Sermon for the 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany

Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Psalm 62:5-12
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Mark 1:14-20

This past Friday my siblings and I went to this birthday party for my brother that my sister-in-law organized. We went to one of those room escape things. Do you know what I’m talking about? Basically a group of like 5-10 people get put into a room in which we try to find clues and things to try to get out. The idea is to work together, using each other’s strengths as a team, in hopes that together we can figure out the secrets to open the door within the allotted time.

We’ve done one of these rooms before a few years back with my siblings, and we didn’t do so well. Granted, it was the first time for any of us, and this room was actually pretty hard. All the puzzles were really random and made little sense to the overall story. So going into this one, I was a little nervous. I was scared because some of us didn’t really work together well, in that some of us wanted to take charge (me) or wanted a voice or opinion for every puzzle (me). I remember last time we ran around a lot wasting time because we didn’t really know what we were doing.

We wanted this time to be different, or at least I did. Online they had tips on how to beat the challenge. Things like work together, split up, have different people work on different things, and communicate. As I read the list I started to realise more and more that these were the exact things that we didn’t do last time. So this time we were a bit more prepared. We sort of knew what to expect, and we knew sort of how to tackle the puzzles.

Most of all, I knew I had to swallow my pride a little, and try to take a backseat in everything. I’ll help where I can, but do my best not to take over. It was for my brother’s birthday, and that guy loves these challenges. I made a conscious decision to let him be in charge, call the shots, and ultimately take the blame if we failed. And you know what? It was hard. Man alive was it ever hard. Going into the room I wanted to know everything and see everything. I wanted to look at every puzzle and give my two cents. I wanted to argue my reasoning for solutions and get the job done.

I noticed though, as I took a more backseat approach, is that I was actually wrong about a lot of the puzzles. A solution that I thought made sense actually was incorrect, or another time I was convinced that my way of solving it was right but it wasn’t, and I saw the ideas of other people rising up and contributing in a big way to our overall goal.

And guess what?

We did it! We figured out all the puzzles, got the cure for the zombie virus, and we saved the world! It also helped that we got 3 hints and a freebie from the staff for my brother’s birthday from the staff, but in hindsight, we only really needed one hint.

So there was something to be said about swallowing my pride and allowing others to speak. There was something to giving up my control and allow others to participate. In the end it seemed like our being able to get rid of all the challenges that stood in the way of our communication and working together helped us be part of that elusive 10% of groups that actually solved this particular room.

Feels good, man.

But there is a life lesson in there, isn’t there? Get rid of what weighs you down in order to succeed? Cut the fat out of your life so you can be more focussed on your goals? Don’t hold onto anything too tightly because it might be what holds you back?

On paper, that sounds great. Get rid of that dead weight and you’ll be lighter, quicker, freer to do what you need to do. But the actual application of that is hard, isn’t it? It’s sometimes hard to get rid of things that we’ve known for so long. It isn’t always easy for some of us to swallow our pride and give up control. It’s difficult to take that backseat and allow ourselves to be changed for the better. We are sometimes afraid of the need to change, to burn away our old selves, to understand things differently and the possibilities that they could hold.

And then we get stories like today’s gospel story, the calling of the disciples, although a little different than the call story that we got last week. Last week, we had some convincing going on. We had a friend assuring another. We had faith and belief in each other that we could do it. This week? We have a “follow me” and an “ok”. And that is it.

Just like that.

These disciples dropped everything they have. Their boats. Their nets. Even their family. Just to follow.

Granted, we don’t get a lot of detail in the story so maybe it wasn’t hard for them to leave. Maybe they weren’t the greatest of fishermen. Maybe their dad was annoying. Maybe they have been looking for a change for a long time and now was their chance so dropping everything to follow Jesus wouldn’t have been so hard.

But chances are, it was hard. Chances are they were probably good fishermen, probably had at least a good working relationship with their father, probably wasn’t as easy as it sounds for them to just leave and follow like that. It probably was hard for them to give up that control and listen to their calling.

So we look at this story and think, nuh-uh nope no way, couldn’t do that. Not willing to leave everything at the drop of a hat. Can’t do it. Won’t do it. Stop asking.

Then we hear all the catch words and phrases that good churches like to give. Things like “leap of faith” and “sacrifice until it hurts” and “the more you give, the more you get” and so on and so forth. I’m not refuting these sayings or ideas in any way, but I just don’t think that is what is going on here in these texts.


Because they’re paired with the Jonah story. A story that most of know so very well. Or at least we think we do.

Help me out, where did God ask Jonah to go? Why? What did Jonah do? What happened to him? Then what? So what did Jonah end up doing? (I’m actually asking you to answer these questions)

And we hear from today’s story how that all turned out for him.

But the funny thing is that we think Jonah turned away from God because he was scared, or disobedient, or with little faith. But that wasn’t it at all. Jonah didn’t want to change.

Jonah wasn’t a dumb guy. He knew that God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Jonah knew that if he went to Nineveh and preached the good news to them, they would repent and be forgiven. He didn’t want that. He wanted them to suffer. He wanted them to feel pain. He wanted them to pay for the past transgressions because in his mind, they didn’t deserve God’s forgiveness. Even after he gets to Nineveh, he still gives like the sorriest excuse for a sermon that ever could be considered a sermon, because he didn’t want these people to listen and know God.

Suddenly Jonah sounds kind of like a jerk.

How dare he think they aren’t deserving? How dare he be so closed minded and stubborn? How dare he be… so much like us?

Yeah, I said it. We can be closed minded too. In our need to be in control and micro-manage the world, we can also think that others are undeserving of God’s grace or love or even our respect. We can sometimes think that we’re just better than others.

But we’re not.

Not in that we’re equally bad or worthless or without faith, but in that we are equally loved and forgiven by God. We are deemed equally worthy of God’s grace. We are equally called and invited to be welcomed into God’s community and kingdom, part of the eternal body of Christ. See God doesn’t love us more, God just loves us the same.

Yesterday as you know, we hosted the LTS Lay Academy session, with the theme “Welcoming the Stranger/Loving the Neighbour.” All the presenters had good things to say but one of the things that struck me most was something Pastor Dave Saude out of Winnipeg said, something like “we are no longer a welcoming church…” (collective gasp) “…but we are an inviting church.”

Knowing this, trusting this, believing in this promise, then maybe it is easier to forgive. Maybe it will be easier for us to not just welcome the stranger, but to invite those we can’t really get along with. Maybe then we can more fully understand just the level of grace that we’ve been given.

So when we read about the disciples being called, they aren’t called because Jesus knew that they’ll be the first to drop their nets and follow, making it an easy sell. When we hear God telling Jonah to preach to the Ninevites, it isn’t because the Ninevites would be an easy catch in that even a weaksauce sermon like Jonah’s would work on the entire city. And God doesn’t call us because we are better than the rest or have proven ourselves in any way.

Rather, God calls us because God believes in us. God welcomes us because to God, we are worthy. God invites us in because we are regarded as God’s beloved sons and daughters, with whom God is well pleased.

But then to what are we called? Not just to follow, but to be changed. We are taught to let go of those things to which we grip too hard, we are taught to see others as God does, as equally beloved children, we are taught to accept the grace that is shown to us, that we might even change how we see ourselves, not as perfect, not as completely broken, but as a fallen people in need of a saviour, brought up out of the depths and into God’s arms of love.

As Jonah learned that God’s grace can cover all things and that all people are deemed worthy, as the disciples learned that their own aspirations might not line up with God’s plan for them, and as we might learn that we all have a role to play in this body of Christ, may we embrace the gracious calling of God, inviting us into community and service, that our purpose and meaning can surface to bless and fill us. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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