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Epiphany 3B

You’ve got to be kidding!
(Mark 1:16-20, Jonah 3:1-5,10)

by Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones

Last week we began our exploration of the Biblical call stories
with the night-time encounter of Samuel with God.
I’m grateful for the comments about last week’s sermon
and how it took you ‘right there’ to into the darkened temple
with its night shift of vacuuming mice!
Tempting though it was to try my hand at
‘taking you right there into the belly of Jonah’s whale’
I have resisted, forborne, it could get a little gooey and smelly!

But we are going to dig deeper into this notion of God calling.
We ended last week’s sermon suggesting that
we should all ‘expect a call’ from God
wherever and whenever we find ourselves in a place
of longing for justice, or healing, or wholeness,
for ourselves, or for loved ones or for our world,
because God has that same longing.

At Cedar Park, for the past number of weeks,
we have been exploring and using the language
South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu
uses to describe God’s plan for creation, and for our role within it.
Where Scripture traditionally uses the term “the Kingdom of God”
Tutu talks of “God’s Dream.” 1

A dream for the universe born in the heart of God’s desire and love
a dream for relationships that are wholesome,
holy, healing and loving.

It’s this dream that provoked prophets to speech and action;
this dream that gave birth to the missional life of Jesus,
preaching, teaching, and living the God Dream
in a tiny corner of the Roman Empire to such effect
that for 2000 years humans the world over
have tried to follow his example.
This dream coming true is what we pray for each week in
the Jesus prayer – “thy kingdom come on earth”.

Most of the time, we say “Amen to that!”
For, being made in God’s image,
we too have a spark of the God Dream within us,
we too long for a healed, just, forgiven and forgiving world.

We too know how badly this world needs God’s Dream.
Wars and sabre rattling on every continent,
religious, ethnic, class, political cat-fighting,
the global inequitable distribution of wealth, health,
education, opportunity, and resources….
….the list could go depressingly on.

As it is now in our world, so it was back in Biblical times.
It was ever thus.
Some would say that the “peoples of this Book,” 2
Jews and Christians, are on a fool’s errand,
a mission impossible,
that God’s Dream is utopian,
unattainable this side of heaven.

Jonah thought so.
Jonah, as far as we can tell, was a faithful man,
who knew the Voice of God,
presumably knew the sorts of things God said –
like “My dream is for healing wholeness, for justice,
for people to turn away – to repent -from behaviours that destroy,
my dream is about starting over, forgiving and being reconciled
with one another.”
And Jonah would have said “Amen to that!”
Except when God’s Dream leaked out of the small container Jonah had it in,
and it overflowed beyond Israel to include the Assyrians.

Now, think McCarthy and the Communists,
or Nazis and the Allies,
Republicans and Democrats in an election year,
sworn enemies,
and you’re on the right track.
Assyria was known in the ancient Near East as a rather brutal,
pugnacious empire,
prone to obliterating those whom they conquered.
When God said to Jonah,
“Take my Dream and share it with the capital city of Assyria”
Jonah said “You’ve got to be kidding!”
(or words to that effect).
“You cannot possibly mean to forgive the unforgivable Assyrians,
to love … them…?
I won’t. Nope. Hang up, God, I’m not going.”

It took a whale of a trip to change his mind…
which he did. Partially.
Today’s portion from Jonah’s book shows us he did what God wanted,
but if we were to read further we’d see that his heart was most certainly
not in it.
He stayed mad at God, right to the end of this fabled tale,
incredulous at the apparent –actually the real- limitlessness of
God’s Dream.

This fable, this once upon a time story
that contains universal truths.
The truth that God loves those we can’t and won’t,
and that God Dreams big.
Big enough to turn the world back to its true course,
every blessed time it goes awry.

Which brings us back to the Gospel reading again,
to see the God Dream taking flesh in the mission of Jesus.
Mark doesn’t waste words.
Reading Mark is like reading the life of Jesus written as a check list.
Baptized by John.
40 days in wilderness.
Start preaching.
Get disciples.
Heal people.
Leave town.
Repeat as necessary.

Mark, likes that word. He uses it a lot.
He uses it here, did you notice it?
Jesus calls out to four fishermen busy at their livelihood,
asks them if they want to drop their nets and live the God Dream instead.
And Mark says they did so. “Immediately”.

Now, you’ve got to be kidding!
Would you?
Immediately drop the paycheque, leave the wife and kids,
walk out on the family business
to follow this Dream-weaver rabbi from Nazareth?

At first blush, no we wouldn’t.
Of course we wouldn’t.
But then again….

None of those men by the Sea of Galilee,
none of us need Jesus to tell us that God’s Dream
and this world don’t look too much like each other.
Most of them, and us, were, are, longing for justice,
for healing, wholeness, for forgiveness, for courage.

So when they, we, discover that there might be a way,
a small way perhaps, to make the Dream come a little
closer to the harsh realities of life – the kingdom come –
maybe we, they,
would do whatever it takes to make that happen.

I don’t think Mark’s brevity plays in Jesus’ favour in this story.
I suspect Jesus said a lot more than “y’all come.”
He painted kingdom pictures, Dream pictures with words,
and with the way he lived,
to show the people of Galilee and of Cedar Park,
that they, we, can be part of the God Dream,
can bring the kingdom a little closer.

When I started work on this sermon,
my brain was ‘stuck’ on
“you’ve got to be kidding” foolishness of both these texts.

Then I got to watching, praying, and listening.
Friday and yesterday I heard 70 Voices for Hope
singing to two full houses.
Audience and Choir for a couple of hours
believed enough in the difference made by
an organization that offers dignity, health care,
and bereavement support,
that they left whatever they could have done on a cold weekend,
to sing the kingdom a little closer.

Earlier in the week I watched people cooking food for shut ins,
and I met with people who visit the sick,
drive people to appointments,
take time to listen,
you know, kingdom, God Dream stuff.

I met with yet others who care deeply enough
that this place provide opportunities to get to know God’s Dream better
through Christian development programming for all ages.
I’ve spent time on the phone and praying with others
in this church community who live this Dream through volunteer efforts
for social justice, outreach, and mission support.

This week,
while I was battling the craziness of
‘you’ve got to be kidding’ calls to Jonah and the fishermen,
you, the people of Cedar Park were busy walking the talk,
and sharing the Dream.

Because when you hear, or see the God Dream,
and are given the choice
to sit back in the belly of a whale,
or in your living room with unreality TV numbing the senses,
so many of you have already said, in deed if not in word,
“You’ve got to be kidding!”
And you’ve left that stuff behind
to live God’s crazy, limitless Dream,
and to bring the Kingdom of God a little nearer.

Let it always be so. Amen

1God Has a Dream. (Doubleday, 2004), and used as the basis for our Advent Study. See also God’s Dream (Candlewick, 2008) a children’s book by Tutu on the same them, illustrated by Le Yuen Pham.

2 A common term used to refer to adherents to the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures known as the Bible. Recently used as the title of a novel by Geraldine Brooks (2008).

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