Sermon delivered by Rev Sydney Maitland on Sunday 8 November, 2015.
Jonah 3: 1 – 5; 10
Jonah sent to Nineveh with God’s message. The people believed and repented. God withdrew his threat.
Hebrews 9: 24 – 28
Christ did not enter a human sanctuary, but a divine one. He did not repeat His offering, once and for all. It is appointed once to die and then the judgement, so He also, having been offered once, has no need to die a second time.
Mark 1: 14 – 20
John arrested … Jesus proclaimed … ‘the time has come: repent and believe the good news’. The calling of Simon and Andrew, James and John. They left their nets and followed him.
One of the pleasures of pastoral visiting is the surprises that one can encounter on any occasion. Some time ago I was lent a copy of Findlay J Macdonald’s memoirs of his childhood in Harris, Crowdie and Cream.
It was a new community for the island servicemen of WWI and his father had been a sniper in the army and had undergone some harrowing experience, which is never disclosed.
As the 1930s developed the community, which was very poor but not impoverished, was self-supporting in many ways and for all its remoteness was still highly educated, articulate and it aware. And so they saw the rise of Hitler and they saw what it implied.
‘Is there going to be a war?’ l asked him (my father) when l got home. ‘Probably,’ he said. ‘And the sooner the better!’
‘John!’ There was no mistaking the horror in my mother’s face.
‘lt’s true,’ he said. ‘Every extra day we give that madman the more powerful he’ll become; and this damn govemment we’ve got thinks it’ll buy him off with sweet and reasonable arguments. We’re always the same, hoping things will work out. We’re too used to winning, that’s our trouble; this time we might be in for a big surprise.’
Eventually the islanders formed a reserve battalion which was called up. The Lewis platoon marched down to the jetty at Tarbert and sailed away. They were to become part of the 51 Highland Division which saw action at Dunkirk and most were taken prisoner.
For all their deprivation the islanders did not delude themselves as to the probable goodwill that Hitler would have towards them, and so they went to war: sacrificially for many, fatally for some.
Their elder generation knew plenty about the hazards and horrors of the trenches yet the young men joined up anyway.
In a wholly different context, Jesus also issued a call, to all who would hear Him, but also this time to selected individuals: “Follow Me.”
Peter and Andrew, James and John heard the call and heeded it, leaving all behind. For them life would never be the same again. We do not know if others also heard the call to follow Jesus and rejected it. Maybe there were — but they are unknown and unremembered.
They were indeed going into the unknown, even if they may already have known Jesus as John the Evangelist says. But they had homes and livelihoods, they had some kind of position in society and they knew that people would have to eat so there would be a steady demand for fish — and no landlord to pay for the use of the lake.
There is definitely a sense in which we all wish to see and to be reassured of the future. Will the economy tank or not? Will the aftermath of the destruction of the Russian airliner engulf us all? How will these things affect us and our children? How will they affect our retirement and care later in life?
Yes, there are indeed many unknowns and the gospel does not provide us with a road map for them.
But the epistle does give profound reassurance, for Jesus did not come among us to satisfy some divine fantasy but to give Himself for us totally and completely and recklessly. He did so to fulfill His Father’s desire for us to be reunited in His love and He did it at hideous personal cost.
But He did it once and for all, and because His sacrifice was for all time, is never needs to be repeated. Jesus’ resurrection means that there is no need for or purpose in re-incamation. This life is indeed once and for all, and it is here that we make our choices and decisions.
Equally, as we place our trust in Him, then no matter what the future holds for us, having given His life for us, He will never forsake us or abandon us or deny us. His love is forever, and His blood and His body are forever, and as we are joined in Him, so our futures in Him are secure even if we cannot tell what is to come.
And so when our times are full of appearances and images, and when our decisions are made more on emotion than on known information and a rational understanding of events, and when we fear the future if we cannot control it, and so become even less inclined to take risks of any kind, Jesus is still calling us to follow Him.
Yes, He will lead us through the fields of Galilee, and into the waters of the River Jordan. He will take us across the Sea of Galilee and into the wildernesses of the Negev. He will lead us up the road from Jericho to Jerusalem and then along the Via Dolorosa until we come to that personal Calvary.
But He will never fail us or forsake us; He will never let go of that hand which we place in His. And He will lead us into that garden where His glory is indeed from everlasting to everlasting.