Readings: Jonah 3.1-5, 10 & Mark 1.14-20

Our readings share two things in common.  

The first is that we are shown what type of people God calls to his service.

The second is that both readings are set in the context of repentance.  And this is not only about the message that those called by God are then sent out to tell others, but the message that they themselves need to respond to.

God calls imperfect people.  

We join the story of Jonah and the people of Nineveh in what is effectively Act 2.  Already Jonah had run away from the task God had set him, and dramatic results followed – his journey aboard a ship, Jonah being thrown overboard by the sailors, eaten by a big fish, and 3 days later being spat out on a beach.  

He didn’t want the job, that much is clear.  He didn’t want to obey God.  He did everything in his power to avoid his commission.  We can appreciate Jonah’s reticence.  Very few people like to deliver uncomfortable news, to challenge people about their behaviour.  When we do, it is often because we are worried about the response we will get; because no-one really likes to be challenged.  It’s too close, too personal.

Likewise when Jesus called the disciples he did not go into the synagogues and choose the cleverest religious leaders or politically astute diplomats.  He began by calling fishermen (Andrew, Peter, James and John).  Later there would be a tax collector (Matthew/Levi), and a tent-maker (Paul).

And none of them was perfect either.  Many would abandon Jesus in his darkest moment. 

Peter denied him. 

Thomas doubted him. 

Paul persecuted him.

And yet these are the type of people that God calls.  Each would have their own opportunity to hear the message of repentance, and to respond to it.  Repentance brings change and growth, and by turning back to God, they were then better prepared to go and share that message with others.

It’s not an easy thing to do, facing up to our sins.  Much easier to push it away, and pretend that it never happened, or that it was someone else’s fault.

And this is what makes the response of the people of Nineveh so extraordinary.  Not only did they listen to Jonah, but both as individuals and as a community, they responded to the challenge.  They proclaimed a fast, put on sackcloth, sat in ashes; from the mighty king to the sheep in the field.  All creation was brought into this act of repentance, throwing themselves onto the mercy of God.

What does this mean for us today?  As COP26 ends, we, individually and as a nation, are being challenged about one aspect of our behaviour – how we treat the planet.  The choices we make individually add up globally to cause damage, and those most affected are the least powerful, the most vulnerable.  They are the people and communities in developing countries, and it is the flora and fauna who face extinction.  We were given creation by God to steward and care for, so that it, in turn, would sustain us, providing food and shelter.  And look how we treat it.

And the way we treat Gods’s creation, this precious gift, nd the way we treat our neighbour, those in need because of climate change, tells us something about the way we treat God.   We are like the prodigal son, demanding stuff now with no thought for the future, and ruining it in dissolute living.  We must come to ourselves, repent and return to the Father.

The people of Nineveh show us the way.  We are to listen, to take seriously the challenge, ask for forgiveness, and change.

As a Church, we are called to this way of being, of repentance and transformation.  God calls us in our weakness, and as we know, love and follow Jesus, day by day, we will be sanctified and made stronger.  Nothing is impossible for God.  He can take Jonahs and Peters and Pauls, and set their hearts on fire with love for the Lord, sending them out to share God’s word.  

Let us pray that God will take us, flawed and imperfect, and remake us too into faithful servants, bold in proclaiming the Kingdom and fulfilling our calling to be followers of Christ.

Amen.

(Artwork: Depiction of the repentance of Nineveh’, artist unknown)