Jonah 3: 1-5, 10 Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III
Mark 1: 14-20 Januayr 21, 2018
And Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”
Prayer: Holy God, may we hear your call and move with your Spirit as we respond. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
We are alive on planet earth, and that’s a wonderful thing, but living as a human being on this great planet earth is more than just being alive, breathing, and existing. Many of us, if not each of us, in our own unique way, can hear a call from some part of our physical, natural world and identify with that call, can’t we?
Some sailors, for example, hear the call of the sea. Something deep within their souls resonates with that call, identifies with the nature of the sea—the magnificence of its size, the free movement of its waves, its terrifying power, its placid beauty, and its life-giving properties. Only certain folk hear the call of the sea, and when they do, there’s very little to stop that person’s heartfelt desire to get out on the open ocean, right?
Some hikers hear the call of the mountains and identify with that call in their own nature… it’s a place of challenge, of beauty, of awe and wonder, of ancient developments, of fantastic vistas, of life and death. There’s very little to stop a person who hears the call of the mountains in their heart to find a way to get onto its slopes, right?
Some musicians hear the call of music deep within their souls. There is very little to stop that person from identifying with that call within and will find themselves needing to do something more than just tap their feet to the beat.
Some hear the call of motherhood, of fatherhood, the call to be parents. The nature of motherhood or fatherhood or parenthood, are, generally speaking, already engrained in us… and when that call is heard, all options are on the table to figure out how to have and raise a family.
I could go on, and I’m sure you could, too, but let me move forward and suggest that, like I’ve suggested before, in the spiritual life, things are not much different than the physical life. Many of us, if not each of us, in our own unique way, can hear a call of our holy God. Before you say, “I’ve never heard the call of God,” hear me out. In fact, I think God’s holy call goes out to all people, to all human beings. It can penetrate into our inner souls and touch the part of God’s nature that lives in us and is a part of us. And, each of us can identify with God’s nature already within us.
We know at least some of the nature of God, right? We know God’s nature is love. We know also God is a God of justice, of peace, of inclusivity and non-partiality, of deep compassion for the poor. We also know God is a holy God. So, when you hear the call of God, I think it’s possible that God’s call is resonating with God’s nature of love, justice, peace, inclusivity and non-partiality, of compassion and holiness that already exists within us. God’s call touches us there at that deep level.
When Jesus began his ministry proclaiming the good news of God and that the kingdom of God was near, he was God’s holy nature in human form. His voice called to Peter, Andrew, James and John and the rest of the disciples. Immediately, his voice, his holy call to them penetrated into their souls, and I think touched the part of God’s nature that lived within them. His voice touched God’s nature there in their hearts.
When that happened, the holy calling made for holy changes right away. It wasn’t like, “Oh geez, now I have something else to do in my busy day…” it was that they had a totally new identity. The holy change was a new way of living. It was not just a conscious change, but a sub-conscious one, too. It was a total change. From that point on, they no longer fished for fish; they would fish for people. They were no longer focused on the family business, but they were focused on God’s business.
God was going to use them to bring others into God’s presence, grace and love. They would help others know that God’s realm was near, indeed, it was within them. God’s nature was part of their lives, and Christ Jesus was their teacher and guide helping them to understand that. So, there was very little they could do to hinder the inner urge to follow Christ’s holy call because holy changes occurred within them.
Now, to be sure, we can resist that call and God’s nature in us. We can, like Jonah, run in the other direction, which is what happened to him as recorded in the verses before our passage. You know the metaphorical story… Jonah heard God the first time, Jonah resisted, he fled on land, on the ship, he was dumped in the sea, he was swallowed up by a big fish, and spewed up on land. But, God was persistent, and the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.
Likewise, we can ignore God’s holy call. We can disregard God’s love, God’s sense of justice and inclusivity and non-partiality, we can snub God’s holiness and compassion deep within us. We can let our own viewpoints, our own desires, our own designs on life we can figure on when, where, and how we want God’s call to be convenient for us. We can demand that the call should go along with our own schedules… we can let all that be front and center in our lives, but actually, those will drown out God’s actual call to God’s nature that lives in us.
Sadly, there is no shortage of illustrations and examples of people drowning out God’s call to love and justice, peace and inclusivity, compassion and holiness. Just look at the Turpin family and their house of horrors with their thirteen children. Just look at human trafficking and the illicit sex trade that’s rampant around the world. Just look at the opioid crisis all around us. Just look at the language from our leaders regarding other countries. Just look at the dysfunctional systems and tax bills that widen the chasm between the wealthy and the impoverished. Just look at the oppressive powers that still allow the dehumanization of our bodies in a variety of corporate, political, and entertainment industries.
We are to practice God’s nature that’s within us, and sadly, there many places where so-called Christians and other faithful people fail to regard God’s nature within.
Thankfully, God is persistent. Eventually, when God called Jonah to be a prophet to Ninevah, even though he resisted at first, God’s call penetrated into his inner soul and touched the part of God that lived in him, and he was profoundly changed. He grumbled most of the way, but He identified with that call; he moved with it; he reflected God’s holy nature that was in him when he spoke out against the evil ways of the Ninevites. He called them to repent, and look what happened! The holy call penetrated to the nature of God in their hearts, and they changed their ways. And, God was merciful and changed plans regarding the calamity that was supposed to happen to the Ninevites.
Jesus’ holy call to repent is nothing short of making changes revealing the nature of God within us.
In no small way people in our day and age can listen to the holy call of God and, if desired, make holy changes, I think. When we hear the holy call of God, can we respond to that holy call by practicing God’s nature that exists within us? Something deep within our souls resonates with that call. We have a new identity in Christ. The holy change is a new way of living, of being, a new way of existing that is focused in on being about God’s business.
You’ve heard the phrase that is said every Christmas— “Keep Christ is Christmas.” While I don’t agree with the saying as a rebuttal against the inclusive approach to the holidays, I do agree with an adaptation of that phrase which is “Keep Christ in Christian.” I take that adaptation to mean that as Christians, we are to follow Jesus Christ. We are to emulate God’s nature that was in him, and his very nature, by the power of the Holy Spirit, is breathed into us. We are Christians because we have a holy calling by Christ. We follow him, and we are changed by Him, and we practice his nature which is God’s nature, within us.
This happens in our lives. God knows who we are, what we like to do, what our gifts are. God understands our strengths and weaknesses, what we try to avoid, too. In our families, can we respond to God’s holy calling by making holy changes of love? In our professions and vocations, are we able to live out our holy calling to follow the Christ by practicing holy changes of peace and justice? In our church, are we able to answer Christ’s holy call by making holy changes which shows God’s nature of inclusivity and non-partiality to all people? To be an all inclusive church is to practice God’s nature within us, I think. As we make our minds up about political issues, about problems in our society, are we able to do so in ways that reflect our holy calling and the holy changes occurring within us? To let God’s nature within us influence us in how we respond to societal issues is to practice God’s nature within us, I think.
We have a holy calling from God in Christ, and the part of God
that lives in us, God’s nature, is love and holiness. So we practice love and holiness. We have the holy change of a new identity in us, it’s God’s nature of justice and peace, of inclusivity and non-partiality, of God’s compassion within that is in us. So we live with and practice all these. And when we hear God’s holy call and respond to the holy changes within, there is very little to stop us from hindering the inner urge to follow Christ, and decide to be at his service for the many people struggling because of the issues within this world. There’s very little to stop us from being disciples from being the church.
May God help us practice God’s holy nature within us, for God’s purposes through and through. Amen.