“Yes” to God

Third Sunday after Epiphany

Mark 1:14-20

Marian Free

 In the name of God who grabs us when we least expect and asks us to follow to the end. Amen.

Some of you will have read, in yesterday’s Courier Mail, the story of Sister Mary Angela – the Administrator of Mater public hospitals for 21 years[1]. Sister Mary Angela – then Kathleen Doyle – was born in Ireland. “She was working the family farm, aged 15 when God called. ‘That’s a strange thing that happened,’ she says. ‘I can’t really describe it by saying anything other than it came into my mind.’ She felt God was near to her. As she worked away in the field, she says, she would converse with God the way she conversed with teenage friends. Somewhere in these conversations was raised the possibility that she might make herself – her whole life – available to whatever God would decide for her.

She says: ‘People ask me, ‘Did you feel compelled to do that?’ Not really. I felt that it was an option. It just came into my mind as if somebody had spoken it to me. That’s the way I heard it. I wasn’t compelled. I could do it or not do it.”

When Sister Angela Mary was sent to Australia she wrote in her diary: “How could I have left home for good? What can I do? What have I do offer? At this moment, I feel very miserable. Where did I think I could possibly be useful?’” Her misgivings were unfounded. Despite the fact that she had no experience in management, she was asked to administer the three Mater public hospitals. During her time there she established a new adult hospital, developed a world class service for mothers and babies, drove the development of a family clinic to treat children with mental illness and much more.

C.S. Lewis heard the call of God in quite a different way. As you might imagine, the young Lewis was a serious child. In his teenage years he worried that his prayer was not genuine and set himself very high and rigid standards. It is no wonder that he abandoned this dry and harsh experience of faith. He came to the conclusion that all religion was false so it came as a surprise when at university he began to discover that while Christianity might be no good, there were in fact many Christians who were good.

In his autobiography Surprised by Joy he describes in detail the way in which God broke down his defenses[2]. “I was sitting on the top of a bus. Without words a fact about myself was somehow presented to me. I became aware that I was holding something at bay or shutting something out. Or, if you like, that I was wearing some stiff clothing or even a suit of armour, as if I were a lobster. I felt myself being, there and then, given a free choice. I could open the door or keep it shut; I could unbuckle the armour or keep it on. Neither choice was presented as a duty; no threat or promise was attached to either, though I knew that to open the door would lead to something that he would not be able to control. The choice appeared to be momentous but it was also strangely unemotional. I was moved by no desires or fears. In a sense I was not moved by anything. I chose to open to unbuckle, to loosen the rein. I say, “I chose”, yet it did not really seem possible to do the opposite. Then came the consequence. I felt as if I were a man of snow at long last beginning to melt. For Lewis, that was the beginning of the end.

He continues: “Really, a young Atheist cannot guard his faith too carefully. Dangers lie in wait for him on every side.” “I had wanted ‘to call my soul my own’.” “Yet, there I was, alone, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him who I so earnestly desired not to meet. In the Trinity term of 1929 I gave in, ad admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”

Kathleen and Lewis are modern parallels of the stories we have heard this morning. Jonah, like C. S. Lewis, tried unsuccessfully to ignore or avoid the call of God. Like Kathleen, Peter and Andrew, James and John were working at the family business, when a voice stirred their imagination and caused them to abandon their trade, their boats and their families and to follow Jesus wherever he would lead.

Lewis was not looking for God, nor would he have identified any lack in himself or have said that he was searching for meaning. If anything, he was completely self-contained and self-assured. The last thing he was expecting was some irrational belief to overturn his intellectual assurance. Kathleen Doyle was an unlikely candidate for the convent. When she told her mother that she thought she might become a nun, her mother responded: “You a nun? You’d never stay. You like going to dances too much.”

The bible is filled with stories of call, of the variety of ways in which people respond and of the amazing things that – empowered by God – they are able to do. Abraham is asked by an unknown God to leave everything and take his family to an unknown land. Moses sees God in the burning bush and protests that he does not have the skills to lead the people of Israel. Jonah hears the voice of God and runs away. Peter, Andrew, James and John leave everything and follow Jesus.

Obedience, protest, skepticism, reluctance, joy, relief and surprise are just some of the ways that people respond when God tugs at their hearts and asks them to give their all and serve. God calls farm girls, merchants, anglers and intellectuals. Their response is often one of surprise or even denial:  “I can’t (don’t want to) do that”. “What do I have to offer?” Few begin the journey fully equipped with the skills, the wisdom and insight needed to do what is required but this does not matter. Those whom God calls, God equips.

God’s insistent call persists in every generation. Jesus may not be walking by our lakesides or wandering through our towns, but his call to follow echoes through the centuries. For two thousand years the wise and the foolish, the brave and the cowardly, the talented and the not so talented have stepped up to God’s call and we are here today only because they had the courage or the foolhardiness to say: “yes”.

Are we listening for the voice of God and will our “yes” ensure that the gospel is shared with the generation that follows?

(Alternate ending)

The voice of Jesus may be heard in many and varied ways and by people who differ considerably from each, but however God calls, and whatever God asks us to do, if we have the audacity to respond God will do the rest.

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] Dalton, Trent. “Icons:Sister Angela Mary.” in Qweekend. January 21-22-2012, 12-18.

[2] All references are from Lewis, C.S. Surprised by Joy. London:Fontana Books, 1955.

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