Listen for God’s Voice By Rev Steven R Mitchell Mountain View United, Aurora 11/15, 2015
Based on Jonah 3: 1-5, 10 & Mark 1:14-20
I have already started watching Christmas movies, much to Paul’s dismay. I love these stories not just because they remind us about faith, hope, and love, but they are also filled with what many would call sappy sentimentality. One classic Christmas story is Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol.”
In the Dickens story, a man named Scrooge, who for various reasons turned away from helping humanity to that of serving money, is confronted by three Spirits of Christmas. With the help of the Spirit of Christmas Past, Scrooge is reminded of the love and nurture given to him in his younger years. In the same way, Scrooge is confronted with his hard-heartedness as the Spirit of Christmas Present shows how lonely and bitter he has become compared to the warmth of love and community of those his life intersects with. Then comes a profound revelation with the Spirit of Christmas Future when Scrooge asks, “Spirit, these things that you show me, are they the shadows of the things that will be, or of the things that may be? Men’s lives lead to certain ends. But if those lives be changed, will not the end be changed? Tell me that is true. Tell me! (There is silence on the part of the Spirit) Why show me this if I am past all hope? I will change my way of living. I will live in the past, the Present, and the Future. I shall never forget the lessons that they teach. Tell me that this will change my future.”
There are many stories within scripture that tell us of similar situations, where God is intervening in someone’s life and that person has to make a decision as whether to listen and follow or to ignore and go their own direction. The story of Jonah is one of these great stories. One of the cool aspects about Jonah is how it shows us more of the human side of a prophet’s life, one that helps us realize that even though one is called to be a prophet for God, one doesn’t always willing follow orders. Jonah is told by God to go to Nineveh and tell them they have only forty days before they are destroyed. Jonah being the devoted prophet that he was immediately turned and ran the other direction. But just like in our own life, the decisions that we make affect more than just ourselves, Jonah put the lives of people on a boat in danger.
Realizing how badly he has messed up his life, and has endangered the lives of others, Jonah asks God to take his life, for he couldn’t possibly go back in time and change his decisions. Then God answers by coming back to Jonah a second time, and once again telling Jonah to go to Nineveh. So with much fear in his heart, he travels into Nineveh and delivers the message that God told him to deliver. To his surprise, the Ninevehites hear the word and repent and their city is spared by God.
In the first chapter of Mark we again see God approaching and this time speaking to four fishermen. Through Jesus’ invitation to join him in his ministry, God’s voice was asking Simon and Andrew, James and John to leave the lives that were familiar to them and become a part of something that was new. There is no indication by Mark that these four fishermen had any prior knowledge of Jesus or of his mission, only that when Jesus asked them to drop what they were doing and in following him, they did this believing that God had asked them to do so.
For the people of Nineveh, they were not told of why their city was going to be destroyed or by whom, nor were they instructed to repent. Only that in forty days Nineveh would parish. They just inherently knew that they needed to repent from their actions.
The main focus in today’s readings asks us to ponder upon the suddenness to which we can change when God speaks to us. Barbara Brown Taylor, professor of religion at Piedmont College in Demorest, Georgia writes: Much has been written about the response of the disciples who dropped everything to follow Jesus. Why did they do something so drastic, and how could they up-end their lives so dramatically, and would that really be a good thing for us to do, that is, if we could “manage” it?
Could we measure up to the standard of those disciples, and drop everything, too? We might wonder why and how those first four disciples could do such a thing, without even a stirring sermon from Jesus, or maybe a dramatic miracle, or better yet, the sky opening up and a voice announcing that this was God’s own beloved, and that they should listen to him. Such an incident would have provided some clear explanation for their sudden abandonment of everything to follow Jesus. What did they know, on that seashore that we don’t know?
We’re missing the point if we linger on such questions. This is a story about God, not the disciples or us. To focus on what the disciples gave up (and whether we could do the same), is “to put the accent on the wrong syllable.” This “miracle story,” is really about “the power of God – to walk right up to a quartet of fishermen and work a miracle, creating faith where there was no faith, creating disciples where there were none just a moment before.” Sermon Seeds, 1/22/2012
I realize that to many of you, my decision to end my time as pastor here at Mountain View seems rather sudden. In some ways it is, and in others it is not. I selected today’s scriptures because it speaks to how God has been speaking to me over the last year or so. Like Jonah, I was not willing to listen to God saying, “I have something new in store for you.” I love Mountain View and see great promise here. I also love my home and would become ill at the thought of moving from it. So I ignored the voice from God. But like the story of Jonah, God is very persistent and eventual I came to terms with His beckoning. Like the story in Mark, I am striking out on this new adventure not knowing where it is going to lead me, but it is my faith in God that draws me to drop what I have been doing here and to follow.
Because of the changes in my life, this means there will be major changes going on within this community of faith. With my leaving, you are going to be called to listen more closely to what God is trying to tell you. I think this is where the statement from Ebenezer Scrooge becomes so helpful. “Men’s lives lead to certain ends. But if those lives be changed, will not the end be changed?” Do we truly believe that God has the power to lead us, like the fishermen, will we be willing to drop what we have been doing and change course in order to follow God? Or will we act like Jonah, sizing up the request as being too expensive, too risky, and fall back on the false sense of “prudent paths of action” or worse “I like how comfortable things are” and try to run away from doing what God is asking of Mountain View?
We stand at the threshold of new choices, you and I, of Listening for God’s voice. Will we run from the challenges and continue to “do it our own way”, or will we like Scrooge begin to “live in the past, the Present, and the Future” by taking up the call of God and follow in faith, trusting that God has many great things in store for us? Amen