follow doesn’t come natural to any of us. But it is a journey that leads to life, to justice and peace, to love and a generous living of God’s mercy and grace in the world.

The Kingdom is near, if only we start walking towards it!

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2006

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