Sunday November 8th 2015 – Remembrance Sunday
The Gospel reading set for today in the church’s lectionary is Mark 1:14-20, where Jesus calls James and John to follow him.
There are many things in the world that change dramatically during their life cycle – caterpillars, tadpoles eggs, acorns, flower bulbs – all of them change into something else. One of Hans Christian Andersen stories also focusses on that
process of change – The Ugly Duckling.
A caterpillar changes into a butterfly or a moth, and acorn into an oak tree, eggs into birds, tadpoles into frogs or toads, a plain amaryllis bulb into a striking flower, and an Ugly Ducking into a Swan
Each grows to be very different. But their ability to change and grow doesn=t just appear from nowhere. The Potential is already inside of them.
Jesus choses James and John to follow him. They encounter Jesus and follow him and in doing so are changed for ever.
We don’t know that much about Jesus disciples. We do know that James and John were fishermen. We know that they were relatively slow learners and that on one occasion that asked Jesus to let them sit on either side of him when he came into his kingdom, that they were interested in power and places of honour more than they were in listening to Jesus. As Jesus says in that Gospel passage the places either side of him when he came into his kingdom were reserved for two thieves at the Cross.
James and John may not have been quick learners or good listeners but something about being with Jesus, something in this person, Jesus, changes James and John for ever. It doesn’t all happen in an instant, but it starts to happen as James and John listen to Jesus speak and when they see Jesus’ miracles. They are changed as he follows Jesus.
“James, John, I have a job for you, follow me,” Jesus says. “I can see the potential in you, I can see who you will become. I want you to be my fishermen now – only you’ll be catching not fish but men and women to be my followers.”
And we know how the story ends – these ugly ducklings of men become Swans, they become the most faithful of Jesus followers, one is martyred not long after Jesus dies, the other lives to a ripe old age and becomes bishop of Ephesus and writes letters which remind people that it is not power and influence that matter but love and service.
Jesus does not just call James and John. He calls each of us to follow him. Rough diamonds that we are, self-deprecating or over confident, strong or weak. All of us called to be his followers.
And, just like James and John, there is potential for change in each of us. Jesus can take us and transform us. We no longer need to feel that we are no good, we can admit to God our weakness and our failings and then God takes us as we are and makes something special. We no longer need to feel like the Ugly Ducking or the Caterpillar, for God in Jesus sees the Swan and the Butterfly that we really are – and as we give ourselves to God – he draws out all the good that is in us.
Perhaps this is a very important message for today. James died a martyrs death, John lived on into old age, and lived for Jesus, no doubt honouring his brother’s memory and calling on others to live lives of love and forgiveness. Perhaps it is no accident that John’s epistles major on these two themes. And so I’ll leave the last word with John – word that he remembers as being on Jesus’ own lips:
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:17)