First Reading: Jonah 3:1-5, 10
1The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, 2“Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” 3So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. 4Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.
10When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
Psalm: Psalm 62:5-12
5For God alone I wait in silence;
truly, my hope is in God.
6God alone is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold, so that I shall never be shaken.
7In God is my deliverance and my honor;
God is my strong rock and my refuge.
8Put your trust in God always, O people,
pour out your hearts before the one who is our refuge.
9Those of high degree are but a fleeting breath; those of low estate cannot be trusted.
Placed on the scales together they weigh even less than a breath.
10Put no trust in extortion; in robbery take no empty pride;
though wealth increase, set not your heart upon it.
11God has spoken once, twice have I heard it,
that power belongs to God.
12Steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord,
for you repay all according to their deeds.
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 7:29-31
29Brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, 30and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, 31and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. The present form of this world is passing away.
Gospel: Mark 1:14-20
14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
16As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
Our Old Testament lesson for today comes from the book of Jonah.
- Who was Jonah, a king or a prophet? Jonah was prophet in the Northern Kingdom that is around the Sea of Galilee, the area where Jesus grew up.
- What was Jonah’s message? God sent Jonah to Nineveh, modern day Iraq, outside Mosul, with a call to repentance or else.
- Did Jonah obey? No. Jonah did not go north but went to the ocean and climbed on a boat to Tarsus, Paul’s hometown. Does God give second chances today?
- God sent a storm and Jonah confessed it was his fault. “Throw me overboard.” God sent a fish that swallowed Jonah. Jonah prayed and the fish spit Jonah up on the shore and then Jonah went to Nineveh and preached.
- The people repented. God relented. Jonah pouted. Was Jonah happy? NO. God grew a vine that shaded Jonah as he pouted and Jonah was comforted. God sent a worm that ate through the vine. Jonah is now truly upset with God.
- God shares his concern for the lost – people and animals whom he created.
Let us pray: Lord may the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be pleasing to you as we gather today.
Jonah is quite a story. Usually we eat fish, fish don’t eat us. God gives Jonah a second chance. Does God give second chances today? Seldom do we see revivals and people repenting and fearful of God’s wrath today. Would God truly punish ignorant people and animals? We preach the love of God, not judgment. Worms that eat plants in a night are rare. God changing his mind, relenting of his intention to punish, is contrary to our faith in a God who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Jonah challenges our concept of God. Our reading today challenges us also.
The Gospel of Mark is known as an action gospel. He keeps the story rolling. I was struck by the connecting time words. “Now,” “immediately,” and “immediately” again. Mark seems to be connecting “call” with stories that are uncomfortable to hear today and challenge our Santa Clause idea of God, ready to make our life work – “Try him, you’ll like it.” As we see Jonah wrestle with God in the Old Testament reading, we will wrestle with God this morning.
NOW. John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, has a popular ministry leading masses of people to repentance and baptism. Surely he is doing God’s will and deserving of God’s protection and blessing. But what we hear today and is confirmed in other gospels is that John was arrested. He was beheaded because of a drunken party to please a sexy young dancing stepdaughter. UNFAIR! The call to ministry is not a call to success and happiness and often is in the context of unjust social systems. Half of the United States is excited about our new President and half is outraged. Many want the vaccine but are going to have to wait and poor countries may not even be able to buy. The West again has the money and resources. For many this is a source of irritation. Some people pray and receive a miracle and others pray and die. Like Jonah, it is easy to affirm that we know God is compassionate and loving but we are also very angry when what we perceive is evil seems to be prospering.
In the midst of the “now”, in the midst of political whims, Jesus returns to Galilee, his home area, and starts his public ministry. Jesus picks up where John must let go. Call is for faithfulness in the now and we do not need to hold ourselves responsible for the whole story. Many of us know the grief of raising a child as best we know but then that child so beloved to us makes choices that hurt. John the Baptist, from prison, sends his disciples to ask Jesus if Jesus is truly the promised Messiah. Like John, we question ourselves. Many of us enter jobs or marriages and as much as we want them to last forever, life changes and we must let go. We must allow Jesus to step in and carry on. We are called for now and here where we are. Our candidate may not have won; our loved one may have succumbed to Covid but that does not mean God is inactive.
Interestingly Jesus preaches that “”the time has come, the kingdom is near, repent and believe. Ouch. That is hard for our ears to hear today. The word, “repent” brings visions of those other emotional ones, the leapers and jumpers, the old-time revivalist. Amazingly, the Ninevites fasted, prayed and repented. Call clarifies for us who we want to please and serve, self and world or God. When I was a child I thought like a child but when God calls and I understand his will, am I willing to believe his way is best? Am I willing to call for repentance or offer forgiveness? Am I willing to turn the other cheek? Am I willing to share of my resources? Call is not always easy and may end in prison and Call leads to a confrontation with our lifestyle and beliefs. Lord, HELP!
IMMEDIATELY. Jonah runs to the Mediterranean Sea to get away from God’s Call but Jesus goes to the sea, to the Sea of Galilee, his home territory, to start calling disciples. Mark tells us about the call of Simon, who later becomes known as Peter, and his brother Andrew. They were fishermen who Jesus calls to be “fishers of men.” I do not think this necessarily means we are all called to be evangelists but Jesus calls us where we are and invites us to a broader understanding of our vocation – now. Fishermen become fishers of men. Nurses become healers of people, not just disease. Teachers become mentors of students and not just imparters of knowledge. Our vocation becomes an avenue to share the good news of the nearness of the kingdom.
Perhaps it goes without needing to be said that immediately places a “now” on ministry. If I wait until I think I am ready, I may never do anything. If I wait until I think I am competent, I will be tempted to focus on my limitations. Simon and Andrew were not theologically trained, but ordinary people like you and me. Perhaps we are “retired” but that does not mean we cannot share good news. Perhaps we are young but that does not mean we are incompetent. Jesus called people where they were and broadened the intention of vocation. “Immediately” calls us back to now and calls me to reflect if I am just doing tasks or am I allowing the Holy Spirit to call me to a broader perspective. This “immediately” does not allow me to whine about being old, being poor, being uneducated, being isolated, or not being responsible. I cannot look to the government or social security or the doctor to be responsible for my vision for life. Jesus calls us now to “follow” him.
Call is not to success but to faithfulness – now. Call is not to task but to service – now. The next “IMMEDIATELY” tells me I am called to awareness of a broader family, the family of the kingdom of God. James and John left their nets with their father and followed Jesus “immediately.” Ouch. As a young –ger person headed to the mission field with my husband and the first grandchild, I remember hearing my parents share, “I know my daughter is called to be a missionary but I am not sure I am called to be a missionary parent!” I now understand better the tension in this call. Perhaps there were other brothers to help the father of James and John. Perhaps the fishing business was prosperous and the father could hire other helpers. We don’t know. James and John did not wait for all the details to be worked out but trusted and followed. James and John moved from their nuclear family, biologically connected, to a broader definition of family, spiritually connected. That is not an easy transition.
Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh. The stereotype of these people was horrible. In Kenya, one tribe would never give a daughter to another tribe because they… fill in the blank – eat fish, don’t circumcise their men, or whatever. In Minneapolis there could be a Norwegian Lutheran church on one corner, a Swedish Lutheran on another and an English Lutheran on the third. We know the challenge of crossing imaginary lines in the sand. We have a new President since last Sunday and it will be a challenge for half the country to follow his call to unity. Trust has been broken. Because of our faith in Christ, we find ourselves in a similar challenge with people that we are uncomfortable with. Oh my. God help us!
In the New Testament reading for today, Paul reminds the Corinthians, “The present form of this world is passing away,” and so they are to hold onto relationships loosely. Friends, spouses, children are gifts for a time but our trust must be with God, not with them. I read once that “leave father and mother” is not a call to leave in the lurch, to leave unloved and uncared for but is a call to value God and to realize his love calls us to a bigger family. The Jesus, who called, healed Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever when he visited. The Jesus, who called, had time for the woman bleeding as he went to heal Jairus’ daughter. The Jesus, who called, welcomed the little children, the blind, and the lepers. He cared about people, families and our relationships. He can care for our loved ones. Call is a call to trust him with that which we hold close to our hearts – now. Trust is not something that happens tomorrow, that is earned. Trust is what we do when we cannot see how things will work out. God relented of his anger with the Ninivites but that did not change Jonah’s need to preach. James and John’s father may struggle with the family business but that did not stop their response. The new President may not be the one we would have liked but that does not remove from us the responsibility to be Christians now nor does it erase God’s hand in the events.
Call is not to success but to faithfulness – now. Call is to a vision of service to others and not just to a list of tasks for the day. Call is a step into an unknown future trusting God to work it out and trusting God to care for those we care for. We do not know what tomorrow will bring but we know who is with us now and tomorrow. The book of Jonah ends with God asking Jonah a question, “And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?” God is concerned about all parties in the election, all struggling with covid, and all the economic challenges…and the animals in the environment. “He’s got the whole world is in His hands, you and me brother, you and me sister, and the itty, bitty babies.” Amen!