Mitchells Presbyterian Church
Audio/Video Service January 24, 2021
3rd Sunday after the Epiphany
“Sing to the Lord a new song”
Welcome and Announcements:
Welcome everyone to Mitchells Presbyterian Church on this January 24th , the 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany! I’m Reverend Michael Clang, Covenant Pastor here at Mitchells and I am so glad that you all have tuned in to our YouTube channel to worship with us today. It’s my hope and prayer that the next 30 minutes will be a real blessing to you.
Couple updates for the Mitchells congregation. First, your Worship committee met this week and is making plans for Lent and Easter. Hard to believe that Lent will begin in just over 3 weeks. More information will be forthcoming. Second, the session has set the date for the ‘annual meeting of the congregation’ and that will be Saturday February 27th at 11am in the parking lot. More reminders will be coming but just wanted everyone to be able to get that date on your calendar.
You can see from our Order of Worship that it’s our practice here at Mitchells to respond after our sermon with an Affirmation of Faith. For the next two Sundays, I want to use the Statement of Faith from the United Church of Canada as our affirmation. It’s my hope that hearing and seeing these words fresh and new will brighten your spirit as we affirm our faith in the Triune God.
United together as one, wherever we may be this day, let us now call ourselves to worship.
Call to Worship (from Psalm 62):
L: From God comes my salvation.
P: For God alone my soul waits in silence.
L: God alone is my rock and my salvation.
P: God is my fortress; I shall never be shaken.
Hymn of Adoration: Maroon Hymnal #503 “We Have Heard the Joyful Sound” (v. 1&3)
1 We have heard the joyful sound:
Spread the tidings all around:
2 Bear the news to every land,
climb the steeps and cross the waves;
onward! ’tis our Lord’s command:
3 Give the winds a mighty voice:
Let the nations now rejoice:
Shout salvation full and free;
highest hills and deepest caves;
this our song of victory:
Prayer of Confession:
Trusting in the promise of grace, let us pour out our hearts before God. Forgiving God, we repent of all the ways we turn from you. You call, but we do not listen; you show us your path, but we prefer our own way. Forgive us, heal us, and lead us back to you, that we might show mercy to others. (time of silent confession) Amen.
Assurance of Pardon:
Hear the good news: In Christ, you are a new creation! The old is gone and behold, the new has come. Know that you are forgiven and be at peace. Amen
Prayer for Illumination:
By your Holy Spirit, speak to us your word, O God, that we may hear Jesus’ call to be his disciples. Amen.
Lessons: Jonah 3:1-5, 10 & Mark 1:14-20
Sermon: “Drop Your Nets”
“Let the words of my mouth . . . “
In the short story with the incredibly long title of, “The Man Whose Wife’s Hair Was Too Long but Whose Understanding of Music Was Too Short 1 ” by William Saroyan, we hear about the following: A husband plays the cello and never changes notes. He just continues to repeat the same note without variation. His wife, driven to distraction, finally protests: “Why do you play the same note over and over again? Other cellists play different notes.” “Other cellists play different notes,” her husband replies, “because they are trying to find the right one. I have found mind!” Ha! The beauty of finding your note! It’s a bit like finding your purpose in life or being where you need to be. We have two interesting examples of this in our readings this morning.
1 Thank you to Steve Goodier for helping me find this story.
In our Gospel lesson from Mark, it seems that these first four disciples have found their musical note in the voice of Jesus because in a remarkable four verses, Peter, Andrew, James, and John all drop their nets and leave the safety and security of home and their families to follow him. I know that I would have waited at least 48 hours to think through my decision, to weigh out the consequences, to do a pro’s and con’s list, to think about my family and the implications of this career move. Of course, by the time I had done that, Jesus would have moved on to the next town! Ha.
Unfortunately, we are not privy to any inner deliberations, whether the fishing was good or bad, if they were religious people or not, if they got along with their father or the hired help or merely had a sense of wanderlust. Mark just says, “and immediately, they followed him”.
As we journey further with Mark in this coming year, we will see time and time again his use of that phrase “and immediately”. It’s a hallmark of his Gospel and it shows the urgency that he sees in our responding to the in-breaking of God in our world, the re-mapping of our cosmos, like we shared last week.
However, in our 1st reading we see a different picture, don’t we? Jonah seems to be reluctant at best and outright unwilling at worst to hearing that musical note. In fact, had these four new disciples responded like Jonah to God’s call, instead of dropping their nets and immediately following Jesus, they would have rowed their boats to the other side of the Sea of Galilee just as fast as they could! We know the story. The word from God first comes to Jonah and tells him to “go at once to Nineveh, the great city and tell them to repent”. Jonah obediently heads to the boat docks to book passage; however, instead of getting a ticket on the next boat heading to Nineveh, he books passage on a boat that is heading to Tarshish which is in the opposite direction! In other words, he is fleeing!
At this point, we can’t really blame him. Nineveh is a terrible city where enemies are killed and heads are placed on pikes to warn others to stay in line. Reminds me of a Game of Thrones episode where spoiled King Joffrey ordered the execution of my then favorite character, Ned Stark. Like this fictional place in Westeros, Nineveh does not feel like the kind of city where you want to ride in telling them to repent. So if makes sense to me that Jonah flees. And as we know, once on the boat, heading in the wrong direction a huge storm arises and realizing that he is to blame, Jonah has the sailors toss him into the sea.
Which, once done, the sea calms and to keep Jonah from drowning, God sends a huge whale to swallow him up and take him to Nineveh. So much for running away! And since the voyage would take three days, Jonah has some time to reflect and pray and we are told that God hears that prayer and has this “great fish” vomit him up on dry land. That’s where we enter this story. “The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time and said, “Get Up and go to Nineveh, that great city”. This time, still covered in seaweed and who knows what else, he obeys. Sort of.
He reminds me of a kid who is being “forced” by their parents to spend time shopping with the adults instead of out playing with their friends. I can see him sulking and moping and just barely going through the motions. Our text tells us that Nineveh, that great city, would take 3 days to walk from one end to the other. Jonah goes only one day and he’s done. And at the end of this one day he preaches the shortest sermon ever. Just 5 words in the original Hebrew. “Forty days more, and Nineveh will be overthrown!”. That’s it. But lo and behold, the response is electric!
Immediately, sounds a bit like Mark, the people of Nineveh believe God and declare a fast. It actually gets a bit over the top as the King, not to be outdone, orders human and animal alike to “fast and put-on sackcloth”. Then all those sackcloth-covered cows and sheep and people bellow out their repentance to God, and God changes God’s mind and does not punish the city. Wow, you would think that Jonah would be ecstatic because every inhabitant of the city, human and animal alike, isn’t out to get him but rather has come forward for an altar call.
But Jonah is mad. Now we see the REAL reason that he ran away. It wasn’t his fear of getting his head cut off and put on a pike. No. It was that God was going to offer them grace. “Ah Lord, is this not what I said would happen when I was still in my own territory? That’s why I fled to Tarshish in the first place. Because I know that you are a God gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing”. Jonah is quoting God’s own self-description that we get in Exodus 34, a description taken up by prophets and psalmists alike to remind God of God’s own nature. But in Jonah’s mouth, it is an accusation: You, God, are gracious and merciful. I KNEW this would happen! I declared judgment and you changed your mind! You see, Jonah had already passed judgment on this city. He was ready for the folks of Nineveh to perish. But then God called him, and he knew that grace could happen but if he ran away; just held on to the message; just held on to his nets; then maybe he could keep God’s grace for himself.
I remember a few years back playing golf with a few of my buddies. We teed off on the 1st hole and you would not believe my drive. I’m just an average golfer at best, but you would have thought that I was Tiger Woods. Bam, that ball just flew, easily 250 plus yards down the fairway. Second hole, same thing. Third hole, yep. I was on fire and getting a bit cocky about it too. However, when we hit the fourth hole it suddenly became clear that it wasn’t me and my golfing skills that was the reason to celebrate. It was the wind. I had not really paid attention to the strong wind that was carrying my golf ball this extra yardage. But on the fourth hole when we turned and faced into the wind and my shot barely made it 50 yards down the fairway, I knew. My ego did too.
God’s grace is a bit like the wind. It blows where it will blow and we are not the ones in charge of it. We might think we can control it; we might think we can keep it for ourselves, that we are the only one’s worthy to receive it because we look a certain way or act a certain way or vote a certain way or worship a certain way. But like the rain that Jesus said, “falls on the just and the unjust”, God’s grace will go wherever God wants it to go. It’s a good lesson in humility, just like my golf story. God is God and does not always act as we might think the Almighty should act. That is what the whole story of Jonah is about. God will not be boxed in.
Author, Pastor, and Theologian, Barbara Brown Taylor puts it this way. “We are such bookkeepers! And God is not! God does not keep track of things the way we do. God does not spend a lot of time deciding who is worthy and who is not, like we do. God does not give any of us what we deserved but what we need, and it is hard, very hard, to trust God’s judgement on that score 2 ”. Who today have we already passed judgment on? Who is God wanting us to share the Gospel message with, in word or deed but we, like Jonah, are fleeing the scene because WE don’t think they are worthy of God’s grace? It’s easy to do.
2 Barbara Brown Taylor, “Ninevites and Ne’er-Do-Wells”; in Gospel Medicine, (Cowley, 1995), 103-104.
The same God who gave Jonah a second chance gives the people of Nineveh a second chance and we can’t argue with that kind of mercy. Our God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, whose love we see demonstrated most fully in Jesus Christ. And Jesus says, “drop your nets” and follow me because the time is now. Just like the wind, it’s ready to blow. Can you hear your note? Let’s get on board. May it be so. Thanks be to God!
Affirmation of Faith (Statement of Faith from the United Church of Canada):
As our response to the scriptures being read and proclaimed, let us affirm together what we believe by reciting together our Statement of Faith: We are not alone; we live in God’s world. We believe in God, who has created and is creating, who has come in Jesus, the Word made flesh, to reconcile and make new, who works in us and others by the Spirit. We are called to be the Church: to celebrate God’s presence, to live with respect in creation, to love and serve others, to seek justice and resist evil, to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope. In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Call for Offering:
“From the fullness of God, we have all received grace upon grace.”
Thank you everyone for continuing to send in your tithes and offerings to the church office. For the offerings that we have received this week, let us pray:
Prayer of Dedication:
Merciful God, you have called us for a purpose. We dedicate these gifts as we dedicate our lives to you. In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.
Pastoral Prayer (with Lord’s Prayer):
Our Psalm for today says, “For God alone my soul waits in silence” so as we come to this time of prayer, let us start with 30 seconds of silence to calm our busy minds and open our hearts to the presence of the living God who fills us and completes us and makes us whole. I invite you to take some nice slow breaths in and out; breathing in calm and letting go of anything that is troubling you. Let’s breathe [go 30 seconds]:
Let us pray for all the earth, the church, and all those in need, saying God of grace, hear our prayer.
That churches of all traditions may discover their unity in Christ and exercise their gifts in service of all. God of grace, hear our prayer.
That the earth may be freed from war, famine, and disease and that an end will come to this pandemic. God of grace, hear our prayer.
That those who govern and maintain peace in every land may exercise their powers in obedience to your commands. God of grace, hear our prayer.
That you will strengthen this nation to pursue just priorities so that the races may be reconciled; the young, educated; and the old, cared for; the hungry, filled; and the homeless, housed; and the sick, comforted and healed. God of grace, hear our prayer.
That you will comfort and empower those who face difficulty and trial: the sick, the disabled, the poor, the oppressed, and those on our prayer list. God of grace, hear our prayer.
That you will be with all the medical personnel and volunteers who are working tirelessly to fight COVID and to administer the vaccines. God of grace, hear our prayer.
O God, as a potter fashions a vessel from clay, you form us into a new creation. Shape us, day by day, through your Son, until we pray as continually as we breathe and all our acts are as a prayer. We pray all this in the name of the one who taught us to pray saying: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.
Hymn of Dedication: Maroon Hymnal #324 “I Need Thee Every Hour” (Verses 1&2)
1 I need Thee ev’ry hour,
Most gracious Lord;
No tender voice like Thine
Can peace afford.
I need Thee, oh, I need Thee;
Ev’ry hour I need Thee;
Oh, bless me now, my Savior,
I come to Thee.
2 I need Thee ev’ry hour,
Stay Thou nearby;
Temptations lose their pow’r
When Thou art nigh. [Refrain]
“Drop your nets”. It a great metaphor for holding onto the grace that we have been given and trying to hoard it as our own. God’s grace is for everyone. What are you trying to hold onto today? Who have you judged as not worthy? “Drop your nets”. You all are amazing and so loved! Have a great week! Here is your virtual hug .
May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord be kind and gracious to you.
May the Lord look upon you with favor and grant you peace.
God’s Shalom! Today and every day! Amen.