Sunday, January 21, 2018

"Rise Up! Move" - Sermon, January 21, 2018

Community UMC, Quincy
Rise Up! Move
Pastor Andrew Davis
January 21, 2018
Jonah 3: 1-10
Mark 1: 14-20

            In some ways, we could almost change the words to our gathering song to “I’m gonna move when the Spirit says move (3X)…and obey the spirit of the Lord.”
            We definitely gotta move with the Spirit, that’s for sure.  Yet there are also places we don’t always want to go into either.  What are some of the places you still go to, yet you would rather not?  <Allow for responses>
            For the longest time, hospitals was something I avoided and just the thought of going into a hospital kinda made me turn a shade or two green.  Even nursing homes.  Yet once I got into the practice a few years ago, it was a total transformation that I could walk into a hospital or nursing home with confidence and assurance from God.  Talk about moving when the Spirit says move!! 
            In our text this morning, Jonah is called by God to go from Joppa (in modern day Spain) to the city of Ninevah (in modern day Syria) and deliver a word from God to the people after God told Jonah that they were committing all sorts of sin and up to no good, and was going to destroy the city.  Yet, Jonah finds every way he can to get out of going there, first by getting on a ship and getting caught in a storm and then was swallowed up by a big fish or whale, depending on the translation of the Bible you read from.  It’s hard to run away from God, though. 
            God calls Jonah a second time to go to Ninevah once again, and when Jonah delivers the word from God to the Ninevites, it only takes the eight little words that Jonah tells the Ninevites that causes them to move from their wicked ways (now, if you saw the animated Veggietales movie about Jonah, it was because they were slapping each other with fish, as the filmmaker used a lot of Midrash, or taking artistic liberties with the story).  Everyone from the king on down repents and puts on the ashes and sackcloths, even the animals (not sure how the animals repent too).  Except Jonah is not happy that God changes God’s mind and spares Ninevah by showing the Ninevite people grace and mercy.  Instead, Jonah goes away and sulks and wants to die because he wanted to see God’s wrath unleashed on Ninevah and the Ninevites obliterated. 
            Movement is an important part of this story, as
There are two primary kinds of movement in this week’s Scripture reading from Jonah.  One is physical movement. Jonah moves from Spain to [Syria], and then keeps moving a full day’s journey into the heart of Nineveh. The other movement is the dramatic acts of repentance by the people and even the livestock of Nineveh. Instead of facing being overturned, as Jonah’s prophecy announced, they instead turned over a new leaf. In a way, one might propose even a third kind of movement, God’s own movement of intention concerning Nineveh from judgment toward mercy in light of their repentance.[i]

            God definitely moves in mysterious ways and calls us to rise up and move in many different ways in our own lives along this journey of faith.  In seeing the reaction of the Ninevite people when Jonah sent them the message that God was going to level their city and when they turned around and moved towards repentance, God instead offers grace and mercy instead of wrath and destruction, which Jonah was anticipating and kind of hoping for.  How often do we experience such a movement, when the Holy Spirit gets in the way and moves us in a different direction?  Or, how about when we want to see wrath and punishment poured out on someone that has hurt us or wronged us, and instead see them offered mercy and grace?  As a friend and mentor of mine puts it,
God is always willing to go back to the drawing board with anybody. God is always willing to give us another chance, a fresh start.  This is the common theme of grace throughout the Bible. Just when you think God's gonna zap `em, God pours grace all over them.

There are times in our lives and even in the life of the church where we are going to be like Jonah, we are called, yet we go the other way only for God to call again, and we may sulk here and there when something doesn’t go our way.  There will be times when we screw up and need to be the ones to experience God’s grace, like the Ninevites.  While we are not likely to wind up in the belly of a large fish or a whale like Jonah did (somehow, I don’t think the Mackinaw at Bucks Lake or large bass or trout at Lake Almanor could swallow us anyway), God is STILL going to catch up with us and keep calling us until we move towards following God, and even call us to move towards repentance or being sorry for our sins. Especially relevant with the season of Lent a few weeks away. Yet no matter what we do, God is still going to keep showing grace to us along the way, even when we don’t think we deserve it and is up to us to accept that grace and move towards transformation.  And even when we don’t think others deserve it either.
Even in our reading from Mark, Jesus calls simple, yet ordinary fishermen from different backgrounds who have different personalities, to come, follow and move about with him, even though they may have no clue as to what kind of adventure Jesus is going to take them on.  And some of that would be into places the disciples did not necessarily want to go either, especially since that journey with Jesus will ultimately lead to Jerusalem and to the cross, then to carry on the work of Jesus after Jesus is no longer on the earth.  When God calls, we’ve gotta move, whether it’s to our own Nineveh’s or other places we don’t always want to go. 
            This last Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, Pastor Ray and I joined many of our clergy colleagues from the California-Nevada Conference, the regional body of the UMC at the Mount Hermon Christian Conference Center near Santa Cruz for the annual Gathering of the Orders with our bishop, Minerva Carcaño.  The long, six-hour drive feels like it’s daunting enough (like Jonah’s long journey), although during our time together, one of our bishop’s challenges to us as clergy is to be willing to move  about the places we don’t always want to go in our ministry.  I’ll admit that there are times when I wonder if I did the right thing in answering God’s call, yet in the times I’ve been like Jonah and have run away from the call, God has kept calling me again.  The world is constantly changing and shifting and moving into what many scholars call post-Christendom, which makes it a challenge to be in ministry, and even a follower of Christ today.  In my very first sermon here in this church, we had a reading from the Gospel of Luke that talked about going out as sheep among the wolves, in which it can feel like the world is full of wolves.  As Rev. Dr. B. Kevin Smalls explains,
In many cities across the world, sociological dynamics are changing daily. People across the globe are on the move. As these changes shift, anger often ensues around questions of equality, fairness, gentrification, displacement of the poor, and changing neighborhood dynamics. This is a marvelous time to raise the issue of not being afraid to cross the barriers that are often built around us every day. Congregations, churches, ministry settings are called to travel to their own cities, communities of Nineveh, overlook their hang ups, reach out and call people into the community of God.[ii]

            Our keynote speaker for the Gathering of the Orders was Dr. Alex Awad, teacher, author, and a Palestinian Christian who has had to deal with the challenges of living through conflicts between Israel and Palestine while growing up, yet was willing to cross borders and break down social barriers.  Moving with God might mean breaking down some of the barriers that hold us back, even the social barriers.  Fear is something that can keep us back too, such as Jonah’s fear and reluctance to go to Ninevah, considering there were conflicts in the Ancient Near-East happening during Jonah’s time as well.  However, Dr. Awad called upon us to look at the challenges around our own settings that are barriers in their own right, which we have plenty of here.  Even though I feel like we are experiencing a little bit of rebirth and a new sense of energy here in our town of Quincy, there are still challenges and is an opportunity for us as a church to move about and help address the challenges whichever way we can.
             When it comes to addressing the challenges and barriers as a people of faith and in addressing and adapting to shifting populations, it can feel like we are being asked to go to Nineveh.  Although this is also the opportunity to call and invite people to rise-up and join us on this journey of faith, regardless of what their life situation might be, allowing the Spirit to move among them.  We do need to be realistic about what we can and cannot help people with when traveling this faith journey with them, but naming and addressing the major challenges in our context is the start of listening to where God can move us when we listen to God’s voice and the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  We have people who come here who might be searching for answers to life’s greatest questions, which I will attest I don’t have the answers to myself, but am happy to help seek those answers out together.  We have people who might be here because their lives are in crisis and have nowhere else to turn, in which we can be the source of showing God’s grace and love to everyone who walks through our doors.  But most importantly, we should be the place where everyone is invited to experience God’s love and grace, and are moved towards transformed lives, lives that are full of a desire to joyfully living out our faith and putting that faith into action by serving the greater community and making it an even better place than it already is.
            While the world is ever-changing, God still calls us to move.  God still speaks to us in many ways and through the Holy Spirit, and when we listen to what God’s saying, it’s time to move to do what God is calling us, or move in the way Jesus called his first disciples on that lakeshore with the simple words, ‘follow me.’ And once we are so moved by God through the power of the Holy Spirit, it’s up to us to rise up and answer that call, whatever form that call from God takes.  While it’s easy to do like Jonah does and run away at first, God’s going to keep calling again, until we say yes, even if it means moving into the places we don’t want to go.  As we go into this new week, what are the places in your life that you don’t want to go, yet God still insists you move towards going there?  What are the challenges, the barriers, and walls you feel like you need to overcome that keep you from moving towards where God calls you to be? 

[i] Ministries, Discipleship. 2018. "Third Sunday After The Epiphany 2018 — Planning Notes - Umcdiscipleship.Org". Umcdiscipleship.Org. Accessed January 20 2018.

[ii] Ministries, Discipleship. 2018. "Third Sunday After The Epiphany 2018 — Preaching Notes - Umcdiscipleship.Org". Umcdiscipleship.Org. Accessed January 21 2018.

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