Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Mark 1:14-20
What is your good news? What is the good word you have to share with those around you? Sometimes the good news begins with a challenge – and it may initially sound like bad news – but in the end, we find our way, and experience better lives than we could have imagined.
Jonah, that reluctant prophet, whose notoriety centers around being swallowed by a big fish certainly had bad news to share. It was bad news for Nineveh and it was bad news for him. Jonah was a devout Israel-first religious leader. He believed that God loved his nation, and hated its opponents, especially Assyria, which had captured and colonized Israel decades before. When he thought of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, his dream was that God would rain fire and fury, shock and awe, on his nation’s enemy.
He is scandalized when God calls him to preach to the people of Nineveh. He doesn’t want to waste his time warning them of destruction. It’s not his calling as an orthodox believer and nationalist. He can’t imagine why God would care, and he’s upset because the God who calls him to preach appears to hold out some hope for Nineveh’s salvation. He can’t imagine that the evil empire can be redeemed, that the dark emperor and his minions would even listen to God’s voice.
But, God upsets his theology: God seems to love people he hates, God seems to want to save people he assumes are lost, and God seems to defy God’s own holy book by opening the door to salvation to evil doers.
And, so he runs, and as the story goes, is swallowed by a great fish, who gets indigestion, spits Jonah out on a Nineveh beach, and leaves Jonah with no choice but to preach. At least, the message has the right tone for Jonah’s nationalistic theology, “Forty days more, and you’ll be destroyed; you’ll be toast; God is going to get you.”
Then, something happens that astounds Jonah. The people of Nineveh repent. They hear the bad news and change their lives.
Have you ever heard bad news that changed your life or the life of a church? Maybe, the bad news is that you’ll have to give up fatty foods, or quit drinking or smoking. Maybe the bad news is that you have to listen to others, let go of the need to be right, find ways to compromise, and trust God’s way more than your own opinions.
And, then something happens that apparently angers Jonah even more than God’s call to preach to Nineveh. God changes God’s mind. God is touched by their repentance and spares the city. God’s compassion is greater than God’s anger. God’s vision of the future is greater than God’s memory of the past. God hasn’t preprogrammed the future – or predestined what will occur – but in the call and response of life, God’s vision adjusts to what we do. When we change, God changes. When we open the door, God comes in.
Mark’s gospel describes the beginnings of Jesus’ ministry. When John is jailed, Jesus takes up his mantle and proclaims, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
“Wake up! God’s here! Turn your life around, and believe God’s good news!” Immediately, Jesus encounters the Zebedee brothers and presents them with an audacious promise, “Follow me, and you will be gathering people for my realm.” I have good news to share and you can be part of it, you can be my messengers, telling folk that God is near and has a dream for them and the world.
This is the moment of salvation, right now in this Holy Here and Now God beckons us to follow. On this Annual Meeting Day, we are recalling the past and looking toward the future. We can be proud of the past year – greater outreach in the community, inspiring worship, children being welcomed, a successful capital campaign. But, we are called to look ahead. We are called to embrace a dynamic, open-ended vision that has been at work for over 220 years and is being embodied in our time.
The vision we are articulating is unfinished, but the outlines lure us forward in hope. Listen to the words of the mission statement – “Our church radiates the Spirit of God through generous hospitality; inspirational worship and study; and loving service within and beyond our walls.” That’s an inspirational and aspirational vision, isn’t it?
Fleshing it out will be our challenge, but here too we have been given direction, emerging from our October gathering:
- We are highly intentional about offering inclusive, warmhearted hospitality in the way of Jesus….and this will include welcoming all, imagining ourselves in the shoes of strangers seeking hospitality, including the GLBTQ community
- Inspirational, Holistic Worship and Study: We offer lively, joyful worship, music, and study programs which engage the whole person in theological, practical and spiritually uplifting faith exploration…and this is for every age group, using diverse approaches to be a moral and intellectual center on Cape Cod.
- Christ-Centered Service: We are the hands of Christ serving the needs of persons within our congregation, neighbors near and far, and God’s good earth….this means reaching out to persons experiencing poverty and homelessness, to forgotten neighbors, and using our building to upbuild the spiritual and moral life of people of all ages, making brick, mortar, glass, and wood a sacrament and putting the well-being of our planet as key to our ministry.
This is a tall order, and embarking on this journey will take the best we have to give. We don’t know the destination, but this is our calling. We are, as the African American poet, June Jordan says, the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are, as Gandhi challenged, to become the change we are seeking here at church. Like the magi, we may go on a path we hadn’t imagined and like the Zebedee boys who heard Jesus’ call on the Galilean Sea, we may have no idea about where the journey will take us. But, we trust that God is with us. God will provide a way where there is no way, and that with each step, we are moving closer to God’s vision for us and our church.