Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, January 24, 2021

YEAR B 2021 epiphany 3

Epiphany 3, 2021
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Mark 1:14-20
Psalm 62:6-14

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Well, I’m just going to go ahead and say it.  I’m tired.  Really tired.  I’m tired of trying to keep a community engaged when we can’t be together in person.  I’m tired of trying to preach the gospel, only to be told I’m too political, or even “belligerent.”  I’m tired of staring at faces in little zoom boxes on my computer.  I’m tired of talking into my cell phone every Sunday morning, instead of to real people.  (Not that my wife isn’t a real person.)  And I’m also tired of selfishly feeling sorry for myself.  Because I know that you are tired too.

We are all tired of all of this.  Tired of the sickness and the death.  Tired of the complaining and the fighting.  Seminary did not train me for this.  Your life and education did not train you for this.  We are all worn down from having to constantly do all these things that we don’t know how to do.  It is exhausting.  So, yes.  We.  Are.  Tired.

And you know who else was tired?  Jonah was tired.  Tired of running.  At first, God tells him to go to Nineveh, a huge city, which was known to be an evil and scary place.  But Jonah tries to sail somewhere else, and there’s a big storm, and the sailors throw him overboard, and he gets swallowed by a big fish, and then he gets puked out onto the shore.  All that has happened to him before we get to today’s reading.  Jonah is tired.

And God tells him to warn the people of Nineveh—this huge, evil, and scary place—that God will destroy their great city.  It’s three days walk across the city.  And Jonah goes one day and says, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”  Now you’re probably picturing him with a sandwich board and bullhorn, screaming at people to repent.  But I don’t think so.  Because Jonah is tired, and he didn’t want to be there, and he didn’t want those people to be saved.  So I picture him doing the absolute bare minimum.  Shuffling his feet one third of the way through the city and mumbling, “Hey, you know, you guys are supposed to like repent and stuff.”

And the people of Nineveh put on sackcloth, and they repent, and God saves all the people in this huge city!  The people Jonah thought were his enemies have now turned into his community.  He began his walk as an outsider, all alone in a hostile land, and now he is suddenly in a community of saved people who are beloved of God.  It was not the community he wanted; it is not the community he expected; but it is the community God gave him.

Jonah’s listeners have turned out to be his neighbors.  Jonah’s foes have become the ones God has spared.  Jonah’s wicked enemies have turned out to be just like him: saved and forgiven by God.  This is a hard teaching.  This is not a thing I want to hear.  And it’s probably a thing you don’t want to hear.  And yet, here we are.  All saved by God.  All living together.  All sinners in need of a savior, living our lives, and loved by God.

But the people of Nineveh get to have a seriously dramatic salvation story, don’t they?  “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.”  Hooray!!!!  Just in the nick of time!  And their story gets passed down to us because it is so dramatic, like winning a strategic battle at the last second!  We love this kind of story, don’t we?  A huge city saved from the brink of disaster.  People slapping each other on the back, saying “Well THAT was a close one,” before heading off to the pub to celebrate.

We.  Love.  The Drama.  I know, we all say that we prefer a steady stable world where things happen in small predictable ways, but come on.  Nobody really enjoys life-insurance actuary tables.  Not even someone who works with actuary tables . . . though I may be wrong.  We need stability and predictability in order to have peace in our lives, it’s true.  But we also crave a little splashy drama to keep life interesting.  All of which leads me to today’s Gospel reading, from the book of Mark.

As you may recall from a couple weeks ago, Mark’s Gospel jumps right in with Jesus’ being baptized.  No shepherds, no angels, no wisemen.  Jesus gets baptized, is pushed off into the desert, and then suddenly he is walking by the Sea of Galilee calling his first disciples, as we just heard.  We’re not even out of the first chapter yet, and Jesus has already been baptized, tempted by Satan, and called four out of 12 disciples.  In Mark’s gospel, things happen fast.  And that makes for a good story.  A dramatic story.  A huge city being spared by a loving God kind of story.

But let’s stop for a moment to consider things from the disciples’ perspective here.  Simon, Andrew, James, and John are all fishermen.  These four have no idea who Jesus is.  You and I know the story, and we read back into it wearing our Resurrection Goggles.  But these are fishermen, working along, catching fish and mending nets, and this guy walks by and says “follow me,” and they follow him.  I hate to sound cynical, but this is ridiculous!

We like to imagine the disciples carefully considering whether or not they should follow God in the flesh, and then reasonably concluding that they should give up their livelihood and follow the Savior of the world.  But, we need to remember, they have no idea how the story ends.  They have not seen one miracle, not one healing, not one anything.  And yet, they just drop their nets and follow him.  They leave their families behind to join up with a stranger passing along the shore.

And.  We.  Love This!  We love this so much that we want to have a story like this for ourselves.  We like hearing the testimony of friends who have big a dramatic conversion of faith.  We want to hear stories from people who once were lost, but now are found.

But, I also know, some preachers use this gospel text to make people uncertain whether their own conversion to Jesus was dramatic enough.  I’ve heard them do it.  How can you know if you are saved if you haven’t given up everything to follow Jesus?  How can you know you’re truly following Jesus if you haven’t dropped your net, forsaking your friends and family to begin a personal commitment to Jesus?  If you don’t have a detailed The Day I Got Saved story to tell, how can you be sure?  They just can’t believe that some of us live quiet lives of faith, walking with Jesus each and every day.  Which leads us back to right now.

We really love to talk about how quickly these genius scientists were able to develop life-saving vaccines.  But the thing that saves lives right now is people wearing silly-looking masks and staying home.  We remember the big splashy once-a-year meals by candlelight in fancy restaurants, but what sustains us is the regular, predictable nightly meals of home-made soups and boring casseroles.  We remember the exciting stories of firefighters rushing in to save families from near-death disasters, but what keeps us safe is changing the batteries in our smoke detectors.  And, though we love to hear a story about some former drug-addict criminal who is now a missionary overseas, what keeps the gospel alive is the steady, day-to-day conviction of people who believe just a little bit more than they disbelieve.  

The mark of faith is not how dramatic your conversion was.  The mark of faith is the slow steady drip of one day at a time, one decision at a time, one daily choice to remember your baptism, and to know that Jesus has called you to follow him on the path that leads to life.  We are suckers for a big conversion story, sure.  But you do not need to have a big conversion of faith in order to know that you are loved.  Because God does the saving.  Our God who delights in little things, mundane things, daily life things.

Like Jonah, you and I are exhausted.  Tired of all of this.  Tired to the point of just doing the bare minimum.  Shuffling our feet one third of the way through the city and mumbling, “Hey, you know, you guys are like supposed to repent and stuff.”  But you know what?  Turns out, that’s enough!  Because of God, that is enough.  The good news of salvation doesn’t depend on our enthusiasm, or energy, or superhuman efforts.  God saves the people of Nineveh because that’s how God is.  Joyfully rescuing our enemies while we reluctantly drag our feet.

Yes, like Jonah, you and I are so worn down.  But that’s when God sometimes does miracles.  Because all along, in all the small little ways, God is bringing forgiveness, and reconciliation, and life.  Day after day.  Inch by inch.  Person by person.  Yes, we are tired.  God knows we are tired.  But God is with us, and that is enough.


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