A sermon for Epiphany 3
Jonah 3:15, 10, Psalm 62: 6-14, 1 Corinthians 7: 29-31, Mark 1:1420
Nineveh is the capital city of Assyria, and in times past Assyria had conquered and harshly oppressed Israel under Tiglath-pileser, Shalmaneser V, Sargon, and Sennacherib. (Holman Bible Dictionary) The story is told in 2nd Kings, 2nd Chronicles and throughout Isaiah. So when Jonah is told to go there, we can understand why he runs away. For him Nineveh is unclean a place to be avoided at all cost. More over there is no place for Israel’s enemies in God’s presence. (Epperly) In that adventure he learns depth of Psalm 139 “If I go to the highest mountain, you are there. If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I go to Joppa, you are there. If I set out to sea, you are there. Where can I go to escape my God!?” (Hoezee, Jonah) He learns you can’t.
This morning we hear round 2. (Hoezee, Jonah) Jonah goes to Nineveh, as instructed. And he prophesies; sort of. I mean five words “In forty days Nineveh overthrown” (Schifferdecker) without naming God, without saying why, without saying what to do; it’s an uninspiring prophecy 101 yada, yada, yada effort.
It’s almost as if he is afraid of success. (Hoezee, Jonah) And perhaps he should have been, ‘cause exactly what he thought would happen did happen. Nineveh repented, in a big way, and God changed God’s mind and that isn’t supposed to happen; at least not for non-Israelites. It’s all a rather strange reaction to the only really successful prophecy in the whole bible. (Schifferdecker)
Jonah’s story stands in stark contrast to Simon, Andrew, James and John. On separate occasions Jesus sees them going about their usual and customary daily routine. He calls for them to follow him and both pairs do; immediately. All four leave their vocation – fishing. James and John also leave a family obligation. (Hegedus) These biblical vignettes are as different as they can be. And yet, there are remarkable similarities.
Both stories are about being called by God or Jesus. Both callings are about good news. Jonah, albeit in a strange way, pronounces God’s calling to repentance. Jesus is going around literally proclaiming the good news, announcing it’s time to “repent and believe.” Both stories reveal God’s universal love; you know about Nineveh, and Galilee isn’t much better, it’s not the best city, town, village or neighborhood, and it’s in the rather unclean (Hoezee, Mark) northern territory, whereas Jerusalem, home of the Temple, is in the true Kingdom, to the south. (Rogness) God is present in unclean Nineveh God is present in tainted Galilee.
In neither story does the divine call come to those who are prepared, or willing. Jonah is unwilling yet his imperfect, halfhearted, distracted, all of five word prophecy is powerfully effective, not because of Jonah, but because God uses him, as God uses everyone: flaws and all. It turn out it’s not about us, it’s about God. (Hoezee, Jonah)
Simon, Andrew, James and John are ordinary folk, whom Jesus calls to use fishing like skills, to cast the story, and draw people toward God, through Jesus. (Hoezee, Mark) Both stories are full of uncertainty. Jonah isn’t certain what will happen to him; how often can you blow God off? The disciples give no indication they have any clue as to what’s up. Following God’s call is always an uncertainty. (Rogness) There is no doubt answering a divine call pulls you out of your comfort zone. (Epperly) Finally both stories reveal the timelessness of God. In Jonah it’s implicit; however, in Mark the verbs ‘fulfilled’ and ‘has come near’ indicate an action that began in the past and is continuing into the present. (Harrelson) God’s love begins with creation and continues to Nineveh, the disciples, and to you, and will continue, forever.
It turns out, ready or not, willing or not we are all called into service in Jesus’ ministry proclaiming “The Kingdom of God is near.” In truth we’ll discover we do this in specific local ways, not some grand cosmic scheme. Our response may be teaching, or volunteer activity, or tending to a family member, or any relationship where we serve the other. (Lose) In a very real way it’s how we participate in fulfilling what we so frequently pray “thy will be done on earth ~ as it is in heaven.” You are use to hearing me say “Proclaiming the Kingdom of God right here, right now.”
After we share in Eucharist, we will recess to the parish hall where we will see where we’ve been, and where we might go.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 25 1 2015. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly>.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Hegedus, Rev. Dr. Frank. Sermons that Work. 25 1 2015.
Hoezee, Scott. Old Testament Lectionary Text is: Jonah 3:1-5, 10. 25 1 2015. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php>.
—. “The Lectionary Gospel Text is: Mark 1:14-20.” 25 1 2015. Center for Excellence in Preaching.
“Holman Bible Dictionary.” WORD – QuickVerse, n.d.
Lose, David. Epiphany 3 B: Following Jesus Today. 25 1 2015. <davidlose.net>.
Rogness, Michael. Commentary on Mark 1:1420. 25 1 2015.
Schifferdecker, Kathryn. “Working Preacher.” 25 1 2015. Commentary on Jonah 3:15,.