Third Sunday after the Epiphany for Year B (January 25, 2015)

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Points for Preaching and Teaching
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Jonah gives the most direct revival sermon ever preached — it’s just one sentence long. And it worked! Lots to think about here, including the timing of God’s action in the world, God’s prerogative to change God’s mind, and our willingness (or lack therof) to go along with God. When God decides a thing, are we “free” to run in a different direction or to disagree with God if we wish?

In regard to Psalm 62, what is it that we really hold onto and where do we place our trust? Whether I am one of the “low estate” or the “high” and mighty — is it God (and God alone) that I trust and listen for?

Our idea of time, and particularly the timing of God, is awfully short-sighted. Paul’s words to the Corinthians sound long-ago and faraway to us; we might well be tempted to say that Paul got it wrong when he told those folks “the time is short.” But, was he? Has not the world, in the form that we know it, pretty much passed away since the days of our childhood? How much has the world changed since the time of Jesus and Paul? What does our faith in the “unchanging” God have to say in the midst of an “everchanging” world? Again, what do we “hold on to” for support and hope?

Mark reports Jesus saying, “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom has come near.” The image is of a pregnant woman who is preparing to give birth — the time is HERE, people! When a child is coming, there is very little you can do to stop it. Just as there is very little that can be done to hurry it up, either. As the old saying goes, “Timing is everything.” In the things of God’s kingdom, nothing could be more true. God’s timing, though; not ours. How do we continue to wait and discern God’s timing in our own lives? What does it mean for us to “leave our nets” and follow Christ today?

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

The world was rocked a few weeks ago by the terrorist attacks in Paris.  We witnessed forty world leaders and throngs of ordinary people walking arm-in-arm to signal solidarity and protest against monstrous evil.  In the streets and on selfie twitters and on Facebook and any other way they could, people loudly proclaimed, “We are Charlie!”  Even the magazine Charlie Hebdo, did it with on the cover with their usual satirical twist, showing Muhammad holding the Charlie sign – under a headline that said “All is forgiven.”  There were marches across Europe and heightened tensions everywhere, softened only by the fact that one of the French policemen killed was a Muslim.

For most of the 21st Century, the west has lived in fear of Islamist fanaticism.  We have fought a long war, calling it a “War on Terror.”  In the last year of so our fear and distrust has become even more focused on the group known to many as ISIS, the Islamist State, a very scary army that is attempting to create a new country from parts of Iraq and Syria. Their basic technique is sheer brutality and intimidation.  They have been particularly rough on the Christians, many of whom trace their roots back almost two thousand years in the area.

Now suppose, in the midst of all this, a voice you were sure was the voice of God were to come to you and say to you, “Get up, go to ISIS, that great state and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.”  Would you not be likely to be like Jonah and take off in the opposite direction?  Jonah’s escape plan reminds me a little bit of that old Steve Martin/John Candy movie, “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.”  I don’t care how, just get me far away from here.  Alas, there is no way to run from God.  As the saying is, “Wherever you go, there you are.”  And God is there with you.

Once Jonah learns that lesson and emerges from the belly of the beast, God comes to him a second time and says, “Okay, are you ready to go where I tell you?”  And Jonah goes, reluctantly, unhappily, unenthusiastically, but he goes. He goes to Nineveh and preaches judgment saying, “Forty days more, and Nineveh will be overthrown!”  Notice, there’s not a wisp of hope in that statement, not a hint of grace, not a whisper of forgiveness.  It is as harsh and cold and final as Jonah could make it.

Can you imagine going into the heart of ISIS country and standing on a street corner and shouting out that message?  I’m sure, you’re sure, we’re all sure, that such a preacher would either be shot or beheaded in a matter of minutes.

And yet this is what God asked Jonah to do and what Jonah, eventually, did.  And the radical surprise is that it worked.  The Ninevites repented, said they were sorry; and God repented, changed his mind about destroying them. Aah – what a Hallmark moment, everybody’s happy.  Well, not everybody.  Jonah’s not happy.  Jonah’s really angry actually.  Jonah is still thinking about all the people the Ninevites killed over the years, all the lives they destroyed, all the damage they did.  This can’t be right!  This can’t be the way this ends!  It’s not fair, it’s just not fair. And Jonah’s right – it’s not fair.  But it is the way God operates – a fact for which we should all be glad; very, very glad indeed.

Jonah is one of those stories in the Bible that is very, very true without being particularly factual.  It is like a Hollywood movie, “based on a true story.”  There was a man named Jonah, you can find him in 2 Kings 14:25.  One small mention, but he appears to have been a very nationalistic prophet, a real “God and Country,” sort of guy.  And the Assyrians had been a very powerful and feared nation headquartered in the city of Nineveh about a 100 years before our text was written.

The author took these slim facts to spin a story that aimed at getting the people of Israel to broaden their understanding of the wideness of God’s mercy.  If God can love and forgive the people of Nineveh, God can love and forgive anybody – including us.  If God can love and forgive the people of ISIS, God can love and forgive anybody – including us.  And if God can love and forgive anybody, so can we.

What if God is calling us?  What if God is calling us to do something we don’t want to do?  What if God is calling us to extend not only God’s mercy but our mercy, not only God’s love but our love, not only God’s forgiveness but our forgiveness, to people we don’t like, people we don’t believe deserve love and forgiveness and mercy?

Here we sit, minding our own business, mending our own nets, being nice and good to those who are nice and good to us, busy about the business creating a friendly, family church – when suddenly we hear this voice saying,  “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe the good news.”

How shall we respond?  Will we repent?  Will we change our minds about what’s important and alter the direction of our lives to follow more closely God’s call?  Will we leave whatever boats and nets represent in our lives and follow after the one who calls us?  Will we go to “Nineveh” and preach God’s love?

Amen and amen.

3 thoughts on “Third Sunday after the Epiphany for Year B (January 25, 2015)

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