Sometimes it takes a lot of time and preparation to do something BIG. But no matter how much preparation one does, no matter how many days, months, or years we might spend getting ready- sooner or later they happen “immediately.” Sooner or later you need to dive into the water.
There are a lot of things to prepare for when you are having a baby. You have about nine months (in Eve’s case it was nine months and ten very long days) to get ready. When Emily and I knew we were going to have a baby we started preparing. We read the parent prep book, What To Expect When You’re Expecting, we set up the crib, we froze about a half dozen meals so we wouldn’t have to cook for a few days after the baby arrived, we installed the car seat, we stockpiled a small mountain of diapers, we made a mobile, and we washed a couple dozen sets of newborn clothes.
Eve was late. We got to the end of nine months and the baby was still not here. We had done all the prep work that we thought we needed to do and we were ready for this baby to arrive. Frankly, we were sick of waiting, so we tried just about every old wife’s tale about inducing labor that we knew. Emily ate spicy foods, we went for long walks, and we drove down the bumpiest roads we could find. Still nothing. Still waiting.
Then, at about three in the morning ten days after our due date, Emily’s water breaks. All of that preparation and waiting was coming to an end and we suddenly felt very rushed. This baby was coming. Yes, we had the better part of a year to prepare, but when Emily went into labor it all felt so… immediate.
God called us into this role of being parents, and we prayed and prepared as best as we could. When the moment comes upon you, when God’s “immediately” is suddenly in front of you, immediate action has to happen. It comes very suddenly.
Jonah was called by God to preach a tough message to the people of Ninevah. God wanted Jonah to waltz into the capital city of his people’s vicious, sworn enemies and give them a chance to repent of their sins and give God the opportunity to forgive them and spare them from destruction. Jonah, however, didn’t agree with this plan. He was pretty sure that God who is “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” was going to forgive them and he felt that they didn’t deserve such mercy. Jonah left on a boat trying to get as far away from Ninevah as possible, a storm hits, he is thrown in the sea, he is swallowed by a great fish, the fish spits him up on dry land three days later, and he gets a second calling from God to ask Ninevah to repent. After all this running, the two calls from God, the storm, the fish- you’d think that Jonah had enough time and preparation to wrap his mind around God forgiving the people of Ninevah. When he finally proclaims God’s message, the people of Ninevah repent and God forgives them. Even after all this, Jonah is still surprised. All that waiting and preparation, yet God’s work still comes about suddenly. God’s mercy seems too immediate for Jonah.
The same is true in Jesus’ calling of Simon Peter and Andrew, and the calling of James and John. In our reading, Jesus shows up, says, “Follow me,” and immediately the disciples begin to follow Jesus. We are very likely jumping into the middle of a story. Peter, Andrew, James, and John have likely met Jesus before. Otherwise it seems like Jesus was hypnotizing the disciples. They gaze deep into his eyes and sleepily say, “Yes, Rabbi. We will follow you.”
These were small towns around the Sea of Galilee, so it is very likely that the disciples at least knew of Jesus before this encounter. They had probably heard him preach and teach before. They had time to think about what Jesus meant by proclaiming “the Kingdom of God is near.” They had time to wonder at the curious company Jesus kept: tax collectors, prostitutes, and the poor. Why would he be with those people? They probably asked themselves, “I wonder if I could do that?” or “If he called me to follow him, would I?” When they started to think seriously about that question, they thought about how difficult it would be to leave their jobs and to leave their families. They had time to consider whether or not following this Jesus person would really be worth it.
After all their wondering, Jesus announces the time is fulfilled. It’s time to proclaim God’s Good News. Jesus makes the invitations to Peter and Andrew. Then to James and John. They have had time to prepare for the question, but now the invitation was before them. It comes upon them immediately. “Follow me,” says Jesus. The “immediately” of the whole situation is upon them. This is the moment they have been contemplating. Will they stay or will they go? Decisively and immediately, the fishermen choose to follow Jesus. They leave their old lives behind and follow Christ in proclaiming that the Kingdom of God- God’s rule and presence, is near. They carry that message with them to those who are lost, scared, tired, or hopeless- like John the Baptist who is now in prison.
Christ now invites us to answer his call, “Follow me.” Christ has announced the Good News of God’s presence in the midst of suffering, sin, and death and has invited you and I to follow him in sharing that news with others who long to hear it. It is a serious call. It is one that will certainly change our lives. We will need time to think about it, to pray about it, and to discern what it would look like if we were to answer that call.
To whom is Christ calling us to proclaim God’s immediate and steadfast presence?
Those in prison? The hungry? The despised? The haughty?
How are we being called to share the message “God is near?”
With our words? Inviting others to worship with you? Forgiving a friend or an enemy? Telling someone that you love them and God does too? Encouraging someone to live the life God wants them to live?
With our actions? Serving a meal? Donating money, food, or clothes? Visiting someone in prison? Joining a march against violence? Doing our day jobs with a spirit of love and service?
When we receive Christ’s invitation to follow him, we may run away as Jonah did, or we may take time to pray and think about it. But sooner or later, our “immediately” moment will come. By God’s grace we will proclaim the Good News of our God who is near and we will take that plunge and dive into the waters of wherever Christ is calling us to follow. Amen.