Sermon by Fr. Joshua Bell SSC, Sunday 24th January 2021
Readings: Jonah 3:1-5,10; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20
Have you ever been so excited for something to happen that you couldn’t wait?
Perhaps you were excited for a film to be released and you went to the cinema at the very first opportunity you got? Have you ever queued outside WH Smith or Waterstones for a book, like people used to do for the new Harry Potters when they came out?
Those of you who know me well will know that I’m a huge Star Trek fan! And there have been several new series in the last couple of years – all of which I’ve been dead excited for. And you know what? They always release the new episodes on a Friday! – which is my day off. Many are the times Fr. Adrian has said to me in the sacristy after Mass on a Thursday night, “What have you got planned for your day off?”, to be told that “It’s new Star Trek Day!” – followed, often, by five minutes or more of excited plot exposition, which he dutifully smiles and nods along to.
And then come Friday morning, the first thing I do when I come downstairs is make my breakfast, and my special day-off coffee, and then I settle down for some avid Star-Trek watching.
This atmosphere of expectation is one we hear about in our readings today. They have different tones, but they all contain the same essential message: “The time is now!”
Jonah, the prophet, preaches to Nineveh that unless they repent within the next forty days, they will be destroyed because of their wickednesses.
St. Paul writes to the Corinthians that the world as they knew it was passing away. St. Paul writes at a time, just after the birth of the church, when it was believed that the second coming of Christ would be soon – within their generation. So he tells them to have as little to do with the world as they can, and not to get engrossed in it.
[Although twenty centuries have passed since then, and most of us no longer believe that the end of time will come in our days, his message is still relevant to us now: now, as then, is the time to leave behind all that holds us back from following Christ.]
In the Gospel Jesus calls his first disciples, and they are fishermen. Simon Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James and his brother John. Notice how St. Mark mentions that they follow him “at once” – they leave their nets, and James and John leave their father, too – as soon as Jesus calls them, they follow him.
When we live in uncertain times we sometimes think of doom preachers – people who stand on corners telling us that “The end is nigh” – watch any disaster film and you’ll probably see someone like this – and we might think that Jonah is one prophet such as this. But when we hear his words, and those of St. Paul, we mustn’t think of these people – the folk such as those who said the world would end in 2012 – but think rather of those first four disciples, who are so excited to follow Christ that the instant they hear his voice they leave all their work, their family, their security behind, to follow him.
And we might be surprised to learn that Nineveh reacts the same way. The first reading abridges the story somewhat – as soon as Jonah preaches to the people, they instantly repent, convert, fast and pray. “The time is now” was as true for them as it was for the fishermen of Galilee.
And what about us? It can feel as though we have been treading water for the past ten months, since the pandemic first began seriously to bite in the UK. I still think back to Lent last year – the lent course which had to be abandoned, the pared-down Holy Week.
Is now the time for us, too? The time for what?
It may feel difficult for us to follow Jesus at this time, when so much that we rely on is denied to us. We may feel like the time is not now, but “eventually” – “eventually” we will be able to worship as freely as we used to.
But even if we walk slowly, let us make sure we walk with Jesus when he calls us, day by day. Making the first thing we do each day be a prayer, commending the day to God. Before we turn out the light at night, thanking God for the day.
It may feel like the world as we know it is is passing away – but the world was made by God, whose love will never pass away.