Thursday, January 25, 2018

"And the people of Nineveh believed God"--A Sermon for First Lutheran Church, St. Joseph, MO, Epiphany + 3, Jan. 14, 2018

Sermon for First Lutheran, St. Joseph, MO, Epiphany + 3, January 21, 2018
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
           The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, 2“Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” 3So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. 4Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
                5And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.
           10When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God turned away from the calamity that God had promised to bring upon them; and God did not do it.

                14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 16As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

           Nineveh…was a terrible place.  Terrible.  The people were engaged in all manner of wickedness, every sort of blasphemy against the word of God.  They were refusing to welcome the stranger in their midst, failing to offer food to those who had none, engaging in all manner of exploitative practices, and valuing money above people.
           In short, Nineveh was a real sh…immering example of What Not To Do.
           And God was this close to taking the place down. 
           But our God is a God is grace.
           Say that with me:  “Our God is a God of grace.”
           Our God is a God of second chances.
           Say that with me:  “Our God is a God of second chances.”
           God was ready to overthrow Nineveh, because their wickedness seemed to be beyond redemption, but our God is a God of grace and second chances.
           So God appointed a prophet—Jonah—and sent that prophet to Nineveh.
           Or tried to, anyway.  If you know that Jonah story, you know that his route to Nineveh was…circuitous.  It’s a real fish story.
           Because Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh.  He didn’t want to proclaim a word of grace to a people he considered unworthy.  Jonah ran away from the task of proclaiming God’s grace.
           But God, being a God of grace and second chances and all, was willing to let Jonah try again. 
           So Jonah finally relented, and went to Nineveh and informed the town that it would be overthrown in forty days!
           The people of Nineveh heard God’s plea in the voice of God’s prophet.  Here is their response again from our first lesson:

           5And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

The people of Nineveh believed God.
How many people in this sanctuary believe God?
Most of you.  Good to know.
           And how many of us know what it truly looks like to believe God?
           Because if you believe God, the people around you ought to be able to see it.
           We tend to think of “belief” as a feeling.  But when God sent Jonah to Nineveh, was God asking the Ninevites to change how they felt?
           I don’t think so.  I think God was asking them to change what they were doing.  To do something different.  The fancy word for it is “repent,” which just means get off the road you’re on and try a better road.
           Fortunately for them, the Ninevites were willing to take God up on the second chance, and they showed it to God.  It’s left out of your lesson, but we’re told that the king himself put on sackcloth, and he ordered that no living thing should eat until God realized their repentance was for real and lifted the sentence upon them.
           That’s how you do it!
           When God offers you a second chance—and God always does—take it!

           When Jesus called his disciples, he was calling them to believe in him and his mission.  But the call told them not that they would be thinking differently—though surely they would.  He called them to get on a different road.
           Today you are fishing for fish.  Tomorrow you will be fishing for people.
           Tomorrow you will be a disciple of Jesus Christ.  And that means acting differently, doesn’t it? 
           Disciples of Jesus Christ welcome and celebrate the stranger, the immigrant, the refugee, in their midst.
           Disciples of Jesus Christ offer their own food to those who have none, and their own clothing to those who need it.
           Disciples of Jesus Christ value people above money.
           Believing God means living God’s commands in your body.  Speaking God’s word of justice with your mouth.  Preaching God’s word of love with your hands, and your feet.
           Believing God and being a disciple of Jesus Christ are actions.
           And re-actions.
           How many in this room are perfect at this stuff?  You always welcome the one in your midst who is strange?  You keep only what you need to feed and clothe yourself, and give the rest to those in need?  You love every person you meet, and are indifferent to money?
           Discipleship is the practice of getting our actions to match the words of faith we profess.  It is a journey—a lifelong process of pausing every so often to look around and see what road we’re on?  Are we on the Jesus Road?  Or the road to Old Nineveh?
           If you’re familiar with any twelve step program, this is step four:  “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”
           As Christians—people who believe God and follow Jesus—we should be taking such an inventory periodically.  Hitting the pause button on life and asking ourselves, “Am I where I want to be?  Am I where God wants me to be?  Do the people around me know that I believe God and follow Jesus based upon my actions—the things I say and the things I do?”
           Little secret:  there are some people who profess Jesus, but that profession is belied in the way they act.  There are people who profess Jesus loudly, but whose actions are more Old Nineveh than New Jerusalem.
           Being a disciple of Jesus Christ doesn’t mean being perfect.  We are just starting the year of Mark in the lectionary.  Watch the disciples as you go through this year.
           Especially in Mark’s gospel, you will see them fall short of the glory of God.  Fail to recognize who Jesus is and what his incarnation means.  Fail to follow his simple commands.  Chasing glory instead of service.
           And isn’t that good news for us?!
           The disciples—the ones who were following Jesus literally—fell short.  And now they all have the same first name:  “Saint.” 
           Because our God is a God of grace and second chances.
           Wherever you are, whatever road you are on, our God is at the ready to forgive you and help you change paths.
           If you’re on the road to New Jerusalem, our God is at the ready to help you stay there, to walk with you in your searching and fearless moral inventory. 
           The people of Nineveh believed God.

           I know that the people of First Lutheran Church in St. Joseph, Missouri do too.  So let’s show the world.

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