Heart Change: Reviving Community 1-25-15

Jonah 1:1-5, 10 The word of YHWH came a second time to Jonah: “Get up!  Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach to them as I told you to do.” Jonah set out and went to Nineveh in obedience to the word of YHWH.  Nineveh was a city large beyond compare; it took three days to cross it.  Jonah moved on into the city, making a day’s journey.  He proclaimed.  “Only forty days more, and Nineveh is going to be destroyed!” So the people of Nineveh believed God, they proclaimed a fast and dressed in sackcloth, from the greatest to the least. God saw their efforts to renounce their evil behavior. And God relented by not inflicting on them the disaster that threatened them.

I’d like to preach this morning mostly in reference to the Jonah passage that Fred read this morning. As I said last week, I want to tell you a little about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his calling during the resistance to Nazi Germany. Our second assigned reading this morning is from Paul. The sermon that I had originally expected to give this morning focused on Paul’s calling to follow Jesus. I want us to notice that Paul was Jewish. He always was and never thought of himself as anything but a Jew.

His writings are the earliest in the Greek scriptures that we call the New Testament. He wrote before the fall of the Temple, before the Gospel of Mark was written. He expected the end of the world to come soon and Jesus the Messiah to return. That expectation led him to call his followers to live frugally and chastely, preparing for the end times at any moment.

I Corinthians 7:29-31 I tell you, sisters and brothers, the time is short.  From now on, those with spouses should live as though they had none,. Those who mourn should live as though they had nothing to mourn for, and those who rejoice should live as though they had nothing to laugh about.  Buyers should conduct themselves as though they owned nothing. and those who have to deal with the world should live as if all their dealings meant nothing—for the world as we know it is passing away.

January 25, 2015 Heart Change: Reviving Our Call St. Luke

“Repent,” Jonah whispers, as he tiptoes into Ninevah, the city in the country we would call today Iraq. “Repent,” he whispers, hoping that nobody hears him because he hates the people of Iraq and by no means wants be spared the destruction that is on its way. “Repent” he says, and immediately, as the story goes, all the people of Ninevah from the king on down, change their ways. They repent and God forgives them.

Jonah is irate. “I knew it!” he says. “This is why I didn’t want to come here in the first place! This is why I went the other way when you called, and landed in the belly of the whale. I knew you are a great God, a God slow to anger and full of mercy! I knew you would let these wicked people off the hook. I hate everybody.” He said as he starts to sulk.

So the most successful prophet portrayed anywhere in the Bible is angry about his own success, angry that thousands of people listened to his merest suggestion that they change their ways. Any preacher would be ecstatic to get the results Jonah gets, but he just gets angry at God because he didn’t want the people of Ninevah to be forgiven.

Jonah is just about the funniest book in the Bible. And that’s saying something, because there’s a lot of funny stuff in here. It’s a thoroughly delightful and important story about xenophobia, our fear of foreigners, of people who are different than we are. Plus he spends some time in the belly of a big fish right in the middle of the story.

 

The story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, unfortunately, is not nearly as humorous or as outwardly successful. Bonhoeffer grew up in Germany after the Great War, World War One in which Germany had been humiliated. He decided early in his life to become a theologian and he became a brilliant theologian, a great thinker, writing books like The Cost of Discipleship, which has become a modern classic. In April 1933, Bonhoeffer raised the first voice for church resistance to Hitler’s persecution of Jews, declaring that the church must not simply “bandage the victims under the wheel, but jam the spoke in the wheel itself.”

He came to the United States and studied at Union Theological Seminary, where he was dismayed at the teaching. He said you could find anything taught there except the cross of Jesus Christ. Bonhoeffer did have a life changing experience while he was in New York, when we went to Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem and heard the Gospel preached from the perspective of the oppressed.

He was inspired by the preaching in the Black church, and taught Sunday school at Abyssinian Church. He believed and taught that people were called to imitate Christ and to follow Christ’s example. He helped to start the Confessing Church, separate and opposed to the German Church that was an apologist for the Nazi regime. He spoke out against the persecution of Jews and decided, in spite of his admiration of Gandhi and other pacifists, that he was called by God to find a way to kill Adolf Hitler.

After several attempts by various people failed, and just three months after he was engaged to be married, Bonhoeffer was imprisoned at Tegel prison. He tried to maintain a ruse that he had nothing to do with the plots to kill Hitler, but thousands of people were tortured to find out the names of anyone who had anything to do with the treason.

Bonhoeffer was hanged at age 39, the same age that Martin Luther King died. In fact his life and theology inspired King, who read about him in seminary. He was killed just 2 weeks before Hitler killed himself and the war came to an end.

 

Bonhoeffer’s life as a prophet provides quite a contrast with Jonah. Jonah’s prime motivation was his xenophobia, his prejudice against the people of Ninevah. Bonhoeffer’s passion was to challenge the xenophobia of the Nazi party, to teach people not to fear Jewish people, or anyone else.

Jonah whispered his call to repent and met great success; Bonhoeffer challenged the power and ideology of the Nazi leaders in Germany, and he was executed. It would seem that he was unsuccessful. His witness and his writing, however, have inspired countless people to take their faith seriously and live out their calling no matter what the consequences.

Bonhoeffer wrote brilliantly about following the call of the Living God no matter what the cost. He was clear that God calls all of us and can work though any of us, whether we know it or not. It is not our own effort that makes the difference, but our faithfulness to God’s calling and the gift of God’s grace and power that enables us to even be faithful.

Bonhoeffer railed against what he called ‘cheap grace.” “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

Bonhoeffer was not like Jonah, feeling sorry for himself and angry at God at the end. Bonhoeffer accepted the path of Christ wherever it led him. Though he suffered from depression at times in his life, though he left behind his finance of only three months when he went to jail, he found that the costly grace of God gave him peace in his soul and a deep sense of rightness in the world, that he felt could only come from knowing God’s love.

We might think that we could not possibly answer God’s call the way Bonhoeffer and King did – to challenge the Nazi regime and the evils of segregation and racism. My point today is not to hold them up as saints; merely to take their example of listening to God’s call one step at a time. Yesterday, in our planning retreat, we decided to take the next step in God’s calling for our congregation. They were not huge steps, but significant steps.

We started the day with the Zulu greeting “Sawubona” “I see you.” Sometimes it’s as simple as that to see each other, to recognize each other and know each other’s broken hearts. The 15 people at the retreat decided that at the next Church Council they would propose a year long process to amend or make more explicit our mission statement – to welcome all people. It’s as simple as saying we are going to welcome everybody, and all means all. We want to make clear our welcome to LGBT folks, to young people, to all races and abilities. We will think together in the next year about what that really means.

The group also decided to attend the opening assembly of POWER, a new coalition of churches, synagogues and mosques in Montgomery County working to create a more equitable funding formula for education in our county. And they talked about nurturing the young people in our congregation with worship, mission, and singing to help them grow step by step into their calling as God’s children.

We laughed and opened ourselves to God. That’s what we do. That’s what Martin Luther King did to answer God’s call. That’s what Bonhoeffer did. One step at a time, faithful to who God wants us to be. You are the seed. You are the yeast. You are the flame. Jesus calls us to be those little seeds, that little bit of yeast, that little pilot light in our community.

This is God’s good news.

Responsive Hymn: 583  You Are the Seed