Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20
Epiphany 3B – January 25, 2014
Homily preached by The Rev. Canon Linda S. Taylor
Last night, we had our first Saturday Evening Family Service. There may have been other ones at some time in the past—I don’t know—but this was the first one lately, and it was just terrific. Susie was the one who called this into being, and there were 19 of us—plus Jerry who was stuck in the kitchen—eight children and 11 adults—total of 12, so that’s just about the right ratio, you know. And it was wonderful. We had a great time. We did the liturgy of the word downstairs, in the Learning Center. So while the kids were learning about this gospel—today’s gospel—through all the things that Susie had created for them to deal with: they made fishes, they made all kinds of things. They fished for fishes, and they fished for fishes some more—they did a lot of fishing for fishes. They had a great time. While they were doing that, the adults and I sat and did our own bible study. In our bible study, the words that kept attracting people were “immediately” and “left” and “follow”. We talked about what it would be like to just drop tools right now and walk away. What it would be like to leave people—what it would be like to be left—what it would be like—what made people just follow—right there in that minute. We talked about all of that, and then we came up here and we did Holy Communion together. And then everybody else had dinner, but I didn’t have the sermon yet, so I went home. On the way, I was reflecting about our bible study in particular, and I noticed that we talked about all these transitional things, but we never said the word “change”.
We don’t really like to talk about change. It’s not a good word for most of us—unless we’re generating the change. Have you noticed that? I used to work with someone—she would say, “I just love change—I love it!” it quickly became apparent that she loved change as long as she was driving it. When somebody else had a change in mind—not so much! Not so much. But that’s what happens when we’re called. Change happens. We’re called to something or from something. We’re never—hardly ever—get a new call to the same place. Have you noticed that? It doesn’t happen.
So, I got to thinking about Fe—the Filipina nun I told you about two weeks ago—and her story and wondering about what her experience was, because we resist that change—we resist those calls that take us out of the place where we’re comfortable. I can imagine that when she took her vows to be in that convent in Manila, that she imagined that was it—that she had made the choice—there were no more choices to be made. And then came the coup d’etat that overthrew Marcos, and she felt herself called to go out into the streets. Tiny, shy, quiet Fe found herself called into the streets and found herself teaching nonviolent resistance to the people that she found there. And I wondered what that was like for her to answer that particular call. We generally don’t want to do something that we don’t feel comfortable doing or competent to do. We just don’t—we don’t want to go there.
And now we’ve got Jonah. He certainly didn’t want to go there. We came into today’s story into the middle of his story. It begins with the second time he is called. The first time he was called, as soon as he heard God calling him to go to Ninevah, he said “No way,” because he hated the Assyrians. Ninevah was the capital of Assyria, and there’s always a back-story. You know, we all have a back-story. His was that he was the counsellor—the prophet or counsellor—the person who was hanging out with King Jereboam II during the Assyrian and Israeli conflict. So, when God told him, go to Ninevah and tell them “Forty days more and this shall be overthrown,” he thought, “That’s good!” Why would I want to tell them? Why would I want to warn them to repent? He’d just as soon see them wiped off the face of the earth. So, he jumped in a ship headed for Tarshish. They were out in the water, and a storm came up, and the sailors looked around and saw that only one thing had changed: Jonah was on the ship. They said, “We think you need to leave,” and he said, “I understand. You know, I didn’t want to be here to begin with, but God sent me, and I said no, so I need to go someplace else.” They agreed with that, so they threw him overboard. As soon as he was overboard, the storm stopped, and so that whole boatload of folks was converted to believe in the power of God. Meanwhile, the big fish comes along and gives Jonah a nice time-out so he can think about exactly what’s been going on. The fish throws him up on the shore, close to Ninevah, and today’s story begins there.
God calls him again and says, “Go to Ninevah, and tell them forty days more and this shall be overthrown. “ So he goes, but he doesn’t go all the way in. He just goes a little way in, because he does not want these people to repent. He wants God to just take them out. But he says—once—there’s no story-telling, no preaching, no nothing—just “Forty days more and all this shall be overthrown.” And the king gets wind of it and leads the whole nation in repentance. God sees this and says, “This is good. I’m leaving y’all alone.” And Jonah’s really not happy. He is really ticked off. He’s sitting under a tree, kind of sucking his thumb, because he’s angry—he’s angry.
There’s a little Jonah in all of us. OK, me, anyway. I don’t know about you. I was away from church for about twenty years, except for rare weddings and funerals. When I went into church one morning about twenty-five years ago, I felt a call, and I was having none of it, because I knew that if I decided to follow Jesus, my life was going to change, and I did not want my life to change. I mean, there were some things about it that I wanted to change, but basically I liked my life. And God kept kind of neenering at me. You know, that neener-neener-neener thing that goes on, and it took a while, and I finally realized that this was a call I had to listen to. Later on, other things happened, and Thursday I celebrated my fifteenth year of ordination. So, things happen. Fe made a difference. Jonah made a difference. He didn’t want to but he did. And I think I’ve made a difference in these years. And I’m generally kind of glad that I decided to go with God.
But it’s hard to know—it’s hard to know what we’re really called to do, and scripture doesn’t really give us a lot of help with discerning. You may have noticed that. You know, there’s the poke-your-finger into an unseen page thing and that will tell you. Well, that’s not good. I’m here to tell you—that’s not good. We can look at the stories—maybe we can learn—but they’re not very helpful when it comes to those decisions that we have to make—those choices that we have to make—because those choices keep coming toward us. If we’re trying to live into our baptismal covenant, we’ve got those promises that we’ve made, and there are times when it is heart-wrenching—in this culture and in our lives—to live into those promises: to put our whole faith and trust in Jesus’ grace and love, to proclaim the good news by word and example, to seek and serve Christ in the faces we meet every day—all of those faces, not just a couple of them—and to respect all human beings. There are days when that’s really hard. Most days, I think.
And how do we know what we’re called to do? How do we know in that moment when we’re face-to-face with the decision—how do we know what we’re called to do?
Well, there is a way to prepare for that.
First, we pray. Not just in that moment—although in that moment that amp might be up a bit. We pray. We develop a pattern of prayer like the one that held Fe so that she could hear. A practice of prayer—a practice of being in relationship with God—of being in conversation with God: we speak, we listen, we speak, we listen. And then we wait, and we wait in the company of people whom we can trust to guide us—to listen with us—to help us know what the path ahead is supposed to look like. And then we listen. We listen in the silence like Andrew and Simon and John and James listened in the silence of the sea. We listen—we listen—we listen, and it’s then that we can hear Jesus calling us. We can hear the path we’re supposed to take, and we can trust that voice because we’re prepared to listen to it. And then we can trust that whatever that decision is—whatever we’re called to do—that the God who loves us and calls us by name will be there with us, every step of the way.
Thanks be to God.