January 24, 2021 “No Such Thing as Ready”
“No Such Thing As Ready”
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Hugh Laurie is a British actor who is best known for his depiction of a gifted but somewhat cranky doctor in the television series, “House.” He is also a fair musician, I might add, but that’s beside the point. Anyhow, as I was reading through our scripture selections for this week, I couldn’t help but pick up on a certain sense of urgency. Jonah proclaimed a deadline of 40 days to the folks in Ninevah, Paul speaks that “the world in its present form is passing away”, and Mark records the words of Jesus telling us “Now is the time! Here comes the Kingdom of God.” As I was reading through these texts wondering what’s what, I glanced up at a picture I had printed and stuck on the bulletin board. It was a picture of the same Hugh Laurie. Beneath it was a statement that struck me. On it, Mr. Laurie had written “It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There is almost no such thing as ready. There is only now. And you may as well do it now. Generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.”
I suppose we could debate that until the cows come home. After all, there is real value in preparation; in “being ready.” If you’ve ever witnessed a classmate trying to give a book report without actually having read the book, you’ll know what I mean. But there is some real truth in what Mr. Laurie says here. Take Jonah, for example. In the first chapter, when the Lord called to him to “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me,” he didn’t ask Jonah if he was ready. He didn’t ask, “If that’s OK with you.” No, he simply said, “Go.” Well, Jonah went, all right – the opposite direction. He hopped on a boat and tried his level best to put as many miles as he could between himself and God Almighty. Not a good plan, because if you recall he ends up getting thrown overboard in a storm, swallowed up by a big fish, and then burped up on the shores of – you guessed it – the city of Nineveh. Crazy stuff. My point is that by the time he began to preach to the folks in this massive city, he was ready whether he knew it or not. He was ready because God had called him. He didn’t call on anyone else – he called on Jonah.
Likewise in our gospel message today there is an ongoing sense of urgency. The very first verse of our text, vs. 14, reads 14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” See what I mean? “Urgent! Urgent! Wake up people!” John the Baptist had been thrown in prison; his followers probably didn’t hold out a lot of hope that he would come out of that alive. Yet here was a voice – a voice proclaiming that the time has come. And the voice doesn’t ask if they are ready to repent; it doesn’t ask if they are in the proper state of mind to truly believe the good news of the Gospel. It is proclaiming, to borrow the phrase, “There is almost no such thing as ready. There is only now.”
Next, Mark leads us (vs 16) to the Sea of Galilee where we read the old familiar stories of Jesus commissioning his disciples. “Follow me,” he said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” And they did. They dropped everything to follow this nobody from Nazareth. It’s a story we’ve known as long as we can remember. “Follow me. Don’t be concerned that you aren’t qualified. Don’t worry that you aren’t ready. Just follow me.”
George MacDonald was a Scottish writer and preacher who influenced everyone from Mark Twain to C. S. Lewis. He had some great thoughts on the best preparation we can hope for when we are called to bring Christ into the world. He wrote, “What God may hereafter require of you, you must not give yourself the least trouble about. Everything he gives you to do, you must do as well as ever you can, and that is the best possible preparation for what he may want you to do next. If people would but do what they have to do, they would always find themselves ready for what comes next.” This, to me, describes the disciples so well. They didn’t bother themselves with what might come next, they weren’t worried about being ready; they were only too glad to take that first step.
For those of us who grew up in faith communities, our understandings and our belief structures came from the lessons we learned in Sunday schools or kitchen tables or bedtime stories. We fidgeted our way through church services, sang the hymns, and most generally figured that this is just how it is. We weren’t too terribly concerned with what comes next. Eventually, however, we started to question, as teenagers are apt to do. Some of us fell away, got distracted; disillusioned. Voices of doom and gloom, voices of punishment and guilt and shame – they all blended together to paint a picture of discipleship that was – let’s face it – was not so pretty.
You know, I always wondered how Jesus was able to approach these total strangers – hard core fishermen, at that – and get them to drop everything and follow him. It’s an important question because as the church, as the body of Christ, we are called to do the same thing, aren’t we? Did he convey some super sense of urgency? “The time has come,” and all that? Or did he stand before them and remind them of their faults, their sins, their inabilities? No, Jesus approached them with a love that was without condition and with a forgiveness that was absolute. Jesus met them as God in the flesh, full of grace and mercy. Jesus met them, not as some lofty divine presence, but as the Son of Man. And once these men – these dirty, smelly fishermen – recognized that, how could they say no?
There is an urgency in the call to a life in Christ. For too long now, a portion of the body of Christ has represented a Jesus that never was. And I am naïve enough to believe that we can change that. I’m naïve enough to believe that in a time of disease and unrest and division, we can be the presence of the Living God in this crazy world. Are we ready to do that? No, there’s no such thing as ready. But we are called. We are called by the one who knows us inside and out. Every minute of every day, we are called. And that is enough, for as the man said, “There is almost no such thing as ready. There is only now. And you may as well do it now.”
Amen & Shalom