The Seven Word Sermon: Invite someone to find Jesus… maybe yourself!
I wonder if today’s readings have left you feeling a little bit pressurised?
Jonah turns up in Nineveh and everyone in the city cleans up their act! But we are still struggling to keep our New Year’s Resolutions…
St Paul writes to the Corinthians, worried that the world is about to end, and suggests no one should bother about worldly things like getting a job or being married. But here we are, two thousand years later.
Jesus marches up to Andrew, Peter, James and John, and immediately they down tools and follow him! But in less than an hour, we are going to leave this Mass and go right back to where we came from.
Now it’s true, that there is a sense of urgency in today’s readings. We are meant to feel the pressure, so I’ve brought my pressure gauge with me. But being a physicist, I know that when things are placed under pressure, they get hot – so mine’s a thermometer.
We could easily get distracted and think that today’s message is about how much TIME we can give to God’s work. For most of us, that would leave us near the bottom. Not many of us are going to become priests, nuns or lay missionaries who take on the work of the church as our full-time pursuit. Some of us are retired, and can turn out regularly to help with the church decoration, flower arranging, and tea-making. A few of us give an hour or two a week to work with our young people preparing for First Communion or Confirmation. But I know that for many of us, it’s a struggle just to get the family ready to turn up at Mass on time, let alone do anything more for church activities during the week.
So relax! This isn’t a TimeOmeter, and the Lord is not asking many of us to devote more time to church. Perhaps one or two of you are feeling the nudge to do rather more, and that’s a sign it would be good to talk to me, Deacon Steve or Jonathan about the kind of short term or long term calling God might be pointing you towards. It would be fantastic if some of tomorrow’s priests and religious sisters were sitting in this congregation today. But for most of us the challenge is rather different.
“I will make you fishers of men,” says Jesus. That is the call which Jesus gives to all of us – and it is much more important for you who go out into the world than for the likes of clergy who spend all their time dealing with Catholics. We are all called to catch fish, that is, to invite people to become members of our church community. But perhaps the image of being a caught fish, tangled up in a net, doesn’t seem that appealing. I prefer another image, the one Jesus used when he said he had come to set the world on fire, and wished it was ablaze already! We are called to set the world on fire! A soul on fire cries out to God in prayer and reaches out to their neighbour in love. But we aren’t going to do that unless we are red-hot, and that brings us back to my thermometer.
I am going to suggest four steps you might take to help you share the Catholic faith with others. Each step is more challenging than the last. You might have taken one or two already – this will indicate what you might do next. A kettle doesn’t boil in an instant, but if we are going to set the world on fire, we need to start warming up now!
STEP ONE: Place a holy picture in your home where visitors can see it. Know the story behind it if they ask you about it.
STEP TWO: Say grace at mealtimes. It may feel a bit strange it first, if it isn’t your family custom, but it really is as simple as making the sign of the Cross and saying thank you for the food. And if there is a guest in your home, don’t skip grace. Simply say it is part of your faith and if your guest doesn’t want to join in, they can wait politely.
STEP THREE: Think of a person you know, someone who trusts you, but someone who is not an active Christian. What difficulties are they facing in life right now? Could you say to them, next time you meet them, “I am praying for you” – because of their cancer, their family breakdown, or whatever worries they have confided in you? This achieves two things at once – it says that you care, and that you believe God can help. (Don’t forget to actually pray for them!)
STEP FOUR: Ask a friend if they would like to come with you to church. A survey which came out in 2007 showed that there were 3 million people living in the UK who don’t attend church – that means that if you know 20 people who don’t go to church, one of them will say YES when you invite them. Remember, there was a time, way back in the past, when your family did not attend church. Someone invited your ancestors and they came. It might have been back when St Thomas came to India, or St Patrick to Ireland. You are here because of them. It’s time to return the favour!
One final thought. Many people who do join a religion do so because of the kindness of members of that community. I trust that we will be a kind and welcoming community to all those who meet us, here, at St Philip Evans, or out in the wider world. But kindness is not enough. Peter and Andrew, James and John left their boats because they saw something in Jesus worth following.
The call to be fishers of men, to set the world on fire, comes to us directly from Jesus. He is the only good reason to take any of these steps I’ve suggested. If the thought of even taking the first step makes you uncomfortable, then ask yourself: Do I trust Jesus? Am I willing to follow Him, even though He may make some high pressure demands on me?
If the answer is yes, then you are certainly called to be a fisher of men. But if the answer is no, pray this prayer: “Lord Jesus, take away my fears and set my heart on fire.” Until he answers that prayer, you are off the hook!
Further thoughts for the online edition:
How do we catch fish? How do we set people on fire for Jesus? In ages past, we might have reminded people that when we die, each one of us will have to give an account to God of the good and bad choices we have made during our life on Earth. But in this skeptical age, few people in Wales will worry about being judged – indeed, a survey released this week showed that many people who believe in God don’t think there’s an afterlife, and many others believe in some kind of afterlife but not in God!