We had three short scripture readings this morning…but big things were happening in all of them.
First we had Jonah…the reluctant prophet, who didn’t want to go to Nineveh, because they were basically violent and corrupt and arrogant…and who ends up there anyway after being spit up from the big fish that swallowed him when he tried to get out of God’s assignment. And after walking into the city, not even making it to the center of the city, and giving the least inspiring sermon on record -“40 days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”… all of Nineveh believes. Everyone repents…everyone. And much to Jonah’s annoyance, God spares them.
In just these few verses…the direction of a great city and all its people is turned on end. Somehow, at this moment in time…everything changed for them…everything became clear. They saw themselves…their city…their lives…through God’s eyes. And it took them in a whole new direction…from arrogance to humility. Violence to self sacrifice. Corruption to atonement.
And then in Corinthians, Paul is sure that the end of the world is coming soon…probably envisioning not much more than the 40 days or so of Jonah’s sermon. And convinced that time is short..he encourages people to see their lives radically differently. He has a sense of urgency — there is no time to lose — they need to rethink everything — marriage, death, happiness, business, possessions. Nothing stays the same in the light of Jesus’ kingdom. Paul is clear that following Jesus affects everything in our lives…not just our Sunday mornings or pre-meal prayers.
And then we have our gospel…and Jesus himself comes to Simon and Andrew and James and John, saying the time is NOW…the kingdom of God is near. The keys to the castle have been turned over, and someone new is in charge. And how do they respond to this announcement? Immediately, they leave everything they are doing…leave their nets, leave their boats, leave their father and their employees…and follow Jesus. Their life will never be the same. Everything now revolves around Jesus. Everything that used to define them…is now secondary. Because first and foremost, they are followers of Jesus.
Anyone see a theme here? I see a couple. One is that people’s lives can be completely transformed by turning to God. Famous people like William Wilberforce, a 19th century politician born into luxury and privilege…was ridiculed when he came to believe in Christ, because at that time “religious” fervor” wasn’t displayed in polite society. But his faith completely changed the way he saw his role in politics, and he went on to dedicate his entire political career to ending slavery in Great Britain. A fight he won.
Or people like Augustine of Hippo, a wealthy, hedonistic young man, with multiple affairs and an out-of-wedlock son…whose life was transformed after his conversion to Christianity, and who became one of the pillars of the early church…we know him as St. Augustine. His faith transformed his relationships, his family, his career, his life.
But also ordinary people…like you and me. We don’t often give “testimonies” in church…but most of us have a moment when something clicked and the whole world looked different… because we suddenly saw it through the eyes of faith. That transformation may have been gradual, growing up in the church…with glimpses here and there along the way where we began to see God’s presence in our life more clearly. Or it may have been sudden, a life changed in overnight, because you were introduced to Jesus’ love somewhere unexpected. A Bible in a hotel room. A voice out of nowhere. A friend who dragged you to church. But when faith took hold, it radically changed the way we thought about ourselves, our work, our family, our money. We may not have put on sackcloth or left our career behind us (or maybe you did)…but like the Ninevites or Peter and Andrew and James and John, we are here because our life is not what it would be without Christ. We see things differently because we have heard Jesus’ voice in the midst of the tumult of our lives. And we have found rest …peace in Jesus.
St. Augustine wrote about it this way —
You were within and I without, and there I sought you
You were with me when I was not with you.
You didst call, and cry, and burst my deafness.
You didst gleam, and glow, and dispel my blindness.
You didst touch me, and I burned for your peace.
For yourself you have made us,
And restless our hearts until they find their rest in you.
We were made for God…and when we finally realize that …when we get a glimpse of what our life truly is about, what it truly means…it is simply so right…it changes everything. Everything that used to define us is secondary. Because first and foremost…we are followers of Jesus.
But there is a second theme in these three scriptures — besides how our lives are transformed by faith — and that is a sense of urgency. Of the time being right…the time being short…the time being fulfilled…the time being NOW. Now is the time to repent. Now is the time to follow Jesus. Now is the time to think about my life differently. Now is when God’s kingdom is coming.
Joel Osteen is a preacher who unfortunately usually misses the whole point of the gospel. He has a huge program based on “living your best life now”. For Joel, he believes that means being wealthy and excelling at business and reaching your full earning potential…having a big house and thinking highly of yourself. Somehow, that doesn’t sound like what it means to follow Jesus…not according to the stories we read this morning, anyway.
But I do believe that when Jesus invites Peter and Andrew and James and John to follow him…he is inviting them to live their best life now. Just as Jesus invites us to live our best life now, when he asks us to immediately follow him and live in God’s kingdom. However, God’s idea of our best life is found in humility and service. It is found where people are hungry and hurting, where people are sick or in prison…and we are able to bring the good news of God’s love to them. It is found when we are able to bring healing, food, justice and comfort to any of God’s children. And Jesus invites us, with urgency, to do that now. To change our way of thinking now…so that we do not interpret our life’s meaning and success by the size of our bank account or the title of our job or how smooth and shiny we appear …but rather we see our meaning and success in being loved by God…and letting that love seep out through the cracks where we are broken.
And now is the time for us to do that. Not later. Not next week or next year, or when things are less stressful or less busy. Because honestly, that time will never come. No, now is the time to live in God’s kingdom…where we are, all of us together, beloved children of the King.
This morning, Jesus calls us…to catch another glimpse of our best lives…right now. Where the truth is that you have always been held in God’s hands. Where the truth is that whether we live or we die, God’s got us. Where the truth is that our job title doesn’t matter, but the way we treat people at work does. Where the truth is that none of us is perfect, we all need to be forgiven, and we are forgiven by God. Where the truth is we can risk forgiving others. Where the truth is that we do not have to keep doing things the same way we have….we can change…we can change how we see things, even in the midst of circumstances that are beyond our control.
Jesus call us…right now..to follow him. And he calls us so that we might have life and have it abundantly. Now. Amen.