This will come as no surprise to those who know me personally, but for those of you who don’t know me, I need to confess to you that I’ve always had a streak of rebelliousness in me. My mom says that when I was a little girl, whenever she suggested that I wear a certain dress, I would refuse. She finally figured out that she could get me to wear what she wanted by putting out two dresses and telling me to wear the one that she didn’t want me to wear, because she knew that I would put on the one she told me not to.
So I can understand why Jonah, when God said, “Get up and go right now to Nineveh and tell them to stop their wicked ways!” Jonah decided to head to Tarshish instead. I probably would have done the same thing. And to be honest, I don’t blame Jonah for not wanting to obey God’s command. Would you want to carry out those orders? Would you want to go into the capital city of your archenemies and tell them that your God said they were wicked and if they didn’t shape up your God was going to destroy them? Talk about a tough job. I sure wouldn’t have wanted to do it.
So Jonah ran away. He didn’t obey God’s command. Because of his actions, Jonah got into big trouble with God. God sent a giant storm that threatened to sink the ship to Tarshish. Not only did Jonah put himself in danger because of his disobedience, he endangered the entire crew of the ship. Thank goodness that Jonah realized his mistake and got off the boat, or the story might have had a very different ending.
But as it stands in the record, God did give Jonah a second chance to be obedient. After three days in the belly of the fish, Jonah was upchucked onto the beach and ordered a second time to “Get up and go to Nineveh.” And this time, Jonah did as he was told. He obeyed God’s command, even though he really didn’t want to do so.
So the question you might consider as you reflect upon how to make this text relevant for your congregations today is, “What is your Nineveh?” What is God calling you to do? Where does God want you to go that you might feel reluctant about?
God calls us to get up and go to Nineveh. God calls us to do uncomfortable and difficult things sometimes. God calls us to do things that we don’t want to do, or that we don’t feel equipped to do. And I think that just like Jonah, when that happens, when we feel that little tap on the shoulder pushing us to move outside of our comfort zone, our first inclination is to run as fast as we can in the opposite direction. Maybe we run by pretending that we didn’t hear the call. Or maybe we run by saying we don’t have time for that, or we don’t have the money or the right training, or we’re too busy, or it’s not good timing.
But the story of Jonah says that we don’t get to pretend that we didn’t hear the call, and we don’t get to say we’re too busy or the timing is wrong. The story of Jonah says that when we are called, we’ve got to get up and go to Nineveh, pronto! What are some specific ways we’ve got to get up and go to Nineveh?
We’ve got to get up and go to Nineveh as a nation. We’ve got to face some hard truths, make some big changes in the way that we think and the way that we live if we are going to heal from this mess that we’ve gotten ourselves into and deliver a stable future for our children. And like the people of Nineveh to whom Jonah was sent to deliver his message, part of what we’re going to have to do is repent from some of our wickedness. We’re going to have to fast and pray hard and ask the Lord to forgive us of our sins and help us to change.
We’ve got to get up and go to Nineveh as congregations. We need to look around our communities and develop ways of meeting people at a point of need and give of our time and our resources and our creativity in order to serve our neighbors. We’ve got to take risks for the kingdom and reach out. We’ve got to pray to God, each person, each congregation, that God will lay a vision on our hearts and open our eyes to be able to see needs we don’t even know we have.
We’ve got to get up and go to Nineveh as individuals. We need to train people to listen with the ears of God and see with divine eyes, so that our members are prepared to offer ministry whenever and wherever a need arises. Offering ministry can be scary. Often, we don’t feel prepared, and sometimes we don’t want to go.
How are you going to help your members get up and go to Nineveh in 2015? How are you going to equip and enable them to answer God’s call?
It is important when you preach on this passage to explain that when Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthians he truly believed, as did the congregation in Corinth, that Christ was going to return in final glory during his lifetime. Paul’s goal was to encourage the members of the Corinthian church to live every moment with a sense of eschatological urgency.
- What would you do differently if you knew that Christ’s arrival was coming soon?
- What would you do if you did know the day and the hour?
- Would it change the way you prioritize the activities in your life?
- Would it change the way you practice your faith?
- Would it change the way you spend every day, every hour, every minute, every second?
Recently I participated in a conversation with Rob Fuquay about his book, The God We Can Know: Exploring the “I am” Sayings of Jesus. In his chapter on Jesus’ words, “I am the light of the world,” Fuquay tied the context of Jesus making that claim to the Feast of Tabernacles. The Feast of Tabernacles is a high holy season in Judaism. The feast, or Sukkot, is observed in the fall. Having repented of sin and received forgiveness on Yom Kippur, Jewish families at Sukkot take meals in temporary dwelling huts for eight days. The festival serves as a reminder of God’s sheltering and provision for the Israelites as they wandered for forty years in the desert and lived in tents as they journeyed toward the Promised Lnd.
Fuquay notes in his book that it is important for all of us live in a state of constant awareness of the temporary nature of life. Nothing we have today will be ours a hundred years from now, and nothing that we are right now is permanent. We are just passing through this world. Our bodies are temporary dwelling places.
Fuquay points to the great sense of hope and comfort that can come from knowing that no matter what mistakes we make, or what crisis we are facing in this moment, it is only temporary. The hard things are temporary and the wonderful things are temporary. Everything we have and everything we are is only temporary. Living as people who are aware of the brevity of life not only helps us cope with the difficulties we face from day to day, but also challenges us to make each decision with intentional awareness and grace for not only for ourselves, but for our neighbors.
Paul says we must live each day with a clear awareness that no matter how much we love our parents, or our children, or our spouse or partner, one day we are going to be physically separated from them. Living with the secure trust that we are eternally safe in the arms of the Lord and will one day be reunited with those we love around the great banquet table is the only freedom we have from the anxiety of the worldly losses that are coming to all of us. Paul calls the Corinthians, and all of us, to devote our lives to the Lord above all else, for he is the only source of life and peace and eternal rest.
Why is it that first Simon and Andrew, and then James and John, dropped everything to be with Jesus? I think that it was because Jesus made it crystal clear that these two sets of brothers were not only important to him, but they were important to the community, they were important to the Kingdom of God. No doubt, Simon and Andrew and James and John had heard about Jesus already, because Jesus had been preaching in Galilee for some time before he invited these guys to get involved in the work of the kingdom. Simon and Andrew and James and John knew where Jesus was coming from because somebody had not only already told them about Jesus, but somebody must have been excited about Jesus, and that excitement was catching.
The reason people become active in a church community is because they have caught a glimpse of the Spirit of Christ shining through one of his followers and been excited by it, felt embraced by it, felt accepted by it. They have heard the voice of Jesus, calling out to them personally across the water, saying, “Come with me, and I will teach you something new. Instead of catching fish, I will teach you how to catch people.” They heard that voice, and they liked the sound of it, so they decided to give it a try. They decided to follow Jesus. They decided to try being a part of a new kind of community, to try to think in a different way from the way that the world thinks. They tried it, and they liked the way it felt. They felt like they belonged with the followers of Jesus. So they stuck around.
What is the spirit of your congregation, and what do you have to offer that would make people want to belong to your particular community of faith? Why, the answer is simple! It’s not about being located in a certain community. It’s not about who lives there and whether or not you have the right kinds of programs or the right kind of theology or the right look or the right kind of music. It’s not about YOU.
What you have to offer is simply that you are the church of Jesus Christ. You are a community of Christ’s people. You are the bearers of the good news that the Kingdom of God is at hand. You are the ones who call upon people to rethink their lives, to rethink their priorities, and to put God first! You are the ones who say to your community, “You belong here! You are welcome here! If you want to be, you ARE part of this congregation.”
- You are the alternative to a world that preaches that who you are, what you look like, what you own, what you drive, where you live, and how much money you make determines whether or not you are acceptable!
- You are the ones who have chosen to live as if something else is more important than the things of this world!
- You are the community that follows Jesus instead of all of that!
- You are the body of Christ!
And, by the grace of God, whether you know it or not, and whether you do it on purpose or not, YOU, as the body of Christ together, and each one of you individually, are the ones who carry the message, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news!”