3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time B – January 25, 2015 – “Just Show Up!”
Leaders of a Jewish congregation in Springfield, Massachusetts noticed its members were aging and dwindling in number and not coming to the synagogue regularly.
Somewhat frustrated the senior rabbi mailed out a small sign to the entire membership — the kind that sticks on your refrigerator. It read “Just Show Up!” She wanted everyone to know not only were they welcomed there she also needed their presence to help re-energize that congregation.
Research groups now define “regular” church goers as those who attend worship every so often, maybe once a month if that. Why come at all? Last week we heard Pastor Debra Poole ask a provocative question. “What do we want from religion or God?” She challenged us not to use religion just for personal gain or spiritual purposes.
Catholics in this country, like other mainline congregations, are going through a change. Some of the reasons include demographic shifts, new migration paths, church leadership and age-old teachings some of which, in the minds of many, lack common sense. These factors challenge faithful people to re-imagine who they are and what they do.
What brought you and me to this place of worship this morning? What are we hoping to get from our religion, one another or from God? Do we come because of the spirit, the sermons, the songs? Do we come to find ways to serve others rather than be served?
While it is important to be sustained and inspired in our faith, religion is a two-way street. We have talked about this before. Religion, and especially worship, is not something done for us or delivered to us by pastoral leaders or ministries alone. It is something we do together.
The scriptures today mirror some of the experiences in our contemporary religious climate. Jonah was called by God to go to Nineveh to tell the people to stop being religious couch potatoes and do something about re-establishing their identity as Israelites after a demeaning exile.
The Israelites, however, were expecting God to do all the work. They did not want to be told that they have to do something as well. As the story goes Jonah, who himself did not want to be told what to do, was swallowed up by a whale. God was not going to let Jonah off the hook easily.
Commentators suggest Jonah did not want the job because he would have to leave his family and his comfortable routine. Maybe he was afraid of strangers and rejection. Maybe he was an introvert, shy and bashful. Eventually, Jonah did change his mind and carried out his mission.
The gospel story is similar. Jesus originally worked for his cousin John the Baptist. After John was beheaded Jesus figured he should pick up the cause. His primary concern was to find a way to imitate Moses and lead the Jews to a place and time where peace and justice were normative.
Jesus started to put together his A-team. The members of his club shared possessions, ate and drank together, slept very little, and did not stay in one place for long. They followed Jesus even though at times they disagreed with or misunderstood what he was saying and doing.
What Jesus asked his followers to do was not easy. Like Jonah they would have to leave their families and jobs to do something mysterious and dangerous. So, why did they follow him? Jesus said to them the time has come to repent and believe the good news.
The word for “repent” in Greek means to change one’s mind, not necessarily to do penance. Jesus said to them, “the time has come to change your mind.” That’s what Jonah asked the Ninevites to do. That’s what the rabbi asked her congregation to do. Change is never easy. Many of us like things just the way they are.
You are probably saying by now, “Wait a minute. I am here.” Well, why did we show up today? Are we looking to change our minds about something? The minds of others? Maybe so. Or, is it to re-energize ourselves and others? What we do know is that to be Christian is to belong to a group of people committed to living out the values modeled by Jesus of Nazareth without compromise.
No one can do it alone. Think of Martin Luther King Jr or Dorothy Day or Vincent de Paul. We may not always know exactly what to do or how to do it. But, we can support one another. Just showing up … is the first step.