This Week's Sermon
“Time is Now”
Sermon on Sunday, January 24, 2021
Based on Jonah 3
The prophet Jonah doesn’t have a particularly good reputation. Jonah is a short book that we can read in less than one hour. During that hour we will encounter human foibles in every chapter. The many shortcomings of this Man of God are on full display.
How is this for a list of flaws: someone who is afraid and runs away from his calling; who is sulking when he sees that God extends grace and kindness towards others and can’t stomach it. Who is in some ways an anti-prophet; a caricature of one. Yet, we are not invited to laugh too loud about this Old Testament character because maybe, just maybe, there is some of him in us. Aren’t we sometimes afraid to say or do what God is calling us to say or do because there will be personal consequences for us, a price we have to pay? Don’t we remember a time or situation when we were less than gracious or ridiculously envious of the fortunes of others or simply wallowing in self-pity? If we think hard enough and if we haven’t suppressed certain memories, we will find that Jonah is not all that different from us.
And that’s what I like about the book of Jonah: it doesn’t hide the imperfections of a man called by God, his humanness. Most of the other prophets seem to speak from a higher moral plane; they always stay above the fray, identifying all the sinful craters in the human landscape below.
Not so in the Book of Jonah. Here, the prophet speaks despite his personal shortcomings. He goes to the big city, Nineveh, despite his initial reluctance. He serves God against his own will. And that makes him almost endearing. The story reminds us: deep down you can’t run away from God. You can’t escape the voice of conscience inside you. God will find you even if he has to employ a stinky fish and swallow you up for a little while! And make no mistake, this is not a cute story for children only. Some folks in our time have been swallowed up by a big fish, and they have been dwelling in deep darkness below sea level, waiting to be spat out of this monstrous time in their life. We know that.
In all of this, timing plays a major role. Many of you can attest to the fact that in life there is often good timing and bad timing. Sometimes when you want to ask someone for a special favor you may take that into consideration. I have long learned when I need something from my wife: never ask her first thing in the morning and certainly not before she had a big cup of coffee. She is not what you would call a morning person. In fact, pretty much the morning hours are bad, period. And I think she has learned that asking me something after 9 p.m. is usually not a great idea. I’m not what is called a night owl.
Timing is important. For some reason, God felt that the people of Nineveh were ready for change. The Lord knows we are not always ready for change. But in that case, God didn’t want Jonah to think about going to Nineveh, he didn’t want him to pray about the decision. He said to the prophet: “The time is now! Go to the big city and tell the people to change.” And when Jonah finally got his act together and went, surprise: the people responded.
Timing is important. We can see that also in the gospel when Jesus calls his disciples. Again, he doesn’t say to James and John, “Talk to your father whether this is a good time to leave the family business.” He calls them with a sense of urgency and they follow him with a sense of immediacy. In the gospel according to Matthew, it says: “And immediately they followed him.”
Timing is important. Not always in life can we say, “the time is now!” Sometimes patience is required. Sometimes an important decision requires discernment. But then there are moments when we need to act; when more information will not lead us to better preparedness; when waiting will only delay much-needed action; when the time is ripe to do something.
What does that mean for us as a church, as a country, as individuals? Let us become more aware of God’s voice when we are called to immediate action. For our world: can we really afford to wait longer with much-needed climate action? For our country: can we really wait to overcome the divide that has torn us apart? Can we afford not to call out those who stoke the divide? For our church: can we wait to serve our community because we are in a pandemic? For us as individuals: can we wait to lead a life of prayer and service and discipleship because we are busy?
There are a number of things for which the time is now! Let us hear the voice of God and let us respond. Now. Amen.