I want to pause and rewind for a moment.
Since the Epiphany, our scriptures have emphasized the “light-bulb” moments of vocation. Vocation is our callings, which expand well beyond our profession to our relationships, our public roles, our family roles, and every aspect of our being. These vocations, for baptized Christians, should be firmly rooted in our baptismal callings:
- To proclaim Christ in thought, word, and deed;
- To seek justice and honest peace;
- To act with compassion and mercy in the care of the world that God has made; and
- To love and serve all people, but especially the most vulnerable.
We heard Samuel called by the voice of God in the night. Samuel was a willing prophet responding “Here I am, Lord, your servant is listening”. And yet, the first prophetic message is one of judgment upon his mentor, the high priest Eli.
Jonah is instead a reluctant prophet of sorts.
Jonah was an Israelite prophet, who spoke from and among his people.
Jonah spoke confidently that despite the failures and sins of the Israelite people, God would pardon them in abundant grace without their recognition and acknowledgement of it.
God would pardon them in abundant grace without their accountability and responsibility.
God would pardon them in abundant grace without their repentance and change of mind, heart, or behavior.
The grace of God is beyond our comprehension, but the idea of pardon through grace without recognizing and acknowledging our own personal and collective failure and sins, without holding ourselves and another accountable and responsible, and without repentance that leads to renewed commitment to our baptismal vocation is simply cheap grace.
Please note, however, that we must rely on the abundant grace of God for we are not without failure and sin to be recognized and acknowledged, to be accountable and responsible, and to be called into repentance that changes our minds, hearts, and lives to more fully reflect the path, Will, and Kingdom of God. This is a lifetime process and every second is a second chance.
So, God sends Jonah to Nineveh, in order to proclaim a call to repentance. Jonah is reluctant because:
- Jonah did not like those in Nineveh.
- Jonah did not want these to have the opportunity to repent.
- Jonah knew that in abundant grace, God would be true to the divine characteristics of steadfast love and being merciful.
Jonah delivered the shortest sermon in history, under his breath, and prayed none heard the warning. And yet, they did.
The people enter into a fast of repentance, including wearing the grain sacks for clothes.
Their leadership declared and ordered the observation of this fast of repentance, although unnecessary for the people were already participating.
And then, it becomes the comedic commentary intended when the livestock and animals are included in the fast. Can you envision the cows wearing grain sacks?
God does pardon Nineveh to the dismay of Jonah. Perhaps, Jonah was sent as a reluctant prophet to Nineveh to grow more deeply in his understand of God abundant in grace, merciful to a fault, and always steadfast in love towards us and the ‘other’, whether it is to our dismay or our celebration.
And yet, one day the people of Nineveh will invade and occupy a non-repentant Israel.
Jonah was not the only prophet sent from and among Israel to proclaim a call to repentance.
John the Baptizer held the same vocation, which led to his arrest and beheading.
And then, Jesus places the mantle upon his shoulders proclaiming a call to repentance for the Kingdom of God is here now in glimpses, it is near and coming, and it is not yet fulfilled.
Jesus invites Simeon (Peter), Andrew, John, and James to leave behind their professions, their possessions, and their loved ones in order to gather more persons into relationship with the Triune God in hope, honest peace, divine presence in joy, and unconditional love through repentance and reconciliation.
Unfortunately, Jesus and his disciples would also suffer violent death for their prophetic voice and call to repentance for none take pleasure in looking at the mirror to see our sin, our failure, our shadow-side staring back. And yet, we are precisely called to confront said sin, failure, and shadow-side with a repentant heart seeking reconciliation with neighbor and God as able.
May we hear the call to repentance.
May we look into the mirror and confront our sin, failure, and shadow-side.
May we recognize and acknowledge it.
May we be accountable and responsible for it.
May we repent for our sin, failure, and shadow-side and
recommit to our shared Christian, baptismal vocations.
May we seek reconciliation with neighbor and God.
May we experience abundant, but true, grace.
Scriptures were Jonah 3: 1-5, 10 and Mark 1: 14-20.
Originally preached 24 January 2021 for Trinity Lutheran Church (Union City, IN).