3 Epiphany: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Ps 62:6-14; 1 Cor 7:29-31; Mk 1:14-20
A sermon preached at St. John’s Montgomery, AL on January 25, 2015
In the 1990s a great cult classic came to theaters across the US. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a creation of writer/director Josh Wheedon. His vision was a film in which the most unlikely hero would save the day. Buffy, a blond cheerleader with little more cares than when her next manicure is due, is called to be a vampire slayer. She will follow in a long line of female slayers who have protected the world from vampires for thousands of years.
Buffy has no idea that vampires even exist and is not interested in any call to protect people she does not care about or has any concern for outside of her own group of wealthy, cool friends. After Merrill, her Watcher, has informed her of her call she blows him off refusing to meet him for training. Merrill tracks her down and questions her as to why she wouldn’t meet with him and in a classic line says, Don’t you get it? I don’t want to be chosen!
I don’t want to be chosen! I am sure we can all relate to that in one way or another. In this morning’s readings we hear the call of good men”some who have no problem with being chosen; others who have no desire to be chosen. They serve as an example to all of us as to how we might respond to being chosen”whether we want to be chosen or not.
We are all called to proclaim good news. Some of us will do that willingly”the encounter with God can be so intensely powerful that we hear the call and heed it immediately”leaving whatever we are doing to follow him. Some of us will not be so willing. We hear the call and try to avoid it, at times going to such lengths that we turn away, running in the opposite direction.
We’ve heard a lot about being called the past couple of weeks”the story of Samuel, Here I am, Lord, you’re servant is listening, and the calls of Phillip and Nathanael last week. Now Simon and his brother Andrew are called along with James and John. All called to serve the Lord, to proclaim the Good News, and all respond favorably and immediately.
But that does not always seem to be the case when God calls”take Jonah. This morning we hear God’s call to Jonah to go to Nineveh¦and proclaim to it the message I tell you. So Jonah goes and proclaims a message of repentance. But Jonah’s response is not as immediate nor is it as favorable as it might seem.
This is the second time Jonah has been called. And though he does get up and go this time, the first time he got up and ran away putting a whole bunch of people at risk”the Ninevites and the sailors on the ship he boarded”ending up in the belly of a big fish.
Jonah is the Archie Bunker of the Old Testament”he really doesn’t like people and people don’t really like him (otherwise those sailors might have argued a little more vehemently before throwing him overboard), he walks around with a black cloud over his head grumbling about being favored by God, and even when his message is met with a positive response by the Ninevites and God does not destroy them, he pouts instead of rejoicing.
We don’t all respond to God’s call favorably or immediately. But most of us, eventually, do respond. Hopefully, it won’t take us being swallowed by a big fish.
Responding to God’s call is much more pleasurable when we are open to that call as Jesus’ disciples seem to be”dropping their nets, leaving their father with the hired hands to follow Jesus. But, it is not fair to judge Jonah”his call seems a little tougher. For starters he is called by himself, all alone. He doesn’t have the security of a brother or a friend to go with him”he is on his own. Whereas Jesus calls his disciples two-by-two, Jonah is called alone to go to a foreign city to tell them how bad they have been and that they need to change their ways.
Now its bad enough to go to a bunch of strangers and point out their flaws”we don’t even like to intervene when our loved ones participate in harmful behavior”we certainly don’t want to stick our nose in where it doesn’t belong, especially when its none of our business. But Jonah’s call involves more than preaching a message to a foreign city full of strangers”that city is his enemy. The Ninevites have attacked the Israelites, captured their cities, and slaughtered their people”of course Jonah does not want to go and warn them of any impending doom. He has no cause to give them hope. He would much rather that God destroy this people. God’s desires are not Jonah’s desires and they are counter to Jonah’s beliefs.
And that’s the difference”Jonah is called to proclaim news he does not believe to a people he does not believe in. The disciples are called to proclaim news they want to believe with all their hearts, to people they do believe in”their neighbors, their kindred, their people. And that is the crux of the call”what drives us to respond favorably and immediately or to run away and avoid the task that God has set before us.
Had Jonah been called to proclaim God’s message to the people of Galilee, to his people, I bet he would have responded more favorably, more immediately.
But to be called to proclaim the message of repentance to our enemies puts us in an awkward and uncomfortable situation. It forces us to step out of our comfort zone and do things we might never have thought we would do much less want to do”like ringing the bell for the Salvation Army in front of Wal-Mart or serving food at One Church Mission or spending the night at St. John’s as an overnight host for Family Promise.
Certainly shoppers at Wal-mart and the homeless are not our enemy but they are far from our acquaintance and for many of us the homeless mission is a foreign land and for some of us, so is Wal-Mart. These are not places we should fear but places that should be embraced, places that need good news.
Our Scriptures today bring us balance”they open a way to all God’s people to be called to participate in the proclamation of the Good News. Some of us, like Jonah, are called to those people and places that make us uncomfortable. Others of us are called to proclaim the Good News to our friends and families. Discerning one’s call is between you and God. We are all called in different ways to proclaim the message of good News to different people in different ways. All we can do to discern that call is to pray and be ready when it comes.
That prayer is as simple as the language of our collect this morning:
Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and all the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who liveth and reignth with thee and the Holy Spirit, One God, for ever and ever. Amen.