A Sermon preached at St Mary’s by Fr Chris Phillips

Homily for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Yr. B1 Preached at St Mary’s, Kenton


In the name of the (+) Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. I must begin by thanking Fr. Edward for inviting me to visit you this morning, and you all for your warm welcome, to me and to my family. It’s lovely to be back in London, and I bring you all warm greetings from the frozen wilds of West Yorkshire and most especially from the people of St Margaret’s, Ilkley! We may be three hours’ rail journey (and a province) away, but our shared faith, prayer, and the wonders of technology do much to bring us closer together.

The rapid development of technology has been a great blessing in many ways, hasn’t it? We have Twitter to thank (or blame) for my presence here today, so you may come to disagree with that sentiment shortly. Nonetheless, through the power of social media, distance is increasingly becoming less of a hindrance to the forging and maintenance of relationships. Fr. Edward and I had not met in person prior to this weekend, yet I do not consider him any less of a friend because of that. This has given me pause for thought: what does it really mean to “follow” someone in this day and age?

Today’s reading from Mark offers an image of following of another kind. Jesus, passing along the Sea of Galilee, calls Simon, Andrew, James, and John. We are told that they “immediately” left their nets and followed him. It’s very easy to “immediately” follow someone on Twitter, or to add someone to your Facebook friends list, and so on. It doesn’t require any great effort or sacrifice on our part – and if you discover that your new friend is posting an annoying number of cute cat pictures, you can “unfollow” them as easily as you please. But Jesus’ call to his first disciples, and their decision to follow, has much greater implications. Family solidarity and security were hugely important in the culture of the time: Simon and his fellow-disciples were most likely to have been the latest in a long line of fishermen, expected to take on this trade in order to provide for themselves and their wider families. Make no mistake – following Jesus in the way that they did would have involved serious risk, with implications not just for their own personal security but for their dependants. Yet they recognise something special about the one who called them, something so special that they just left their nets. This is a real watershed moment in their lives, a complete turnaround.

This is what repentance really means. It’s not just about stopping sinning, but about turning away from the things that lead to it, to begin again. Jesus’ call to 1 Texts: Jonah 3:1-10; 1Cor. 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20 repent and to believe the good news was, and is, a prophetic call to return to true loyalty to YHWH. He proclaims his message at precisely the right time: John has been arrested. He seizes the moment to begin his ministry – Mark’s frequent use of the word “immediately” gives us a sense of urgency. The business of repentance can’t wait: we must not be like Jonah, who tried to run away from God’s call – because it’s a waste of time.

In other years, had it not been a Sunday, we would today have been celebrating the Conversion of St Paul, so it is good that we hear from him this morning. His message to us is also stark: [in his letter to the Corinthians] he urges those with wives to be as though they had none, for mourners to appear not to be mourning, and so on. There, the emphasis is not on actual rejection of one’s wife, or possessions, or to deny one’s state of mind. But Paul urges his listeners to see things in the context of eternity, because the things that belong to the world are short-term. This, in the end, was Jonah’s message too – “forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown”. And there, too, we have a complete turnaround: the people believed God, and repented of their sinful ways. So God did not destroy them: the relationship between God and his people was restored to its proper state.

So following Jesus means doing more than clicking a button on an app or a web page. It means a complete change, or turning around, and real commitment. If we want to follow Christ, it’s not all passive, with updates pushed out to us. We are challenged to respond to his invitation with every fibre of our being. Part of that means spending time with him – we can do this through prayer, and through regularly receiving him in his holy sacraments – but it also means leaving everything behind for his sake. Christ calls us out of our comfort zone, away from familiar sources of security like money, success and popularity. Being a follower involves being led, submitting to the will of the one you’re following – which perhaps exposes the relatively shallow nature of the phenomenon of following on social media. Like leading your livelihood behind at the invitation of a stranger, true discipleship is a risky business. This is not to suggest that we should not engage with Twitter, Facebook, and the like – quite the reverse, in fact. If they are part of your life, as they are mine, then let us try to use them as ways of deepening our relationship with Christ, to break down barriers that divide us from recognising him in one another, and to build up our common life.

So let’s use every means at our disposal to spread the good news and share God’s love for us. Let’s show the world just how much God loves each of us, and just what truly following him looks like. The Venerable Fulton Sheen gives us a pattern for this: Show me your hands. Do they have scars from giving? Show me your feet. Are they wounded in service? Show me your heart. Have you left a place for divine love?

You’ve clicked that “follow” button.

It’s time to leave those nets behind. In the name of the (+) Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.