prepared for and delivered at Wekiva Pres. Scriptures: Jonah 2:10-3:5 and John 21:4-17
This was not Jonah’s finest hour. Three days in the innards of a fish don’t do much for a man’s ego, much less his “fine fresh scent”. Just imagine Jonah, splayed out on the sand, listening to the sound of water lapping the shore, replaying the series of events that led up to his being vomited up on the dry land. Then he hears it. The same words that started this whole crazy journey.
Arise. Go to Ninevah.
The first time Jonah heard those words, he got up and went. Just not to Ninevah. For Jonah, a prophet of Israel, to go to Ninevah and offer “those people” a warning from God about their evil ways, well that was just crazy. Ninevah was the Evil Empire. That would be like God sending Tim Tebow to Tallahassee for his senior year to help the Seminoles return to their former glory. Or sending Johnny Damon from Boston to New York. Crazy!
So of course, Jonah had done exactly the opposite, heading down toward Joppa in hopes of getting to Tarshish. The only thing crazier than God sending Jonah to preach repentance to the evil Ninevites? Jonah thinking that he could flee from God’s presence. A boat, a storm and a fish later, Jonah knew how serious God was about this task. So when the fresh air filled his lungs, and the word of God came to Jonah this second time, he listened. He got up. He went to Ninevah.
Now Peter, he had known good times and bad times on a boat. After all, he had fished for most of his life. All but the last 3 years, really. This night? It was about as bad as he’d seen: hours of dragging the net in, throwing the net back out, hauling it in and throwing it back out with nothing to show for it. But a bad night fishing is better than a night spent awake just thinking
And Peter had plenty to think about. Jesus had back among them more than once. But it was not like before. So it felt good to be back out fishing. For fish. Jesus couldn’t really have meant he would ever be a fisher of men. That was crazy. Almost as crazy as the night the storm came on them, the night he had tried to walk out on the water toward Jesus. in that brief moment, he really felt like he knew Jesus, and knew what he – Peter – was made for.
Sinking into the water that night was nothing like the waves of pain and regret that washed over him every time he remembered. Sure, he had only denied being a follower three times, but he had relived it hundreds more. Would he ever be able to remember the face of his rabbi without seeing anger and disappointment?
He had half-heartedly agreed to try dropping their nets on the other side. But when the fish filled the net and someone pointed to the shore, Peter was out of the boat, running back to Jesus. Breaking bread with Jesus again, looking into those eyes again, Peter must have been waiting for the conversation that came next. Three times he had the chance to say it aloud, “Yes, Lord. I love you.” How many times must Peter have replayed that breakfast on the beach as he, Paul and the others began their own ministries among the people, feeding God’s sheep.”
Jonah and Peter, David, Mary Magdalene, Joseph, Paul of Tarsus. The Bible is filled with stories of second chances, of choices redeemed and lives turned upside down and of people transformed by God’s grace.
Those stories tell our stories. The locations and times are different, but aren’t we still people who prefer our way over God’s way? We can be people who get scared and tuck our identity as believers away when going incognito is safer or more convenient. We are people whose faith falters, despite our best intentions. And we, too, live in a culture that values individual power, wealth and status over community and service.
Yes, these stories are our stories, but more importantly, these stories tell God’s story. They tell us of God’s sovereignty and mercy. Like Job, Jonah experiences first hand the power God has to command the world and all that is in it. We learn, as they do, that God gives and takes away, and that we are not always going to understand the why behind the giving and the taking. We see that we can trust that our God – who was, and is and ever will be – can see far beyond our horizon of time and will redeem all manner of pain, tragedy and sorrow. We can believe that the Lord is good, that God’s love is everlasting and persistent. We understand that we are blessed when we do those things God requires: to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God; to arise and go share God’s word, even if it means going to Ninevah.
Peter knew these stories. And he had seen and been part of the Messiah’s ministry on earth.
And yet, like us, Peter needed to hear and believe the good news of the gospel. Again. That the life, death and resurrection of Christ redeems us once and for all. That we who are wholly unworthy are made whole by grace through faith. And that in gratitude, we love God and our neighbors. We feed God’s sheep.
Like the generations of Christ followers between Peter and us, the patterns of our lives together in Christ reflect these truths. Today especially, our worship reflects the ways we embody this pattern of call and response, of enfolding and sending.
The baptisms of M, B and B remind us that we are first called and claimed as God’s children. In the waters of baptism, we become part of the church of Jesus Christ. We are sealed by the Holy Spirit and set apart for a life of Christian service. As a congregation, we promise each baptized member and their family that we will help nurture them in the faith, caring for these little lambs.
Today, six young people are standing in response to a call to make public their own professions of faith. In Confirmation class, they worked hard put their faith into their own words, and in some of the words we are using in our liturgy today. In front of God and you – their brothers and sisters –they are here to offer their unique gifts in service to the church and the world.
Likewise, the new members we welcomed today have affirmed their in Christ faith before the session. They have answered a call to church membership. A membership that is not about the benefits of joining, but is about a joyful reconnection to the church universal and a recommitment to discipleship and service.
Today we also commission 12 missionaries to their work in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. While not a call to the land of our enemies, answering this call to arise and go requires sacrifice –of time and money, of energy. It requires a commitment to one another and to the strangers they will serve, all in the name of Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Friends, we are called over and over and over again, in every season of our lives, to draw nearer to God, to reaffirm our faith, to recall who we are and to be who we are meant to be. Thus we gather here in this place. Week after week, all of us are called to worship, we are called to confess, and we are called to give of our abundance. In our music, prayers and readings, and hopefully in the preaching, we respond to God in spirit and truth. We remember who God is and who we are in Christ: we are forgiven; we are loved; we are gifted; and we are called. Then we are blessed as we go back out into the world to get to work, building the Kingdom of God.
You see, Christ is here among us, feeding us, just as surely as he broke bread and roasted the fish for Peter that morning on the shore. God is here among us, reminding us that we are part of the great story of redemption that continues through to this day. The Holy Spirit is here within us, opening our hearts to God’s call and empowering us to arise, go, and love.
This is what Paul wanted the Ephesians to embrace as he wrote that we are God’s workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.
We’ve all got work to do. Good work. It’s what we were made for.