Sermon for 3 Epiphany, Year B
Based on Jonah 3:1-5, 10 & Mk. 1:14-20
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Our first lesson and gospel today have a number of similarities. First of all, they are both fish stories. In the case of Jonah, we remember that God preserved his life by providing him with a whale hotel during his maritime travels. Thanks to this great fish hotel, Jonah's feet touched land again. God gives Jonah another chance to be the prophet that God called him to be.
In our gospel, Jesus calls four fisher-folk away from their nets, away from the water to become landlubbers and start fishing for people. Sometimes God calls us to go places that we had not planned. Sometimes God gives us another chance to do his will and follow his ways. Sometimes God beckons us to "Go Fishing" in ways that we've never even dreamed of before.
The second similarity in both of these passages is the pattern of God's message. In the first lesson, Jonah preached an eight word sermon. The people of Nineveh Hear This Message. Then, the king and all the people of Nineveh Respond In Faith To The Message ~ They Repent And God Saves Their City.
The gospel has a similar pattern. First, Jesus preached a nineteen word sermon. Then, he seeks out Peter, Andrew, James and John ~ in the form of A Command As Well As An Invitation. Jesus addresses them with ten words: "Follow me and I will make you fish for people." As in the Jonah story, the four fisher-folk ~ like the people of Nineveh ~ Hear Jesus's Message. Then, they ~ like the people of Nineveh ~ Respond In Faith To The Message. Mark tells us that: Immediately They Left Their Nets And Followed Jesus.
Most of us are here today because people have preached the Gospel. We Have Heard The Good News And We Have Responded To Christ ~ Thanks To Others Who Were Sent Out By Christ To Go Fishing For Us.
The third similarity is that the content of Jonah's message and the content of Christ's message Are Basically The Same: Both Preached Repentance. In the Greek, repentance means, "to change one's mind." The people of Nineveh, Jonah himself and the four disciples of Jesus all changed their minds.
In the case of Jonah, his mind was changed from running away from the Assyrian city of Nineveh to going right into the heart of that city and proclaiming God's word. For the people of Nineveh, their minds were changed from a sin-filled, sin-loving lifestyle to a God-fearing, God-loving lifestyle.
For Peter, Andrew, James and John; their relatively stable, predictable lives fishing in the Sea of Galilee would be radically turned in new, often unstable, and unpredictable directions. They would go fishing in another way by travelling to unknown places, preaching the Good News to unfamiliar people, and facing many unusual circumstances ~ even martyrdom.
Sometimes God's love and grace causes us to change our minds too ~ especially about people whom we tend to "write off" or judge too quickly. We discover God loves them and calls on us to do the same.
However, the most important change of mind is in the Jonah passage. We are told that when God saw how the people of Nineveh turned from their evil ways God Changed His Mind. God did not destroy them, he let them live. The Radical Repentance Of Nineveh Changes God's Mind. He Is Deeply Moved And Showers His Love And Mercy Upon Nineveh.
The fourth similarity is that God Cares For Outsiders. When Jonah first heard God's instructions to preach to the people of Nineveh, Jonah Was Rather Shocked And "Taken A-Back." Why ~ thought Jonah ~ would God send him to Nineveh? ~ after all, they were the enemy, they were Assyrians, they were outsiders. Why should Jonah or God care "two hoots" about them? Why not let them continue in their sinful ways so that they could destroy themselves?
In the gospel, Jesus Deliberately Chooses four outsiders to be his disciples. Why would Jesus want to choose four fisher-folk ~ of all the choices of people ~ to spread the Gospel? Why didn't Jesus choose kings and queens and other influential people? Would not the rich, the powerful, the highly-skilled leaders, the "movers and shakers" who have it all together ~ would not they be far more effective in spreading the Gospel than these four, stumbling, fumbling, inarticulate fisher-folk?
God often chooses The Least-Likely, Most Ordinary People to accomplish his purposes ~ God Often Chooses Outsiders. God has chosen people like you and me to carry out the work of spreading the Gospel.
Closely related to the fourth, the fifth similarity of these passages is that they're both Missionary Stories. But they're more than that ~ they're Humorous missionary stories! Our God seems to have A Wonderful Sense Of Humor! Reluctant, rebellious Jonah goes to an enemy city and preaches God's word like some crazy fanatic ~ he does it in spite of himself.
Even more bizarre is that the Ninevites actually believe this message and act accordingly. This seems so ridiculous that it's actually funny. God's truth doesn't always hurt ~ in this case, it can make us laugh!
Jesus's choosing four fisher-folk to be his disciples is equally as funny. As they spread the Good News, we laugh ~ because they often stumble along, say the wrong things, do the wrong things, and "hang out" with the wrong sort of people. Yet, through, in, and with these four humble men, God is able to work miracles!
The four disciples go fishing for people and the Gospel is spread to every corner of the earth ~ reaching hundreds of thousands of human beings. We laugh at this because we too are humble folk; we too stumble; we too have said or done the wrong things, have "hung out" with the wrong kind of folks. Yet, Miracle Of Miracles, God Is At Work Through, In, And With Each One Of Us. The Gospel continues to reach the hearts, minds, and lives of human beings in every corner of the earth.
God's ways are certainly not our ways. God's love and grace hunt us down and pursue us until we ~ like Jonah and the four disciples ~ say "Yes" and follow wherever God leads us. God's love and grace are downright humorous, and irresistible. For that, we can give our thanks and celebrate, as the Good News reaches out to every corner of the earth during this season of Epiphany. For our God shall not be satisfied until All Peoples come to see, know, and experience the message that They Are God's Chosen. So, my friends, let's continue to Go Fishing with our All Loving God!
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