The Rev. Lee M. Miller II
Epiphany 3 – January 21, 2018
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Buffalo
I learned the laws of the sea at an early age.
Move to the center of the boat.
Keep your hands and feet inside at all times.
Ok, ok, so I first learned the laws of the sea on “Pirates of the Caribbean” at Disney World.
But these are good guidelines for boating.
Watch your step.
Move to the center.
Keep your hands and feet inside the vessel at all times.
And these rules are good.
They keep us safe.
They are supposed to keep children safe.
And so, we repeat these rules, these, basic boundaries of life, over and over again, like the PA system at It’s a Small World.
And we learn that these rules serve their purpose – if you’ve ever pinched your fingers between an amusement park skiff and the metal rail track which guides it – you’ll know.
These rules are in place for a reason; and they set our boundaries – for our own sake.
Jonah knew the rules.
Jonah would have known the Law.
Jonah would have known the Torah, the Law of Moses,
And in a time of oracles and judgement, when the words of the prophets were written on the walls,
perhaps Jonah, son of Amittai, would not have objected if the Lord had called him to prophecy to his own people that they had broken the law, the commandments of the Lord.
But Jonah was not being sent to his own people.
The Lord said, “I want you to go to that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.”
Only the thing is,
And you know this.
The Great City which the Lord was speaking of it was not the city of Samaria, the political hub of the Northern Kingdom of Israel,
It was not the great famed city of Jericho,
The Lord was not sending Jonah up to be a prophet to Zion, to Jerusalem, to the Great City on the Hill.
No, the Lord was sending Jonah to Israel’s enemy;
The Lord was sending Jonah to Nineveh,
That is Mosul, Iraq;
Into the nest of the evil Assyrian empire.
This was way outside the bounds!
This was way outside the lines.
This. Was. Not. Safe!
And here’s the thing;
Jonah doesn’t want to go into the land of his enemies, not only because he is scared of proclaiming to them God’s judgement; God’s wrath; God’s condemnation.
Jonah isn’t just scared that he’s going outside the bounds.
Jonah is scared because he already wonders if God is going outside the bounds.
Jonah doesn’t want to go, because he knows there is something in God, that just might redeem Nineveh.
And you know the Sunday School story;
Nineveh would have been a few hundred miles East;
But instead, the text tells us he goes down to the port of Joppa, finds himself a sea vessel with a bunk to rent in steerage; (Please keep your hands and feet inside the ship at all times.)
And tries to sail away as far as he can – west across the Mediterranean Sea, hoping to make it to Tarshish in southern Spain. That’s more than 2500 miles from Israel.
Jonah fell asleep on that ship and a great storm rose, the sailors woke Jonah and told him to pray to his God to save them,
And that’s when he told them that he and God weren’t on speaking terms.
The waves raged and the winds beat against the sails of the vessel; the sailors were desperate, and a little superstitious,
Jonah offered to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea, and it will quiet for you,”
They were reluctant, but prayed the Lord would not punish them more, and obliged, and threw Jonah over.
When that great fish, whatever is was,
Spat Jonah up on the shore from where he came, three days later,
The Lord called to him again,
Go to Nineveh, the land of your enemies, and call them to repentance.
And so, Jonah walked through that city for three days and three nights.
And the people there repented. In the verses edited from our periscope this morning is the proclamation the King of Nineveh decreed, that everyone, every person, men and women and children, and even animals, all herds and flocks, shall be covered with sackcloth as they cry mightily to God for forgiveness.
The last people who Jonah would have expected.
Israel’s enemies heard a call from the Lord of Lords, and they repented.
And when God saw what they did, ho 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.
Jonah couldn’t even imagine.
This was way out of bounds.
This was far beyond what had been expected of the Lord.
And that’s who God is.
The Lord of Lord’s cannot be kept in a box or in a book or in a law or in a theology.
God cannot be contained.
No land and no one is beyond God’s providence,
And there are no boundaries to God’s grace.
Being good sons that they were,
Simon and Andrew were fishing with their father;
Just as he had done with his father;
And he had done with his father;
Generations of fisherman by the sea.
They knew their place.
They knew their roles.
And not just they, but the women of their community as well.
Everyone knew their place.
They knew the rules of the sea;
The laws of life on the lake;
And the Laws of Moses as well.
Stay in the center of the boat;
Keep your hands and feet inside the vessel;
Honor your mother and father.
And then comes this stranger;
And then comes this Jesus,
In Mark’s gospel, coming straight out of the wilderness;
And this Jesus comes calling; calling out to them by name;
Simon, Andrew, James, and John, Follow me.
And they do it!
It is the most amazing thing.
It goes against the rules;
Against the laws;
The disciples upon hearing their names called;
Get out of the boat,
And leave their father, and presumably their mothers,
And they go!
Church, we are being called.
You are being called.
In your baptism, God took you under the shelter of God’s wings, called you by name, called you beloved,
And empowered you with the gifts of the Holy Spirit,
The spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The spirit of counsel and might,
The spirit of knowledge, and the fear of the Lord,
And with these gifts,
You are called!
Maybe like Andrew and Nathaniel, God has called you to be a fisher of people,
Or like Jonah you are called to proclaim a word of Hope for those who oppose you,
Maybe like Mary, you are called to preach good news to those who live in fear,
Or like Steven, you are sent to serve those who are sick or shut-in,
Maybe like Lydia you are called to lead us all forward,
Or like Paul you are called to invite someone who is outside, into the family of God,
I don’t know what God is calling you to,
All I know is that God is calling,
Get out of the boat!