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Sermon for Sunday 14 January 2021

First Reading: Jonah 3:1-5, 10

1The word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” 3So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth. 4Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. 10When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.

Psalm 62

1For God alone my soul in silence waits; from him comes my salvation. 2He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold, so that I shall not be greatly shaken. 3How long will you assail me to crush me, all of you together, as if you were a leaning fence, a toppling wall? 4They seek only to bring me down from my place of honor; lies are their chief delight. 5They bless with their lips, but in their hearts they curse. 6For God alone my soul in silence waits; truly, my hope is in him. 7He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold, so that I shall not be shaken. 8In God is my safety and my honor; God is my strong rock and my refuge. 9Put your trust in him always, O people, pour out your hearts before him, for God is our refuge. 10Those of high degree are but a fleeting breath, even those of low estate cannot be trusted. 11On the scales they are lighter than a breath, all of them together. 12Put no trust in extortion; in robbery take no empty pride; though wealth increase, set not your heart upon it. 13God has spoken once, twice have I heard it, that power belongs to God. 14Steadfast love is yours, O Lord, for you repay everyone according to his deeds.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 7:29-35

29This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, 30and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, 31and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. 32I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. 33But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, 34and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. 35I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.

Gospel: Mark 1:14-20

14After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” 16Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.

Carpe Diem

Question, if you could take a peek into your future, would you do it?  If you were granted the opportunity to take a quick glimpse at your life five or ten or even twenty years from now—would you take that opportunity?  Would you even want to know what the future holds?  In Shanghai, China there’s a chain of coffee houses, called Mo Mi Cafés.  In many ways the Mo Mi Cafés are like many of the others; patrons can buy specialty coffees and teas; they can hang out, access the internet, and read books.  What makes these Cafés different, is that you can purchase a postcard and send it to yourself in the future.

You heard me correctly, you can send a postcard to yourself, but it won’t be delivered until a much later date.  Each Café has post office boxes for mail that is intended to be delivered to you over the next 5-10 years or more years.  Assuming, of course, that the Cafés are still in business 5-10 years from now, the employees will fish your postcard out of the bin and put it in the postal service for you.  It’s an interesting notion. 

So if I were to hand you a future mailed postcard this morning, what message would you send to your future self?  I pondered this matter myself, and I must admit, it’s a difficult question.  What message, or words of wisdom, would you or I send to our future selves that would make a difference?  What possible tidbit of information would our future selves need that history wouldn’t have already taught us?  What piece of knowledge, in the here and now, could change our future self in a profound way?

Over the years I’ve known people who seem to live more in the past than they do in the present.  They’re haunted by their perceived failures and missed opportunities of the past and seem unable to move forward.  These people are so filled with regret that they cannot find a way to live today or to move on.  On the other hand, I’ve known others who seem so preoccupied with the future that they can’t effectively function in the here and now. 

Their obsession with what might happen, prevents them from embracing the people and events around them.  Now please don’t get me wrong, it is important to remember the past in order to learn it’s lessons, and we need to look ahead in order to plan for the future.  We also need to remember Jesus’ words of wisdom as well: “Never be anxious about the next day, for the next day will have its own anxieties.  Each day has enough of its own troubles” (Matt. 6:34).  Living a life of faithful service to God is about maintaining a proper perspective and keeping our priorities straight.

An unknown poet has written something rather profound: they said, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift.  That’s why we call it the present.”  In my mind, any message that the “present you” could send to the “future you” could be represented by two words: “Carpe Diem.”  As many of you know, the Latin phrase Carpe Diem is translated as Seize the Day.  Seizing the Day means we understand and learn from the past, while making the most of the present day and giving appropriate thought to plan for the future.  

Understanding the past helps us make good decisions today, in order to have a brighter future.  But to do this, we must be present today, and being present today means being open to what God is calling us to do for His kingdom and His glory.  This brings us to our Bible passages for today.  Interestingly, all of our readings, in some way point us to the need to be ready and open to God and His will for us each day.  We need to be ready to seize the opportunities God places before us.

Let me ask you another question: who doesn’t like the story of Jonah?  Think about it.  Jonah was a prophet, called by God and can, for better or worse, be seen as a man of action.  When God called Jonah and told him to go to Nineveh, he went, but he headed in the wrong direction.  When a storm threated to sink the boat that he had boarded, he told the crew to throw him into the sea.  Thinking he was in the clear, he gets swallowed by a huge fish.  Three days later Jonah prays, and God causes the fish to puke him up on the shore of the Mediterranean.  

God again commands Jonah to go, and this time he does, and for 3 days he preaches the shortest and most successful sermon ever preached; it consisted of 8 words, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4b).  Now I know what you’re thinking at this point: you’re thinking, I wish today’s sermon was just 8 words long!  Sorry about that, but I’m a person of action as well, and you’re gonna get the whole enchilada as we like to say out west!  The trouble with Jonah was, that while he was ready to act, his attitude, prejudices and priorities were all out of whack.  The good news is, especially for Nineveh, God used Jonah, and the entire city was spared destruction.  The people of Nineveh stopped their sinful ways and repented, and God listened!  Keeping our perspective and priorities straight is what Paul is alluding to in our epistle reading for today.

This past Tuesday I was taking with the other pastor’s gathered, for breakfast and Bible study, about how people read Paul’s words here in 1 Corinthians.  The general consensus was, that for most folks, they see Paul as preaching against marriage or for advocating abandoning a person’s family in favor of ministry in God’s kingdom.  However, this isn’t what Paul is encouraging here at all.  What Paul is saying is that we must keep our priorities in order.  What Paul is telling the early church, and us, is that we must put God first.  First and foremost, we must be ready, at all times, for God’s call on our lives, and be ready to respond to the work of the kingdom.  Under no circumstances, can we allow ourselves to get so bogged down, with the things of this life, that we’re unable to answer the call for service in God’s kingdom. 

This brings me to another interesting thing one of the other pastors said that I think bears repeating: “Our job is not to get to heaven.  Our job is to enter into God’s kingdom now.”  Let me repeat that: “Our job isn’t doing only what it takes to go to heaven.  Our job is to serve faithfully and enter into God’s kingdom today.”  In other words, we need to be focused on God’s will and work for us in the present.  Look again at our gospel lesson for this morning.  In the later part of verse 15 Jesus reminds us, “the kingdom of God is at hand.”  God’s kingdom isn’t something we look forward to at some later date.  God is with us now, and so is the need for workers in that kingdom.  But before I get into our gospel lesson, I do need to explain how our psalm reading ties in for this morning.

Psalm 62 opens with one of the best reminders of our need for patience and waiting on God in our work for the kingdom.  In verse one we read, “For God alone my soul in silence waits.”  Too often we’re so busy telling God what we want and what we need, that we fail to listen for instructions.  And when faced with a situation that we think needs our attention, instead of trusting God to speak to us, we jump into action, only to find the situation is too big or too complicated for us to handle.  This reminds me of something that happened when I was younger and at home. 

My dad would give me something to do and instead of waiting for Dad to give me directions, I’d jump into action.  Most of the time, I’d simply work far harder than needed to get the job done.  But every once in a while, Dad would wait patiently, watching, making sure I didn’t get hurt, of course, and then when I became frustrated enough to finally listen, he would then explain how to get the task done in the most efficient way possible.  One of the most memorable occasions for me was when dad asked me to dig a ditch for a new sewer line.

Being young and full of vigor, and of course grumbling about having to dig a 50-foot trench to run a new sewer line, I only listened half-heartedly to the instructions dad gave me; all I heard was I want a really clean ditch.  I spent hours that day in the Arizona sun with a pick and shovel digging a 24” deep, 50’ long trench, properly slopped of course, that was the prettiest hand-dug trench you’ve ever seen.  I mean the sides were straight up and down, the bottom was square, and the slope was exactly 1/4” per foot of pipe, which is what dad asked for.  About dinner time I finally finished and called dad out to inspect my work. 

When dad came out to inspect, he started to laugh and called his business partner out to look at the ditch.  I kept asking what the problem was and dad didn’t say anything, he just kept looking at the trench and laughing.  Once Mr. Robinette came out, he too laughed and asked why I spent so much time digging such as precise trench.  Frustrated, I simply responded, dad said it had to be a clean trench.  Again laughing, dad said you didn’t listen. 

If you’d have been a bit more patient, I would have finished explaining what I meant by clean.  I just needed it to be free of debris, rocks and dirt so the new pipe would lay flat in the bottom of the ditch.  Because you weren’t patient and didn’t listen to what I was trying to tell you, yes, you’ve dug the prettiest trench I’ve ever seen, but it’s twice the size it needs to be, and, there was no need for squared off sides.  It’s so pretty, it’s a shame that in less than an hour, we’ll have to simply cover the whole thing up.  Next time son, be patient and wait for me to explain and I’ll save you a lot of blisters and hard work.  Needless to say, I learned a very valuable lesson that day.  The same is true about waiting on God for instructions.  With that said, we need to get back to our gospel lesson for today.

As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, as we have come to learn, they were fishermen.  “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”  At once, or immediately, as Mark is so fond of saying, they left their nets and followed Him.  Now I need to explain something here, their reaction wasn’t necessarily an impulsive one.  Remember the opening verse of our reading from St. Mark’s gospel, “After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1 14-15).

Chances are real good that both Simon and Andrew had taken the opportunity to hear Jesus preach; they had heard the gospel proclaimed.  St. Luke records for us that after Jesus was tempted in the desert by the devil, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside.  He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him” (4:14-15).  In other words, Jesus established Himself as a competent and reliable teacher of God’s word.

Additionally, according to St. John in his gospel, Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist and when John the Baptist proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (1:29), Andrew then went and found Peter and they both went to stay with Jesus that day.  Their immediate decision to follow was preceded by a time of listening.  They were prepared, and when the call came to work for the kingdom, Andrew and Peter were ready to Seize the day.  So, what about us?

Are we ready to Seize the Day?  Or, are we like Jonah, who upon hearing God’s call run in the opposite direction?  And if we do reluctantly respond to God’s call, do we allow our prejudices and pre-conceived notions to dictate how we see and treat others?  What about our priorities?  Do we place God first in our lives or are we allowing the cares and things of this world to dominate and shove our responsibilities to the kingdom to the back burner?  Jesus’ call to follow Him is an on-going call and we need to prioritize our lives in such a way that we’re ready to respond. 

So maybe the message we’d mail to our future self isn’t some sage piece of wisdom, some hot stock tip or some prediction about what’s to come, but simply a reminder to set our priorities in order, remain open to God’s call and will for our lives, and to Seize the day to the glory and honor of God.


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