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
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.