Sunday, January 25, 2009

Third Sunday after Epiphany
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Psalm 62:5-12
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Mark 1:14-20

Also unto thee, O Lord, belongeth lovingkindness; For thou renderest to every man according to his work.

“I have to do it.” It doesn’t matter what “it” is, we are looking at the meaning of this statement. Take, for example, “I have to go to school.” Said by a sixteen-year-old high school student, this can mean that someone somewhere is forcing them to do something they don’t want to do. He or she does not want to spend eight hours five days a week in a big building with 2000 other kids and numerous teachers who are forcing them to do work that they think is pointless. “I have to go to school” out of the mouth of another person who has set high expectations and is passionate about something can mean that there is something within pushing them to do what will bring about the future about which the dream.

For one person, “I have to…” means an outside force is requiring the person to do something. For another, “I have to…” means that person is being drawn into something that means a great deal to them. Neither has a choice in the matter. They have to do it; one way or another the thing has to be accomplished. The decision is made beyond their control. Yet, for one it is a bad thing, for the other, it is good.

Jonah had to go to Nineveh. Now, on one hand we have the story of a man whose God won’t give him a choice. Over and over again Jonah tries to find ways to avoid the work God has called him to do, but God keeps coming back with the request. Jonah struggles with this assignment because he knows it means his enemy will benefit. He fights God’s grace. God drew him into the mission, not necessarily forcing him to do something he doesn’t want to do, but convincing him that it is what is right and good and true to his love of God. Jonah gives in and goes to give the Ninevites the message from God.

Are we bothered by the idea that God would repent? God does not do anything wrong, what is it that He should repent? Sometimes it is right to repent. God had disobedient children who needed to experience the consequences of their actions. In this case, it was the destruction of their wicked city. God is consistent, but He’s also merciful. There is a place for a loving parent to change His mind. Sometimes the punishment is too big for the crime, and in God’s grace, complete destruction was too big. So, He sent Jonah to warn them. They repented, changed their ways, and mourned their failure to be all they could be.

God changed His mind and spared Ninevah. I think in this world where consistency is so important, many are bothered by the idea that the omniscient God who knows everything from the past into the future could, and would, change His mind. Was He wrong when He threatened destruction? No, He wasn’t wrong, He had hope that they would change. We, as parents and as His children, can learn from this that it is OK sometimes to change our mind. We can be merciful, and should be merciful because we know that we often fail. If God, who is perfect, can change His mind, we can be like Him and change ours, too.

The scriptures for this week teach us that faith means changing our point of view. It means seeing the world from a whole new perspective. Jesus turned our world upside down, calling us to live within this great and wonderful world while being different. Faith means that we are called to take God into our neighborhoods, to share a word of hope that comes from the reality of God’s grace. It means trusting in God, leaving our burdens at His feet and letting Him bring about the change that will truly make a difference. It means looking at those parts of our life that matter to us, like our marriages, from a new point of view, remember that God is not only a part of our individual lives, but that He’s in the midst of our relationships, making them new as well. Faith means being called to do a whole new thing in the world.

Sunday is also the day we remember the Conversion of St. Paul. In the story from Acts 9 we certainly see the world turning upside down for the man whose name Saul was changed to Paul. He learned that the work he was doing against Jesus was not the work God wanted him to do. He learned that Jesus is real and that He has something even greater planned for Paul. We know that Paul accepted his calling and changed the world. But we also see another man in this story, Ananias. His change was not so dramatic and his impact seems much less than Paul’s. However, Ananias had to face his fear, approach a man who could order his death and be a vessel for the miraculous healing of God.

Without Ananias, Paul may have never set out on his journeys, may have never preached the Gospel in all those cities. The message of Christ may have never gone beyond the Jewish people. We might not be who we are today if Ananias had not trusted in God. When you think that it won’t make a difference whether or not you see the world from that new point of view, remember the difference Ananias made by going forth in faith and doing what God called him to do.

Jesus calls us, like He called the first disciples, to be fishers of men. What does that mean? What ‘bait’ will we be using? Jesus ‘caught’ Andrew and Simon (Peter), then went on to ‘catch’ James and John. They were fishermen, the language of Jesus’ call to them made sense. They knew how to fish, but this was a totally new thing they were going to do. It took Jesus time and many lessons to teach them how to do the work He was calling them to do. We, too, have to learn what it means to be fisher of men, especially in our world today. Do we cast out nets and hope to collect a bunch of ‘fish’ or do we throw out a line with special bate hoping to catch just one at a time. What do we do with the fish when they are caught? These are the kinds of questions we have to ask ourselves as we go forth in faith in our calling.

This calling to faithful living is about seeing the world from a whole new point of view. It is about ‘having to do something’ not because someone is forcing us, but because deep down in our spirits we know it is what God would have us do. It is about turning our attitudes around, trusting in God and letting Him deal with our burdens.

Paul writes about a change in perspective. Today’s epistle lesson is written in the context of marriage. Paul believes that it is best for Christians to stay single because there are far fewer distractions than those who have chosen the married life. However, Paul does not believe that everyone can or should choose to remain single. Marriage, and the sexual activity that comes with marriage, is a gift from God and is a blessing to those who choose that lifestyle. Sometimes the “I have to” is that deep longing for another human being to be a part of our life. We should remember, however, never to let that person become the sole focus of our life.

This passage is simply a warning to those who have allowed marriage, and the wedding ceremony, to become the most important thing in their life. Too many people become obsessed with the idea of marriage and a wedding, to the point that all else pales in comparison. As a matter of fact, for some the wedding becomes even more important than the marriage. Paul is calling all Christians to remember that time, and life, as we know it is passing and the day will come when everything we think is important will be gone. This is a new way of looking at the world. We are to look forward to the life we will live in the presence of God. We’ll approach everything, including our worries, from an entirely different perspective when we stop putting the earthly things ahead of the things ahead of the one who has and can overcome everything.

“Let go and let God” seems almost cliché at this point, but it is the best word I can give to those who are in the midst of a time of uncertainty and transition. Trust in Him. He is there, taking care of everything. We make it harder for Him to accomplish His good purpose for our lives when we try so desperately to stay in control. Jonah fought God all along, but God knew that Jonah’s heart was right. He kept offering Jonah the chance to change the world, giving him the call to help the Ninevites know God’s grace.

The psalmist writes, “Trust in him at all times.” The psalmist, probably David who was having troubles of his own, knew that the best way to deal with trouble was to trust in God. David had so many enemies. His enemies wanted him dead or at least off the throne. His life and his honor were at stake. However, he knew that he could not defeat his enemies on his own. He had to wait on God, for God’s plan is always right and good.

I love the way God is described in today’s Psalm. He is a rock and a high tower. Not only is God the foundation on which our life is built, but He is also the refuge to which we can flee to be safe. He is our strength and our hiding place. In Him we can find rest and restoration. We need not carry our burdens because He will carry them for us. Trust in Him, for He will take care of those who rely on Him alone. This is especially important to remember as we face the new things to which God is calling us in this world. We may not always like what God wants us to do. We may have to face our own enemies. We can approach the calling with the attitude that someone outside ourselves is forcing us to do something we do not want to do. Or, we can let God turn our world upside down and realize that this calling goes deep into our soul and God is drawing us into His presence by offering us a chance to share His grace with the world.

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