Sunday, January 22, 2012
Casting the net...Sermon for Year B Epiphany 3
Our first reading today is from the book of Jonah.
Swallowed by a big fish?
We usually hear the story as Jonah being swallowed by a whale
but the scripture text never really says “whale”--
it actually just says a big fish.
Indeed, whales would certainly qualify as big fish!
But our text today from Jonah
has skipped ahead--
we pick it up at the point where Jonah
has already been in the belly of the big fish
and has already been spewed up upon the beach.
God is calling Jonah a SECOND time.
God is persistent.
God is patient.
God will keep casting the net for us.
If you haven’t done much Bible reading,
Jonah is a great place to start.
Only 4 chapters long.
A narrative story.
A story full of the human condition.
You see God wants Jonah to do something,
to follow his direction to go to the city of Nineveh
and tell the NInevites they need to stop their wicked ways
and straighten up or else...
It is never never good when God issues that kind of warning.
unlike Simon and Andrew and James and John--
that we hear about in today’s gospel reading--
Jonah does not drop everything and follow.
In fact Jonah runs away.
Jonah thinks he can hide from God.
He gives it his best effort.
He gets on a ship heading AWAY from Nineveh.
Only there is a storm and everybody
is freaking out over the enormous waves
and the ship tipping this way and that way.
After seeing the photographs of the cruise ship
that ran aground off the coast of Italy this week,
I can truly understand more about how terrifying that would be.
The crew on the ship are terrified.
Jonah must be feeling pretty guilty because he says,
“It’s me. It’s my fault.”
“What are you talking about,”ask the men aboard the ship.
“Well, you see,” confesses Jonah,
“God asked me to do something and I didn’t do it
and somehow I think this storm is related to me not listening to God.”
Now maybe that was true and maybe it wasn’t.
The scripture does not say it was, it doesn’t say it wasn’t.
The crew on the ship don’t believe him.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Jonah.
You did not cause this storm.”
But Jonah keeps on moaning and groaning
maybe because they start to believe him
or maybe because they are just tired of listening to him,
the ship’s crew does as Jonah asks them to do--
they toss him overboard into the sea.
And the storm stops.
maybe there was a connection.
Only things don’t get much better for Jonah.
This is when the big fish enters the scene
and swallows him whole.
This is where we get the expression “in the belly of the whale.”
It is not a place where any of us want to be--
but it is a place
where most of us have been or will be
(if only briefly--we hope)
at some time in our lives.
The belly of the whale---
(sorry, that just sounds better than the belly of the big fish)
is when life is at it’s darkest.
You aren’t going to find electricity inside that belly.
The belly of the whale
is when we feel swallowed up by doom and gloom.
The belly of the whale is that point
when we wish, we WISH we had done things differently,
lived life differently, made some different choices,
even just HAD a different life than the one were were given.
The belly of the whale is when we feel it’s over, pointless, hopeless.
But....BUT...it isn’t over you see.
Not even for Jonah. Not even when you are literally in the belly.
The big fish spits Jonah out onto the beach.
From GULP to BLECH!
Not a pretty sight or sound BUT Jonah is freed.
Jonah is given another chance.
That’s what we all want--one more chance.
So God speaks to Jonah a second time--
you see God DOES give us more than one chance--
God speaks and Jonah listens and this time,
Jonah follows what God asks.
He goes to Nineveh and tells those people--THOSE PEOPLE--
to shape up!
He tells them that God is none too happy with them
and they better watch out.
And you know what?
They hear Jonah.
They believe Jonah.
And they change.
They turn their lives around.
From the high king to the lowliest person in the city of Nineveh.
They listen, they hear, they change.
Every single one of them.
(Jonah must have been some preacher is all I can say!)
The Ninevites change
and God is pleased and God forgives them
and loves them and cancels any and all plans for destruction.
This is where we might think the ending of the book of Jonah would be
“And they all lived happily ever after.”
But you know why they all didn’t live happily ever after?
Because Jonah was ticked off.
Jonah could not believe that God was going to forgive--much less LOVE--
THOSE NASTY NINEVITES.
Jonah goes off to pout.
He really does.
He wanted God to let the Ninevites have it!
Jonah is angry with God.
He goes and sits down and pouts.
God, you are SO unfair!!
And what does God do?
God makes a bush grow--this bush grows SO fast that it gives Jonah shade from the hot sun almost instantaneously.
(God must have invented the original MIRACLE GRO!!)
And then God creates and sends a worm
to attack the bush and make it die.
And Jonah throws another little fit.
I get thrown overboard.
I get swallowed alive by a big fish.
I get puked up on the beach.
You forgive the Ninevites
and now my bush dies, too!
Just kill me now, God!
But God says,
WHOA! Hold on there Jonah!
You’re missing the point.
You had nothing to do with the growth of that bush.
You didn’t create it.
You didn’t water it or nurture it or care for it.
You have no right to be angry that it died.
You had nothing to do with the creation of the Ninevites--
they are my people.
You have no authority over them.
I can love whom I choose to love, Jonah.
There are one hundred and twenty thousand people in Nineveh, Jonah.
And they are all--they are ALL--my beloved children.
We are ALL God's beloved children.
I think we need to remember the whole story from the book of Jonah.
We need to be mindful of how forgiving
and how loving God really is.
Sometimes some of us will hear God calling us the first time around.
The gospel reading today is an example of that.
Simon and James and John and Andrew?
All Jesus had to do was walk by
and they listened and they heard
and they dropped everything and followed.
And I say, good for them!
But here is the truth in the real world.
Often God will call us and we don’t hear a word of it.
Often God will call us and we are too busy or too distracted
or too involved in our own self-destruction to pay attention to God.
Often God will call us and we will run the other way.
But God will call us again.
And God will rescue us from the darkness of the belly of the fish
that has eaten us alive.
God will give us a second chance and a third chance and more.
Because God wants us to change.
God wants us to be transformed
and become the best we can possibly be.
God will save us from ourselves--
if we are open to being saved.
We may be miserly and angry and in a snit--
but God is full of grace and mercy and compassion and love
and God prays
that we might learn to treat others that way, too.
To God there are no THOSE people.
We are all God’s people.
Every one of us--every living person on this planet--is a child of God.
We don’t get to pick who is in and who is out.
We are not the Creator.
What we do get to do is to learn to say thank you.
We get to say thank you,God
for loving me even when I am really unloveable.
Even when I am mean as a snake.
Even when I run the other direction.
Even when I keep making the same mistakes over and over.
Thank you God for loving all of us.
Thank you for walking by again and again
and calling our names.
Thank you for being patient.
Thank you for being persistent.
Each of us has our days
when we are as faithful and attentive
as Simon or James or John or Andrew.
We are spot on and follow as quickly and easily as we draw breath.
And each of us has our days when we are Jonah--
running away, lost in darkness,
longing for a God who cares more about being right
than being compassionate.
And each of us has our days when we are Ninevites--
in trouble and making trouble--and then...
through the grace and love of God,
We truly and honestly change.
And we do better.
And God is well-pleased.
God is patient. God is persistent.
God loves us more than we can ask or imagine.
That is the good news.
But life is short.
That is the not so good news.
Our call is to not throw away our lives or waste our days,
but to make ourselves ready,
ready to follow, ready to love,
ready to claim our place as one of God’s children.
Ready to cast our nets widely--just as God does--
and welcome all to join us.
Come on in!
The water's fine.