Are you ready?

January 24, 2021 - Epiphany 3
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Psalm 62:5-12
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Mark 1:14-20

Are you ready?

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The commentary that I was reading this week on the book of Jonah describes the book as “a tale of what happens when God’s mercy is too much for some, and maybe not enough for others.” No truer words have never been said about this book.  Jonah is unique in that it has very little to do with the prophetic witness Jonah is sent to proclaim.  Actually, we are never even told Ninevah even did.  Either the writer assumes we would already know or that the crime doesn’t really matter.  I tend to believe it is the later of the two. 

The book of Jonah is really about the prophet.  Most books named after other prophets (Isaiah, Samuel, Ezekiel, Joel, Amos, Micah, etc) all deal with a message sent by God.  Rarely do we even learn much about the prophet themselves outside of a short call story like last week and the calling of Samuel.  Jonah is all about the prophet and his aversion to being a prophet.

As a child, I always wondered why Jonah would not want to be a prophet.  It seemed like a cool job.  What I knew about prophets, from my Sunday school classes, is that prophets came and told people that God is upset and if you just say your sorry, everything will be okay.  To me, that doesn’t sound like a bad job.  In fact, that sounds like something we all should do, so why would Jonah not want to do this very normal thing?

But as I got old, I started to learn that being a prophet was not exactly one of the ways to get on one of those Forbes top 100 lists.  Being a prophet means risking your life for the sake of a message from God.  That prophets, often times, get themselves killed for doing the right thing and usually do not receive vindication for many, many years after their death.  It took 20 years after Martin Luther King’s death before his birthday was made a holiday and at the time of its conception, faced many questions as to why we needed a day to honor King’s legacy.  Prophets are rarely liked because their job is to speak the truth. 

Last week, we heard the story of Samuel and his calling to be a prophet.  He was sent by God to tell Eli that his family, for generations to come, would be punished for his sons’ misdeeds.  I can’t imagine, as a pastor, showing up to someone’s home and telling them that they really, really messed up and they would die knowing that redemption would not come for generations.  A prophet’s job is not easy and Jonah knew this.  So he ran.  

He ran until he reached the sea.  Knowing that it wasn’t far enough, he jumped on to a boat in the vain hope that God would not find.  Yet, God did.  Jonah realized that he was putting everyone’s life endanger when a large storm had erupted around them.  He tells the crew to throw him into the sea, probably in hopes that he would drown and die before God had a chance to use him as a prophet.  But God had other plans.  Instead, he spent 3 days in the belly of a fish.  It almost sounds like a comedy story.  Jonah would rather die than go be prophet.  God changes his mind by having a large fish swallow him up and he has to stay in this fish’s belly for three days.  I only hope he took a shower before he got to Nineveh. But as we know, a lot can happen in three days.  People who have been dead for three days can be brought back to life.  In this case, the heart of Jonah was changed and he goes to Ninevah.  

Jonah cried out, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ A simple, rather poient message.  Pretty clear and easy to understand. Now Nineveh, according to the book, has 120,000 people living in it.  To put that into perspective, Martinsburg has 17,475 and Berkeley County has 119,171.  We are talking about a large city for the time—a booming metropolis.  In a sea of so many voices and people, Jonah somehow breaks through all the noise and gets heard.  The people “proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.” The author of Jonah tells us “When 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.” No wonder Jonah was chosen by God.  He is really good at this whole prophet thing.  I wish I had that kind of success rate.  120,000 people listened to Jonah and changed their ways.  I would be thrilled.  Most of us would be thrilled.  Jonah…not so much.

He leaves Ninevah, finds a place to pray, and lets loose on God.  “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’”  Jonah leaves in a huff, goes outside the city and waits for its destruction, which sounds normal for a three year old and not a 40 year old.  None-the-less, God takes pity on him and gives him some shade.  A bush grows up and Jonah enjoys the little bit of respite from the sun, but he is still angry.  I imagine him dressed like Bernie Sanders with mittens, sitting in under this bush saying, “This could have been done by an email.”  Jonah has some strange expectations.  He expected his job to be filled with difficulty and opposition.  It is exactly why he got onto that boat—he didn’t want that path in his life.  He wanted to be different.  He wanted to be someone else.  When he finally does relent, he goes into the job expecting to see God blow Ninevah up with the kind of fire power of a modern day warship.  He wants to see the people who opposed him suffer their fate.  He never imagined that people might actually listen to him.  Jonah expects one thing and gets something completely different in return.  Depending on your view of things, Jonah’s expectations are either crushed or they are exceeded. 

Fast forward a thousand years and you find Simon, Andrew, James and John all doing their normal, every day life of fishing. James and John are sitting in a boat with their father.  Their expectation was to work and take care of their family.  And along comes this man named Jesus who says, “Follow me.” They all leave their nets and follow Jesus.  James and John even leave their father behind on the boat because they were promised something more.  They seem to go without any hesitation unlike Jonah who fought going every step of the way.  They must have had some kind of expectation that the life promised by Jesus was going to be better than the one they were currently living at this moment.  And I have to wonder, did their expectations get met?  Were they disappointed?  Did they expect Jesus to be a revolutionary leader who would take down Rome?  Did they expect that Jesus was actually the Messiah, the savior of the world?  Could they ever have expected that on that day, many years ago, along the sea of Galilee, that they would leave their life of fishing behind and become evangelists of the good news of Jesus Christ?  

What are your expectations as a follower of Jesus?  Do you expect to find a entertainment here for hour each week?  A feel good message?  The pastor to be a motivational speaker? Do you expect the church to take political stands? Do you expect the church to function as a social justice organization? Do you seek spiritual care and nourishment?  Do you seek comfort?  Family?  Hope?  I want you think about your exceptions and ask yourself, “Are you ready for them to be dashed?”  As you ready to see that Jesus is more than anything we could ever expect?  Are you ready to see that God choose you for a reason? “The purpose of Jesus’ call to discipleship is not to take people out of a hostile world, promising them a better life in God’s heavenly kingdom. Instead, his purpose is to change the world in such a way that it will cease to be the hostile place it is, so that God’s reign can be established on earth.”  And God brought about God’s reign into the world not with clubs and swords, but through reaching out to the poor, the oppressed, the last, and lost.  He reached out to women, Samaritans, and those possessed by demons.  For so many of us, we expect discipleship to filled with fun times, Bible studies and community service projects.  The reality to remember is that Jesus pushes away all our romanticized expectation and does the work of the of gospel, which is often messy, difficult, and at times deadly.  

As a church, as disciples of Christ, I think this is a great time to reflect on our exceptions of discipleship and make sure that they are actually steeped in Jesus and not our own selfish desires.  Because for some, discipleship and just a tool to get ahead in the world, but we know it is more than a resume builder.  Discipleship is a way of life and I pray that we, as the body of Christ, are as ready as Simon, Andrew, James, and John, and evening Jonah were ready to find out and experience the the life of following a man named Jesus from Nazareth.  

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  


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