Are You Just Cruisin’?
Welcome to our service of worship as we share together with Food for the Soul.
This is the 3rd week of ‘Epiphany’ – which is a revelation, or manifestation of something or someone, and in this season the Church reflects on the manifestation of Christ to all people.
As we look at Jonah’s Mediterranean cruise, we will see there are prophetic visions of Christ’s death and resurrection, and the changes which can be brought about as we share with others the simple truths of the Gospel.
Our Call to worship this morning is from Ps 62:1-2
I find rest in God;
only he can save me.
2 He is my rock and my salvation.
He is my defender;
I will not be defeated.
This is a story about three groups of people heading in the wrong direction. First, there was Jonah, chosen by God to be a messenger to the people of Nineveh. His mission was to go there and preach a message of repentance.
But why should he preach to the Ninevites?
Jonah decided to go in the opposite direction and take a cruise rather than fulfill his God appointed mission. Jonah was heading in the wrong direction by avoiding God and doing his own thing.
Secondly, there was the crew of a merchant ship heading for Tarshish. They blamed Jonah for the huge storm which arose at sea, with gigantic waves threatening to break the ship into pieces.
Jonah drew the short straw and was thrown overboard. In the crew’s minds, Jonah had brought them bad luck. They knew he was a man of faith but he became their scape goat. Rather than be thankful for the presence of God in their midst they threw God out. They were headed on a course where God was a detriment to them rather than a saviour.
Third, there were the people of the city of Nineveh. They were evil, wicked and offensive to God. They didn’t believe in God and God wanted them to change. They, like Jonah were headed in the wrong direction which was one of self-destruction.
So, in the reading of Jonah 3:1-10 there were three different groups all headed in the direction of self-destruction, all in need of repentance.
How was God going to turn them around?
READING Jonah 3:1-10
The 2 bible readings this morning have a common theme –calling and response
In this reading from the O.T, God gives Jonah a second chance.
It was extraordinary and impressive a man could survive several days inside a large sea creature, but a greater miracle happens when Jonah is obedient – the repentance of an entire large city
Jonah Goes to Nineveh Contemporary English Version
3 Once again the Lord told Jonah 2 to go to that great city of Nineveh and preach his message of doom.
3 Jonah obeyed the Lord and went to Nineveh. The city was so big that it took three days just to walk through it. 4 After walking for a day, Jonah warned the people, “Forty days from now, Nineveh will be destroyed!”
5 They believed God’s message and set a time when they would go without eating to show their sorrow. Then everyone in the city, no matter who they were, dressed in sackcloth.
6 When the king of Nineveh heard what was happening, he also dressed in sackcloth; he left the royal palace and sat in dust.[a] 7-9 Then he and his officials sent out an order for everyone in the city to obey. It said:
None of you or your animals may eat or drink a thing. Each of you must wear sackcloth, and you must even put sackcloth on your animals.
You must also pray to the Lord God with all your heart and stop being sinful and cruel. Maybe God will change his mind and have mercy on us, so we won’t be destroyed.
10 When God saw that the people had stopped doing evil things, he had pity and did not destroy them as he had planned.
Lord as we worship you this morning may we clearly hear not only you calling but be aware of those beyond our enclosed worship area who are crying in their poverty, their homelessness, their unemployment, their despair. Lord there are so many aspects of people in desperate circumstance and we still need to hear your call for us to share your word in practical service.
May we hear and respond with the Love of Christ where ever we can, Amen.
How does God turn anyone around who is heading in the wrong direction?
What about us, which direction are we heading?
Unfortunately, today there are some churches reluctant to share the Love of God. Our mission is to go to places, like Nineveh, and preach the good news and make disciples of people who are estranged from God. But, like Jonah, we are either afraid to go or we have our own agenda. It’s more comfortable to look after ourselves than be concerned about people who don’t believe or are still searching in what some would consider the most ‘ungodly’ areas of life.
Our Nineveh could be a High School, a Café, Community Dinner, Need A Feed at McCabe Park, or supporting remote groups like Empower Asia or East Timor. It could be any place, event or group where God has called us to be!
As Micah Fries wrote:
“God may not be sending you overseas to reach extremists, but he may be sending you to reach the “unreachable” in your sphere of influence.”
What is your sphere of influence? Surprisingly we all have our own sphere where our witnessing, Good or Bad, is at work with those we meet with day by day.
Because we all have individual ‘spheres of influence’ you can begin to see the challenge of being aware of, to whom and to where, we can be called to serve God.
Do you really think Jonah actually cared about the people of Nineveh? Let’s take a closer look at the story.
At first, Jonah avoided God’s request altogether.
“What, preach to a bunch of heathen people? You’ve got to be kidding.”
Jonah couldn’t stand the Ninevites. The Ninevites were a nasty part of the Assyrian Empire. They were known to skin their enemies and hang the skins on the walls of the city as a warning, or to gouge out the eyes or cut off the ears of defeated soldiers to make their lives miserable. Worst of all, they were known to kill children in the cities they conquered.
God had to bring Jonah to his knees. Jonah had to reach a crisis point before he was willing to do what God had asked. After he was thrown overboard by the crew of the ship, he spent three days in the belly of a whale. But, if he had not had this terrible experience, he may have never gone to Nineveh. Haven’t we all at some time felt God calling and been too busy or self-focused on what we believed we should be doing to respond?
After being expelled from the great fish with a gigantic “fishburp”, Jonah is summoned a second time by God to go and preach to Nineveh.
Jonah goes into the outskirts of the city and preaches his sermon, a total of eight words. “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” Much to Jonah’s humiliation the people of Nineveh believed him and changed their ways. He declared the truth to the commoners in the street and to leaders in the palace.
We must always remember God's offer of grace extends to all people in all situations and places. This, of course, reminds us of our commission to go into the entire world with the gospel.
Reading Mark 1:14-20 Contemporary English Version
The second reading is from the N.T, the gospel
of Mark, reading chapter 1, verses 14 - 20. Here the
calling comes to the disciples from Jesus – come,
follow me, and evangalise.
The call is not temporary, but a whole of
Jesus Announces the Good News
14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Jesus Calls His First Disciples
16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him.
19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
Jonah responded in accord with God’s request, but, this action angered Jonah, because he really didn’t believe that the evil residents at Nineveh deserved God’s mercy.
Consider two friends waring with each other, one Godly and one an atheist. What would our reaction be if God caused the atheist to repent and the other to walk away from God?
Like Jonah, we are called to be ambassadors of God’s love, proclaiming grace, freedom and hope to all people, not just our friends. Sometimes we have to hit rock bottom before we fully realize our individual calling. After Jonah finally got the message he headed in the right direction and fulfilled his God given mission.
Perhaps we don’t see ourselves like Jonah at all. Maybe we see ourselves more like the crew on the merchant ship. They were doing their job, attending to their mission, but were greeted with stormy seas. They determined by elimination that Jonah was the problem, which meant they had to get rid of him. He was excess baggage so they rationalized that by removing him from the ship, the storms would cease.
“. . . the sea became calm. 16 Then they began to fear the Lord very much; they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made promises to him.”
It worked and they “feared the Lord exceedingly.” and worshipped God for the very first time.
Wow! a bit extreme? but the storm ceased and we know the crew recognized God because they had just experienced an all-powerful God who was in control of the elements.
Remember Jesus calming a storm on Lake Galilee when He “said to the waves, "Quiet! Be still!" Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. The terrified disciples exclaimed, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!"
To further emphasise the power of God, Jonah was rescued by a whale and freed after 3 days to continue his life. From that day on, the crew, (not the ship) was headed on a new course. This was exemplified for us in our reading from Mark this morning when Simon, Andrew, James and John immediately left their fishing boats to follow Jesus and become fishers of men.
Sometimes God makes believers out of us by doing wondrous acts.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
It is the role of the church to remind the world how God is working. However, we can’t assume that God wants us to get rid of idle passengers, like Jonah asleep in his cabin. No doubt there are some in our community who are just going through the motions of serving God. Just as Jonah was rescued and ultimately given a second chance we can assume that those “extras” today will be given a second chance too. Perhaps you know someone just along for the ride. Someone who needs a short message of encouragement, needs a hand up in a storm. You can choose to be part of the crew that helps to keep them on track to weather the ‘storm’.
Hopefully none of us is like the people of Nineveh. The truly amazing thing about those people was, they only needed a short sermon (8 words) to be converted. It certainly didn’t take much.
This illustrates that the smallest act of faithfulness can make a difference. We should never underestimate the potential of our prophetic teachings and witness to the world. A single, brief message changed the people of Nineveh and steered them in the opposite direction.
God wants us to be in the business of transforming and changing lives, enabling people to turn in the right direction, and we may have to hear the call more than once, before we get it right.
God may ask us to do something that tests our faith and scares us beyond anything we could ever imagine. We may have to experience stormy seas to gain a new respect for an omnipotent God.
A God who leads us by The Holy Spirit into deeper trust to go where ever we are called, knowing He will guide us every step of the way.
Then we will all see the value of a single short message, delivered at the appropriate time. It could be after a lengthy period of compassion and service which has the potential to turn a person’s life in a new direction. One which will take them on a one-way adventure into the protective arms of a powerful and loving God.
It is easy for those in the church to cast stones from behind our mortar and brick walls at the sinners. But will that type of preaching, or evangelism, make a difference in our world? The message of repentance, can change hearts.
As members of God’s church, we are called to declare the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ at the God appointed time if we are to impact our world for good.
We don’t know the specific time but God will use us if we are available to His Call.
As we go forth to serve in the name of Jesus our Risen Saviour let us go in the confidence promised by God our heavenly Father, as we walk with Jesus the Son who accompanies us in all things as The Holy Spirit.