Friday, January 23, 2015

It's Time! Which Way Are You Going to Run? (January 25 2015)

Homily Year B P3, Jan 25 2015, St. Albans
Readings:  Jonah 3.1-5,10; Ps 62.5-12; 1 Cor 7.29-31; Mk 1.14-20

It’s time!

There are, in life, critical moments.  Times of fulfillment.  Times that are so important that we even do a  count down, like the launch of a rocket ship or the last ten seconds of the gold-medal hockey game, or the number of days until Christmas.

We’re not talking about ordinary times here.  We’re talking about special times, the time of action, the beginning of a new era.  If we know or if we hope that the time is coming, we do so with an air of expectancy, of preparation, of anticipation, perhaps even of fear, for we don’t always know what sort of change will be ushered in at that critical moment.  We may spend years preparing for the time:  studying and working hard so that when it’s time we will be called to the bar or licensed as a doctor; practicing hard on the ice and working out in the gym so that when the coach taps you on the shoulder at that critical moment and says “it’s time” you’re ready to go over the boards and do what needs to be done.

Jesus begins his mission by saying “it’s time”.

“The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near.”

This is the good news, the good news that people have been waiting for, waiting for centuries.  It’s time.  God is here.  God is about to act.  Now it begins.

And as befits the urgency of the time, Jesus speaks in imperatives, in demands, in calls for action, in calls for life-changing action.  No time for explanation, no time for the niceties of please and thank you.

Repent.  Believe.  Follow.

And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

When God taps you on the shoulder and says “It’s time,” what will you do?  Will you immediately follow like Simon, Andrew, James and John, the fishermen?

Or will you be more like Jonah, and run as fast as you can in the opposite direction?

Do you know the story?  We only heard a bit of it in our reading this morning.  The word of the Lord came to Jonah, saying “Go to Ninevah, that great city, and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up against me.”

And no sooner had the Lord said to Jonah, “it’s time, go to Ninevah,” than Jonah high-tailed it as fast as he could in the opposite direction.  Maybe it’s because he hated the people of Ninevah.  That’s quite likely.  Ninevah to an Israelite was like an ancient equivalent of ISIS, only much more powerful and much more cruel.  Ninevah was the capital of the Assyrian empire, which had already destroyed and occupied the northern kingdom of Israel.  I can understand why Jonah might refuse to go there.  Maybe that was the reason.  Or maybe Jonah just didn’t want to be a prophet, maybe he had his heart set on being, I don’t know, maybe a farmer or a carpenter.  Whatever the reason, when God calls, Jonah flees, and he gets on a ship, and there is a terrible storm, and eventually he is thrown into the sea and swallowed by a big fish, let’s call it a whale.

And deep in the belly of the whale, it seems that Jonah has a change of heart.  Maybe at this point he feels like he really doesn’t have much of a choice.  He calls on the Lord in his distress, and the Lord hears his prayer.  God speaks to the whale, and the whale then vomits Jonah out of his belly onto dry land.

And that’s when the Lord gives Jonah a second chance.  The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying “Get up and go to Ninevah.”  This time, still dripping with whale vomit, Jonah goes.

Jonah goes to Ninevah, enters the great city and proclaims God’s message, “Forty days more and Ninevah will be overthrown.”  And, surprisingly perhaps, the people of Ninevah believe God, and they repent, and proclaim a fast and put on sackcloth, every one of them, great and small, and even the animals too.  And when God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

And Jonah, who some might say had been extremely successful as a prophet, Jonah is thoroughly pissed.

“I knew it, I knew it,” Jonah says angrily to God. “That’s why I fled in the first place.  I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.”

You see, Jonah wanted to see those people from Ninevah punished, after all they were the enemy and they deserved it.  And Jonah wanted to see his own words come true, it was, after all, quite embarrassing to go around proclaiming a destruction which didn’t come true in the end.

Jonah didn’t want to follow a God who was concerned about and cared for Jonah’s enemies.  He says that’s why he ran away the first time, not because he didn’t know God well enough, but rather because he knew God only too well!

I don’t know how well Simon, Andrew, James and John knew Jesus when they made their decision to follow him.  We really, all of us, only learn who Jesus is after we’ve been following him for a while. I expect that the fishermen, like Jonah, were surprised when Jesus reached out to foreigners and told his followers that they must love their enemies.   I do know that eventually Simon, Andrew, James and John, they all  ran away too, because when Jesus’ enemies arrested him and nailed him to a cross, following Jesus became just too hard, too dangerous, just too much for them to stick around.

We can take some comfort in the fact that our God does seem to be a God of second chances.  The people of Ninevah were given a second chance, Jonah was given a second chance, even the fishermen after they denied Jesus at the cross, they too were given a second chance.  We’ll get second chances.  He is a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 

But knowing that, wouldn’t you want to respond the first time? 

When it’s your time, when God taps you on the shoulder and says, “Go”, or “Follow me” which way will you run?  Will you be like Jonah, who ran away, or will you be like the fishermen, who followed?

Or will you be like so many people, who, when God says “It’s time”, respond by saying “Sorry I don’t have time, let me check my calendar, maybe I can fit you in next month.”

Jesus came proclaiming the good news.  And the good news is this:  It’s time, God is here, God is about to act.  And his first act will be to tap some of us on the shoulder and say, now it’s your time.  Follow me.  This is what I want you to do.

It’s unlikely that we’ll be asked to go to Ninevah.  And not many of us will be itinerant ministers wandering around Galilee either.  But we will be given the opportunity, possibly this very week, to participate in the realization of God’s kingdom.  It might be something at work, it might be something at home.  It might be an opportunity to speak, it might be an opportunity to listen.  It might be a life-long task, it might only be for an instant.  But whatever it is, it will be real and concrete and specific to you, because following Jesus isn’t something that we do in general terms nor in the abstract.  It’s something we do in concrete, practical ways, right in the midst of the confusion, messiness and yes even the time-constraints of our everyday life.

Are you ready for it?  When that tap on the shoulder comes and it’s time, which way are you going to run?


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