Text: Jonah 3:1; Mark 1: 17, 18
Whenever we get to eat at a nearby diner where we sit at the counter, the winter time question we ask of one of the regulars is, “How’s fishing?”
His sport is ice fishing on the frozen Lake Ontelaunee reservoir that supplies the water for the city of Reading.
His most recent answer was, “Great! The ice was 8 inches think and I caught a 24-inch Pickerel. An amazing catch! “
For Jonah, it wasn’t he who caught a fish, but a whale-of-a-size fish that caught him. But Jonah’s caustic hatred for the city of Nineveh where God ordered him to go, brought on an attack of acid re-flux that caused the fish to regurgitate Jonah onto the shore. The big fish couldn’t stomach him!
Rev. Dr. William Carl III, who until he retired last year, was President of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, gave a sermon that was a quick lesson on the geography and history Jonah would have known about Nineveh
on the east bank of the Tigris River in Assyria.
“The Assyrians were not too popular in Israel because in the eighth and seventh centuries B.C., they plundered Palestine looting and burning its cities and deporting its inhabitants. In 722-721 B.C., the Northern Kingdom of Israel passed out of existence as a result of Assyrian conquest. In other words, to the hearers of the Jonah story, Nineveh was anathema, the object of intense hostility. For perspective, imagine an African-American being asked to go preach to the Ku Klux Klan.” (And we might add: “Go to an ISIS-held village and preach about Jesus!”)
‘Go to Nineveh,’ says God. And Jonah says, ‘Anywhere, Lord, anywhere but Nineveh.’ So, Jonah stands on the dock with tickets for Tarshish.” (Adapted, Day1, “Tickets for Tarshish,” November 9, 2008)
Even nature reacted to Jonah’s hatred for the people of Nineveh.
A violent storm, threatened the life of all onboard the boat bound for Tarshish, so violent that it forced Jonah to confess, he was the cause, and demanded the sailors toss him into the sea.
The storm ended, the sailors offered a sacrifice to Jonah’s God, and God provided a fish to pick up Jonah.
Today, pause and see the real Jonah and not the lead figure, along with the fish, played by children in Bible School and Sunday School, where it is turned into songs and handcraft.
See Jonah as a supreme model for the human capacity to hate; see hatred we can trace back to the holocaust, the KKK, ISIS atrocities, Hatred that is like acid that eats away at us and everyone one around us, like the caustic resentment that brought on the acid re-flux that caused the fish to belch up Jonah.
When Jonah gave in and went to preach of God’s impending doom, the Ninevites repented, from the least to the king, and all the animals, Everyone fasted and put on sackcloth and ashes, and cried to God, confessing and vowing to turn away from their evil ways and their violence; and God changed his mind and spared them.
But their repentance and God’s pardon had no effect on Jonah. He went and sat under a sheltering bush, and looked down on the city, still expecting some calamity to happen. His unremitting hatred was even too much for nature, a worm nibbled away at the bush and then the burning sun consumed Jonah’s comfortable shelter,
only to cause him to become angrier, enough to let his anger kill him.
God had had it by then and chided him for worrying about a short-lived bush, while feeling nothing for “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.”
Feel the heat of Jonah’s acidic and fiery anger which is still lingering among us today, and ask,
“What does it take to leave the company of Jonah?”
Hold on to that question as we move on to today’s Gospel, where, in a picturesque scene a village of families
were going about their business of commercial fishing on the Sea of Galilee…
until Jesus called out to two fishermen brothers, Simon and Andrew, who were casting their nets into the sea, and later, to two more brothers, James and John, who were mending their nets while in the boat,
“Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”
It’s a “fish story” that, like Jonah, has them hearing God-in-Christ, but responding, as the Gospel tells the story:
Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
into their Nineveh and all the other places they would go with Jesus, on to His cross and His empty tomb.
And, in following Him, they left the company of Jonah as they let Jesus first catch them, which has us asking,
“Have I let myself be caught in that net, and am I making it my ministry to cast that net today?”
Melissa Bane Sevier raises the question,
“But what about those who were left behind? What about Zebedee and the hired workers? What about all the others who heard Jesus but weren’t called to this life on the road?
Do we hear Jesus’ “Follow me” as His call to serve God …where we are?
And when asking,
“But is it worth it?” “What can we do from home?”
Do we see who is being gathered in the cast net of Jesus’ forgiveness and love and compassion?’
Melissa Bane Sevier names the “fish net” catch of – “the outcast, the sick, the poor among us, our friends and family and among strangers, as we allow our own faith and assumptions to be upended by new ideas and new experiences, as we tread lightly on the earth.”
Melissa asks, “Can we do all this from home? You bet.
But we do it best when we allow ourselves to journey with Jesus, even if we don’t leave town.”
When our family moved to a Philadelphia suburb, we attended a a church where I was caught up in enthusiastically singing the Gospel song:
“I’ll go where you want we to go, dear Lord,
Over mountain or plain or sea;
I’ll say what you want me to say, dear Lord;
I’ll be what you want me to be.”
And I determined my answer to Jesus’ “Follow me!” would mean getting the education to quality to go as a medical missionary to India.
But in the last year at Ursinus, with an acceptance at med school in hand, I began to have what St. John of the Cross called “a dark night of the soul,” and in that agonizing time confessed that I had not let God into my plans.
It was then that I learned there was another version to that Gospel song:
“I’ll stay where you want me to stay, dear Lord.”
and following Jesus took a turn that has not had me going “over mountain or plain or sea,” but staying at-home, casting the net woven by Jesus,
And when asked, “Is it worth it?” lift up the Apostle Paul’s words as the answer,
“I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
and pray the words of another Gospel song:
Living for Jesus a life that is true,
Striving to please Him in all that I do;
Yielding allegiance, glad-hearted and free,
This is the pathway of blessing for me.
I own no other Master,
My heart shall be Thy throne,
My life I give, henceforth to live,
O Christ, for Thee alone. (Thomas O. Chisholm)
The song to sing as each of us answers Jesus’ call, “Follow me!”
casting the net of His life, “journey with Jesus even if we don’t leave home and town.”
Text: I Samuel 3:7-10; John 1:45-46
The darkness and coldness of winter prepare us to hear two stories, that complement the season’s mood of lost-ness and isolation.
The first story has us reading ourselves into a nighttime scene in the Hebrew’s Temple in Jerusalem,
where Samuel, a student in training under the aged high priest Eli, is described as not yet knowing the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.
In some dark place a teenager may be today’s Samuel, literally “in the dark” as to what to make of his or her life, not knowing how to bear the weight of a parent’s expectations, with the undertone being, "We' are paying all this money, and what are we getting in return? - plus the gloom of the dismal predictions of future.
Someone, maybe someone here, is like Samuel, who was in training under Eli to be God’s servant in a future filled with political unrest, vicious competition for power, the end of the rule of the judges and the beginning of the reign of a king, with the first being the mentally unstable, Saul.
Someone, like Samuel, may be in need of guidance and counsel. For Samuel it came from aged Eli, chief priest of the Temple. For today’s Samuels who might that Eli be? Hopefully a parent or grandparent working hard at living out the vows of Baptism; hopefully, a Church School teacher, volunteers in the church, members in the choirs, ASP team leaders, the Pastor, and everyone who is described in a story told about Francis of Assisi, namesake for today’s Pope.
One of the young brothers in his order was eager to travel with him, to hear his sermons, and learn from him how to preach to the people. But Francis didn’t give a single sermon, and on the way home the brother expressed his disappointment, and he was told the “preaching” was through their actions, not their words.
Soren Kierkegaard, the ninetieth century feisty Danish pastor and philosopher liked to ask if people saw us walking down the street would they get the idea that we are followers of Jesus?
The question that has us asking, “Who might be the young Samuel in need of Eli’s counsel?”
And “Who among us, the aged, are the Eli, who have the faith experience, the spiritual maturity, the perception to give counsel like Eli gave to Samuel, Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’”
So that, with that mentoring counsel, a teen will give that response, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”?
A critical question to raise in these times of age-labeling, with one generation isolated from the other, is:
“Do today’s “Samuels” see today’s “Elis” as the ones who breaks through that barrier, an older generation to whom the younger can turn?”
Might the scene in the temple, the counsel of Eli and the response of Samuel, be a call to that ministry today?
And the second scene follows, from in the temple to under a fig tree which is about fifteen feet tall with branches spreading out about 25 feet, like an umbrella, creating a space that is almost like a personal chapel, a space to get away from a crowded house, and a crowd of people, to read Scripture, to reflect, to pray.
But also, a place to sit, as Peter Woods, a blogging Methodist minister from South Africa, (posted January 9, 2012) reminds us, that what we may have in common with that under-the-fig tree Nathaniel, is like him, we may be sitting in the comfort of the shadowed security of his prejudiced opinions and updating his “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” with our present-day bigotries, our narrow, set in concrete convictions.
Like him, might we be searching for a religious faith that gives us the Scriptural quotes to isolate ourselves from the world beyond a church’s doors? The world where Jesus was and is!
Might we need to be convinced to get up and follow Jesus – as Nathaniel did, and like him, let Jesus pull us out of a prejudiced practice of faith?
Might we need to be convinced to get up and “Follow?”- as a disciple whose name will be etched in history, perhaps like his, who Peter Woods reminds us his only mention “after his meeting with Jesus under the fig tree, is on the shore of the Sea of Galilee” where he is named as being in the after-Easter company of the other disciples.
His claim to being numbered with the others is that he abandoned his religious and racial prejudices,
convinced by Jesus’ call, “Follow me.”
I think of the sub-title under the date on today’s bulletin “Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday.”
How timely that is! The timeliness of the need for Christians to be convinced to follow Jesus, Who in being followed, will get us to our feet, knowing as Dr. King preached:
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
The love of God shining through Jesus.
And Dr. King;s words:
Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'
The question that carries the echo of Jesus’ words, “I have not come to be served but to serve.” And, turning to His disciples said, as He washed their feet.” “I have set you an example.”
How timely today’s Gospel is! The timeliness expressed in Arthur King’s poem:
You and me under spreading trees,
or peering at the sky through windows;
you and me at our office desks,
fingering the plastic of keyboards;
you and me in our living-rooms,
or sitting at our kitchen tables;
you and me, so yearning for hope,
so longing for meaning, truth, or joy –
may we become aware of the One
who is searching for us;
awake to the One who knows and calls our names
longing for us to listen:
the God of promise and of invitation.
Longing for us to follow Eli’s counsel and say,
‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’
Longing for us to be convinced to yield to Philip’s urging,
“Come and see.” Amen.
Text: Genesis 1: 1-3; Acts 19: 4-5; Mark 1:9-11
Gather ‘round the font and let Scripture’s words make this (point to the font) “The Memory Bowl”
that has us remembering three symbols waiting to be turned into three resolutions to carry into and keep in 2018.
The first symbol is a STAR traced back to an unnamed Hebrew poet:
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.
“The Memory Bowl” where we remember the Creator’s Voice swept over “the face of the waters” and chaos and darkness were dispelled with a piercing light,
which, millenniums later, took the shape of a spectacular STAR,
calling scholars from the East to travel in search of a new world leader,and finding that Light to be the ongoing evidence of a Creator Who keeps on creating.
The STAR – calls us to make our first New Year’s resolution:
To believe God has not abandoned us, that God is forever working to bring order out of chaos and dispel darkness – with a piercing light breaking into our world and ourselves.
A resolution which has us confessing:
“I believe in God, the Creator, of the heavens and the earth,”
which the United Church of Christ in its founding, echoed in the words:
“We believe in God, the Eternal Spirit, who called worlds into being…”
Our first resolution:
To live believing that is Who God still is, and so we will awaken to each new day to resolve to live in that faith.
“The Memory Bowl” which on this Sunday that takes us fast-forward to the Baptism of Jesus, a SHELL (hold up the Baptismal shell) echoes the scene described in today’s Gospel,
…Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.
And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
God literally tearing apart, breaking through the heavens, letting nothing get in God’s way to come to earth
as “God with us”- in Jesus.
The SHELL, calls us to make our second resolution:
To get to know the God Who is seen in Jesus as we turn away from the media and all the voices blasting
their way into our minds and emotions, and open the Bible to the Gospel writers who paint a word-
picture to step into and see God taking on our humanness;
God literally immersed in Jesus to, in turn, be immersed in us.
As we pick up and hold the SHELL, we listen to the Apostle Paul saying:
John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come
after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
At the Memory Bowl let the SHELL carry the echo of the first question and answer in the Heidelberg Catechism,
“What is your only comfort in life and in death?
“That I, in body and soul, in life and in death, belong to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Words which prompt our second resolution:
To remember our Baptismal-Confirmation vows is to re-affirm, re-commit to live each day under the
Lordship of Jesus and let that allegiance influence what we say and what we do.
A STAR and a SHELL – reminders of two resolutions meant to outlast all the other resolutions that may be made,
and there is one more.
The CUP – calls us to make our third New Year’s resolution:
To believe that God Who poured Himself into Jesus, pours Himself into us, a pouring we remember and a
resolution we renew each time we come to the Table of Holy Communion.
Our third resolution:
To be a people into whom, like the poured water of Baptism, Christ has been poured;
a people filled with His abiding, sustaining presence;
a people who in belonging to Him, belong to one another,
At “The Memory Bowl” hear more than all the New Year’s predictions that have us fearing:
We’ll might blow each other up with a nuclear blast; our streets might become war zones with race clashing against race, and one political party working to destroy the other; and the threat of personal crises – no money to pay the bills, a dreaded diagnosis, a personal life-changing event, too hard to handle, too unsettling to imagine!
At “The Memory Bowl” let a STAR, a SHELL, and a CUP overpower our fears as we resolve to let Jesus’ love, justice, mercy, and utter trust in God’s prevailing goodness, leave their mark on us and we, in turn, on others –
at home, at school, at work, in the community, everywhere.
Come to “The Memory Bowl” today and resolve to let the remembrance of our Baptismal-Confirmation vows “be so powerful,” the evidence of Christ’s life poured into us will “leave wet footprints from our soggy shoes”*
and be like drops of water falling on parched earth and thirsty lives,
beginning with our own. Amen.
* Quote adapted from The Rev. Dr. Patrick Keen, pastor of Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, on Day1 for Jan. 7, 2018.