A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, ID
Jan 22, 2012
Our lectionary readings for this year will take us through Mark’s gospel. As you may be noticing, Mark is a man of few words. Where you and I, or Luke and Matthew, would offer more details, Mark is content to let the story be spare.
Last week, we left Jesus in the wilderness after his baptism, being cared for by the angels.
And, immediately, after that, Jesus picks up the work of John the Baptizer, calling people to repent and believe in the Good News.
And I think that is not quite enough of a message to get me to repent. I think I would want to hear a little more. Repent of what? What is the Good News? ‘Repent and believe’ seems too vague.
But, when contrasted with Jonah’s message to Ninevah, it is a veritable treatise on Theology!
Remember what Jonah preached to Ninevah? “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
Talk about a positive message that is designed to appeal to people!
As I was pondering the fact that both of these seemingly horrible tools of evangelism actually worked, it occurred to me to just say “40 days more and Boise shall be overthrown” and then just sit down.
Would have saved me a lot of time this week.
But I realized that while God was calling Jonah to deliver that message, it wasn’t what I was called to share this week. Bummer for you.
Let’s look more closely at the short passage from Jonah. It begins with a reminder that the Word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time. And, if you recall, the first time God told Jonah to go to Ninevah, Jonah chose not to. He got on the first boat he could find that was heading in the exact opposite direction. Big storm, Jonah abandons ship, and ends up in the belly of a fish, where he has a come to Jesus meeting before being spat out of the beast onto the beach.
And so the Word of the Lord comes to Jonah a second time. “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you”.
And Jonah does.
He doesn’t like the Ninevites. He doesn’t want them to be saved. He doesn’t even want to be in the same room with them. You can almost hear the glee in his voice when he announces their destruction and doom.
“Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown! Ha! That’ll teach you horrible people! We’ll see how you feel when God’s judgment puts you in your place!”
Jonah delivers the message, gets out a lawn chair and maybe some popcorn, and sits down to wait for a ringside seat of the destruction.
But the people repent. The King repents. The cows repent, for pete’s sake.
This isn’t an isolated repentance of a few people. This is a repentance of all individuals, the government, and even creation.
And so God changed God’s mind. God showed mercy on Ninevah and didn’t destroy them.
I invite you to read the rest of Jonah’s story this week. Let me just say that his front row seat to the destruction of his enemies doesn’t turn out quite the way he had hoped. Despite his greatest hopes for their destruction, they are converted. His very success as an evangelist annoys the heck out of him.
There are many reminders for us in this text, of course.
God will choose to be merciful to whom God will choose to be merciful. We don’t get the final say in the people who are beyond the reach of God’s love.
I’ve shared this quote from Anne Lamott before, but it bears repeating:
“You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
Our job, as it turns out, is not to judge. I know. Bummer, right?
Only God gets to do that, and even then, we can’t presume God will hate all the same people we do.
The other thing that struck me this time through the two stories we have this week is that it is better to respond to God the FIRST time the Word of the Lord comes to you.
Jonah didn’t do that. And he spent a fair amount of time in the digestive system of a whale.
But, according to Mark’s gospel, the Disciples fared better than Jonah.
They are minding their own business, literally, Simon and Andrew casting their nets in the sea, and James and John mending their nets, and Jesus calls them to follow him. The Word of the Lord comes to them a first time, walks past them and speaks to them. “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”
And they do. The drop their nets. They leave their boats.
They don’t just accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior and go back to what they were doing. They abandon their ability to make a living. They leave their families. They walk away from everything they know and are called to much more than a moment of personal salvation. They are called to a life of discipleship, a life of itinerant preaching with some guy who walked down the beach and called to them.
So, where are you in these stories?
Are you like Jonah, sitting in the belly of a whale because you are resisting answering God’s call on your life?
Are you like Jonah, the second time the Word came from you, but still hoping for the destruction of the people you’ve determined are beyond God’s mercy?
Or are you sitting on the beach, working on your nets and wondering how to respond to the Word of the Lord as he calls you to join him?
The scenarios are all different. But the one thing they have in common is that the Word of the Lord comes to us all.
We can resist it.
We can choose our own interpretation of it.
We can follow it.
And just as the Word of the Lord came to Jonah and came to the first disciples, God’s Word is coming to you as well. That’s why we are here. Because we could be doing other things today, couldn’t we? We could be drinking coffee and working on the crossword puzzle. We could be skiing.
And maybe that’s on the agenda later today. But this morning, we’re here. Together. Because God is calling us to be this particular church family in this corner of God’s kingdom.
Somehow, the Word of the Lord called out to you and you responded enough to be here.
How is that call from God going to play out in your life as you leave here today?
The disciples “immediately they left their nets and followed him”.
What does it mean to follow him?
When the Word of the Lord walks past us and asks us to follow, we can’t just look up at him and say, “sure. Sounds great. Have a good day. See you on Sunday.”
If we choose to answer the call, our lives should grow to be different than they were before. This doesn’t mean we become perfect. We will still make mistakes. We will still hurt the people we love. We will still be human, in other words. But we should have a greater goal than our private concerns.
Following Jesus means we are going to journey down paths that might not be the ones we would choose. They will likely put you in to uncomfortable situations and challenging moments.
But, did you also notice in the stories we heard today that the call of the disciples, or the call of Jonah and the Ninevites, for that matter, weren’t so much about the people who were called as it was about the one doing the calling. The Ninevites were no candidates for God’s best followers. They were a wicked city of foreigners, for goodness sake.
And the disciples. What did Jesus know of their qualifications for ministry when he picked them? They were not-very-well-educated fishermen from galilee. Jesus hadn’t seen their Theology test scores. He didn’t know anything about their public speaking skills or ask if any of them could fix a computer.
He just called them.
It appears their best qualification for ministry happened to be that they answered when God walked by.
So, if you aren’t feeling particularly talented today, it’s okay. If you are certain that you don’t have what it takes to answer this call from Jesus, it’s okay.
Because God will give you what you need, but not before you need it. The disciples left behind their nets, their boats, the tools with which they surrounded themselves, and followed after Jesus. And God provided. As we listen to the stories in the coming weeks, pay attention to how this random band of people become the Disciples of the Lord.
And God is calling you, yes you, because there are still lots of fish in the sea who need to know about the God of mercy who loves us far beyond reason.
Here fishy, fishy, fishy.