Jonah 3: 1 – 10; Ps 62: 5 – 12 ; 1 Cor 7: 29 – 31; Mk 1: 14 - 20 Oremus Bible Browser

In the name of God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit

We’ve had three readings; I just want to share three more; they’re very brief. The first one is off an email received this week, James Lovelock’s view of our environmental crisis published on Monday January 16th 2006 by the Independent: ‘Environment in Crisis: we are past the point of no return. Thirty years ago the scientist James Lovelock worked out that the Earth possessed a planetary-scale control system which kept the environment fit for life. He called it Gaia, and the theory has been widely accepted. Now he believes mankind’s abuse of the environment is making that mechanism work against us. His astonishing conclusion: that climate change is already insoluble and life on Earth will never be the same again.’

The second reading is just a headline: ‘Alan Carpenter – the New Premier of Western Australia’.

The third comes from a song that many or some of us will remember from back in the sixties or seventies:
‘Come gather round people wherever you roam
And admit that the waters around you have grown
And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you is worth saving
Then you’d better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone,
For the times they are a-changing.’ Bob Dylan.

And what we get today – so they’re three readings that just popped out during the week – we get ‘The time is fulfilled’, ‘the kingdom of God has come near’, ‘Repent’, ‘Believe in the good news’. Quickly deal with the word ‘repent’: it doesn’t mean that you’ve got to say ‘Oh, sorry I swore yesterday’ or ‘I did a naughty when I shouldn’t have’. That’s not what repent is about, because that’s repent for Sunday School. Repent means change your life, turn around and take a new direction; move towards something other than that to which you are currently moving. And in the readings today it’s as if we’re being equipped for change or directed towards change. So what is - the status quo - is clearly not that which is enduring, so rather than living a life holding onto what we have, the call that we hear through the Gospel is to become fully alive in our realisation of that which is divine. Not the ‘what is’, but rather to seek life in making real that which is divine, for that which is divine is eternal. We move out of the temporal world into an eternal life. It is beyond, and yet within, the very world that we now are. What we are called toward is to seek that which is unseen and yet is as present as that which is seen. So the call to repent is more than just a movement as per the points of the compass, it is a movement to look beyond that which holds our attention and seek that which calls to us - call us from Eternity and into Eternity.

The first reading that we have - and sadly, we only read a little bit of the book of Jonah. I always think Jonah’s worth a read, certainly for me, a couple of times a year. It’s only short, as a book in the Bible, it’s one of the few books that you can start when you go to bed and finish before you fall asleep. So, it’s about four chapters; if it was printed like this it would be about two and a half A4 pages and that’s it. It’s a great story because it’s a story of a reluctant profit.

Earlier in the story just before that which we hear today God calls Jonah and says ‘Go to Nineveh. Cry out against them, for their wickedness has come up to my attention and I’m going to destroy them. Go and tell them.’ Now it’s understandable that Jonah didn’t delight in this calling because Nineveh was a very large city in Assyria; it’s where the royalty lived. Jonah was an Israelite - Israelites and Assyrians weren’t best of friends; in fact, in one of the other books, Assyria is referred to as ‘the city of blood’. The Assyrians were hard on Israel, they held the power, they had a reputation for ruthlessness. Assyria symbolises a harsh and oppressive empire. It was to this hated city that Jonah is called to preach. Now the interesting thing is that Jonah is portrayed as, you can almost read between the lines: ‘Why bother? I don’t want to do that. They deserve to be destroyed.’ And so the first thing that Jonah does is he jumps in a boat and heads off as fast as he can in the opposite direction to Nineveh. Then we have the Jonah-in-the-whale-story, which tends to become the focus of the story and after Jonah is once more spewed up onto the land he then hears God calling to him again. This time he orients himself towards the divine word. He goes to Nineveh, not expecting a great deal, but he goes because that’s what he is called to do. And he goes, and the amazing thing in the story is that the people of Nineveh hear the word of God that Jonah brings them, and they change. They repent.

Now later on, if we finish the book beyond what we’ve read today, then we’ll find that Jonah gets stunningly pee’d off, and the reason for that is that God changes his mind. He’s told to go there, tell them about their wickedness and that in forty days they’re going to be destroyed - Jonah does all of that, and God says, ‘Oh look they’ve changed, I won’t destroy them’, making Jonah feel a right idiot.

It is such a story of life, the story of Jonah, but it has some important things to impart to us, if we can move beyond that Sunday School understanding of the story. You see, it tells us that God changes his mind. That creates enormous theological difficulties for the orthodox - for the mind of God is pure and whole. How could God change his mind? It would suggest that either he was wrong before or he’s now changed it to be wrong now. God is perfect, all-knowing, and yet he changed his mind. What it gives to us is a dynamic relationship between us and God. God is not looking after the world for us, God has not created it and said ‘Look, no matter what happens, believe in me and everything will be well because I’m looking after it’. That is not the story, that is not the faith. What we learn from the story of Jonah is that it is our responding to the word of God that is creative of the word of God. If we can hear the call of the Divine and respond to it, then we become creative of the divine call.

The next reading that we had this morning has got its own degrees of difficulties, which is classic for the letters of Paul. The context of the reading though, is the mind-frame of Paul, where Paul, the world that Paul lives in, is between the first and the second coming. So Paul, what he’s doing is, he’s urging, urging everyone, to get ready for the Second Coming. Every minute, every action, every word becomes important. ‘Don’t be distracted by the things of this world.’ And he says - the way he puts it is quite disturbing: ‘Those who have wives be as though they had none, those who mourn as if they were not mourning; those who rejoice as if they weren’t rejoicing; those who buy as if they had no possessions’. Take away the literal impact. And so what is he talking about? He’s saying, ‘What we put our attention to in the world is actually of little import compared to the event that is the promise of the Gospel – the Second Coming. Now I think Paul’s teaching takes on an even deeper meaning if we can lift our thinking about the Second Coming and see it not as an event, not as Christ coming again, a re-enactment of Bethlehem, coming down to fix the mess up, but rather if the Second Coming is seen as a paradigm which is for us to realise. The Second Coming is in our hands: we bring it about. We bring about the return of Christ in our becoming the Body of Christ, the Word incarnate. Then Paul’s teaching makes even more sense: what we do, and to what we attend, is creative of, or un-creative of, the return of the Divine in the world.

So to the third reading, the reading which again from Mark’s gospel is stunningly short considering that it takes into account the call of four of the disciples. Now we’ve already read some of Mark and it’s pretty easy to work out, if we’re at Chapter 1 verse 14, what we’ve read so far is Chapter 1 verses 1 to 13. In that short bit of the Gospel which began with the baptism by John the Baptist, John the Baptist coming from the desert, preaching repentance in order to prepare. Then we have, following the baptism of Jesus, Christ immediately whisked off into the desert for forty days where he lived among the wild beasts and was tempted by Satan. And now at verse 14, we have the beginning of his public ministry – Christ in the world, not in the desert but back in the streets of Galilee. So this is the beginning of his work of change. It suggests that our time in the desert, our time alone and in prayer, is really a time of preparation for something. And the ‘preparation for’ is for us to be Christ-like, to be in the world calling and leading all to a new understanding and a new possibility for fullness of life - a fullness that goes way beyond anything and everything that we could possibly possess or acquire.

Some of us, all of us at times, think that we could just settle for what is. Actually things are OK – could be better, could be worse. And I think there’s almost always an OK-ness to be found in the status quo, but if we think we can settle for what is, then we must realise that our energy is being directed towards denial, towards avoidance and toward an un-knowing of the Divine. In order to settle for what is, we have to put energy into un-knowing God, not hearing the Word. We have to put energy into draining the Spirit from ourselves. ‘What is’, by its very nature, is passing away. The present will always and forever give way to the future. What we hear in the readings today is that we, we are creative of that future. By our actions and by our inaction, we shall create tomorrow. Jesus came proclaiming the good news of God and saying ‘the time is fulfilled’, ‘the kingdom of God has come near’, ‘repent’ and ‘believe’. Jesus says to us: ‘Follow me, and I will give you the capacity to hold all people.’

The Lord be with you.