Scarlet Robin’s gift is a beautiful book, illustrated and written by Amanda Tuohy. It is a book about a little bird who flits around the forest, listening to the plight of his friends and loved ones, hearing about their pain and fear of the forest being cut down or their homes being destroyed. In all the chaos of winter, the beautiful bird is lost, and constantly wonders what he can do to lift everyone’s spirits. He is summoned by the Forest King – a great honour – and is told that Scarlet Robin himself is the one who can save the forest. The Forest King tells Scarlet Robin that he is to sing. Scarlet is confused, and doubts his ability. But the Forest King insists – and so Scarlet Robin sings.
So, today, I want to ask you – when you hear the word of God – how do you respond?
This week we hear two stories of people hearing God’s call, and of their responses. However, we only get the abbreviated version of both stories. We all know how Jonah first responded. Running off in the opposite direction brought about a whale of a time for him – see what I did there…
Anyway, we have all heard the story of Jonah before. He disregards the voice of God and runs off in the opposite direction, whether it was fear, or sheer disobedience. I think we have all been in his place before. “Now, God, I know you said to go in that direction, but I know what’s right, so I’ll do that instead.”
I am sure we can all think of times that this has happened. Perhaps with not as detrimental outcomes as poor old Jonah.
Looking at the Mark Scripture reading for today, it tells a story of people trusting implicitly and following without question. However, if we take a look at the other Gospel’s account of this story, we do get a different perception.
In Luke’s version of the story, he tells us that one night the disciples had been fishing all night and hadn’t caught a thing. While they were cleaning up their nets, Jesus asks them if he could use their boat to preach to the multitudes. When he had finished, Jesus dismisses the crowds and sends them back out to fish – which they did, rather reluctantly. This time they caught so many fish they nearly sank. They were so amazed and overwhelmed at what they had seen and heard and experienced. It was then, at this moment that Luke tells us Jesus says to leave their nets and follow him, and at this point, they do.
In John’s Gospel, the disciples were led to Jesus by John himself, as well as close friends and a brother. They followed those they trusted and loved, and with time and experience they trusted and followed Jesus.
If we just take the Mark Scripture reading today at face value, it could be experienced as quite damaging. If we read the two scriptures just as they were today without any knowledge of a back story we would have two stories of people who trusted implicitly and did as they were told with no question. If we read this, and we ourselves have doubts or questions, or have had experiences with not following God’s call – which I’m sure we all do to some degree or another – we could feel quite disheartened.
So the truth is that we have two stories, that if we look a little wider and dig a little deeper, we can see that they were human after all. Just like us.
But the reading of scripture without looking at a wider story, happens more often than not – and unfortunately, it can happen intentionally. Sometimes people can pull out different verses or words that will help their view and use it to inflict pain, or create diversions. I recall many conversations I have had with people about a misrepresentation of the Bible. How damaging that can be. When Scripture is used as a weapon rather than an instrument of peace and unity – a message of love. I think this happens in more ways than I think we notice. When we come to church on a Sunday, and by Sunday afternoon are making choices that hurt or diminish others. When we claim we follow Christ’s word, and yet we hurt others and pull others down because of our own insecurities and anxieties. I know I do this with Morgan sometimes, and I’m sure you may unintentionally do this with others as well sometimes. It is what happens, but it’s about being aware of it and making different choices. Every day we are faced with decisions about responding to life’s circumstances according to God’s Word, or if we react emotionally and instinctively? Our initial temptation of course is to react emotionally – it’s natural – but in circumstances that we face, it’s a choice that we can make.
So, what instances can we find ourselves reacting emotionally and instinctively?
One example of this is change.
Everything changes in life. Everything. Life is in constant flux. I used to have a saying years ago – “I’m fine with change – as long as I’m the one who’s chosen it”. But many of the changes in life occur without our permission. People come and go in our lives, circumstances change, our bodies change, our desires and passions change…
Although things don’t always change with our permission, we can choose to adapt to them. Adapting doesn’t change the circumstances in which we find ourselves, but it does keep us living with a sense of peace and joy as we travel through the change. I’m sure there are some people that you can name that seem to take all change as it comes, seeming to breeze through life. In some instances they will be just cruising through unaware (like my brother appears to do…), but in many instances, these people will just take the change as it comes, adapt to it, and change with the change.
To do this, we are called to influence our own thoughts – which directly affect our responses. We can spend time in prayer, we can try to act on God’s Word rather than reacting instinctively to the situation. Of course there are going to be times that acting instinctively is the right decision, but in every day situations, if we manage our response to situations that arise, then we have control over our response, and it’s not the other way around. It reminds me of an old Cherokee story I have heard before.
A Cherokee Elder was teaching his Grandchildren about life, and he said to them, “A fight is going on inside us all. It is a terrible fight between two wolves. One wolf represents anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, ego. The other represents joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy and truth. This same fight is going on inside of you, and inside every other person too.”
The children thought for a minute. Then one child asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The Cherokee elder replied – “The one that you feed.”
The same is true for us. If we keep feeding ourselves with anger, frustration, selfishness, and ego, we shut out the possibility for the growth of peace, and hope, and light, and kindness, empathy and truth. Which would you rather feed?
If we go back to the initial story I told of the little Scarlet Robin, he does sing – he sings until he can sing no more. The next morning, life appears in the forest. Life is dancing all around, searching for the owner of the voice which has brought life back to the forest. Butterflies have escaped their chrysalis, bringing happiness and light with their beauty; little animals found friends, and shared love. All because little Scarlet Robin shared his gift.
Can you imagine, though, if Scarlet Robin had doubted himself so much he hadn’t sung? The sadness that would linger, the loss they would all feel?
Not only do we benefit from listening to the Word of God, but others around us do as well. Nothing happens in isolation. If we choose to turn away – like Jonah – then people miss out. If Jonah still hadn’t listened, Ninevah wouldn’t have transformed into a city of hope and happiness and wonder. If we don’t transform ourselves, then we lose the possibility of raising others up around us, of letting God’s light shine to others.
If we are called to be a beacon of light, if we are called to offer love and hope to others, which I believe we are, if we are called to build people up rather than knock people down, then I think the first point of call is within ourselves. If we are not willing to work on ourselves, then we are not going to be able to offer anything of any benefit to others. It is as simple, and difficult as that.
So, how does this process begin? With hearing the call of God – and managing our response to it.
Knowing that sometimes we may not respond right away, but, just as Scarlet Robin had a gift to share to others, Just as Jonah and the disciples were called, so do we have a gift to share. Can you imagine how amazing life would be if we all recognised our own gift, and aided others in recognising theirs. We could have life overflowing with new possibilities. In this we are called not to learn some alien thing, but to discover who we truly are. We are called to celebrate each other’s differences and wonder in each other’s gifts that bring something new and fabulous to our lives. We do not have to do this all by ourselves. We travel with the Spirit who calls us, liberates us, and equips us all for the practical issues of life, here today, tomorrow, and all time.
Go now, follow where Christ calls you and proclaim the message God gives you. And may God be your haven and your glory; May Christ Jesus give you courage for his mission; And may the Spirit embrace your soul in God’s silence.