Doing it Right
Have you ever had a bad day? I guess that’s a rhetorical question!!
This was a particularly bad day for a friend of a friend of mine:
She was late for work and so was driving too fast. The police stopped her and issued a speeding ticket. Later in the day she drove to the Post Office – and locked the keys in the car. She had to walk back to her work and, as her purse was in the car, she had no money to buy lunch and went hungry all day.
Eventually she called her fiancé who brought the spare car key. They got the car open and he followed her as she went to the bank.
At the bank the ATM ate her card because she didn’t remove it quickly enough. She had to cancel her card and get a new one.
As she and her fiancé drove away from the bank, his car ran out of petrol and stopped in the middle of the road. They had to leave it there while they went to a garage and filled a can with petrol. Back at his car they discovered that the can had a leak and most of the petrol had been distributed around the boot of her car.
Jonah knew what it was like to have bad days.
First of all he was in a slimy fish and then because of an involuntary emetic reaction (The medical people will tell us that is a technical way of referring to “throwing up.”), he found himself landed on a beach.
But following on from this we find that Jonah gets a new start to his life.
And the fact that Jonah gets a new start, really is amazing.
After all, he really had made a mess of things!
Jonah’s initial response to God’s call was less than inspiring.
God had called Jonah to go to Nineveh.
Since he had no interest in going to Nineveh because of his disdain for them as Israel’s enemy, he decided to go a different direction.
So, instead of heading east, he headed as far to the west he could possibly go at that time—Spain.
But Jonah’s disobedience resulted in God bringing about an intense storm, which threatened the ship, and which frightened the sailors to the point that they were fervently calling on their gods to save them.
Finding Jonah sleeping soundly below deck, the captain of the ship rebuked him for sleeping and commanded him to pray (which he apparently never did).
After an interrogation, Jonah told the seamen that the storm was his fault and that they must save themselves and their ship by casting him overboard.
Only after God thwarted their diligent efforts to get Jonah to shore did the sailors consent to do as Jonah had instructed them.
They preceded this act with a prayer that expressed their concern for putting an innocent man to death.
When Jonah was cast over the side, the sea calmed and the seamen worshipped the God of Israel with sacrifices and vows.
If the first chapter revealed anything, it dramatically contrasted Jonah with the unbelieving sailors.
He was disobedient to the command of God; they obeyed what God told them to do through Jonah.
They prayed frequently and fervently; Jonah did not.
They had great compassion for Jonah; he seemingly had none for them.
When we come to chapter two, we find that Jonah is starting to get it. We find a “psalm” of sorts. Jonah’s “psalm” centres on the prophet’s dilemma, danger, and deliverance.
When Jonah gives the glory to God for his physical deliverance, God commands the great fish to spit Jonah up on the beach.
We are not so unlike Jonah.
When God asks us to do something we don’t want to do, we too run away.
As soon as we do that, we guarantee the outcome—failure!
But the important thing to learn about failure is not to stay a failure.
This must be Jonah’s lesson as well. It is important not to continue to be failure. It is time to do it right. So we find that God recalls Jonah.
He comes a second time to Jonah.
He had commanded him once to go to Nineveh.
Now that He has caught him again, it is time to repeat that command.
Does God deign to use those who have rejected His calling, turned a deaf ear to His word, and pursued a course of determined disobedience?
The answer is an absolute, “Yes.”
If it were not so, there would not be too many of us here, or any for that matter.
Jonah is now experiencing the unearned grace of God!
And this time Jonah willingly runs with God, instead of running away.
He had run away. He had run back. Now it was time to run with God.
But it had not come easily. It came with the discipline of God.
God’s discipline helped him to be more obedient and more flexible.
So, now he goes to Nineveh, the international outlaws, hated by the whole world. And though Jonah’s opinion of the Assyrians has not changed, he is convinced that God’s message must be given. So Jonah proclaims the message God has given him: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be toppled”
Now, that was a message of good news for Jonah and you have to believe that Jonah enjoyed giving the message.
The text tells us that Nineveh was a great city to God. The greater Nineveh area was probably sixty miles in circumference and it took 3 days to walk through it. So Jonah walked across the city, giving the message of God. He didn’t worry about the result, whether it is good or bad, he simply proclaimed the word. But it did have an effect!
The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh:
We are to be gracious and compassionate.
We are called to love, not hate.
We are called to care, not be inconsiderate.
We are called to be of good courage, not be afraid.
We are to proclaim God’s message.
Paul writes in Romans that if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Interestingly, it is the person of Jonah that points us to Jesus.
For Jonah becomes a sign of what occurs to Jesus.
He is a demonstration of the power of resurrection.
In the Gospel reading we heard the call of the disciples to become fishers of people which has a very clear connection to the story of Jonah and his missionary exploits to Nineveh. Both, in their different times and contexts, reflect the urgency of making known the boundless love of God. The significant difference being Simon and Andrew, James and John had the living example of the love of God as their teacher and friend.
As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. There is urgency, immediacy and conviction in these men.
When Jesus called these fishermen the story could have had a vastly different development. They could have scratched their heads and discussed the pros and cons with each other, their families and neighbours.
They could have told Jesus, “Let us think about it for a while”.
Maybe a big school of fish will come and we will not be able to leave, maybe our wives won’t let us, maybe our friends will make fun of us for leaving our jobs, our home and our families to follow a man who will travel around the country side preaching that the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.
But when Jesus called these fishermen there was none of that: they didn’t question his call, they didn’t think about it, they didn’t consult their families, they didn’t want to see if anything better would come along – they followed him.
When Jesus through his Holy Spirit encourages us today to follow him, he doesn’t want us to think about it, to weigh it, to study the pros and cons, to talk to our family and friends, to wait and see if something better will come along, or the situation in which we find ourselves will improve.
When Jesus calls us, he does so with a sense of urgency, with a sense of immediacy, with a sense of conviction, with a sense of commitment, with a sense that we will turn our entire lives over to him.
Then notice what he said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”
Having been fishermen, they knew what he was talking about, they would become fishers of men, they would go out and catch others for Jesus. They would catch others with the gospel message of repentance and forgiveness that Jesus was proclaiming. They would share with others the good news that Jesus was sharing with them. Jesus call us to a task, he calls us to a job, he calls us to do something with what he has given us. He calls us to share, he calls us to give to others what he has first given to us: his love, his caring, his forgiveness.
Jesus calls us to love the ones in this world that no one else will love. He calls us to reach out to the lonely, to the hungry, to the sick, to the ones in prison, to the disabled, to the forsaken, to the needy, to all of those people who need to hear that someone indeed does love them and that someone is Jesus Christ.
Today is January 25th which is of course the birthday of Rabbie Burns. There is much in Burns’ life which caused pain and uncertainty not least to those closest to him. But there is much to be admired in his creative thought, of his ability to express moments you and I might have thought about but could not find the words. Remember his condemnation of hypocrisy, still rife in the church and religious communities, remember Holy Willie’s Prayer. And then there is his paraphrase of the 1st and 90th Psalms; his grace before and after meals, his sense of the value of each and every individual life. No saint certainly, but few of us are, and God can use us all.
God is gracious and because He is, He gives each one of us the opportunity to serve Him again, even after we have blown it.
God is gracious and gives us the opportunity to repent of our misdeeds; He gives us the opportunity to understand the wickedness of our own ways and the great offence they are to His character and person.
God is compassionate for when we realize the error of our ways, He relents from the judgment we so richly deserve and provides through His Son the salvation we so desperately need.
To God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit be all glory and praise now and for ever. Amen.