A Sermon for the 3rd Sunday in Epiphany: Jonah 3:1-5, 10, Psalm 62:6-14,
1 Corinthians 7:29-31, Mark 1:14-20,
In my computer systems career, I was once the operations manager for JACC, so I got to deal with all the unhappy customers. I dealt with just a few, most were happy. But I will always remember one. They weren’t a bad customer, they just were hard to work with. They were very particular about what the programs would do but were never willing to pay for any changes. They were specific about when and who did routine maintenance, which made it difficult to schedule because there was a staff of one. The day their system would not start. I dispatched our technician. The tech worked through all the prescribed checks with no results. The next diagnostics were more complex, involved removing some parts to have access to others that need testing. The owner got irate, called me to say he was telling our technician to leave. I asked “Who do you expect to come finish the diagnostics and repairs? The reply was, “I don’t care, you!” I told him I was not qualified to do the required testing or reassembling. I’ll never forget the tenor of “I don’t care, I don’t want Anonymous Tech here, you figure it out!” followed by a dial tone. When I went to my owner, I was more than a little put off. I was told “Call and tell Anonymous Tech to leave; you go put the computer back together, as best you can, and bring it back here.” Bringing it back to the office was not like putting a PC in the back seat, the cabinet involved was about the size of a legal size two drawer file cabinet. In the end, the same tech found and fixed the problem in-house, and one of our programmers, who drove a pickup truck, took it back to the customer and connected the terminals and printers. After which nothing changed, I had a high maintenance low producing customer; who was now more difficult to serve; oh, there was one change, now I had an upset tech.
The story is memorable because my owner was right, you do what is necessary to take of your customers. And also, because you never know who will reveal life important lessons. I never dreamed this customer would teach me anything.
Today’s bible readings involve unenthusiastic prophecy, abandoning one’s family and an incorrect prediction. This morning we see that for well more than 2 thousand years we have heard unenthusiastic voices calling to pairs of folks willing to desert their better than average prosperous families to follow the Kingdom which they in silence have been waiting for, that now will be here any day.
Jonah is called to go proclaim to Nineveh, capital of Assyria – the arch enemy of Israel, that God is about to destroy them. Jonah’s knows God’s tendency to forgive so he flees by sailing far away. Or at least trying to until a gigantic storm overwhelms the ship. The sailors cast lots so they can learn whose fault this is. It falls on Jonah. They ask “Why?” He tells them, “I am a Hebrew, I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the sailors are even more afraid, and asked him, “What is this that you have done! What should we do?” (Jonah 1:9-10) Jonah tells them
Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you.” (Jonah 1:12-13)
The sailors still try to save the ship, but they cannot, so they throw Jonah overboard and he is swallowed by a great big fish. In the belly of that fish he has significant time to reflect. Jonah acknowledges that he fled because he cannot trust God’s vision that is different from the faith he was taught that there is no place for mercy for Israel’s opponents. (Epperly). Eventually he comes to his senses and offers a long prayer. A bit later the big fish belches him up on the beach. And, here we are this morning.
It may be surprise to Jonah, it is a surprise to us that God calls Jonah a second time to go tell Nineveh what’s about to happen. This time he does so, albeit reluctantly (Bratt). Jonah’s behavior looks like he submits, but inwardly he continues to resist (Trible). His prophecy is less than inspiring. His unenthusiastic 5-word prophecy (Gaventa and Petersen – Jonah) includes nothing about why Nineveh will be overthrown; and he says nothing about what they should do (Harrelson – Jonah). The word ‘overthrown’ is actually ‘overturned’ and is the same word used to depict the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah Gen 18) (Gaventa and Petersen -Jonah). Jonah is the story of a reluctant, unenthusiastic, prophet of few words, which are shallow in their content.
Jesus is as opposite as you can get from Jonah. Nonetheless there are interesting questions; you wonder about his methodology, his choice of disciples or followers, and his timing. By tradition, teachers wait for followers to choose them. Jesus does not, he calls them. (Keener and Walton – Mark). And I wonder about his choice. They are not from the elite, or educated, or religious authority. Neither are they from the marginalized outcast. Fishing was a major occupation on the Sea of Galilee. Commercial fishing, although not elite, was lucrative and their families were economically better off than many Galileans who lived in peasant servitude (Keener and Walton – Mark; Gaventa and Petersen – Mark) A family business, like Zebedee’s, that employed hired servants would have had a sizeable income. To drop their nets is to abandon their family business, which has dramatic implications for the whole family. (Keener and Walton – Mark) It is pairs of brothers who quit their commitments to follow of Jesus, so the family burdens are doubled. (Perkins) Jesus’ timing also seems to be wrong. He is teaching that the Kingdom has come near. But no, it is not here, it is not fulfilled, it is not crashing in, it is not replacing the grim realities of life (Hoezee). Come to think of it Jesus, is a little bit like Jonah, is a bit content light. Jesus’ call does not tell the disciples where they are going, or what they might expect (Hoezee). Being fishers of people; what does that tell you?
And just what are Simon, Andrew, James, and John waiting for? Sure, the Romans are there complicating life, but even they have to eat, and the lake is a rich resource of food. What crisis, that the psalmist refers to, do they face? Why would they be seeking asylum? (Hannan). What leads them to denounce their faith in the powers and protections of the Temple, the state, the Empire, and their modest wealth? (Gaventa and Petersen – Mark).
And what is Paul thinking? It has been 450 plus years since the last prophetic word was heard; but it has been over 2,000 since God sent Abraham off to seek the land and 1,500 since the beginning of the Exodus (Bible-Hub). In this context 24 years, since Jesus’ resurrection, isn’t a long time at all. Why is Paul so convinced time has been made short (Hart). Why is he so sure it is just before the end of time (Keener and Walton – 1 Corin).
Looking at these stories in their historical and contextual background leaves one baffled. Each story leaves us full of questions. Nothing is what a reader expects. And yet there are life’s curiosities. Just after I left JACC the customer, in my opening story, made the largest purchase in JACC’s history. No one would have ever thought it.
We are so far removed from Jonah’s days and so unused to the presence of a wide variety of gods we miss how Nineveh sees Jonah as the prophet of a foreign god, who has traveled all this way, and is doing them a favor by giving them a warning (Keener and Walton – Jonah). It never occurs to us, as it never occurred to Jonah, that Nineveh hears his warning as an opportunity to repent, and through ritual actions express that they believe the warning (Trible). And so rather than being overthrown, they turn themselves over, they turn around, they repent (Gaventa and Petersen – Jonah).
We know the Gospel so well; the sense of anxiety has faded away. The Gospel story is in a time of crisis. The peoples’ faith, Israel’s faith, is turning more and more away from God, whose robe’s hem is in the Temple, to the exacting regulations of sacrificial tradition, and to the wealth, power, and prestige of the Roman co-opting policies. It is time to turn away from corrupt governance, foreign powers, and the lure of wealth and prosperity (Hoezee). It is time to trust God and God alone. It is time to ponder where is our heart? where is our ultimate loyalty? who do I trust my life, and my family to? where or in whom does security really come from (J. Clinton McCann)?
We are so used to hearing the Gospel story that the mystery has worn away. It is hard to be surprised by an often-read favorite mystery, even if Agatha Christie wrote it. But still, the Gospel is a mystery. We know nothing about why Jesus calls these disciples, or any of the disciples. We know nothing of why they leave their lives and their families. Jesus calling is a mystery. The disciples following is a mystery. How or why the Gospel continues to be found in the gaping holes of life, in the disappointments, in the blows and losses, in the sadness and grief is a mystery (Peters).
We live in a world that follows chronos, the time of the clock. Our clocks are so precise I’m not sure we can really understand its largest or smallest segments. Our sense of chronos defines so much because its structure makes all things digital work, and today all things are digital. That being said, Paul may well have been using kairos, simply put “the right time.” You know the experience of hearing someone say, “It’s time.” For Paul, for the Corinthians, for us ~ it’s time.
- It’s time to let go, so what we cherish can flourish and bear fruit (Epperly).
- It’s time for the divine perspective it’s time to honor and preserve everyone’s and all of creation’s holiness (Sampley)
- it’s time to live life in unhindered devotion to our creator God, through the resurrected Lord, via the ever-present Spirit (Gaventa and Petersen 1 Corin.)
- it’s time to let go of all the standards of this world, even those the church would impose (Gaventa and Petersen – 1 Corin.)
- it’s time to believe, ~ to trust God is making all this right (Mast).
- it’s time to receive that all things are being made anew, and
- it’s time to understand that God refusing to let Nineveh go, is the sign that God will not let us, not let you go.
It’s time to follow Jesus. What is that like? I don’t know everything; I don’t know if I know anything. So, come on and let’s see.
Bible-Hub. New Testamenet Bible Timeline. n.d. 8 12 2017. <http://biblehub.com/timeline/#nt>.
—. Old Testament Bible Timeline. n.d. 8 12 2017. <http://biblehub.com/timeline/#ot>.
Bratt, Doug. Epiphany 3 B – Jonah 3:1-5,. 21 1 2018. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.
Bridgeman, Valerie. Commentary on Jonah 3:1-5, 10. 18 1 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 21 1 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly>.
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.
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- Clinton McCann, Jr. The New Interpreter Bible Commentary The Book of Psalms (NIBC) Job 42:10. Vol. III. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. XII vols. Olivetree App.
Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.
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Mast, Stan. Epiphany 3 B Psalm 62. 21 1 2018. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/>.
Perkins, Pheme. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Mark. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Bel and the Dragon. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.
Peters, David W. “Arrested, Epiphany 3 (B).” 21 1 2018. Sermons that Work. <episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2018/01/02/arrested-epiphany-3-b-january-21-2018/>.
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