“Just do it! Just do it”! So goes the Nike sneaker company. Speaking of sneakers and being sneaky, that company wants one thing: “Just do it” -buy their shoes. They take a phrase that usually goes with giving into temptation. When you are on a diet and faced with a lovely array of deserts such as we had at our wonderful roast beef dinner last night, as Ollie and Marion Smith’s lovely granddaughters went among the tables, wasn’t there a voice inside you that whispered: “Just do it?!”
This morning, however, I want to give a different spin to this phrase. It has a clear connection with obedience to the Lord, as in the case of Jonah. Today’s first reading is the rather dull description of Jonah’s preaching going down the “Landis Avenue” of Nineveh. Imagine: three days to walk it-now that’s a big city! But the more interesting parts of the tiny book of Jonah are the story of the whale and Jonah’s complaining to the Lord. It’s a small book-only four little chapters; the whole book covers only two pages of your Bible. Read it to your children as a bedtime story. Three days inside the belly of a whale-I wonder what Jonah smelled like!
Let’s take a look at the first few verses of chapter 4 which follow immediately after the first reading.
But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, "O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live."
Jonah just didn’t like God loving so much. Now let’s get the picture. Jonah did what he was told, but he wasn’t into it. He was caught in the net of his own prejudices. He just did it-God’s will-but no enthusiasm, just rote obedience. (Said with a crass tone of voice…) “Ok, everybody, repent, will ya? I’m supposed to tell you to repent, so, here goes: “Repent!” Remember the boring vacuum cleaner salesman of the sermon some weeks ago? (Crass voice again…) “You don’t really want this vacuum cleaner, do you, lady? But I’m supposed to sell vacuum cleaners. I’m supposed to just do it.” We’d be very surprised if vacuum clearers were sold that way. But that’s what happened in Nineveh. The King got the message and sent out a proclamation that everyone side around in sackcloth and ashes. Listen: if you haven’t tried it, don’t knock it! They just did it: they repented! The bottom line for Jonah and for the people of Nineveh, is they “Just did it”! God’s love got enmeshed in the loveless Jonah, just by his obedience.
The connection between the first reading and the Gospel is obvious: the call to repentance. The setting is quite different-some fish, but no whales. Unlike Jonah, John the Baptist and Jesus are totally involved in their call. But more important than their just doing it, was God’s decision to “Just do it”: to save us even when we were not into it. I’m glad God was into it!
Repent! Repent! What does this word mean? We usually connect it to “Stop being bad and start being good.” Yes, it means that, but it means much more. The word means “to turn in the opposite direction.” It means doing a “180” with attitudes and behaviors. That’s what Jonah had to do. He was told to go east-he went west. Up comes the whale, eats Jonah, and then turns himself and Jonah back west again. When God wants you to do something, the first turnings in the opposite direction are going to mean that something is going to happen-perhaps not as great as being eaten by a whale-but something is going to happen to get you to go in the direction that God wants for you and what is best for you.
So repent means to turn around and go in the opposite direction in obedience to God’s will. Repentance is a turning. The root meaning of the word for verse is a “turning.” The uni-verse is the one great created reality that is turning.
My mother’s only sibling is still living, at age 92. Mom died forty years ago this summer. For many years, Aunt Gertrude has faithfully kept up a subscription to National Geographic for us. The February, 2003 issue has a beautiful article entitled: “Discovering the First Galaxies.” (See http://nationalgeographic. The image projected is also found at http://groups.msn.com/WesleyWithoutWalls in the album “Slices of Life.”) The first image from the Hubble telescope is of two galaxies colliding in their gravitational fields. The tail is 280,000 light years long-three times the length of the Milky Way. The next image is another spectacular close-up of young stars wheeling about the center of another galaxy. (The image projected is found in “Slices of Life.”) There is a turning like a pinwheel.
From the beginning of time, God set up creation like a turning pinwheel or a merry-go-round. God has been turning the universe around with the turns of God’s love. But we have been turning against God from the beginning. God wants to turn us one way, and we keep turning the other.
We come, now, to the Gospel of Mark and its first twenty “turnings” called verses. Once again, God is about organizing creation, seeking to turn us toward the face of God, even as we keep turning our faces away. To get our attention, there are six powerful spiritual blows, as it were-God’s movement into our lives to urge us to turn toward God. They are like six karate chops. Now Jesus isn’t into the martial arts, but rather into the art of divine loving. Yet there are similarities when the impact of God’s love reaches us, urging us to get into the love of God as Jonah didn’t.
Let’s make the sound together of a karate chop: “Hoowack!” There: you’re getting good at it! Like the shouts that brought down Jericho, like the shouts of praise, like our full singing, spiritual realities are loosened inside of us, releasing the power of God’s love. Let’s take a look at these six movements in the first twenty verses of Mark’s Gospel:
1) John preaches: “Turn around!” “Hoowack!”
2) John baptizes: “Clean up your act!” “Hoowack!”
3) Jesus is baptized: “I’m with you-I’ll just do it!” “Hoowack!”
4) Jesus wins over Satan in the desert: “You lose, Evil!” “Hoowack!”
5) Jesus preaches: “Turn around: there’s a new Kingdom here!” “Hoowack!”
6) The Call of the First Disciples. “Hoowack!”
How else can we understand the impact on the first disciples of the call of Jesus, if not that the sheer power of Jesus’ presence is enough to have the three drop the nets of their own making and follow Jesus! There is no indication of (singing) “Getting to know you, getting to know all about you.” The sheer presence and impact of Jesus and his immense divine love in human form cracks open the souls of the first disciples and opens new possibilities for them. They became totally responsive to the call of Jesus and they “Just do it!”-follow Jesus. This is what worship and liturgy is meant to be: “Hoowack!”-Into God’s presence and love!
It is awesome to come into God’s presence. We might like to run the other way! More comfortable is to have a nice quiet weekly service with nice hymns, and nice preaching, and nice hello to everybody. We all want it to be so very, very nice. Nice: the root meaning of that word means, “lazy, foolish and stupid!” I think we need to kick it up a bit from “nice”!
God wants us to enter into a totally new Kingdom of love and peace by letting go of the nets that make our kingdoms, and get in touch with the nets that make God’s. This is a Kingdom of salvation, joy, peace, energy, unconditional acceptance and the pure delight of knowing that you are doing God’s will. Eventually energy and enthusiasm will come-but for now, “Just do it!” Obey first and the good feelings will come later. We follow God, not because it feels good, but because like the commercial for eating Quaker Oats: “It’s the right thing to do!”
The look of love on Jesus’ face was enough to disarm the first fishermen from their nets and to follow the Lord. It must have been that first look into Peter’s eyes that he remembered when he briefly went in the opposite direction into the courtyard of the high priest early that first Good Friday morning. He yielded to the temptation to “Just do it”-deny his Lord! But then came that look of Jesus upon Peter as Jesus moved from one courtroom to the next. Like a spiritual karate chop, Hoowack-there’s that look again! And Peter turned around again. Peter repented.
May you find in the depths of your soul that look, that call of Jesus to be one with him, to pass your days with him, to turn toward him--to repent. When you hear that call, for goodness sake--just do it!