St. Matthew’s Sermon 01-21-2018


St. Matthew’s Sermon 01-21-2018

Now That is Seriously Funny!

Jonah 3:1-5, 10, Psalm 62:5-12, 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, Mark 1:14-20

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

I’ve been trying hard to keep my sermons a little lighter than they had been for a while. The Christmas season made that a bit easier but we’re soon to move into Lent which might stifle my efforts once again.

I am trying hard, but the condition of our world, our nation, even our cities in these tumultuous times really makes it a challenge. All to often what I want to do is stand up here and SCREAM about our need for a modern-day Savior.

Maybe it’s just fait, or maybe God saw my dilemma and gave me a gift; but what happens this week? The lectionary delivers a passage from one of my favorite light-hearted books of the Bible; the Old Testament reading from the book of Jonah!

Also, without intent but just by the flow of the lectionary readings, I find I’m doing a series of sermons; where two weeks ago I spoke of how we might miss important parts of a message if we try to “Clean things up” too much, and last week I addressed how much we may miss if we “over think” what we’re reading. And now, this week, I’m talking about how much we might miss if we fail to see the humor in the story.

Now, before I say anything more, let me make it clear; I do believe that our faith, and the books of the Bible that try to explain it to us, is serious business, but sometimes the serious message is delivered with a bit of humor or, as in Jonah, a lot of humor. Thus, the title I chose to put on this sermon is “Now That is Seriously Funny!”

As a starter, I remember laughing out loud in Sunday-School class, when I was but a wee boy, as the teacher came to the part where the great fish “spat Jonah out onto dry land”. Oh, come-on, it’s funny… [Display fish spitting Jonah out ptuwee… Jonah SPLATS on the seaside]. The teacher didn’t think it was funny though; and I heard that loud and clear.

Is it a story of historical fact? Did all this with the storm and the fish really happen? I don’t know, maybe; all things are possible for God. But if we stop there and spend our time arguing that point, all we’ll agree on is that “nothing is impossible for God”. But that’s not even the beginning of the message in Jonah.

So, anyway, in the beginning of the story God calls Jonah to go to Nineveh, “that wicked city” and proclaim their destruction! And what does Jonah do? He buys passage to the middle of nowhere, someplace out at the end of the sea called Tarshish. Ha, he thinks he can get away from the God who created the sea and the dry land; yeah right.

Then, on his way, the ship is caught in a big storm! The sailors are scrambling about; tossing their cargo overboard, praying to their God’s for deliverance; and where’s Jonah? He’s asleep in the hold; either just not caring or totally oblivious to the commotion around him. J

Then the sailors figure out that it’s Jonah who has displeased his God and this mess they’re in is all his fault. Jonah agrees and suggests they toss him overboard with the cargo. But even these heathen men worshiping false gods aren’t quick to kill even a stranger; a stranger who is refusing to pray to any god, even his own. [???]

Finally, they give up on trying to handle the situation on their own and, as heathen men, pray to Jonah’s God saying, …please don’t “make us guilty of innocent blood…” and do toss Jonah overboard at which time the storm ceases and they, still heathens, offer a sacrifice to “The Lord”, the God of Jonah”. [???]

Now comes that really funny part; Jonah gets swallowed alive by a great fish and while in the belly of that fish, for the first time in the story, this (um) Godly man begins to pray. [dope slap]. And the fish barfs him out… onto dry land! [again Display fish spitting Jonah out ptuwee… Jonah SPLATS on the seaside].

Again, God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and deliver his warning and finally, after all this trouble, Jonah goes and does as he’s told. He goes 1 day’s walk into the city, opens his mouth and proclaims (one time) a short, 8 word proclamation; “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And with just those words, the whole city, even the king repent, put on sack cloth, fast, and pray to Jonah’s God for forgiveness. As a Pastor I can say “oh I wish that’s all it took”. J

Okay, now that I think about it, maybe it wasn’t laughing at the fish spitting Jonah out that almost got me removed from Sunday-School, maybe it was the image of goats and dogs and sheep and cattle fasting and wearing sackcloth that caused me to lose control and burst out!

Well, God is pleased; so pleased that he changes his mind about destroying Nineveh! This is great news! Except for Jonah anyway; he takes his little bruised ego up to the hill and laments, feeling so bad that he prays again, this time asking God to take his life. ‘Oh woe is me, you’ve made a fool of me you “…gracious God… merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing”.

 

These are just the beginning of the funny things that can be found in the story of Jonah, time won’t allow for me to point out every one. But now it’s time to get to the “Seriously” part of “Seriously funny”.

 Interspersed within the humor are serious messages in, at least, equal measure:

One: there really is no place on earth or in the sea that we can escape the presence of God; creator of the sea and dry land.

Another: Even heathens, worshipers of false gods, can be compassionate; sometimes more so than those who claim to be followers of our God. And they can recognize divine compassion in the same way.

A third: Prayer should be at the top of this list. Prayer should be the first reaction to a call from God.

A forth: A proclamation in God’s name doesn’t have to be made of a lot of words. [check watch] Just a few words, the right words can make the difference of life and death to the hearer.

And, the last for today: We love our God who is gracious, merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love for us, and ready to relent from punishing us”; do we have any right to be angry when God gives that same grace, mercy, patience, love and restraint to others; even those we do not think deserve it; even to those we fear.

It’s very much like life itself; life is serious business; but if we take life too seriously we lose the enjoyment of living it. Likewise, if we take the Bible too seriously and allow ourselves to be overly concerned with arguments over historical fact in the Bible, we may miss the truth the Bible offers us; the truth of how to live life in a joyful relationship with God.

Amen.

 

Jonah 3:1-5, 10
3:1 The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time, saying,
3:2 “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.”
3:3 So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across.
3:4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
3:5 And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.
3:10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

Psalm 62:5-12
62:5 For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.
62:6 He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
62:7 On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.
62:8 Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah
62:9 Those of low estate are but a breath, those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.
62:10 Put no confidence in extortion, and set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.
62:11 Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God,
62:12 and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord. For you repay to all according to their work.

1 Corinthians 7:29-31
7:29 I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none,
7:30 and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions,
7:31 and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

Mark 1:14-20
1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,
1:15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
1:16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea–for they were fishermen.
1:17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”
1:18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him.
1:19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets.
1:20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.