Jan 25, 2009
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Sermon: Community Church of Wilmette
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
And if You call...
Let us Pray: May it be, oh Lord, that the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you and useful to your purposes of Grace.
I bring you greetings in the name of Jesus Christ from your sisters and brothers at North Shore Baptist Church. I wish is was under better circumstances that I be here today. For those that do not know Trish's sister passed away Monday night surrounded by her family and friends. Pastor Tripp and Miss Trish are still in Virginia where they are most needed at the moment. So, I have been asked to share the message today. Thank you for allowing me to be here today, and I would especially like to thank Abbey for helping me get things in order.
The readings today both have to do with call. The call of God on our lives -- and how we respond to that call. In today's readings: Jonah, finally, is answering God's call to preach repentance in Nineveh, and Jesus is calling his first disciples.
The term call is something that gets thrown around a lot - especially within the ministry circles. But what is call? Is it a singular event, or is it something that happens over time? Does is it happen to one person at a time, or is there such a thing as a communal call? How do we know when we are called? Is it a still small voice, or is it a bolt of lighting? The best way I can think of to answer these questions is...yes.'
Call comes in many forms.
There are moments of ah-ha.
There are moments of quite discernment.
There are times when we answer the call and the response is not what we wanted.
There are times when we answer the call and it seems there is no response.
There are many time when we hear a call and just let it go to our spritual voicemail.
Today's lessons give us 2 responses to the call of God.
We have on one hand the disciples -- the initial four -- called by this stranger to drop what they are doing and follow. They do. And their decision is part of why we are here today. Their call was to follow and make fisher's of all people. They answered with what seems like an odd response of dumping everything and going even though the financial and familial implications would be great. Not only were they leaving their livelihood behind they were leaving behind their father to figure out how to run the family business with no family. While this seems irresponsible it is but one way to answer a call. Pure faith.
They answered the call with seeming joy and without care or thought about what the response would be. Jesus told them, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news," and they did. Theirs is what I think of as an ideal call. An answer based in faith. With no idea of where they are headed. They do not over think the situation. They are called and they go.
I know people who have this type of call. They know with certainty they are doing the right thing. They have faith that God will be with them, and their endeavors will not be in vain.
I am a little dense, though. I confess I have and overactive imagination. I over think the situation. Sometimes I wish that God would be just that upfront with me and say hey dummy this is what I want you to do. However I am more like our buddy Jonah. I hear, but don't listen, and when I do act I don't always like what the result is.
We all know the story. God calls Jonah to preach repentance in Nineveh, and his response is, "Heck no." And he flees, gets caught in a storm, ends up as fish food, gets spit out, and this is where our lesson today picks up.
God tells Jonah, again, to get up...go and preach repentance to Nineveh. Jonah goes. Preaches and wonder of wonders the people repent...majorly. In the section that is left our of the reading the king orders that event he animals wear sackcloth and ashes as repentance.
One would think that Jonah would be pleased that the people listened to the call for repentance and turned from their ways, but nope, Jonah is upset that God did not bring the promised destruction. He goes outside of the town and asks God if this is why he was sent to Nineveh, so God could prove that God is, "a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing." Jonah sits pouting and God provides him cover, but the next day God takes away the cover. Jonah is so mad he wants to die, but God says the following and explains why Jonah was called, "You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labour and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?"
God has called Jonah to save thousands of people.
My call story is similar to Jonah's, although a lot less dramatic.
I will be entering seminary this upcoming fall. I will attend the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and pursuing an M.Div degree with the eventual goal of becoming an ordained American Baptist pastor. This, however, was not an easy decision. In fact it took me nearly 10 years to even recognize and answer the call.
I was born and raised in the church. The child of parents active in the congregational life of our church. I was active in the youth group, choir, band, and many other activities. I knew the church. However, in college I stopped going. I attended once or twice a semester, mostly to get my mom off my back, and I went when I was home, but for the most part I did not go. This pattern continued through my first year in Chicago. I finally looked up an American Baptist church -- to get my mom to stop buggin me -- in the phone book (back when folks did that) and attended North Shore for the first time in July of 2001. I met Tripp that Sunday and thus I end up here. We can all thank my mom.
She was but one of the voices that led me to this place of recognizing the call God has on my life. Pastor Tripp has been a major influence on my spiritual walk. The folks at North Shore have been instrumental. They all have been voices. But I was not listening. I was hearing, but not listening.
It wasn't until Mae and I went to the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant in Atlanta last year that I began to truly listen to the call. I began to see and hear how and what I was being called to. I learned more deeply about the our traditions deep roots in social justice; our lead in church and state issues; our desire that all know the grace of Jesus Christ.
I learned more about the call of Dr. King to go beyond racial reconciliation and fight for economic justice.
The call of Walter Rauschenbush to look at the Gospel message in a new way and discern the Social Gospel.
The call of Clarence Jordan in 1942 to create Koinonia Farms in Americus, GA as a place, a refuge, where anyone is welcome regardless of their race.
The call of Millard Fuller while at the Koinonia Farms to begin Habitat for Humanity.
The call of Marian Wright Edelman to speak for the Children.
The call of Naw Blooming Night Zan to speak for the Karen women as they suffer horrid atrocities.
The call of Hana Massad to preach the Gospel message of peace in Gaza; while bombs are killing his parishioners.
The call of Jimmy Carter to mediate international conflict.
The call of Al Gore to be a voice for God's Creation.
The call of Justin Thornburgh to ministry. The call to be a voice for the voiceless; preach repentance and reconciliation; defend the weak; and hold the broken.
Even though Jonah may have been overly dramatic: He said yes to the call. Even though the Simon and Andrew, James and John had no real idea who this stranger was they said yes to the call.
For all of them the results were much different than they imagined. Jonah wanted destruction: God gave salvation. The disciples were hoping this messiah would lead them to a new promised land: He was killed on a cross by the very people he was to save.
The answer to call can be a joyous and thrilling event. A wonderful change of life.
And it will more often than not require sacrifice. Dr. King lost his life. Naw Blooming Night Zan has known too many vicitims or rape and murder. Clarence Jordan had his farm bombed.
But they all said yes.
Answering a call is rough. Sacrifice will be needed. Comfort levels will be challenged.
But say yes.
Call is not just an individual act. There is a call of community, too.
We are the body of Christ are part of a collective call. Even though we all are different parts of that body; we work together to answer the call.
Sisters and Brothers, as you come to your annual meeting in a few weeks it is my prayer that you listen and respond to God's call on Community Church.
I see you saying yes to a call.
You are saying yes to the call of hospitality. I have never felt unwelcome when I have walked through these doors.
You are saying yes to the call of the needy with the Brennan Hart Turkey Ministry.
You are saying yes to the call to be a place of comfort for those in need with your services to the homeless.
However, I think there is much more you are being called to. I don't know what that is, but God is not done with Community Church. Even in rough patches there is a call. ESPECIALLY in rough patches there is a call. You may not see the results of answering that call right away or the answer may not be what you want or expect. But God, through the power of the Holy Spirit and the Risen Savior, has a call for you.
And God promises that you will make it. Through John, Christ told the church in Philadelphia, "I know your works. Look, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name...Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. I am coming soon; hold fast to what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. If you conquer, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God; you will never go out of it. I will write on you the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name."
Sisters and brothers: This is an amazing time to be a part of the church. We have an awesome responsibility. It may be daunting,yes, but there is the promise of the new day. A day in which we will see the eternal reward of our call. We will see what we have been working for. All will make sense. We will see through the glass clearly. All will be known. The sacrifices will be rewarded. Grace and peace will reign. It is our call to work toward that day with joy and acclamation; with fear and trembling.
Sisters and Brothers:
Hear, Listen, Discern...Answer.