Sermon for January 24, 2021 Third of Epiphany “Follow Me”
I suspect that we surprise ourselves by times at what catches our attention, what causes us to cry or laugh, or what prompts us to reach out to a friend or stranger. In each of these experiences what we are left with is the overwhelming sense that some force just beyond our comprehension is at work and we are grateful.
In the teaching from Jonah we hear of the second encounter of Jonah with the people of Nineveh. As a bit of backstory, Nineveh was part of the Assyrian Empire and though the idea of God was not unfamiliar it was certainly not the mainstay of family, community or political thought. The city was in turmoil in every conceivable way; the Young King Shalmanesser IV had died, there was a famine as a result of floods and earthquakes, many Tribal leaders tried to form a government and there was general miss-trust in leadership and mayhem amongst the people.
It is no secret that Jonah nor many others liked Nineveh and held preconceived notions of what the people were like. Everyone knew that when you said ‘they’re from Nineveh’ that was enough to arouse suspicion. Into this Jonah was called. God wanted him there and when Jonah tried to run away, or sail away, he was swallowed by a great fish and deposited quite unceremoniously on the shores of Nineveh. Despite his sure belief that no one would listen to him…the people did “from the least to the greatest” and when the King heard he ordered that every person clothe themselves is sackcloth and fast and repent, also no beast would work. All the city stopped and in those moments God’s spirit had an opening to work on the hearts of all the people. And God smiled and relented on the punishment intended.
I often wondered what it might have been like to be Simon, Andrew, James and John on the shores of the Sea of Galilee that day when Jesus came by. In the video series on the life and times of Jesus ‘The Chosen’ there is a scene where Simon, Andrew, James, John and Zebedee have fished all night and caught nothing, in the morning Jesus is at the shore and askes Simon to cast his net one more time, when the nets are full to the point of breaking Jesus says to Simon; follow me. He asks the same to Andrew, James and John. And they follow. Then James and John turn to their father Zebedee as if to ask permission and he says; the Messiah we have prayer for our whole lives has chosen you to follow and you are worried about what I will say to your mother when you are late for supper! Go…follow.
Toward the end of the last century of the era before Jesus and in the first century of this current era there was growing chatter and expectation that the Messiah would soon arrive. There had been no conversations or directives from God to the prophets or prophetess’ for about 500 years…so every time someone came proclaiming to be the Messiah expectation ramped up a little bit more. Until Jesus. News of his birth and the families escape to Egypt had been, for the most part, forgotten but expectation remained high.
Jesus arrived, heralded by John the Baptizer, preaching a message of justice, peace and tolerance. Not exactly what the people were expecting but then God is always about the unexpected. There just seemed to be a knowing in the hearts of the people that led the first disciples to just follow and the leaders of the day to be…well…concerned. Ever since Jesus has been afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted.
That all leads to our time in the 21st century. What are we expecting that would cause us to follow? Is there still a message, a mission, an agenda? Well I think there is and it is one that is renewed in each time and place. For each person to discern for themselves.
I did not watch the inauguration on Wednesday but I did see the event later in the day. Apart from delight in a change of leadership and temperament in the USA there was a young poet, Amanda Gorman who just may have been the highlight of the event. If you have not seen her recite her poem, I strongly recommend you do. In part she says:
“In this truth in this faith we trust For while we have our eyes on the future history has its eyes on us This is the era of just redemption We feared at its inception We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour but within it we found the power to author a new chapter To offer hope and laughter to ourselves So while once we asked, how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?
Now we assert How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us? We will not march back to what was but move to what shall be… For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it If only we’re brave enough to be it”
We have been gifted this time, only this time, for we can reflect with nostalgia on the past or gaze with longing eyes to a future but they are exercises that inhibit our ability to focus our attention on the now. Even in our day, our today, there is light, for me that light is Jesus. The first disciples were brave enough to follow. Is there still something to captivate your attention and energy in the mission of Jesus? Are we brave enough to see it and more than that to be it. I know with certainty the answer is a resounding yes and the influence of Jesus is as poignant today as it was 2000 years ago. And so again Jesus says: follow me…