Friday, 6 March 2009

Back to Jonah.

It dawns on me that I have not put any of my sermons on here for a while, here is one from a few weeks back which I was looking for today so that I could send it to somebody who asked for it. I take the risk that Jeremy Paxman has not given a similar sermon on television recently. I have just been to the garage on this busy day because my car wheels were making a disturbing noise, two hundred pounds later I wish that I, rather than Jeremy Paxman, had the well paid job! Anyway, here goes...

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.

Imagine that you are in a bookshop in ancient Corinth, Antioch or Ephesus. Imagine going in and asking the owner, if he had anything new in, anything worth reading. He hands you a papyrus scroll with no spine, no wording on the outside and as you open it, and the first thing it says is ‘The beginning of the good news of Jesus Messiah, Son of God!’ This is how Mark’s Gospel begins; this is how many people over hundreds of years have been brought to an understanding of the faith. Today’s Gospel comes at the end of the first chapter, after we are introduced to Jesus and John the Baptist, after the birth and Baptism, after the arrest of John, we begin, finally, what we foolishly call ‘ordinary time’, the beginning of the teaching life of Christ, who goes to Galilee, ‘repent’ he says ‘and believe the good news’, believe what you have read in the beginning of this most incredible manuscript, that the one who came from Jewish roots, the long expected one of legends older than your history books, for it is I and I come to the place where you are.

He came to the docks, the centre of industry, the bustling ports and said ‘come, follow me’ in such a compelling manner that Simon and Andrew and James and John immediately responded to the man for whom the world had waited since the beginning of time and He pulled up right in front of them as they got on with their days work. They left their thriving businesses and families and friends and the places where they felt comfortable – as well as leaving their arguments and the people with whom they did not get on, the unpaid bills and their staff who would face an uncertain future – and they followed Him, to an unknown destination.

This is the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ that after a long, long painful wait for the people of God, more is asked of them. More is asked of us, as it was of the people of Nineveh. What was asked of Jonah? Only that he venture, after a horrendous journey – and remember Jonah was a most reluctant prophet, how was he sent! Up! Go to Nineveh! His own quiet life was intruded on, ‘go to Nineveh! Oh no! Fine don’t go to Nineveh! Phew! No, get swallowed by a fish! Aaaargh! Then go to Nineveh! – that he go into a city known for its great size and wickedness as well as the enormity of its violence and cruelty as we know from contemporary historians, and to announce that the city will be destroyed in forty days unless they have faith and turn again to the Lord, Nineveh had its own Lent, forty days to repent and turn back to God, and the half hearted efforts of a reluctant prophet were enough to convince them.

How much more convincing was the sound of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world calling his Apostles from the docks, who was seen coming by John, to the supper of the lamb, on the road that led to enlightenment and death for each of them, the ordinary people on which is built the Church of God. What are we to make of Nineveh and Galilee? What are we to make of Paul in the second reading writing to the community at Corinth, another great, busy fishing port with a bad reputation, telling the people there to stop caring, or so it seems. Paul thought the end was coming, certainly, he thought the end was nigh and he told the fledgling Churches this, by saying you have just begun, now stop!

Being a Christian means dying to your past life. In fact, though, what he asks of these communities meeting for the Eucharist in local places, full of class warfare and one-upmanship, (where does Jesus Messiah, son of God say show off and cause division? Where does he say ‘demand respect’?) for they shared a table for their sacred banquets but the wealthy and the showy would bring the latest fine foods while the poor ate cast offs, he asks these communities to live differently. That there may be no tomorrow and if there is, that it may be a tomorrow on which we may be judged with the sheep and not with the goats.

Change your life, Paul says, as those in Nineveh and Galilee changes theirs. Do not make new commitments when all is coming to an end as it was for them, as it was for Nineveh and as it was for the apostles at the docks, as it is for us! This is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Messiah, son of God. Our life before faith ends as we become new creatures called by God to a new life. Sometimes we feel called to a new life only to see it falling apart around us, but the new life God calls us to is known to Himself alone and it is ours but to follow, like or not where He sends us, we may find the journey tells us much about ourselves and the way we use His gifts. All of these readings call us to begin the new life in God that we are offered through faith and the seven sacraments, to rise up as a community in Nineveh, Galilee as well as Manchester and follow Him.

Jonah and Paul had clear, obvious moral currency; otherwise people would not have given up their old lives to follow their teachings. Are we prepared to call followers, filled as we are with the grace of the Mass and our Baptism and Confirmation? Do we follow the example of all these people we have heard about today, changing our lives, the better to show the love of God and the necessity of hearing His call which never stays still, which leads us to uncomfortable places, living as though we have nothing of our own, or will we decide that we have done enough, that we have no need to change and blame others for the fact that our world has become as Nineveh? Who will stand outside the safe walls and follow the call of God to be fishers for our fellow citizens? It is a call we are all given, by virtue of our Baptism and every time we call ourselves Christians. And it is hard, but if Jonah can manage to leave his comfortable place, so can we come to terms with God wanting something for us which we do not necessarily want ourselves, but this is the ongoing story, you are the ongoing story of the people of God journeying through the world to the salvation brought once and for all time by the ultimate denial of comfort, the cross of Calvary and the descent into Hell, for us and for our salvation.

This is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Messiah the son of God and it has come to this place, in this time, to this Church. Wherever your Nineveh may be, when you hear the call, get up and go there.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen