Here are my thoughts for this 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany, 25 January 2009. The Scriptures were Jonah 3: 1 -5, 10; 1 Corinthians 7: 29 – 31; and Mark 1: 14 – 20.
I will be preaching at Lake Mahopac United Methodist Church next Sunday (1 February 2009); the service starts at 10 and you are welcome to attend.
Many years ago, when I began teaching at the college level, the faculty of the college where I was employed was exploring the wonders and joys of collective bargaining. And in this process came the discussion of a strike.
It was not clear to me at that time, nor even today, if a strike was necessary or the faculty wanted one just so that they could have the thrill of walking a picket line and showing that they were true union members. As a former member of the UAW, I wasn’t that thrilled by that concept because I remember what was going on when my union discussed a strike at my former employers.
And to complicate this thought about a faculty strike at a community college was the visit I received from the Department chair. She calmly informed me that, in the event of a faculty strike, I, as a non-tenured faculty member, would be expected to be in my classroom performing my duties. One has to realize that even though I was paying dues into the teacher’s union and I was on the tenure track, I did not have the same rights and privileges as my tenured colleagues. In fact, while there are those who see tenure as protecting the incompetent and lazy, tenure does offer a certain degree of freedom and legal protection; beginning instructors do not always have that protection.
So I was faced with a dilemma, do I cross the picket line and protect my salary and potential future or do I show my solidarity with my union brothers and sisters? Fortunately, the talk of a strike was just that, talk, and I was not forced to make that choice. I probably would have tried to find a way to cross the picket line without actually crossing it (as my father had done when the major union at his employment struck but agreed to leave one gate to the site open for the professional employees to enter without physically crossing the picket line).
Sometimes we have an option but many times we do not. We have to make a choice and go with whatever happens next. In the Old Testament reading for today, we hear the completion of the story of Jonah. Jonah had been told by God to go to Nineveh and warn the people of that city of what was to come. But Jonah saw the people of Nineveh as beyond hope and redemption and he didn’t want to go there. So he went somewhere else and we all know what happened to him.
After Jonah’s experience with the fish, he did go to Nineveh and he did warn the people and the people heeded his warning. And as the Old Testament reading for today tells us, the people of Nineveh trusted God and repented. Of course, their actions were short-lived and the city was ultimately destroyed and what Jonah felt would happen did in fact happen. But the people were given the opportunity to change because Jonah understood what he had to do.
Peter, Andrew, James and John were also given a choice one day and they chose to follow Jesus. Now, we know that Andrew and probably John were disciples of John the Baptizer, so they knew the message that he had been telling and they knew that Jesus had come to the River Jordan to be baptized. It was not like they didn’t know what was coming when Jesus showed up and essentially told them it was time to make a choice. And we know that this message must have resonated through the community as Andrew told Philip and Philip told Nathaniel and others were told. And they all followed.
We don’t know today how many were there in the beginning though we have to assume from later information that there were more than twelve. How else do we explain how Jesus was able to send out seventy people on a mission trip? We know that the twelve disciples represented the core and we also know from the records that many left as the mission went on.
We know that many came to Jesus expecting one thing and upon not finding it left; that is true today. There are those today who expect to find in Jesus quick and easy answers and who expect that nothing will be required from them. This isn’t what Jesus said to them at the beginning nor is it what we should expect. There are going to be those who are like Jonah, who don’t see how it will work and won’t do the impossible. There are those who expect quick rewards for tasks that will take many years and use resources that they don’t have.
We know this. We see it in the world today; we see it in our own churches today. We live in a world where to say that one follows Christ is to encourage derision and many negative responses.
We see people and we hear people who are in church on Sunday but whose words, thoughts, and deeds the rest of the week are totally different. Once they heard the call but, like Jonah the first time, they went another way.
There are many who claim to be Christian but whose words, deeds, and actions belie the image of Christ that is known. You cannot preach words of peace when your own thoughts and actions are those of violence and war. You cannot preach words of brotherhood and community when your own thoughts and actions are those of exclusion. You cannot preach words of love and redemption when your own thoughts and actions are those of hatred and suffering. You cannot speak of the power of the Holy Spirit unless you are willing to use the power to help people.
You have to be more like Jonah after he was fished out of the water and who understood that even if the people of Nineveh didn’t heed his call, he still had to make it. You have to be willing to put down your present tasks and do what God asks you to do, even if that brings uncertainty into your life.
The disciples followed, leaving behind certain things because they understood that the promise was greater than what was certain. Yes, they didn’t totally understand what they were being called to do and the exuberance of youth probably hid the fears that might have come from venturing into the unknown. But still they followed.
Paul tells the Corinthians in the Epistle lesson for today that there is no time to waste and that one should not complicate one’s life. Paul echoed the words of Jesus when he sent the seventy out carrying only the basics materials.
It is not easy making the choice to follow Christ. We see the world and know that it is a tough task; we know what happened to the disciples who followed and we don’t want that to happen to us. We see and hear the words of the critics in the world today and we don’t want those words applied to us. Se we are afraid to follow. But we also know what lies ahead if we do not make the choice.
We have the benefit of knowing what the disciples did not know; we know that a life free from slavery to sin and death is ours if we choose. We can choose to ignore Christ’s call or we can choose to accept His call. We know the outcome; so we have to make the choice.