The Revised Common Lectionary for January 22, 2012 pairs a selection from Jonah 3 with the call of the first four disciples in Mark 1. Both texts certainly involve making a change in direction. Here is a sermon that looks at the story of Jonah as a whole and focuses on what it took to get Jonah turned around.
A Sermon on Jonah 1:1-2:1a and Acts 9:1-9
Imagine what it would be like to move forward, full speed ahead, with total confidence. Imagine what it would be like not to have to struggle with doubt or indecision or anxiety. Feeling certain certainly does feel good. Complete certainty—what an appealing possibility! Or is it?
For the two men in our scripture lessons today it was full speed ahead. Paul was on his way to Damascus to conduct a holy roundup. Filled with conviction, he climbed up on his horse and headed out. This was holy war! Paul knew in his heart that these people following the Jesus Way were wrong, dead wrong. These people of the Way were dishonoring God and disrespecting God’s good law. They were condoning sin and leading others to do the same. For the sake of the true faith and true belief, they had to be stopped. Whatever it took: inquisitions, beatings, prison, even death, just stop them! Full speed ahead in the name of the true religion. Full speed ahead in the name of God!
Paul was sure he understood what God wanted. But Jonah indeed did know what God wanted. God was calling him to go to Nineveh and preach the good news of repentance. That was clear. But Jonah didn’t want those no-good Ninevites to be saved, so it was full speed ahead for him in the opposite direction. God would just have to find somebody else. Being God, God certainly could find somebody else if God wants to.
“I’m outta here,” Jonah declared. He went down to the seaside, and bought a ticket on a boat bound for Tarshish. Then he went down into the bottom-most part of the boat. Then he went down into the oblivion of sleep. He wanted to get as far away from Nineveh as possible. He didn’t even want to think about those people!
No uncertainties nipped at Jonah’s heels or Paul’s heels. It was full speed ahead!—but in both cases in the wrong direction. They were both certain they knew better—better than those Ninevites! Better than those people who belonged to the Way! By implication, even better than God! We can take it from here, God!
Thinking they know better has gotten the people of God into trouble time and time again. Assuming they know the way has gotten them into trouble time and time again. Where has arrogant certainty led the church through the ages? Into crusades, so called “holy” wars. Into violence against one another, Protestant versus Catholic, Anglican versus Presbyterian. History is full of Christian fights. (more…)