Scripture Reading: Jonah 3:1–10 | Psalm 62:5–12 | 1 Corinthians 7:29–31 | Mark 1:14–20
Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
How many of us actually like disruptions?
I don’t just mean surprises… something new or unexpected. I mean those moments of interruption… when our plans are suddenly derailed. When we’re faced with having to make immediate changes, and do things differently.
For many of us, the fact that we’ve started having Church online is a prime example of this kind of disruption. For close to two hundred years people have gathered in person at St. Luke’s Church to worship God together, and to grow as disciples of Jesus. And now here we are, worshipping in our own homes, while some of us are using the internet to join together for Morning Prayer. What a strange disruption to the ways we are used to being a Church family… though I’m grateful that there are still some ways for us all to stay connected.
Of course, this year has been full of far more difficult disruptions. The changes and complications that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about for people all over the world has been simply staggering. In basically every facet of life, things keep on getting disrupted… and we keep on having to adjust, and re-adjust our plans. Small wonder most of us are getting sick of disruptions, and are longing for a time when everything finally settles down.
But what happens when disruptions turn out better than we could have imagined? What happens when they turn out to be a gift; a channel of God’s grace?
Our Scripture readings today, from the book of Jonah, and the Gospel of Mark, introduce us to some major but blesséd disruptions in the story of God.
First, we heard an excerpt from the story of Jonah: The Israelite prophet entrusted with a message from the Living God. “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city,” the LORD commissions Jonah, “and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:2) Now it’s no surprise that God would call a prophet to bring this kind of message. After all, the Old Testament is full of divine warnings against human wickedness. What’s strange is that, rather than send the prophet to warn his own people, God’s sending him to warn his enemies. To go to Nineveh, the great city of the Assyrian Empire… near the modern city of Mosul in Iraq. This was an ancient superpower, and in the time of Jonah, the people of Nineveh were a terrible threat to the kingdoms of Judah and Israel.
As the story goes, this strange mission was too ‘out there’ for Jonah. Instead of obeying the call, the prophet simply runs away. He boards a boat to take him as far from Nineveh as possible. Though he was called to be a prophet, speaking on behalf of the Living God, this mission contradicted Jonah’s idea of what should really be done. To follow this call would completely disrupt Jonah’s life: it would mean completely re-arranging his purpose and priorities. And so he runs… right into a bigger disruption: a terrible storm.
Eventually, Jonah ends up being tossed into the sea, but instead of drowning, he gets swallowed by a giant fish. While in that watery prison, Jonah cries to the LORD for mercy. He has no other hope. He’s caught by this fish, with no way to free himself. But the LORD hears his desperate prayer, and spares him… causing the fish to spit him up on to dry land. Jonah, this disobedient messenger of God, has his life completely disrupted, and totally turned around… and is given another chance to deliver the message to Nineveh.
All that’s the backstory to our reading this morning, when we heard about how Jonah proclaimed Nineveh’s coming doom. Did you notice the tone of his message? “Forty days more,” he said to them, “and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” He offers them no hope. No way out from the coming judgment. As far as Jonah was concerned, he had come to bring bad news.
But the people of Nineveh believe the message he brought to them. They took his words to heart, and this city, renown for its cruelty and its wickedness… does the unthinkable: it actually repents. The Ninevites drastically disrupt their lives and respond to the divine judgment… with the hope that God just might be merciful, and forgive their evil ways. And as it turns out, much to Jonah’s utter dismay, the LORD had mercy on them too, and spared the entire city.
God sent his servant Jonah to disrupt the wickedness of Israel’s dreaded enemies. To turn their lives around and bring them all into His mercy. Jonah fought against this mission every step of the way, and even got furious with God after Nineveh repented. But God’s mission of mercy was greater than Jonah could imagine. Reaching out to the hopeless to rescue even his enemies.
Switching gears again, let’s jump forward to the Gospel of Mark, where Jesus, the Son of God, has just come up from the waters of Baptism, but instead of fleeing God’s call on his life, Jesus heads out into the desert, facing temptations in the wilderness for forty days… the same timeline that Jonah gave Nineveh before its coming doom. Just like Jonah, Jesus also came proclaiming a disruptive message: God’s kingdom has come. Turn around repent, and believe in the Good News.
This message sums up, for Mark’s Gospel, Christ’s entire ministry. Everything He’s up to… everything Jesus will say and do… is about the coming of God’s reign, God’s good Kingdom at last. The Kingdom of His mercy… of His deliverance. Unlike Jonah, Jesus had come with truly Good News to share. But it also meant the time of reckoning had come for all other kingdoms… that all other claims of allegiances are now being called into question. Once again, the LORD has sent a disruptive messenger: One whose word and life requires that we offer our response.
The theologian, William Abraham, describes the disruptive message of Jesus like this: “It is not the announcement of some generic theism, or a call to moral renovation, or an offer of celestial fire insurance for the life to come, or a network of pious platitudes about how to become more religious. The gospel is the arrival of God’s new order in the world. Long prepared for and eagerly awaited in Israel, it is the good news that God’s rule has arrived. To be sure, this will be bad news for those who want to be in charge of the universe, and they will not stand by and abandon their role of running the world. Yet the truth is simply this: God’s sovereign reign has drawn near in human history, and in the end nothing will prevent its being established. This remains the heart of the gospel for all time.” So how does Mark tell us God’s Kingdom starts to take shape here at last? By the Son of God calling to Himself a handful of fishermen.
Two sets of brothers, Simon and Andrew, and the sons of Zebedee, James and John, are found by Jesus at the sea of Galilee. If the world of prophets and kings feels pretty foreign and remote to us, the lives of these four men might be a whole lot more familiar. Here are ordinary folk: hard-working laborers, focused on keeping food on the table, and their families provided for.
And yet, when Jesus calls each of them to come and follow Him, these ordinary people become caught up in the Kingdom of God. Their old lives were disrupted in an instant by the call of Christ. Against custom and convention, against the obligations of family, and business, they heard the voice of the King of Kings, and they obeyed His summons… leaving behind everything that would keep them from His side.
We know they faced all sorts of challenges as they followed Him… for the way of God’s Kingdom would one day lead to the cross. Because unlike Jonah, Jesus embodied God’s merciful love for this lost and wicked world, freely laying down His life to disrupt and destroy the power of sin and death; to turn our lives around and bring us back to the LORD, so that we all might share in His Kingdom of mercy and hope forever. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus Christ has changed everything… and He’s calling us to follow Him into God’s brand New Life.
How is the message of God’s kingdom disrupting our lives today? What ways are we being called to respond to God’s reign?
Perhaps we are being called to set aside some form of wickedness… some sin that keeps a hold of our hearts, but leads us away from God’s light?
Perhaps we are being called into a whole new vocation… a new way to embody the Good News of Jesus Christ with our life? This could be a call to Church ministry, as a layperson or ordained. This could be a call to a different form of serving God’s Kingdom in the world: in the workplace, in our neighbourhoods, in our homes.
Perhaps we are being called into deeper fellowship with God? Called to set aside the distractions that tie up all our energies, and intentionally share more of our day to day lives with Jesus. In prayer, in reading His word, in moments of worship, and acts of mercy, we are all being called to follow our Saviour and share in His Good Kingdom… not simply on Sunday mornings, but as long as we draw breath. Until His Kingdom fully comes on earth, just as in heaven.
So may the Holy Spirit help us to hear and respond to God’s call in our lives. May we place our trust in the Good News of Christ, and all He’s done. May we continue to turn to Him with our whole heart and life, opening us up to share His hope and mercy with those all around us. And may we follow Him however disruptive it may be, confident that He’s always leading us into God’s good Kingdom. Amen.
 William J. Abraham, “Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B,” in The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Texts, Volume Three, ed. Roger E. Van Harn (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001), 174.