Rick Sweeney
8 min readFeb 5, 2021



MARK 1: 14–20 JONAH 1: 1–3 AND 3: 1–3


A. The phone rings. It’s hard to ignore a ringing phone is it not? I was in another room and I heard my cell phone ring. Assuming it was something urgent, I hurried into the room and located my phone. Thank goodness I did. It seems the extended warranty on my car that I sold a year ago is running out. I will keep my phone close because the next thing I know I will get some help with my student loans from 1974.

B. We don’t always rush to answer a phone call these days. Because of voice mail and caller ID, we can always screen and delay answering a call. There seems to be no immediacy in answering a call. In todays readings there are calls issued to Jonah by God and to four fishermen by Jesus. The timing of their response is quite different. Our calling is not usually as direct as these Biblical stories. But God calls us, all of us, none the less. Some of us hear and some of us don’t. Some of us respond and some of us ignore the call believing that if it is important, He will call back.

C. I noticed something the last time I was in an airport, which now seems like a long time ago. An airport terminal (Isn’t terminal a terrible name for the place where your plane is supposed to land) is a busy, noisy place. There is this din of many conversations and suitcase wheels rattling and check-in people telling you that you cannot pack a bazooka in your carry-on. And above all of this noise there are announcements over the loudspeaker. “Attention: Flight 362 for New York City is now boarding at Gate 27.” Well, that was not my flight, so like most of the people in the terminal, I ignored it. But for some people that was an urgent and significant message. For them it was a call that required an immediate response.


A. God calls Jonah to go and deliver a message to the most wicked city of the ancient world, the impossibly large city of Nineveh. The message is that in 40 days, God is going to wipe you out. Jonah hears the call an immediately jumps on a ship to Tarshish heading the opposite direction from Nineveh. His immediate response is, “NO!” Sometimes the call just doesn’t sink in.

B. Three men are hunting together, a doctor and lawyer and a preacher. They see a buck and fire at the same time. The animal falls dead, but they can’t tell who fired the fatal shot. A game warden comes by, looks over the deer and solves the riddle. He tells the hunter the preacher is the one who killed the deer. They asked how he knew that? The warden says, “Easy, the bullet went in one ear and out the other.” That happens with a call from God sometimes as well.

C. My call to ministry is not a very spectacular story. It happened over many years. When I was 8 years old, I went into our pastor’s office and said, “When I grow up, I want to be a minister.” He said,” Well, you can’t do both.” No, he was kind and told me to give it some time. College was my ship to Tarshish. I was a party guy and never went to church. When I came home, I was teaching school when that same pastor asked me to help with the youth program. Soon I was leading a huge youth program and teaching at the same time. One night in late spring I spent the whole night at the hospital with one of my youth group kids who was dying with Leukemia. After a long and terrible night, he died early in the morning. I went right to the school. I was exhausted physically and emotionally but It started to dawn on me that I was supposed to be a pastor and a preacher. I gave notice and went to seminary that fall.

D. My response was not immediate. Nor was St. Augustine. St. Augustine’s life as a young man was dominated by lustful and drunken behavior. He famously prayed, “Lord make me chaste, but not yet.” But Andrew and Peter and James and John were just at work and Jesus said to them follow me! There were no promises made; no compensation offered, no 401K promised. They were being asked to leave behind family and work and security. Jesus wasn’t much of a salesman. There was no bait and switch. There was no promise like one recruiting for a mission trip by calling it an all -expense paid trip to the beach. Just follow me. And Mark says immediately, (Mark loves that word) Immediately they followed him.


A. So, what kind of sales job would it take for you to answer a call from God? Please understand that calling, vocation, is not just about preachers. It’s true that everyone who believes that Jesus IS the presence of God is called to something. Some as teachers, some as administrators some as doctors and nurses, some as scientists, some as laborers or craftsmen or salesmen or drivers or farmers or engineers. The list is as long as the ways people serve God with their life’s work. God’s call extends to the life of the church as well. Some are musicians or organizers or teachers or cooks or leaders or encouragers of financial guides or people with hammer and saw skills.

B. Maybe you are still trying to find out what your calling is? Maybe you didn’t get it right the first time. Jonah has a whale of a story to tell about his second chance. This time, he gets it right and heads for Nineveh. And while Andrew, Peter, James, and John follow at the first invitation, they have a long way to go to being true disciples. Sometimes you find out where you are supposed to be while you are on the way. Abraham was called by God to GO. His understandable question was, “WHERE?” And God said, “I will show you when you get there. That’s a pretty extreme level of faith. But we are all on our way to someplace. Responding to God’s call takes faith and sometimes time.

C. What caught my attention in these two lectionary passages besides variation of response to call is that both include the word, REPENT. In this case that word does not mean tell all the bad things you have done and say you are sorry. Repent is the word, metanoia. It literally to make a U turn. Turn around and go the other way. Stop running to Tarshish and get going to Nineveh.

D. Jesus starts his ministry with the words, The Kingdom of God is here. Repent and believe the good news. Wherever Jesus is and whenever Jesus is, the kingdom of God is present. And for us that means the time is now. It is time for us to grow spiritual ears that hear what God wants us to hear. It may not always be pleasant to hear. Abraham was happy in Ur. Jonah really didn’t want to go to Nineveh. But God made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. We find out later in the story that the reason he didn’t want to go was that he afraid that these nasty gentiles would repent, and that God would spare them. Though he had been shown grace by God, he was not ready to be gracious to God’s people.


A. You may be listening to these call stories and thinking that you have never received a call from God. It’s likely that you have, but it has been so subtle that you have just followed by faith. It may be important for all of us to stay tuned for what God wants us to do. Michael Kelly Blanchard wrote, “Some where on the journey we need to get quiet and turn off the comfort of noise.” Find a way to block out all of the terminal noise in your life and listen for the announcement that you matter to God. You are precious to God. You are invited to partner with God in the living out of faith in Christ. Your flight is boarding now! Brian Maas wrote that “we need ears tuned to God’s proclamation seeking a whisper of good news in the clamor of so much bad.”

B. A friend of mine was on vacation in Jamaica. There was a notice of a parade passing in front of the hotel at noon. He went to the street at about 12. There was nobody lined up to watch the parade. Maybe it was a mistake. Then he heard the band and the marchers approaching. When they got to him, someone pulled him into the parade. “There are no spectators MON. We are all in the parade!” Like church!

C. Andrew and Peter and James and John joined the parade without a question. In fact, they say nothing in this passage. They just follow the Lord. In the second verse of John Whittier’s hymn, Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, he wrote, “In simple trust like theirs who heard beside the Syrian Sea, the gracious calling of the Lord let us like them without a word rise up and follow Thee.” They really didn’t know what they were in for.

D. If you are listening hoping to hear a call that involves a stroll down easy street, then you are not really listening. Discipleship is hard. Bonhoeffer wrote, “When Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die.” When the disciples answered the call immediately, they did not yet know that it would be a marathon and not a sprint. You can make a decision immediately. But followership takes a lifetime. There were times when those called in Scripture did not act well. Jonah moped about the salvation of Nineveh. This receiver of grace does not show grace.

E. The fishermen were slow to understand and seemed like failures as disciples at times. That can happen to us as well. But notice this. By their flawed yet faithful walk with Jesus, these fishermen changed the world. They were not Ph.Ds. in religion. They were not seminary trained preachers. John Calvin called them “rough mechanics.” In other words, they were everyday folks like you and me. They failed more times than they succeeded in the rest of the gospel. But they stayed in the parade and they grew in faith and understanding. And because of their willingness to repent and leave everything and turn toward Jesus as the most important aspect of their lives, there are today 2.4 Billion Christians in the world. Like our response to the call, the results are not often immediate. So, let us listen. Let us have faith. Let us like them rise up and follow Jesus.



Rick Sweeney

The Reverend Dr. Richard Sweeney, Rick, is a retired Presbyterian pastor and author. Rick lives with his wife, Prudy, in Greensburg, PA.