Our Saviour’s Atonement Lutheran Church
Reverend John Zachary Flack
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
These are some strange texts today, aren’t they? Weird snippets, it seems. Paul is especially perplexing, the kind of thing that really seems to lie there, untethered to reality. I read the pericope, or the selection for the week, and I thought, “Whose idea was this? No one is going to get this. I don’t get this.” And honestly, I didn’t think I’d spend a lot of time on it, but…it grew in my mind. “Let even those who have wives be as though they had none…and those who buy as if they had no possessions…and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it.” Who could survive like that? Anyone who has a wife knows that’s bad advice. And it’s also bad financial advice—what about living within your means? And how, on earth, is it possible to take this paradox: deal with the world as if you have no dealings with it? Paul, you don’t make sense.
Even this story from Jonah makes no sense. It’s essentially a turn-or-burn situation. Jonah walks through Nineveh and says, “Turn or burn!” And sure enough, before he is even a third of the way through, everybody turns. Even the animals repent. Now, not much about the story of Jonah makes sense—including this part. But if you know the ending, Jonah sits down and waits for God to send down the holy atom bomb that will wipe Nineveh off the face of the earth…and nothing happens. Jonah then says, “God! I knew it! I knew you were loving and compassionate, which is I why I didn’t want to prophecy there in the first place.” And he pouts the rest of the book. And that makes the least sense of all!
Maybe we Christians are fools after all, believing this stuff. Even Paul admits this at the beginning of his letter to the Corinthians, where he says that God has made foolish the wisdom of the world, and that the world did not know God through wisdom, God chose to reveal himself in foolishness instead. He writes, “Jews demand signs and Greeks demand wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and Greeks, but to those who are called,”—note that word, ‘called’—“those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” That’s the way we need to approach these weird snippets of text, this strange collage of paradoxes and impossibilities—we need to come to them in the foolishness of faith, which dissolves our worldview so that we can understand the world as it truly is—a world under the cross, a world held up by resurrection. God steps into the world to call us to freedom from the world—deal with the world as if you had no dealings with it!—God calls us into the kingdom of God which lasts even beyond the life of the world itself.
There is a paradox these readings bring to light. Not a contradiction, but a paradox, in which two opposing things seem true. We are all subjects of God’s reign, of God’s kingdom, but because we are God’s subjects, we are free. There’s that old Bob Dylan song some of you may know, called “You Gotta Serve Somebody,” but if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed, Paul says. In so many ways try to stock up our lives to protect ourselves from pain, from failure, from surprise, from heartache. And it is ok—but sometimes the Lord comes to us in the midst of our business and says, “Follow me, and I’ll make you a manager of spiritual funds!”
Christ calls us to follow him, to be his disciples. And it is following Christ that we find our freedom. Christ leads us into the brightness of the kingdom of God. And it should strike each and every one of us, right down to the heart, that Christ’s call bids us leave things behind to find the things of God.
Now, as I have previously mentioned, I’m not such a huge fan of this pericope, this division of Scripture for today. But the folks in charge of this did one thing right: they put the proclamation of Jesus first. Like the prophets of old, like Jonah, he calls out to the people, “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” The good news of what? The good news that the God reigns! The good news that Christ has come to open a way into that kingdom. The good news means that the stuff of our lives is about to be transformed, and some of it, we will have to let fall. Repent, Jesus says—it means to turn. Not so much a turning away but a turning to. Turn to the kingdom, because it is coming. Turn to my call, because I am calling you out. Turn to God’s brightness, as it comes to surround you and sanctify you. Turn and believe, and see how things change. And so, when he calls the disciples they must almost literally turn—away from their work, away from their family, and to Christ and discipleship.
And interestingly enough, these words of Jesus—repent, the kingdom of God has come near, and believe in the good news—are baptismal word. The first hearers of this Gospel, when they heard this proclamation, were reminded of their own turning to God through Christ. They were reminded of what they had confessed when they had come to the water, to leave behind old ways and old thoughts, to find freedom in the call of Christ to the kingdom of God. I hope, today, you hear that call, too, because Christ does call you, out of your work, in a jolt, to leave behind whatever binds you and bids you become free.
Today we have our annual meeting. This is a sentence which has never inspired anybody, as far as I know. And yet, it could be that an annual meeting is actually an expression of discipleship. It could be that our business as a community of faith should be the business of expressing this freedom in discipleship. Our annual meeting ought to be a way for us, through what seem to be normal and everyday channels, to see the way God works. It can be a way for us to see God’s kingdom. I see it in the your creativity, from your work in the choir to the Creations Art Show, to decking the halls to coming up with Little Haunts. I see God’s kingdom in new initiatives, like our soup kitchen, like new liturgies and songs. I see God’s kingdom in our old, standard practice of 11 am worship, of Word and Sacrament and the forgiveness of sins. And I think, I believe, I hope, that there is more to come for us, much more. Because the foolishness of God is such that even out of sinners like us, God will continue to do wonderful works, because Christ calls us to them. Amen.