Sermon Archives

Moving Providence ~ Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:5-12; Mark 1:14-20

There was a small glitch in the morning’s recording, so the Mark 1 verses on not on the recording below, but John’s sermon, Moving Providence is. It begins just before the 19 minute mark.

You all know the story of Jonah, right? He is called to go to Nineveh and tell them to repent. Jonah doesn’t want to go and so he hires a ship that sails in the opposite direction – across the Mediterranean towards Spain! A big storm hits, the crew decide that it is Jonah’s fault and so they throw him overboard. He gets swallowed by a big fish and is vomited on the shores of Nineveh, and finally Jonah figures out that God is serious.

Now, in chapter 3, there is a very interesting detail. Nineveh is this huge city, “enormously large” as the Jewish Study Bible translates it; “a three day walk across the city.” And I remember a few years ago Deanne and I were in New York City – among the largest cities in the world – and we walked from Ground Zero to our hotel on E. 120th street. I don’t know how long it took (a few hours – we stopped in Times Square and rested at the entrance to Central Park) but I suspect we could have keep walking and made it Connecticut in three days.

So the author of Jonah wants you to know that Jonah walked only one-third of the way into the city – he wasn’t even half way in. Jonah proclaims his message (with no Twitter or loud speaker) and lo and behold “The people of Nineveh believed God.” Even the king repented (The King James version says that even the animals got on their knees) and so God did too – God changed his mind – and didn’t punish the Ninevites. That is what “repent” – metanoew in the Greek – means: “Change one’s mind – which includes the heart.”

This is a fictional story – but like all good fiction, it is true in its underlying message. And the truth that it is trying to crack open is that one man, or one woman, or one church, called by God to make a difference, has the power to change big cities, whole nations, even the world.

And when one person, or one people, or one community rises up it can actually move God.

To move the mind of God – wow. I am reminded of a wonderful quotation from Jean Bolen who, in her work God is in Everyone, writes:

[The great German poet] Goethe says: until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness, concerning all acts of initiative. [BUT] The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic to it.”

You and I have to move in order to move Providence.

Unfortunately, however, I think it is more common for us to fall into the rut of believing that some things will happen no matter what we do. Therefore we do nothing. We feel so strongly about the direction of our nation, the language of our President, and yet we are silent and do nothing.

We identify in our gut that we should make a change in our job or vocation – and yet we do nothing.

We are unhappy but unwilling to change. We are dissatisfied and yet we do not move.

We have so much to say and yet we remain silent. We have gifts that we do not use.

We feel as if we have no light to shine, or hope to give. We have experiences we do not know what to do with.

But if we don’t move, it is hard for God to move through us; it is hard to move Providence.

You, like Jonah, might even be so scared of what your gut is telling you to do that you will do anything – run in the opposite direction, for all sorts of reasons – to avoid facing reality, listening to the call, and speaking your truth.

But the lesson of Jonah is this: it doesn’t help anything or anyone, most of all you to run away from your truth, to hide your light under a bushel. It not only hurts you, but it hurts others and keeps them from perhaps being liberated too.

It only takes one person to do what they are called to do to cause a revolution.

I am thinking of Mohamed Bouazizi. He was the Tunisian street vendor who died on December 17, 2010 after setting himself on fire as an act of protest against oppression. His martyrdom was widely credited for spurring the Arab Spring uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East.

It took one young person standing in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square to awaken the world.

Our recent American history is filled with examples: Rosa Parks, the Freedom Riders, the children of Birmingham, Dr. King.

Shannon Watts, a mother of 5 became an activist for common sense gun control after Sandy Hook, and Candi Lightner started Mothers Against Drunk Driving when her own daughter was killed by a drunk driver.

It is an underlying principal of Faithleader – the 28-week small group that has been the central part of the “journey inward” ministry here – that participants are invited to listen and pray and then do something, anything, based on their deepest sense of call.

Paul Jennings started our Panty ministry because of a book he read. Jack Breish and Jeff Smith were called to the LaBre ministry because they went out on frigid winter nights in Cleveland and saw the state of the homeless.

Everything worth anything was started because some one stood up and could no longer be silent, could not run any more.

Now God had to do something drastic with Jonah – but when Jonah finally started to do what he was called to do, things changed! He received a call. He tried to avoid it, but the catalyst arrived in the form of a fish and so he preached repentance. And Jonah didn’t even have a great attitude.

Some times we need to be agitated deeply in order to get off the dime and do.

I will never forget the meeting in Painesville when Sharon Shumaker and I were at the table with Veronica Dahlberg who introduced us to some woman named Leonor – and now look at us.

And what is so amazing about us becoming a Sanctuary church is this: in true Presbyterian fashion a committee was formed to investigate whether you all would be open to becoming one. The timeline was that the committee was to report to next week’s Congregational meeting and ask you to vote on becoming a Sanctuary church.

But sometimes there is a knock at the door, and a person on the doorstep, and a call to live into, and something that has to be done now – it cannot wait. The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is close.

In light of the Jonah story and remembering all these examples of people who could no longer run away from the truth of God’s call on their lives, I read the call of Jesus in a slightly different light.

We read in Mark 1, verse 14: “Now when John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God: The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news!”

Three important things happened before Jesus came out and started his ministry:

First, he was baptized – he got the call “You are my beloved son with whom I am well pleased.”

And even though it gets only two verses in Mark, the second thing that happened to Jesus was that he was driven into the wilderness and tempted.

Like Jonah if Jesus could have gotten passage to Spain, I think he would have gone there. Maybe Jesus was trying to run away from God – but he sure was in the wilderness for a long time. And if temptation is to have its effect – then Jesus was probably close to giving in to it. It isn’t temptation if you can dismiss it so easily.

And finally there was a catalyst – John the Baptist was arrested. That arrest was Jesus’ metaphorical whale that deposited him in Galilee and his ministry began.

And Jesus, like Jonah, didn’t go very far. Jonah went one-third of the way into the great city. Jesus only had, at most, a three-year ministry. Jonah ended up sitting under a big plant and Jesus ended up being crucified on a tree.

But Jonah still changed the heart of Nineveh and of God. And Jesus changed the world by revealing the mind and heart of God. Jesus brought the kingdom of God close, the time of fulfillment is right before you!

So on this third Sunday after Epiphany, as we continue to celebrate the light, and the discoveries that people have about God – what is stirring in your gut? What truth must you speak, what act must you do, what are you running away from, what are you even now being tempted by?

There just might be some great movement that is waiting for you.  Who knows, the end result is not your problem, success is not your concern, but faithfulness to the task is, speaking out is, doing what must be done is – whether in your homes, or your work, or in this church – wherever you find yourself.

So in closing let me remind you of those words that we read in Psalm 62 – if you are open to it, open to discerning your call, then be still and know that God is God. It begins by waiting for God in silence. It begins in prayer – clinging to the rock of your salvation for “On God rests my deliverance and my honor.”

Trust God at all times, pour out your heart before God, listen, and wait. And when the call comes, go ahead, run into the wilderness, or take a ship to Spain – God will use you – and you might just change the world.

“For the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.”

You might even change the mind of God.