“Repent and believe in the Good News.” This message is so commonly proclaimed by preachers, it can become so familiar we stop listening and just hear “blah, blah, blah.” Jonah was not the first preacher in Nineveh, and Jesus was not the first in Galilee. Somebody else preached from this very ambo on these very words three years ago. Today, it’s my turn.
So why do we preach the same message: repent and believe in the Good News? I’m going to suggest to you today it is primarily because of distraction. We get caught up in our daily lives and are distracted from what is truly important. In this respect, the people of Nineveh and the people of Galilee were just like us.
When distracted people meet someone who cannot be distracted, it can be a challenge. We are tempted to write them off as oddballs. Let me give you two contemporary examples: Coaches Nick Saban and Bill Belichick. Both of these guys are repeat champions in sports that are not conducive to repeat champions. If you had to pick one characteristic, it might be that both of these men have the ability to remain focused on what they see as the important things.
When Coach Saban is on a recruiting visit, he probably asks the player if he wants to be more than a football player. Does he want to be a truly excellent player of football? That is in so many words, what Jesus says to Simon and Andrew when they are casting their nets into the sea. He says, “Don’t just be fishermen. Be fishers of men.”
For most of us, when we are challenged, we are tempted to dismiss the challenger rather than listen to the challenge. We call attention to how odd they are. Does Coach Saban ever smile? Why does Coach Belichick always look angry in that short-sleeve hoodie he wears even on winter days?
Coach Belichick does look grumpy, and Coach Saban rarely looks happy. But don’t let the messenger be the message. The message is truly remarkable. This is the really good thing about the Good News, or the pursuit of excellence in the game of football. It does not depend on our worthiness. The Good News is that God loves us even if we are not all that loveable.
Most of us spend our lives pursuing mundane things. We are fishermen, plying our trade and living ordinary lives. We have ordinary achievements and ordinary failures. The Good News is that we are much more than ordinary. We are deeply important to God, we are supposed to be with him for eternity, we are loved by him beyond our comprehension.
Life – real life – is the life of Christ. Since most of us have let ourselves be distracted by the things of a lesser life, we need to recalibrate to live the life of Christ for which we were made. That is what repentance is. That’s what the people of Nineveh did: they heard the message of the Gospel and believed. Their belief led to changing their behavior. They recalibrated.
The Apostles also responded. The life of Christ needs ministers, servants who will lead and feed the people Christ calls to himself. Like the two football coaches, the Apostles preached constantly to help the people remain focused on the important thing: the Good News.
You and I are asked to be like the Apostles. We need to respond to God’s call. We need to look at our lives and see if we have been satisfied being nothing more than fishermen when God is calling us to be fishers of men. Some here may be called in a special way to live a consecrated life as a priest or religious. All of us are called to live a holy life as a disciple of Christ.
Our holy lives as disciples of Christ will make us look a bit odd to most of the world, just as Coach Saban and Coach Belichick look a bit odd. And for the same reason: we cannot let ourselves get distracted from the Good News by the general tendency of everyone around us to settle for something less.
Christ loves us at all times, in all situations, and in everything we do. Even when we don’t love him back the way we should, he loves us. He never gives up on us. He knows our souls are immortal – we will exist forever even though all of us will experience bodily death. He wants us to spend eternity with him, so he keeps after us our whole lives. He wants us to be willing to look a little bit odd in the eyes of the world.
Repent. Recalibrate. Let us love each other as Christ loves us. Let the world settle for commonplace. Let the world scratch and claw in its mundane pursuits. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Good News.