Sermon January 25, 2015


3 Epiphany

January 25, 2015

Ruthann Savage-King


Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Psalm 62: 6-14
1 Corinthians 7: 29-31
Mark 1:14-20

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.

Karoline Lewis Associate Professor of Preaching and Homiletics at Luther Seminary St. Paul, MN said:  “Maybe a life of faith can only happen in immediately, in the surprising, sudden, profound epiphany of God at work, God revealed in our lives.”

Jesus called four fishermen who didn’t hesitate.  Their epiphanies of God at work, God revealed, happened in Lewis’ immediately.

Jonah also went immediately.  But he went the opposite way from where God called him.  Jonah shows us the awesome indignation of the righteous – who is running away as quickly as possible.

Many of us have been taught that because Zebedee is left with 4 hired men, he probably owned his boat, which indicated that fishermen lived a good life, some think even a lucrative life.

Raquel Lettsome explains that the Northern part of Galilee, a rural area known for farming and fishing, was not supported by the Romans in the same way as the religious elite in the South.  In Northern Galilee the labor of the people supported an economy that kept them at the lowest economic and social strata of ancient Palestine.  This economy relied on kinship ties in a highly regulated political system.  The 4 men working with Zebedee were probably part of a cooperative working together so all might have something to live on.  The four who left immediately impacted not only THEIR OWN economic position, they impacted the livelihood of their families and any relationships they might share in the future.

Jonah was called directly by God to go to Nineveh and prophesy.

Can’t you just hear this – Jonah arguing with God?!

“No – I’m not going to Nineveh.  I’m not going to prophesy there because I will look like a fool.  I’ll tell them that because of their wicked ways you are going to destroy them, and then you won’t do it and I’ll look like a fool.”

“No – I’m leaving.  I can get to Tarshish by boat.  I have enough cash for a ticket from Joppa – I’ll be well away from Nineveh so you can’t make me walk through that city.”

On the boat Jonah fell asleep and a huge storm came up.  When the sailors found him sleeping they wanted to know if it was his God that was causing this storm and couldn’t he offer some sacrifice to make it stop.

“Yes – it’s my God.  Just kill me now.  If you do He will save you from the storm and you’ll be safe.”

The sailors quickly and with great relief threw him overboard where he was immediately swallowed by a giant fish.  Jonah found himself alive INSIDE the fish, so he prayed and prayed and prayed until finally the fish spit him out on the shore.  What kind of fish should have enough air inside to allow him to live for 3 days and 3 nights?  SOMETHING God made.

God spoke to Jonah again and told him to walk through the city of Nineveh with God’s message.  So Jonah walked for 3 days shouting “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”  Then he waited to see what God would do.

The king of Nineveh called everyone to repentance and when God saw that everyone DID repent, God’s compassion overcame God’s anger and they were saved.

Jonah was not happy.  In fact he was so angry that he asked God to kill him.  God’s challenge to Jonah was “What right do YOU have to be angry with ME?”

Jonah’s perceptions of his own self-importance left him a reluctant prophet of God.

In rabbinic Judaism students have always sought out particular teachers.  Elijah, however, set a precedent by calling Elisha.  Both Elijah and Jesus called their followers and they all followed immediately.

Well maybe not everyone.  There was the young man who after being called to follow Jesus said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”  But Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”  That could sound harsh, but the man’s father wasn’t dead yet.  The would-be disciple wanted to go home and lead his usual life until his father should pass and the man inherit what was “rightfully his”.  If he followed Jesus immediately he would have lost his inheritance.

But what about today?  Is there anyone who follows God immediately?  Do epiphanies happen still?  Or are people more likely to be like me – ones who struggle and wrestle with God for years until that moment happens when we finally say yes?

When Billy Graham was turned down for membership in a local youth group because he was “too worldly,” a man who worked on the Graham family farm, persuaded him to go and see the evangelist Mordecai Ham.   According to his autobiography, Graham was converted in 1934 at age 16 during a series of revival meetings in Charlotte NC led by Ham.

After graduating High School Graham went to Bob Jones College, where after one semester he was almost expelled.   Bob Jones, Sr. warned him not to throw his life away:  “At best, all you could amount to would be a poor country Baptist preacher somewhere out in the sticks…. You have a voice that pulls.  God can use that voice of yours.  He can use it mightily”.

By 1949 he was leading crusades – and by 2008 it was estimated that he had reached approximately 2.2 Billion people worldwide.

In 1997 in an interview with Robert Schuler, Billy Graham said:

“I think that everybody that loves or knows Christ, whether they are conscious of it or not, they are members of the body of Christ… [God] is calling people out of the world for his name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ because they have been called by God. They may not know the name of Jesus but they know in their hearts that they need something they do not have, and they turn to the only light they have, and I think that they are saved and they are going to be with us in heaven.”

Epiphany.  A sudden perception of the life of faith that we follow immediately; when we are surprised to see God’s work happening through us.

Peter, Andrew, James and John had immediate epiphanies and followed Jesus.

Jonah didn’t follow immediately.  Yet he still did God’s work – complaining all the way.

Billy Graham tried to follow immediately, but had to persevere through obstacles.

Where are you?  Have you followed immediately?  Worked through obstacles, or both?  My guess would be both.

Epiphany happens – surprises happen – and God is revealed in our lives.