Getting Clarity on Calling, Pastor Fred Kinsey
The disciples follow Jesus immediately, leaving their nets and boats behind, to begin their journey with Jesus. But Jonah’s journey is a long one through Ninevah, all by himself, a three day’s walk across an exceedingly large city!
Let’s be clear: Jonah didn’t like the Ninevites. They were his sworn enemies, at one time the greatest power in the region, he didn’t want to ask them to repent. And he knew God was a loving God, full of mercy, and slow to anger. But Jonah thought he knew better, and he had no intention of helping his enemies. Which is why when God first called Jonah to go there, he took off, in the opposite direction. Thanks God! But no thanks! Not me! Don’t involve me in your plans of forgiveness!
The direction of Nineveh was east, near Mosul, in Iraq, on the Tigris River. So Jonah heads west, down to Joffa, on Israel’s coast of the Mediterranean, and books a cruise on the first ship out.
Not so fast, God says, and causes the waters to rage and storm out of nowhere! The ship’s crew start praying, each to their own gods, for help. Jonah though, was sleeping down below. What did he care, as long as he didn’t have to go to Ninevah! The crew decided it had to lighten the boat’s load in order to save themselves, and threw all the passengers luggage overboard. Still, Jonah was tucked away down below, without one pang of guilt.
Finally, the crew retrieves Jonah from his place of denial, and say, didn’t you tell us you were fleeing from your God? Who is this God of yours anyway?
The God of heaven and earth, and the seas, says Jonah. I have a feeling you’re gunna have to, throw me overboard if you want to calm God’s seas. But they were afraid, and suddenly had a deep respect for Jonah’s God. So at first they tried rowing as hard as they could. But still they were about to capsize. And running out of any other options they could think of, they finally take Jonah by his arms and legs, and they do, sling him overboard.
The wind ceases, but Jonah begins to sink. A large fish, sent by God, comes to swallow Jonah up. Jonah is rescued from death.
Aldous Huxley wrote a poem, once upon a time, about this scene:
Seated upon the convex mound
of one vast kidney, Jonah prays
and sings his canticles and hymns.
Making the hollow vault resound
God’s goodness and mysterious ways,
till the great fish spouts music as he swims.
Aldous Huxley, “Jonah,” in The Cherry Tree: A Collection of Poems, ed. Geoffrey Grigson (New York: Vanguard, 1959) 211.
On the third day, hearing Jonah’s prayer, God causes the great fish to throw-up Jonah on dry land.
And that’s where our First Reading begins today: “The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time…
Jonah – sometimes called, the reluctant prophet – begins his long walk through the exceedingly large Nineveh, and what he thought of as, enemy territory, a mean city. So even when his journey proves successful, and the people believe Jonah and repent, Jonah is unimpressed and decidedly unhappy about God changing God’s mind about the calamity God said God would bring upon them. Jonah, Jonah, Jonah!
How long has your journey been? Long and winding like Jonah’s? Have you been trying to flee God, longer than you’ve been trying to follow God? Did you jump up out of your boat, like James and John, and follow the LORD right away, only to find that the road on dry land was taking a lot longer than you expected? Did you give up a comfortable living, and wish you could have it all back? Did God call you to a job you don’t like, to go and work with a people you see more, like enemies, than friends?
It seems to me that one of the things we are called to do in these stories, is examine the truth of the message we bring, wherever we are. Are we working at something that we have a passion for? It can’t always be in our paying job. But maybe it’s in raising a family, or in some volunteer work that’s close to your heart, which is really, closest to your calling, as a child of God. Until we are clear about what it is God is calling us to do – that something, that fits who we are, the person God created us for – we can’t expect to want to be doing it. And we’re likely, running in the other direction, booking a ticket on the next boat out of town. Either, it’s not what we’re made for, and it’s the wrong vocation. Or it’s truly what God has called you to, but you’re still not ready, there’s something personal in your life you have to resolve first.
St Paul’s discussion in our Second Reading, from 1 Corinthians, is in some ways, hard to square with our world today. But one thing I think he has right, is ‘the urgency of now’: “For the present form of this world is passing away,” said Paul. That doesn’t mean the world is about to be destroyed by a large meteor that God is sending, or in a nuclear attack. It means that, the present form of this world, is the form of Ninevah, the form of Rome, the forms of oppression in our lives constructed around race and class, sexual orientation and gender identity. Paul says he saw these passing away, because Jesus brings a Spirit of grace and peace, a cleansing fire and justice, where forgiveness and new life, service and non-violent resistance, reign, in a new world God is creating through us. It’s the resurrection life, that God revealed in Jesus, uncovering how we all have been the Ninevites – the enemy is us, every bit as much, as it is them. Or to say it the other way around: God’s reign in Jesus is loving our neighbor as ourselves, and going the extra mile, to love, even our enemies. When Jesus and Paul said the old form of this world is passing away, they never meant this globe, or that, the new world wouldn’t happen here on planet earth. The war we need to win is a spiritual war, within and without. They are very real world’s – winning hearts and minds – and God will take care of the rest.
Today we fight hunger, not with guns of course, but with donations of food, on this “Soup-er Bowl of Caring” Sunday. A nationwide effort, started by one church down south, because they had a passion to offset the excesses of Super Bowl munching and snacking we do, in such impressive sizes. If we can consume 1.23 billion chicken wings, and enough guacamole to fill a football field 12 feet high on Super Bowl Sunday, they reasoned, certainly we can each give a grocery bag of soup cans to our local food bank for those that are hungry and struggling to put food on the table, which, is as much as 1 in 5 kids in America today, and certainly more in our neighborhood.
How long is the journey? It’s looking like we’d better plan for a sustained slog of it! Our democracy is under attack, from outside, and from within. The income gap between rich and poor, continues to widen. And the institutional church is taking a hit, some of which is deserved, for sure. But the spirituality of Americans remains high. Here at Unity we believe that “the church is the people.” And that’s what we’re going to celebrate next week, at our Potluck and Annual Meeting. Because, we are convinced, that as a baptized people, our journey in faith, our walk with the Lord, and our cry for justice, is a life-long commitment. We are being called and organized by a spiritual agenda, which is the new world Paul talked about, coming into being, through us.
Today we also celebrate our status as a “Reconciling in Christ” church for 7 years now. This is our anniversary of becoming a welcoming congregation, and that too is a life-long commitment, and a journey with both victories and continued struggles. But, we continue to walk with each other, “as sisters and brothers, united in love,” here at Unity, and as a witness to our neighbors and the world.
Peter and Andrew, John and James, left their boats and nets immediately, but it was only the beginning of the journey. There were many struggles and lessons learned along the way. And when we follow the Rabbi, the captain of our boat, our Prophet, our Savior, and Friend, we know we are rowing in the right direction. We may be called to pack light for the journey, shedding things that belong to the world that is passing away. In the baptized life, we throw all our luggage from that old world overboard, and we make the decision to leap into the baptismal waters of chaos and renewal, for we place our trust in our forgiving God who will rescue us on the third day, and bring us safely to the other side.
If we are clear about the purpose of what God is calling us to, we feel more and more renewed every day for the life-long journey of, making a difference in the new world we have in Christ: “to act with justice, to love tenderly, to serve one another, and to walk humbly with God.” (David Hass; We Are Called) God bless us on our way!