3rd Sunday after Epiphany
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who interrupts our lives. Amen
This past week I had the chance to do some continuing education,
I went to a series of talks by the author Mark Tranvik on Luther and Vocation.
Vocation is the big church word
that means a call from God
to do something oriented toward God
we often associate vocations with work
and more specifically with careers within the church.
In fact, at the time of the reformation
the only people considered to have vocations
were monks, nuns and priests.
Tranvik’s point was that the gift of Luther’s thinking and the reformation
is that because of our baptisms
we all have vocations, calls from God
and not just with our jobs
but all areas of our lives are places and opportunities
to love and serve God and neighbor,
vocation in the broadest sense of the word
is God’s call to us to let God’s love overflow
from our lives into the lives of those around us.
Now, figuring out what God wants us to do
is easier said than done,
it’s been many years since the skies parted
and the voice of God boomed out with specific instructions.
These days God speaks in very subtle ways
which sometimes we only understand well after the fact.
But Mark Tranvik pointed out
that one place that God seems to particularly like to work in and through
are the interruptions in life.
In our texts for today
We have stories of God calling people
And there are interruptions all over the place,
interruptions that lead to those who are interrupted serving God and neighbor.
Simon and Andrew are fishing
when Jesus comes upon them and interrupts their lives,
we are told they are fishermen,
so they are engaged in an activity that they have done before,
that they use to support themselves and their families
and which they expect that they will do the rest of their lives.
But something in the invitation to follow Jesus
and fish for people catches their attention
they set down their nets
and the trajectory of their lives changes dramatically.
The same goes for James and John
who are helping their father with the family business
which their father anticipates that they will take over some day
but when Jesus interrupts their net mending
to call them to follow
they leave their nets and their father in the boat
along with the plan for the rest of their lives
all because they paid attention to an interruption.
Jonah’s life was interrupted by God,
several times in fact.
Jonah’s first instinct was to do the exact opposite of what God wanted.
Instead of going to Nineveh like God asked
Jonah got on a ship headed for Tarshish,
a journey which God interrupted with a big storm
and Jonah, gets thrown overboard and swallowed by a big fish
before getting back on track
and when he goes to Nineveh like God asks
he interrupts the lives of the Ninevites
with the message “forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown”
and the people listen to this interruption!
They call a fast, clean up their ways, repent before God
and when God sees this,
that they’ve listened to the interruption
God changes plans and does not destroy their city.
All of our lives have been interrupted as some point
Sometimes the interruptions are as simple
as meeting a new friend,
often the obvious interruptions involve loss
whether it’s loss of a job or a loved one or some other kind,
and the resulting call
may also be more subtle,
a call to increased compassion
for those who have experienced the same thing you have.
Many times it is only well after the fact
that we see where God was in the interruption
and how it changed the way we love and serve our neighbors.
Often when we look at the story of Jesus calling his disciples,
I think we get stuck on the dramatic way
in which the disciples give up everything
- Jesus says ‘come fish for people’ whatever that means-
and immediately they set down their nets and go with him.
This seems like an impossible example to follow-
we think ‘well that’s great for them but I can’t do that,
I’ve got responsibilities or other reasons why dropping everything would not work,
and if we think of the life of discipleship
only in this one way it seems out of reach for most of us.
But not everyone is called to drop everything
and live an itinerant lifestyle,
there are other ways to live as a disciple of Jesus,
and that’s why talking about vocation is so important,
that call from God to let the love of God overflow from our lives into the lives of others-
is lived out in all areas of life.
Luther once said
that perhaps the most spiritual thing one can do
is wash out dirty diapers and hang them on the line-
He caught some flack from his academic colleagues
when they saw him out in the backyard
helping his wife Katie with the household chores
but for Luther,
his sense of vocation meant that he understood
that in the realm of family life
the way he could be a disciple,
to let the love of God flow from his life into the life of his family
was to serve his wife and children by washing dirty diapers.
Discipleship doesn’t have to be dramatic or complicated
we are all called to be disciples,
this call came to us at the biggest interruption in our lives,
The point in our life when God claimed us
made sure that we knew that we are no one’s but God’s,
and in the water and the word
joined us to the death and resurrection of Jesus,
saying ‘death no longer has any claim on this person,
whatever hardships come their way the end result will be life with God.’
In our baptisms we have been set free
and our lives filled to overflowing with the love of God
and we are given the purpose of sharing that love with others
in many and various ways,
and so we do
resting secure in the knowledge
that whatever interruptions we encounter in life
God is there with us,
loving us and working for good. Amen
for more on vocation and the ideas referenced in this sermon see the book: Martin Luther and the Called Life by Mark D. Tranvik
16th Sunday after Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who gives us what we need rather than what we deserve. Amen.
It always astounds me
how we as humans can make anything into a complaint,
even the most positive of things.
Take our friend Jonah for instance,
out of his mouth comes a formula of praise
we find in the psalms
he says to God:
“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.”
All of these things
seem like something we would want in a God
and yet for Jonah,
these are lamentable characteristics.
It is not satisfying to him
that God is gracious and ready to relent from punishing.
Jonah, the reluctant prophet
wanted to see Nineveh,
the original Sin City,
He wanted them held accountable for their wrong doings
to see the fruits of his prophesy,
the destruction of a great city.
To him it’s not fair
that God would just let all that go.
How quickly the man so recently tossed into the sea
and swallowed by a big fish
forgets the grace of God.
Likewise in Matthew
we have some vineyard workers
who are fortunate enough to be hired at the beginning of the day.
For their work they will receive the common daily wage
and they agree to this before they start.
As the day progresses
the vineyard owner hires more and more people
who agree to work for what is right,
there is plenty of work for all to do.
The end of the day comes
and those hired last are paid first.
The workers who started at the very beginning
see them get the common daily wage,
as do the next to last hired
and they start to get excited,
what will they get for doing eight times the work?
When it’s their turn,
they get what they agreed to,
the common daily wage.
But, but, that’s not fair they complain
we worked all day in the heat
and we don’t get more than the guys that only worked an hour?
How quickly workers who might not have had a job
forget they were hired for the day.
In the kingdom of heaven
people get what they need
rather than what they think they deserve
As we listen to these stories
it is easy to see the foolishness of Jonah and the workers
who presume to be entitled
to what are ultimately gifts from God
Jonah is a laughable character,
his preaching achieves what most prophets only dream of,
people paying attention to their message and changing their ways
and the workers,
they shook on a contract,
why would they expect more than what they agreed on with their employer?
That’s just silly
And yet, if I am honest with myself
If I place myself in the shoes of the workers (Jonah is a little more difficult to imagine)
I am actually no different than the workers.
How many times
have I thought that I would receive more than what I agreed to
just because I was fortunate enough to be hired at the beginning of the day
or became jealous
when others seem to accomplish more with less work
or are compensated in a way that doesn’t seem fair.
And that’s the whole point
Grace isn’t fair
We don’t deserve grace
The key to this whole discussion
I think comes out of the mouth of the vineyard owner.
To the grumbling workers he says
“Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?”
In the vineyard of this world
all belongs to God
And God is generous,
gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
Everything we have is from God,
given as a generous gift.
and those hired first
again If I am really honest with myself
I am more like the people of Ninevah than Jonah,
in need of repentance and the mercy of God
and I am really more like those hired last,
who are grateful for just an hour’s work
and astounded at the generosity of a whole days pay
than I am like the ones hired first.
Martin Luther, the great reformer
was one who was well aware of his failings and the grace of God
on his death bed it is reported that his last words were
“We are beggars, this is true.”
We are beggars
but we are beggars with a God who is generous beyond reason,
gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love
who gives us everything that we need and more
and calls us to share what we have been given
with those who hunger and thirst for food and water, grace and mercy.
And God’s actions are not fair,
if the vineyard owner were concerned with equal treatment of his employees
the last hired would have been paid less than the first hired.
But God’s concern is justice,
what is right.
God gives us what we need rather than what we deserve
The vineyard owner agrees to pay what is right to those hired later,
for God what is right
what is just
is that all have enough to eat,
a place to live.
And the way God does this
is through God’s people
who are called to work for God’s justice in the world,
to be generous with what they have been first given
to give people what they need rather than what they deserve
We are called by God to start living out the kingdom of heaven now
And that means at all levels of our lives
On an individual level, in our local communities, in our country and in the world
We are called by God
to make sure that people get what they need rather than what they deserve
And if it doesn’t seem fair
The grace of God, the creator of the universe
Who is merciful, slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.