Jonah 3:1-5, 10
The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
1 Corinthians 12: 12-18,27
12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
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.
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.
In the third and fourth centuries, especially in Germanic areas, it became customary for men to disarm themselves before entering into the sanctuary for worship. The bulk of these weapons were simple wooden clubs–not elegant, but effective as protection against highway bandits and wild animals. Thus, it became common for the back of the church to fill up with a pile of the wooden clubs during services.
Gradually, congregants developed a kind of game associated with this practice of leaving these signs of animosity and violence behind them. After services the men would collect all these clubs, pile them together and compete among each other to see who could knock down the most clubs as possible by rolling stones at them. The more clubs knocked over, the more sins the individual was believed to have left behind.
Eventually this contest became more intentional and more organized, ultimately developing into “nine pins”–a bowling game. Knocking down sins turned into a much anticipated pastime on Sunday afternoons. By the time of the Reformation, bowling nine-pins had grown well beyond the church’s “parking lot” to become a hugely popular betting game at taverns and inns. It was Martin Luther’s favorite sport, and he is often credited with being the one to standardize the game of bowling with “nine pins.” Luther loved the symbolism of Christians as “holy bowlers,” enthusiastically bowling over all the sins that kept them from seeking God’s fullness and fulfillment.
And by the way by the time nine-pin bowling came to North America, it had lost its religious heritage and was primarily a gambling game. In the United States laws were passed therefore to outlaw nine-pin bowling, so someone came up with the idea, to get around the law against nine pins, of using ten pins instead and changing the setup of the pins into the triangle shape instead of a rectangular setting up of nine pins in three rows of three.
It is interesting though that the game of bowling had its genesis in violence, in the stacking up of weapons…
And then it turned around so to speak or changed, or repented and became a game which was a metaphor for repentance.
What are the pins, or sins you need knocked down in your life, to make way for you to find and follow God?
And that is one understanding of repentance. You have sins. You are doing things that are wrong or hurt people. Stop doing them. Say you are sorry to God and do better.
And some say that was the message of John the Baptist in particular.
But it is not the primary message of Jesus. Here in a couple of verses there is a whole lot of stuff packed in together that takes the whole bible in some ways to develop.
The word “repentance” is there. But also there is the idea of “the Kingdom of God” being near. That is there. Then the whole idea of the “good news”. That is there too.
Scholars write whole books on the meaning of “The kingdom of God.” They write books on the meaning of “The Good news.”
So when Jesus came walking along the beach and asked some fishermen to follow him, it was much more than them sitting down, thinking about particular sins and being sorry for them.
It is not a bad thing for them or us to do, but it wasn’t really what Jesus meant.
Repentance come from the Greek word “metanoia” and literally means turn around and go a new direction.
And obviously, this is what these disciples did. They left their occupations and went a new direction.
And that new direction of following Jesus was all about the Kingdom of God.
And that Kingdom of God could possibly be described as this: What would this world look like if everyone served love? What would this world looked like if love and justice and equality and compassion ruled?
Little do most people know that when Jesus called out to four fisherman to follow him, that the Galilean fishing industry was having a tough time.
We think that if you wanted to be a fisherman in Jesus day you hired on to a boat or you bought a boat and you just went fishing.
The fishing industry was highly regulated by the Romans. The Sea of Galilee belonged to the Emperor, to Caesar, and so Caesar got the first cut. There were fishing licences to pay, and you had to belong to a syndicate, and the syndicates were controlled by the rich. Most of the fish was exported and many of the local people went hungry and were not even allowed to catch one fish for their own supper. (K.C. Hansen describes the socio-economic and political context of Jesus’s ministry in his article, “The Galilean Fishing Economy and the Jesus Tradition.”)
I know I am sounding like a big C conservative here, but also a bit like a socialist. Fishing was overregulated. Stop so much regulation. Conservative.
But the regulation was all to make the rich and powerful more powerful, and the actual workers and local people didn’t benefit much from their local economy. Put the power back in the hands of the people and away from the rich oppressors. See, I do have a little pink in me, which by the way is my granddaughter’s favourite colour.
One more thing to add to this fishing metaphor that Jesus uses.
Again most of us think of fishing for people as trying to catch sinners and get them on their way to heaven.
It is a bit of a dodgy metaphor, because it implies catching people who don’t want to be caught.
But interestingly enough in scripture the catching people by a hook metaphor is already used.
First from Amos chapter 4
Hear this word, you cows of Bashan who are on Mount Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to their husbands, “Bring something to drink!” 2 The Lord God has sworn by his holiness: The time is surely coming upon you, when they shall take you away with hooks, even the last of you with fishhooks.
And then from Ezekiel 29:
I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great dragon sprawling in the midst of its channels, saying, “My Nile is my own; I made it for myself.” 4 I will put hooks in your jaws,
In these two cases the catching of people by fishhooks is not about saving them to heaven, it is about tearing down the oppressors and removing the oppression.
So may I suggest to you that when Jesus called his disciples and invited them to repent, he meant much more than being sorry for a particular sin.
Instead Jesus invited them to leave a domination system where the powerful had them caught up in a system that made the rich and powerful wealthier and more powerful.
He invited them to leave a domination system that manipulated people and controlled people and used people and didn’t care for the ordinary people.
He invited them to leave a domination system that was violent, and was supported and maintained by violence, not only the violence of force, but the violence of letting people starve because they didn’t count.
Come and follow me, Jesus said and join a new way of being,… a way where love and compassion and equality and justice reign…
Come and follow me and we will catch the dominators of the world and indeed the whole world with a new truth.
And that is… there is good news. God is for all people. God loves all people.
I can’t tell you how radical that is. We mostly in the church don’t believe it ourselves…
That God loves all, that all people are children of God. That God is for everyone and not for some.
Jonah didn’t believe it. Jonah didn’t believe that God was for all people.
Jonah was called to preach in Nineveh, right in the heart of present day Iran.
Nineveh was the capital of Assyria and as all you church historians and biblical scholars will know, it was Assyria who had completely wiped out the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 721.
The story of Jonah is set before this final destruction, but we get the sense that maybe asking a Jewish prophet to go and preach in Nineveh, would be akin to asking a Jewish prophet to go and preach in Berlin during the reign of Hitler.
So when Jonah runs away, we understand. It looks as if God is asking him to go to certain death.
He takes ship to heading to Spain.
There’s a storm. He is thrown in the sea by the sailors and rescued by the great fish who eventually gets tired of Jonah and throws him up… on the beach.
So eventually Jonah gets to Nineveh and preaches. Jonah tells them if they don’t repent destruction will follow. And the scripture says that the whole city repents.
Every last one of them.. Great and small. Even the animals wore sackcloth in repentance.
And God forgave them. God had mercy on them.
And Jonah goes out of the city to sulk.
And then the real reason comes to light, why Jonah didn’t want to come and preach to Nineveh. He says:
That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.
He didn’t want them forgiven. He wanted fire to rain down on them because he hated them.
I remember a lady by the name of Corrie Ten Boom a Christian Dutch lady who ended up in a Nazi concentration camp during world War 2, because here family hid Jews in their home. Her sister Betsy died in the concentration camp and Corrie was let out by a clerical error.
Corrie took the message of God’s love back to Germany and one night came face to face with one of the guards from that concentration camp. He said that he had done terrible things and asked for forgiveness.
Corrie said that her heart almost stopped and she almost didn’t put out her hand, but when she did the love of God filled her and she said: “I forgive you with all my heart.”
We humans are the violent and unforgiving ones most of the time, and think that therefore God is violent and unforgiving.
But God loves all people.
The Assyrians repented.
They didn’t turn to Judaism.
They didn’t become Christians.
And it is a lesson to us that all who seek love, who seek to turn around from sin whether they be Christian, or some other faith, or no faith, God honours that.
God doesn’t just love, Presbyterians or Christians or Church attendees.
He doesn’t just love white people, or rich people or straight people or English speakers, or Caucasians or Canadian.
That is the good news. Love for all.
Who are your Assyrians? Who are your Nazis? Who are the people you hate most, or the person you hate most?
God loves them. God cares for them.
And inasmuch as we forgive them and love them we love God.
Paul the apostle uses this beautiful image of the body. We are one body. We are different, but together we make up the body. The hand doesn’t say. Hey, I don’t need the eye. We are all in this together.
Sometime ago it became even more real this idea of one body.
Our bodies are made up of millions of molecules which are made up of atoms.
When I say millions I am being a little light. When we breathe, one breath, there are roughly one trillion, times ten billion molecules, mostly nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide.
And every year most of the atoms in the body are replaced with new ones as we eat and drink and breathe and perspire and expire and get rid of waste material in various ways.
And supposedly over seven years there are no atoms or molecules the same as seven years previous.
Where do they go, they go back into this world, into the earth and the air and into plants and into people.
At any one time when you take a breath in there is a possibility that you breathe in a molecule or an atom that was in Jesus or in Hitler.
When I breathe in and out those trillions of molecules and you breathe in and out, you breathe in what was in me and I breath in what was in you.
We in a very literal way are one body a part of each other. We are human, but we all have within us, molecules that were in people of every race, every gender, every sexual orientation, every faith, every culture, many animals and all sorts of plants.
The scripture talks about humans, that God breathed life into humans. Every time we breathe we breath a part of another human into us.
Because Paul was not speaking metaphorically. He wasn’t saying we are like a body. He said we are a body. That’s a change. Harry becoming all literalistic with the scripture.
Whether you like it or not, whether you feel it or not, whether you think it or not….
We all connected on this planet called earth…
And maybe the repentance we need, the turn around we need, the change we need, the transformation we need is to treat each other like we are part of the same body.
One of my favourite preachers and writers the Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor talks about going on a Martin Luther King Junior Day walk a number of years ago.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day was last Monday and it was 50 years ago this year on April 4 that he was assassinated.
Barbara wrote that they were starting the walk from one church to another and they were all singing “He’s got the whole world in his hands.”
…when the Klu Klux Klan arrived in the white hoods with placards.
One of the placards showed Dr. King’s head in a viewfinder with the slogan: “Our dream came true.”
I quote: (Bread of Angels p90)
“He’s got you and me, sister, in his hands”…if what Paul said is true – then I had just walked past some members of my own body, who were as hard for me to accept as a cancer or a blocked artery. And yet if I did not accept them – if I let them remain separate from me the way they wanted me to – then I became one of them, one more of the people who insist that there are some people who cannot belong to the body.” End quote.
I need to repent of the way I sometimes think of others as “other” …as an appendix that we don’t need.
The world needs to repent turn around and go a new direction…
And maybe, just maybe we can do that…
When we remember that we are part of one body.
And so today I proclaim to you that you are a part of Christ.
You are loved, you are accepted. You are in. No matter what sin, what mistake, what pedigree, what belief you have, however much you feel lost or found.
Christ has good news for you.
You are part of the body and you are loved and you are needed. Amen