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Summary: 3rd Sunday after Epiphany What a contrast between the story of Jonah and the Gospel

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3rd Sunday after Epiphany, January 22, 2006

Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, we have gathered here this morning, because you have called us through your Son to worship and praise you for your gift of grace. We are here, not because we have searched for you, but because you have searched for us, claimed us as your own, and have given us the responsibility to work for the increase of your kingdom. Even though there are times when we think we do not have the abilities to uplift your church, still, you have called us. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, give us what we need to do your work. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.

What an interesting combination of lessons do we have for this morning. In fact, it is humorous to think about. Let’s start with the story of Jonah.

The word of God comes to Jonah, calling him to go to Nineveh and preach against the people in that huge city, because of their wickedness. But what does Jonah do? He books passage on a boat going in the opposite direction, trying to put as much water between him and Nineveh as he could.

Now we might think that the reason Jonah did this was because he was afraid for his safety to go into such a large mass of people and point out to them their evil ways, calling for them to repent, lest God destroy them and their city. But no. Jonah later explains that he refused to go to Nineveh because he was afraid his preaching might work! He knew that God was compassionate, and forgiving of repentant sins. Thus, he would rather see those wicked people perish for their sinfulness, than give them the opportunity to repent and live.

So Jonah gets on a boat to go where God is not, to flee from the word of God which had called him to be a prophet to Nineveh. But we know that you can’t flee from God. That leads us to the most familiar part of the story. A great storm arose on the sea, and the sailors determine that the only way to save their lives is to throw Jonah overboard, and a huge fish promptly eats Jonah. Then, after three days of sever indigestion, the fish “vomited out Jonah on the dry land,” right on the very shore where Jonah left in the first place.

That brings us to our lesson for this morning. God comes to Jonah again and says, “Let’s go over this one more time. Go up to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” Jonah, surely worn out from his three days in the belly of the fish, has no strength left to resist, so he begrudgingly does what God commands.

Jonah goes to the edge of the city and begins to proclaim the shortest and perhaps the worst sermon ever preached. “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” he shouts, over and over again, as he simply walks through the city. Then Jonah takes a seat on the outskirts of the city, hoping to see the fireworks. But the people headed his message, repented of their sinfulness, and called upon God for mercy and forgiveness. And God grants them their request.

But what does Jonah do? He gets mad, gets depressed, and says he wished he were dead. He pouts. “I knew this would happen!” “This is why I hightailed it to Tarshish. I knew you were a God who was merciful, forgiving, a lover of losers like those Ninevites. I knew it.”

Contrast this story with what Mark tells us in our Gospel lesson. Jesus, following his baptism, begins his ministry by calling disciples to help him proclaim the message that God’s kingdom is near, to repent and believe in the grace of God. One day, as he’s strolling down the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he sees two fishermen, Simon and his brother Andrew, casting their nets into the shallow waters.

Jesus simply calls out to them from the beach and say, “Hey guys, follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately, without any questions, these two persons drop their nets to float about in the sea, and hop in line behind Jesus, following him as he strolled further down the beach.

A short while later, Jesus spies James and his brother John, two other fishermen, who were in their boat helping their father Zebedee mend their nets. Jesus then calls out to James and John, in the same way that he did to Simon and Andrew, and they immediately jump out of their boat, leave their father, and follow Jesus.

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