Thursday, January 19, 2012

Response Time

Our texts for this week as we continue our Epiphany journey through "Jesus' First Days" are Jonah 3:1-10, Psalm 62:5-12, and Mark 1:14-20. You may read them here.

This week, our church council has been preparing to go on a retreat together. As part of our preparation, we have all been instructed to take the Myers-Brigg Temperament Indicator to help us learn more about how we're wired, how we react, process and respond. As I took the inventory this week, I was asked to respond "Yes or No" to things like the following: "You are usually the first to react to a sudden event: the telephone ringing or unexpected question"; "You prefer to act immediately rather than speculate about various options"; "Your decisions are based more on the feelings of a moment than on the careful planning." My answer to each of these questions was a definitive NO. Though I have learned to adapt to abrupt shifts or the unexpected, at heart I am about as far from a reactive, spur-of-the-moment, sudden change person as you can get. My reactions are slow; it takes me a while to process; if you ask me to do something suddenly, it's usually not going to go well.

And so it is as I look at today's two stories of people responding to God's call,I find myself much more "in the boat" (to use a bad pun) with Jonah in response to God's call than with the Ninevites or the disciples we meet in Mark. Earlier in Jonah's story, God had instructed him to go to Ninevah--the hometown of his enemies--and proclaim God's word to them. Jonah has spent his whole life trending away from those gross people in Ninevah; turn around now and go preach to them? Not a chance. And so Jonah puts himself on a boat headed in the opposite direction, then ends up in the belly of a great fish at the bottom of the sea. There he has time to reflect on his decisions and finally, begrudgingly, say, "OK--I will go."

Go Jonah does--yet still begrudgingly. He goes halfway into the city and proclaims a half-hearted message to the people. The people, however, are immediately ready to respond--suddenly, abruptly, unexpectedly. They clean up their lives and change their hearts to trust in God so quickly that those of us who like deliberate decisions may look at them and say, "Is this for real? This can't be real. No one just changes like that."

I feel the same way in hearing about Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Jesus utters simple words--"Follow me"--and immediately they drop everything--their livelihood, families, stability. They just take off after this guy that, as far as we know, they've never laid eyes on before. Is this for real? Are they insane? You can't just drop everything and follow!

These stories, then, hit upon the question of our response time. All the people in these stories, eventually, responded to God's call; for Jonah, it involved a trip to the depths of the sea. For Ninevah, it was good they reacted quickly because it was just in the nick of time. For the disciples, they heard the urgency in Jesus' voice and something there was enough to make them respond--to compel them to drop those nets and follow.

It makes me wonder: how do we react when God suddenly breaks into our lives--by hiding in fear, or following with abandon (and, likely, a little fear as well)? How do we recognize God as the thing to which we are called to respond immediately amidst all the world's options? How do we know when God is calling us to leave our careful plans aside and follow the rush of a Spirit we cannot explain? And is it okay, sometimes, if our response time lags a bit?

But perhaps the question underneath all our responses is this: do we believe God has the power to change us quickly, suddenly, forever?

1 comment:

Jeremy said...

These are productive and thoughtful questions, and our answers to them (both in the past and now) tells us about our relationship with God and how we're growing and learning (as one would hope to be doing).

These great question assume, though, that we not only recognize at that moment that God is speaking/communicating with us but also that we understand what is being communicated. How do we discern God's "voice" (used for laziness sake) so clearly without doing, as perhaps Jonah did, inserting our own desires into the mix? Seems as though the focus could be on how these people knew God's will, first. Their response to it has more to do with their faith and, as Abby noted above, where they're at personally and culturally.