Based on Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Mark 1:14-20
This has been a profound week. No doubt, from whatever angle we approached it. Focus met poetry and song in the inauguration of a new president. The poetry and song, in turn, congealed with a mighty ecumenical and interfaith prayer service from the national cathedral. Whether there was an automatic fit or not with both of today’s assigned scripture lessons, I saw it so, and was deeply moved. Just as we preachers are commanded to proclaim God’s reign with the Bible in one hand and now a digital newspaper in the other, I was met by a mighty fusion of word and song in our national concerns and our most private crises.
“Forty days more!” In other words, the voice of a stranger—Jonah—shouts like a beer parker at a ball game that your time now is short and the time left is urgent; as urgent as forty years in the wilderness; as urgent as forty days on a rudderless ship tossed by waters surging from below and sheets of water falling from above. “Forty days more!” Much is compacted into that headline, very much. Far more than can be proclaimed from a sandwich board.
There’s a time for repentance. Jonah, we know, wasn’t really into proclaiming that. Though he was all about denunciation. Were Jonah and speaking today, he might realize his own ambivalence from the negative side. Had Jonah known himself, were Jonah to speak of sing in today’s terms, he might confess his ambivalence from the negative side. So in Dave Grohl’s words he might sing. [v1]
And God would answer commandingly. [Refrain]
Counterpose that–no, complement that—with the voice of someone you know well; with whom you grew up; went to grade school and high school with; maybe hung out in his woodshop with; with whom you must have stayed up late nights talking the dreams given by God to the young and ambitious; probably doing so too over bad wine that was vintaged just last week from the vineyards down by the Galilee sea. Your friend had been gone for a few years, exploring the universe of God out where the only colors of this world were shades of sand and rock and sun and moon. But he came back. You hung out with him in a familiar way again, like a later night after the official stuff at a high school reunion, before getting up the next early morn, head in hand to cast nets or tend the fields or bake bricks.
Then suddenly one day your returned friend says: “The time is fulfilled.” That is, “Let’s roll!” It is time to act those late-night group dreams. With no second thought, you dropped everything and went off on a three-year journey without end. So Jesus’ following friends are hyped. Full of conviction. But were they self-aware, they might acknowledge too their own divided minds. They might speak thus. [v 2] And Jesus answers: [refrain]
The time was fulfilled. That is, it was now the time of times, the time when stuff was to happen; not just happen in that way that breaks the dull routine of youth entering adulthood. No. The time that happens when suddenly everything is urgent; when time is short because the water has broken, as in birth, as in baptism; when the short time now seized is pregnant with radical change; pregnant with a commanded obedience; a shortness of time now suddenly stunningly new and wide open. If you follow. If you follow this one you’ve thought you’ve known, but in truth has known you from before you could imagine.
In human eyes time is for taking. Most times we take too much of it because we are not serious about it. In God’s vision, time is for giving. God will give forty days – symbolically a crisis time fraught with drowning or deliverance; promising, if grasped, a down payment from God’s profundity of grace that when obeyed by following means an eternity of meaningful life on the mortal side of morbidity. Obedience to grace, you see, dawns into the joy of trusting that God takes time however much and necessary to forgive.
That is all from God. We human beings, on the other hand, are more than slow on the uptake. We do not take seriously the meaning of time. We do not routinely see as we should that the gift of time in characterized by the humble lifestyle of repentance-forgiveness-reconciliation.
What is repentance? How can it happen?
Answer to the first: Not just behavior. But orientation. Where are you pointed? Answer to second: Story of Mel Dosch, MDLC member. 95 years old; says to his wife of 71 yrs before he died: “I love you. It is time for me to go.” The solidarity of love, the reality of grace, fuses and enables our obedience to love. Our obedience to the command “follow me.” God with you. God is the “I” in “I am a one-way motorway.” The I in “I’m a streetlight shining.” The I in “I’m a brand-new sky to hang the stars upon tonight.” And when God changes God’s mind, which does happen, it because God is obedient to God’s own love and does follow through. All. The. Way.
And who are we? We are the ones who will dare to follow. Who will dare daily to turn to God and the enactment of God’s will that is so uniquely good could actually look interesting to a cynical public? For those who will follow Jesus will change the trajectory of history from stifling selfishness to the open time of full freedom. In the poet laureate Amanda Gorman’s words:
If we merge mercy with might,
and might with right,
then love becomes our legacy
and change our children’s birthright
I, I’m a one way motorway
I’m the one that drives away
Then follows you back home
I, I’m a street light shining
I’m a wild light blinding bright
Burning off and on
R: It’s times like these you learn to live again
It’s times like these you give and give again
It’s times like these you learn to love again
It’s times like these time and time again
I, I’m a new day rising
I’m a brand new sky
To hang the stars upon tonight
I am a little divided
Do I stay or run away
And leave it all behind?
Christ the King Lutheran Church, Houston, TX January 24, 2021