Who Gives You Directions? 1/22/12

My sermon this morning is a personal reflection on my own calling. My personal calling effects and influences St. Luke Church, but my calling is not the same as the calling of the church or everyone in the church. Still, it’s interesting to think about how the variety of ways that we live out what God means for our lives realizes itself.

Mark 1: 14-20 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.  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.  And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’  And immediately they left their nets and followed him.  As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets.  Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

January 22, 2012

Who Gives You Directions?

The last place Jonah wanted to go was the big city – Nineveh, exactly where God was trying to send him.  Jonah would rather stay curled up in the bottom hold of his safe little ship, hiding from God in plain sight. He would rather hide than go to the big city where there were so many people, so many people of different nationalities, different languages and different religions.

The big city looked like the most hopeless place in the world to him. He’d read about those people of Nineveh in the papers – about how violent they were and what bad things happen there.  From all he could tell from the local media those people were hopelessly lost. There were homeless people, beggars, and desperate folks ready to take advantage of you at every turn.

So when God called Jonah to go to Nineveh, that great city, Jonah had boarded a boat to go the exact opposite direction, toward the suburbs of west Tarshish.

Scared, lonely, and confused, Jonah stayed in his room on the boat as much as possible, watching TV and playing video games. When a storm raged outside, he tried not to pay any attention, but he had a niggling doubt deep inside. He felt a twinge of responsibility for the storm, knowing that God had called him and he wasn’t’ paying any attention. Jonah kept playing “Call of Duty” until the officers of the ship came and threw him out – and off the ship altogether.

The story goes that Jonah was swallowed by a great fish – and it was about that time that he began to wonder which was worse – following God’s direction, or going the other way.  He decided to try going to Nineveh, just to see what would happen.

Nineveh was a huge city – a three days walk across. Jonah walked just a third of the way into the city and half-heartedly told them what God was about to do if they didn’t change their ways, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” To his amazement the people of Nineveh listened to God’s warning and immediately started LIFE groups and prayer circles, changing their lives and praising God louder than his people ever did.

When God decided not to destroy Nineveh after all, Jonah was furious. “I knew it God. I knew you were just and merciful. That’s why I didn’t want to go to the city in the first place, because I know you are a God of mercy, slow to anger, and quick to give forgive. This is exactly what I feared – that you would give amnesty to these people I hate. I should have stayed home in the first place.

I can identify with Jonah.  I grew up in a little suburb inside Cincinnati called Westwood. I was scared of people in the city, downtown. I wasn’t paying any attention to what was going on there, except what I learned in the papers. It was only when I went the other way – when I left the country and went to Haiti that I could look back and see my own misconceptions about people in the city.  I wanted the church to get involved with mission to people in Haiti and Africa, but when I got involved in those missions, I saw more and more the needs closer to home.

My work in the city made me realize how much of our attitudes toward the city are shaped by fear mongering in the media that make folks in the city look bad. Folks in the suburbs don’t really know what they are scared of, but when we decide never to go into the city because of those fears, we miss some real opportunities.

The first time I went into the city of Philadelphia, I was invited by a professor at Swarthmore College to go to an orchestra concert.  I sat in the back of the car and marveled at the abandoned houses in the city. Highways were built specifically to make it possible for people to go to concerts and cultural events without having to see or be confronted by city life. But when I ended up living there, I came to realize that people are not so bad, not so fearful, despite the stories in the papers, despite the fears in the suburbs.

I realize that it’s an uphill battle to challenge these kinds of attitudes – to break down these kinds of barriers, but I feel God is calling me to do it, and I feel is calling me as pastor of this church to be breaking down those barriers.  That probably scares some people here, and makes people wonder what I want to get you into – but really this calling brings us many opportunities, preachers like David Brown, interns like Melaina Trice, connections with Edna Williams and the Mary Jane Enrichment Center.

We get to heal our blindness, and undo our fears, make connections with wonderful people that folks like Jonah never get to meet. So, the interesting thing is that God ended up calling me, through the church to come back out here to the suburbs.  Well, I had kind of figured I was better than that. I was living in the city and doing ministry in the city and so I was better than folks protecting themselves in the suburbs.  Well, God has been tearing down that misconception as well.  We’re all just beggars searching for bread.  We’re all broken people in need of the love and healing grace of God in Christ. God will tear down all the boundaries and love us into wholeness, mold us into community.

Thanks for walking this road with me, teaching me, putting up with me, following me, and leading me.  Who gives you direction?  How is God calling you?  I hope we can dare to listen and follow God’s calling together.

This is God’s good news.

Responsive hymn: 2137  Would I Have Answered when You Called