Since there is only one service this Sunday, I am using the children's sermon as a lead-in to the “adult sermon.”
- Read the first verse of the first lesson, “The Word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time…” Ask if they remember what happened when God's word came to Jonah the first time, telling him to go to Nineveh to preach to them? Well, he got on a boat and sailed in the opposite direction. And while he was on the boat, a great storm came up, and the sailors were wondering why it was happening, and Jonah said that it was because of him that God had sent the storm, so they threw him overboard. Do you know what happened then? Yes, a big fish came and swallowed Jonah up. (I will show them the cover of the bulletin – a picture of a carving from a Lutheran Church on the Mt. of Olives in Jerusalem of a fish swallowing Jonah.)
It looks like this. What happened next? The fish swam back in the direction where Jonah lived and spit him back out onto the beach. That is where our Jonah is when the word came to him a second time. Why didn't Jonah want to deliver the message to Nineveh? It was the capital of Assyria – they were brutal people, their army had conquered Israel and had been occupying their land. They had made many of the people slaves, and they had done terrible things in the temple, which is God's house. Jonah didn't want to go there because he hated these people. But it wasn't because he didn't want to be around them…it was because he knew that if they believed God's word about destroying them unless they repented, that God would forgive them, and he did NOT want that.
-God's word of forgiveness is for everyone. Do you believe that? It isn't just for you and me and your family and friends, but it is a word for those people that we really don't like very well, especially because they are kind of bad people. Think about someone at school that you don't like very well – it's okay. We all have people that we don't like very well. Now think about how God loves them because God loves everyone. Now think about how God may want to use you to let that person know that he loves them. When we think about it this way, we can't blame Jonah for running the other way rather than do that! But God loves everyone so much, that he will go to a lot of extremes to show them – to tell them the message that he wants them to repent and to love others like he does.
-God wants us to never have enemies, and the way he wants to do that it not by getting rid of them in some way that we might find satisfying – it is by making them our friends. Thanks for coming up everyone – and remember, when God's word comes to you to try to reach someone you don't really like with God's love, you can try to run the other way, but you may just get swallowed up by a fish like this and brought back to do God's will! God bless you!
May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; Amen.
I find Jonah and Simon, Andrew, James & John opposite findings in discipleship case studies! Think about it – Jonah goes the other way when God calls him to do something; the four fishermen leave their boats immediately when Jesus calls them to follow him. Was there anything different about the two cases? We can certainly wonder how it all happened that the word of God kept coming to Jonah – if it was a voice out of nowhere, or a vision, or some kind of messenger. Either way, he believes what the voice has to say, but he just doesn't like it! He could have just stayed put but he flees in the opposite direction instead. Maybe he thinks that his life will be in danger if he does this; or maybe, as I suggested to the young people and as Jonah confessed himself, he knew that God was merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love…and these are things that he didn't think were appropriate for God to show to the Ninevites!
Were the fishermen any less likely to refuse Jesus' invitation than Jonah was to flee God's command? The majority of the people that Jesus lived among were kind of caught between two ends of a power struggle. There was Herod, the king of Israel, and the Jewish religious leaders who were not that concerned with the wellbeing of the average fisherman; there were the Romans, the occupying force like the Assyrians in Jonah's time, who only served Caesar. These were difficult times. On top of that, they were important pieces in the family businesses in which they found themselves. Imagine what old man Zebedee was thinking when his two boys dropped the nets they were mending and followed this travelling preacher! He could not have been happy!
When we hear the call to do something – whether it is as an individual at home, school or work, or it is a church seeking to step out in new ways of ministry – our first inclination is for self-preservation. “I don't want to confront that bully because I might get beat up!” “I can't speak up to my boss because I might lose my job.” “We can't take that chance because we are barely surviving as it is.” But we hear God's word every time we gather here for worship, and one thing that we know about God's word is, it always calls us to step out in faith.
What does that phrase mean, to step out in faith? How are we called to step out in faith? Sometimes we think of the time when Peter wanted to step out of the boat to meet Jesus as he walked on the water, and there is some value in that story for this message. Peter wanted to join Jesus on the lake and Jesus bid him to come out, but when Peter began to worry about his own life, he started to sink. Fortunately his Lord was there to grab his hand and pull him back up and set him back in the boat.
We live in a time when there are so many unknowns about life, and they cause us to always be thinking and rethinking who we are, what we are doing, and how we can not only survive but make a difference in the world around us. People are met every day with decisions about their jobs and future, what school to go to, relationships and how to begin them, strengthen them, or even perhaps end them. People have to make decisions on their investments and how to use their money wisely. People have to make decisions about their own health and the health of loved ones – should they approve a treatment or course of action knowing that there are no promises from the medical field as to if it will work. We face all of these and so many more decisions constantly, and we sometimes wonder where God is leading us as we face them. Where does God want us to go with all of this? Will it be good, healthy, productive, joyful, and successful? I wish I could tell people it always will, but I would be lying.
And the same could be said about the church. From calling a pastor or seeking other staff, to deciding on worship times, worship styles, outreach opportunities, Christian education themes, building projects – there are no guarantees that we will be successful as the world defines success when we decide to step out in faith. But there is one thing that I know and it is this: When we listen to God's word and pray together and talk together and encourage one another, then we are much more likely to follow God's word to the places where God wants us to be. And when we go to the places where God's word is calling us to be, we do not go alone. God promises to accompany us, and to already be there ahead of us: Just like Jesus accompanied those disciples, and just like God was already in Nineveh ahead of Jonah.
This is a good day to consider where God is leading us. It is the day of our annual meeting, a time when we mostly consider where we have been in the last 12 months, but also what will be happening in the years to come; it is a time when we have already heard that there are changes on the horizon with Ron's retirement; it is a time when we are seeking guidance from God's word on how we can effectively be a church in 2015 and beyond right here in this community. It is at the same time exciting and a little bit scary – and I hope that our congregation will more resemble Simon, Andrew, James and John than Jonah!
It is the morning of a new day for each of us, as individual disciples and as a congregation. In the Morning Prayer liturgy there is a wonderful prayer that expresses a faith in God as we consider this fact. I want to close this message by asking you to join me in this prayer:
O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.