January 25, 2012

Sermon for January 22, 2012 - Epiphany 3 B


Sermon for Epiphany 3 B
January 22, 2012
Michael Coffey

Jonah 3:1–5, 10
Mark 1:14–20



Who can imagine being called by God?
           Who can picture themselves standing by the lake shore
           and seeing Jesus walk by
           and hearing him yell to you:
                     Come and follow me!
Who can feel worthy of such a call?
Seminary students and pastors and missionaries
           tend to like these texts
           because it is assumed they are the ones
who have received and responded to some call.
But don’t you believe that for a second.
           Don’t you believe that there are only a few special ones
                     who receive and can respond to the call.
           The call of God is for all who hear it,
                     for all whom God embraces and draws into
                     the flowing river of God’s mercy throughout the world.
The call is to step into the adventure of life lived in God’s good news,
           the quest of living your own life under God’s grace.

We hear in Mark today that
Jesus begins his ministry with his stump speech:
           "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near,
repent, and believe in the good news."
We might say it this way:
           The time is now!  God is active and present among us!
           Stop believing the bad news about how things are.
                     Stop believing that power and wealth always win.
                     Stop believing that when other people say you are unacceptable
                                that they speak for God.
                     Stop believing that you have nothing great to live for.
           Change your mind and believe the good news of God!
                     Love and mercy win!
                     You are beloved and embraced by your Creator!
                     You have a great purpose in being here.
           Jesus preached it:  Believe the good news, now!
                      It changes everything!

It was a call to people to re-enter life
           with a different set of eyes,
           with a renewed mind,
           with openness and trust that God is benevolent,
                     that the universe is good,
                     that life can be lived fully and freely and purposefully,
                     that we can truly love one another in this life
                                and know God’s love together.
So Jesus started rounding people up
           who could start giving it a shot.
He called folks to start letting go of the bad news we already believe
           and grab hold of the good news of God,
                     which is love active through mercy in the world.
Jesus called Simon and Andrew and James and John,
           and Mary and Martha and Salome and Joanna.
He called them to a way of life that was radically new,
           something you would have to call an adventure.

When I think about these call stories,
           the men and women called by Jesus,
           and God calling Jonah and Samuel,
           all biblical women and men called into the amazing life of faith,
           it makes me wonder if there are any adventures left.
Do we sense anymore calls, any more journeys to take,
           any more enchantment with this life,
           or is it just one thing after another without much meaning,
                     leaving us wondering what our purpose is?
           Have we pretty much stopped believing the good news
                     and just let the bad news take over?
Do we in the church have much sense any more
           that this life of being called to follow
           is a high adventure to undertake with some trepidation
           and with excitement and wonderment?
Or is the life of faith just a life of being called into the safety
           and niceties of traditional church life?
And perhaps most important,
           do we have anything to offer children and youth,
           or adults new to the faith,
           that excites and challenges and calls them out
           of a safe, predictable stroll,
                     a call that asks them to drop their nets and start sprinting
                     into a daring adventure called life with God?

A few years ago there was a very popular book
           called “The Dangerous Book for Boys.”
It sold a ton of copies, and was followed by “The Dangerous Book for Girls.”
This book had a sense of life as risky adventure,
           building tree houses, using a compass,
           finding your way through the woods,
           carving sticks with a pen knife.
But imagine if it had just been called “The Book for Boys.”
           No one would have bought it.
Imagine if we called our ministry to youth
           “The Dangerous Confirmation Program.”
But that’s not really what we’re about.
           We’re about something safer and cleaner,
                      and very often just boring.
With all of the statistics about the decline in church membership
           and worship attendance
           and the loss of younger generations,
           I do wonder if it is because we lost the sense of adventure of the call
                     to life with God.

Joseph Campbell, in his widely read work on the Hero’s Journey,
           showed how so many stories of old,
myths and fables and legends and Scripture,
           told the story of the hero,
                     with similar themes and patterns.
Through his work, Campbell showed people how
           the hero myths, whether King Arthur
           or Lord of the Rings, or Star Wars,
                     are really stories about our own lives,
                     our outer and inner experiences,
                     and the struggles we must go through
                     in order to live the adventure called life.
We are Frodo seeking to resist evil and do good
           and keep life in the shire green and neighborly.
We are Luke Skywalker looking at death and destruction
           and being called by a force to right what is wrong in the empire.

One great quote from Campbell:
We must be willing to let go of the life we planned
so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
Jesus is calling people out of the life they planned for themselves
           so they can live the life waiting for them:
                     the good news of God’s love active in the world through mercy.
           That is the adventure of our lives.

When Campbell talked about the hero’s journey
           he described the parts of the story that are common
           from culture to culture and myth to myth.
One of those parts he called “The Belly of the Whale.”
           It is a necessary transformation we go through
                     when we feel the struggle and pain of leaving behind
                     the familiar, and begin the adventure.
For Jesus’ disciples,
           it was leaving behind the nets and the fishing
           and even the father.
For Jonah,
           it was going into the fish for three days
           and giving up his resistance to the call God had given him,
           letting go of his rejection of God’s ways of mercy even for his enemies.
Jonah’s time in the belly ends
           when the fish vomits him up on the beach,
           and Jonah begins anew,
                     though not yet fully able to accept this adventurous God,
                     and probably stinking like fish.
Neither the disciples nor Jonah
           got it all right after they came out of the belly of the fish,
           but it did get them started in a new direction.

If there is any reason we are not hearing
           and responding to and welcoming the adventurous life with God
           it might be that we have not done enough time in the belly of the fish.
We haven’t spent enough time
           listening to our own resistance to life with God and God’s mercy for all.
We haven’t heard Jesus’ own call
           to leave behind the old ways, all the bad news of this world.
We might need to confess that for all the unhappiness we might know
           we still prefer the safety of what is known,
                     we prefer living in the predictable bad news,
           to the risk of what is unknown in the journey ahead.

Jesus himself said the only sign that would be given about him
           would be the sign of Jonah,
           the sign of entering into the belly of the fish,
                     of dying to the old life,
                     and beginning a new adventurous life with God.
This, Jesus says, is what he is about.
Jesus’ death and resurrection
           are the pathway for us,
           the way we fully enter the journey of life with God.
Jesus takes us where we would not choose to go:
           into the belly of death and fear,
           and brings us through to good news that God
                     will never abandon us on this adventure.

I said at the beginning
           that it is hard to imagine that Jesus is calling us,
           that God has a calling, a purpose, for our own particular lives.
We might wonder if we are worthy of such a call.
           But the question we really need to ask is:
                     Which call is worthy of our lives?
                      Is the call we have chosen to follow worthy of our lives?
                     What adventure is worth dedicating our numbered days to?
           Jesus says it clear as a bell:
                     Renew your mind.
                     Believe the good news of life with God.
                     Live by the adventure of love and mercy in this life.
                     Hear yourself being called into this life that is truly life.
                     Know God as present and active now.
           Don’t waste your time and energy on bad news
                     that calls you into paths unworthy of your life!
           You are worthy of divine love and mercy,
                     receiving it, and giving it.

Jesus awakens people with the message of the good news.
           It rouses us to consider again,
                     as we do daily and at key moments in our life’s twists and turns,
                     why am I living by believing in bad news?
           Why am I not trusting more in God’s love and mercy for me
                                and for all this messed up world,
                                including my enemies?
           Why am I living a calling unworthy of this one life I have to live?
           Why not let today be the now that is the when of God’s active love?
           Why not believe in the good news
                     and see what God is doing in this world,
                     and with my own small but purposeful life?

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