Responding to the Call

Readings Isaiah 49:1-7, Psalm 40:1-12, 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, John 1:29-42

Rev Gillian Webb

I wonder if you have ever heard people being interviewed on television or the radio or recorded in articles declaring that they had always known from childhood that they wanted to be an actor, a writer, a musician, doctor or other profession. This was not my personal experience and I am inclined to believe it is not a common experience. I suspect many of us found ourselves following an employment path that may have been dictated by our school results, the area where we lived, the financial situation of our parents or from a chance advertisement that we responded to or even the choice our parents made for us. Our childhood thoughts may have imagined a different life to the one we eventually lived.

Making decisions about the course we wanted our life to take after our school days may have been a difficult one or one that seemed like a natural progression. I remember that time but I also remember facing those decisions with my own children and wondering what might be the best advice I could offer. Now I see my daughter in the same situation. My granddaughter is in her last year of school and when we were last in France she shared some of her thoughts with me and what she needs to achieve in her final exams to help in those decisions. As she talked about the pressure of schoolwork she mentioned a girl in her class who did very little work because her mother owned her own business and she expected to walk into a family job with no worries about qualifications. I wasn’t sure whether that made her fortunate or not.

These things came to my mind as I thought about the two sets of brothers who chose to leave their family businesses to follow Christ. We hear about one of those families today as Andrew follows Jesus and then calls his brother Simon to do the same. The other brothers are of course James and John.

The gospels do not record identical stories of their call and decision to follow Jesus. Here John’s gospel writes that Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist and presumably with John’s recognition of Jesus as the one he had been proclaiming, Andrew leaves John to learn more about Jesus. He is so persuaded that he urges his brother to come and join him. But in Mark’s gospel the two brothers leave their nets by the sea as Jesus personally calls them to follow him. James and John, also in Mark’s gospel, leave their father Zebedee as they are overhauling the nets to respond to their call. Now while the details of the actual events may be lost to us, it seems that four young men from fishing families chose to leave their work and their families behind as they saw a new life beckoning them as disciples of the Rabbi Jesus.

I wonder what impact this had on the families they left behind. Were they angry, disappointed, confused or troubled by their decision? Did they go with their family’s blessing? Maybe Zebedee and the father of Andrew and Simon Peter had planned their sons’ future out seeing them learning the family trade and continuing it into the future. Maybe James and John did little of the manual work as we are told Zebedee employed hired men. If so this might explain their later expectation and hope that Jesus would grant them managerial roles in his new kingdom. If we are thinking about the effect of their leaving on their families we might consider the possible impetus that led them to make this huge decision and do what they did.

I wonder what it meant for Andrew, Peter, James and John to grow up with the expectation of inheriting the family business, of learning all the various skills they needed for being successful fishermen. Was it a positive experience or did they feel their lives were limited by choices that had been made for them? We can only ponder these things but these four men saw in Jesus something special, something compelling that spoke so powerfully to them that they were willing to risk all to follow him including family upset and a secure financial situation for an uncertain future. They were able to trust themselves to him recognising the hope within them for a future they could never have imagined. We know how much they needed to learn to fully understand the life that Jesus was calling them to live but the foundations were laid when they responded to the invitation that Jesus offered.

Paul was slow to hear the call of Jesus; he resisted it until he was literally brought to his knees on the road to Damascus but he was acutely aware from that time onwards of his mission to take the call of Jesus around the towns and villages of the Mediterranean Sea to the Gentile world. We know he was a great teacher and had a wonderful pastoral care for those churches he had brought into being. He wrote letters to his young churches to put them right if they were falling into bad habits but also to encourage them in difficult times and to inspire them to live according to the teaching of Jesus so that they might witness more powerfully to the light of God within them. The last sentence of today’s New Testament reading bears some reflection as Paul writes, ‘God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.’

So today perhaps in your prayers this morning you might reflect on your call to be part of the fellowship of Jesus. Perhaps you can reflect on those steps that brought you into the church, the people and places that played their part in your story and thank God for these things.  

As we look to the future here in this church let us thank God that he is faithful and has brought and continues to bring new life into our fellowship. Let us resolve to play our part to build up the life and work of our church and be ever open to hear the call of Christ to take us where he needs us to be.

God is faithful: by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.