Year B — Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Commentary for January 22, 2012
Click here for today’s readings

Jonah 3:1-5, 10
“Does God ever change His mind?”

I realize that question is not formed with strict adherence to inclusive language, but I’m trying to get at the passage from Jonah here (which frames God as changing “his” mind — and relieves us of all sorts of pressure to kowtow to the urge to crack any jokes about who changes their mind more often, males or females.)


Anyhow, I have participated in one or two theological brouhahas over the implication behind the question: does God ever change his mind? Can God change his mind? Well, it would certainly seem that that would be the prerogative of the Divine; what good is it to be God if you can’t do what you want to do?


Does God change God’s mind? Hmmm, there are those that would argue that since God is perfect, once God makes up God’s mind and decides on “God’s will” for a given situation, then there is no need for God to change God’s mind so — no, God doesn’t change his mind.


All of that is to say that we can open ourselves up to some real feats of doctrinal derring-do and sleight of hand if we’re not careful. I don’t want to step in too quickly and attempt to speak for God, especially where God’s grace is concerned. 


Bet’cha the Ninevites are glad that God can change his mind!

Psalm 62:5-12
Good thing God is a rock.


Well, not literally…but you know what I mean. If I am trying to understand God’s steadfastness and stability, it might help for me to consider the strength of a substantial boulder. I traveled across the western United States this past summer, and saw lots of “rocks” scattered about in various plains, canyons and arroyos. My impression of most of them was, “Dang, I bet that rock has been there for a long, long time.” 


They had withstood the tests of wind, water and time. Some of them had survived earthquakes, volcanoes and the like. At this point, they are not about to be shaken from their stance; they make a strong foundation.


God is like that, the psalmist says. God is a refuge, a shelter; you can put your trust in God. God has been tested and has proved faithful, again and again.

1 Corinthians 7:29-31
The world is just not what it used to be. So says the Apostle. Actually, I suppose Paul’s message to the Corinthians is that the world never has been what we sometimes think it is!


Who, or what, do we trust with our lives? What truly is most precious? Time is short, no matter what your eschatological disposition. “The end of the world” is closer today than it was yesterday. 

(Remember, if the Mayans are right, you’ve only got till December 21, 2012, anyhow!)

Mark 1:14-20
Jesus was awfully time conscious, himself. Echoing John the Baptizer’s message of repentance, Jesus added the even greater sense of urgency: “The time is fulfilled,. the kingdom of God has come near….”

What can a sense of urgency do for our faith, in a positive manner of speaking? Or are we to assume that 2012 will just be “business as usual?”

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

When I was about twelve years old, I found an old Royal manual typewriter in the closet under the steps.

It belonged to my mother, who had bought it when she was in High School.

Since at that time William Faulkner and Walker Percy were my heroes and I intended to grow up to be a great Southern novelist, I knew I need to learn three things: how to smoke, how to drink and how to type. My mother could know about and help me with only one of those ambitions.

So, she taught me to type using the phrase they taught her at Stuart Virginia High during WWII.

Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.

I sat at the kitchen table and over and over again typed it out, “Now is the time. . .”

Now, 45 years later, I still type that out when testing a computer keyboard.
Now is the time. . . “

I thought of that line as I read our scripture lessons for today.

Each of them is about urgency, immediacy, the press of time.

Jonah preached to the Ninevites and his message was “Now is the time to repent.”

Paul in Corinthians says “Now is the time to get serious about God.”

Jesus says to Simon and Andrew, James and John, “Now is the time to follow me.”

Now, now, now.

Jonah – “In forty days it’ll be too late!”
Paul – “The appointed time has grown short.”
Mark – “And immediately they left their nets and followed.”
Now, I confess that this is a difficult message for me to preach.

Not because I don’t understand it or believe it, but rather because I am one of the world’s greatest procrastinators.

My wife, “Will you take the recycling to the curb?” Me, “Sure, no problem.”

Hours later. “I thought you said you were going to take the recycling to the curb.”
Me – “I am.” Her – “Well?” Me – “Oh, you meant now?”

That line, “Oh, you meant now,” is the procrastinators’ mantra, our motto, our personal and communal creed.

It allows us a somewhat graceful escape by implying that we simply didn’t understand the urgency of the request.

The meaning of today’s scripture lessons is this: God means now!

We in the church are very good at ecclesiastical procrastination.

God says, “Come and follow me.”

We say, “Sure, no problem.”

Presently God comes back and says, “I thought you were going to follow me.”

And what do we say? “Oh, you meant now?”

God says, “I want you to spread the Good news of my love.”

And we say, “Sure, no problem.”

Later, God returns, tapping an impatient divine foot and saying, “well?’”

And we say, “Oh, you meant now?”

In the all the areas of our spiritual and churchly lives, God has called us to act;
To pray, to witness, to share our resources.

We are called to feed the poor, to clothe the naked, house the homeless, to heal the sick, to stand with the oppressed and suffering.

And we answer all those callings with a resounding yes.

But God continually has to come back to us, reminding us, “Yes, I meant now!”

Now is the time for all people to come to the aid of God’s reign.

Now is the time for us to take up our cross and follow Jesus.

Now is the time to fully commit ourselves to the Good News of Jesus Christ.

For, if not now – when?

Amen.

2 thoughts on “Year B — Third Sunday after the Epiphany

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