Thursday, January 19, 2012

Reflections on the Lessons for Epiphany III - Call

Read the Gospel text here: Mark 1:14-20
Read the Jonah text here: Jonah 3:1-10 (Though you might want to read the entire book!)
Both of the lessons today deal with the issue of call.  In the Gospel, Jesus calls the fishermen Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John.  “Follow me,” he says, and they leave everything and follow him.  This lesson is contrasted by the lesson from the reluctant prophet Jonah, who also received a call from the Lord God: “Go!”  “And then away in the opposite way he went.”(1) It is also interesting to note that Mark makes it clear throughout the Gospel that these disciples really didn’t know what they were getting into.  They have preconceived ideas of who Jesus is and what he wants from them that turn out to be completely wrong.  One wonders if the disciples actually understood more from the beginning if they would have been so willing to leave their nets and follow.  Jonah on the other hand seems to have a pretty good idea of not only what is expected of him, but what the result will be.  This is why he tries to run away.  He is not in agreement with God.  In both cases the bottom line ministry that these men are being called to is one of unconditional love and grace; it is one of radical inclusion.  In the Gospel this is made manifest on the cross.  In Jonah, God does not want to see the city of Israel’s hated enemies destroyed and Jonah just knows that God will end up having mercy and extending forgiveness.  And Jonah wants no part of it.
I think there are points of contact between us and the disciples, and us and Jonah.  Like the disciples, we too often create an image of Jesus/God that looks more like our ideas of who God is and what we think God’s priorities should be.  Popular Christianity includes a strong element of judgment and tends to downplay God’s love and grace.  Oh yes, “God loves everyone” (we say)… “but” – and then we come up with conditions: “you have to “accept Jesus as your savior or you have to be good or you have to believe in a certain way or you have to be a part of a certain expression or denomination or you have to accept these political positions or you have to… etc. etc. etc.”  WRONG!  God’s love and grace are unconditional!  God loves us, and because of that then we are able to respond to our call.  This is why the focus is on the cross of Jesus.  It reminds us of God’s amazing love and grace for us.  If it starts to become a symbol of “you better do this, or that, or else” then we are missing the point.
Like Jonah, we too often like to pretend we know the mind of God.  God can’t love those people, God can’t possibly be willing to forgive and accept those people! We like to think of ourselves as having a special IN, and the annoying thing about grace is that it tends to be so radically inclusive.  And this is exactly the point that God makes at the end of the book of Jonah.  God informs Jonah in no uncertain terms, that God is a God of love and forgiveness and God loves the creation so wildly and passionately that God will go to whatever lengths God needs to in order to bring people into relationship and wholeness.  Too bad you don’t like it, Jonah!  But you cannot presume the mind of God.  And this is our problem as well.  Way too often, we like to presume the mind of God.  We are constantly baptizing our prejudices, our priorities, our opinions, our politics and claiming: “God is on my side – and – God opposes you.”  Or we arrogantly assert – “If you want to be right with God you have to think like me!”  WRONG!  We do not know the mind of God and to presume the mind of God is to try to put ourselves in God’s place, which you might remember did not work out so well for Adam and Eve. (And which theologians down through the years have used as a definition of Sin).
A very wise Pastor has summed up the message of these lessons in this way: “If God does not love everybody, then there can be no love for anybody.  If God is not gracious to all, there can be grace for none.” (2)  This is the central theme of the story of Jonah and the Gospel of Jesus.  And like Jonah and the disciples we are all being called to follow, to live lives that reflect this grace and love and to reach out in God’s love and grace to care for others and pass on this love.  It is to this that we are being called.  God’s call to us is that we would open our hearts to God’s love and grace and be open vessels of this love and grace to all – that is – TO ALL.  It is a risky call, because God is so generous and like the disciples we have a hard time understanding and accepting God’s radical inclusivity.  And like Jonah when we do begin to understand we might want to go in the opposite direction.  But just as God pursued and followed Jonah even into the belly of the whale, God will follow us and never let us go; constantly showering his love and grace upon us and calling us to follow and to love – In the name of Father, Son+ and Holy Spirit!
(1) - I am wondering if any of my readers will recognize this line.  "And away------ in the opposite way I walked. What a clever plan, what a capital plan. I've listened with attention...."  Perhaps readers from England in particular might recognize it.  If you can identify it, send me an email or post a comment.  I realize it is unrelated to the theology and biblical exposition of the post - but I could not resist!
(2) Pastor John Jewell - a United Methodist pastor whose sermons sometimes appear on Textweek.  I read this line in his sermon on these very text several years ago and have always found them very meaningful.  They sum up for me one of the core foundational planks of the Gospel!  Thank you Pastor Jewell.

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