Have you ever run from God? Maybe not physically run – I doubt any of us believe we could actually “run” from God.
But I would bet there is at least someone in this room held in the bondage of regret for having ignored or turned down or walked away from or turned your back on something You KNEW God was calling you to do or to say or to go.
Some say hindsight is 20/20. However true this is, I say it is also a weapon we use against our own souls. How do we use hindsight against ourselves?
“If only…” I might say, or you might say. “If only…”
I had stayed in school. I hadn’t married so-and-so. I had taken that job…. I hadn’t punched that kid in 10th grade.
I don’t know what you might regret. But I’m pretty sure that if you’re old enough to follow this message this far, there’s something that has, from time to time, reared up only to drag you down.
Maybe, at least, you’ve done like Rascal Flatts and “dealt with my ghosts and I’ve faced all my demons Finally content with a past I regret”
Or maybe you’re more John Mark McMillan, who wrote
my heart turns violently inside of my chest.
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets
When I think about the way…
That He loves us,
Oh, how He loves us,
Or maybe you’re Jonah, son of Amittai. We don’t get any backstory about Jonah, except that he is Amittai’s son, and 2 Kings adds that he is from Gath-Hepher. Anyone know where Gath-hepher is? That’s what I thought. It won’t be on the quiz at the end of the sermon, but it is in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, west and a little south from the Sea of Galilee.
But we know Jonah because of his 3 night Airbnb in the belly of a great fish.
And what led him to that great stay (I wonder how he rated it?)? Jonah heard God call him to do something, and so he did what a lot of us do. He ran the other way.
Except he literally ran the other way. God told him to “Get up and go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it, for their evil has come to my attention.”
I don’t know what city or nation you might think of as evil enough to get God’s attention, but if you clearly heard God telling you to go there and preach repentance, you might pull a Jonah.
It’s not unheard of. We tend to get kind of set in our ways. We kind of domesticate God into a supernatural power who really mostly wants us to be happy. And nice; of course, God wants us to be nice, right?
Well, God wanted Nineveh to repent! Here’s the rub: Jonah didn’t much care if Nineveh repented. (in fact, we learn later in the story that Jonah DIDN’T want God to forgive them!
In Jonah’s world, you see, there were 2 kinds of people:
- God’s people and;
- Everyone else.
God’s people deserved – well, we better say received – forgiveness and mercy and patience. God’s people knew that God was a “ a God who is compassionate and merciful,
very patient, full of great loyalty and faithfulness,.”
Everyone else? Well, some of God’s people have always thought that everyone else was just doomed. They could, we suppose, come groveling to us, or to God. We think they should become like us, one of us, and then they, too, could know the joy and comfort of being among God’s people.
Except that God is not really looking to get more people to be “like us.” God is interested in helping other people – and us – become more like Jesus.”
But if Jonah teaches us anything, it is that this isn’t a fair reading of scriptures. First off, from the start, from God’s call to Abraham, God’s people are called to be God’s people to be a blessing to everyone else.
Second, if we read the Bible as though it mostly says “God’s people are in and whoever isn’t God’s people are out,” we kinda have to ignore Jonah, and, honestly, Jesus.
And we don’t want to find ourselves ignoring Jesus, or having to admit that we have read Jesus into this this little box where he approves of us and not of everyone else.
We don’t want to find ourselves like Jonah; thinking we have God and the world figured out. Because typically, if we think we have God and the world figured out, we are in for a rude awakening that our world is not the world.
In Jonah’s world, God’s people were blessed and everyone else was cursed.
In Job’s world, you live a righteous life, and things work out. You go above and beyond – remember, from chapter 1, how Job woke up early each morning to over sacrifices in case any of his adult children had sinned?
So Job had a lot of experience in the world where everything works the way things are supposed to work.
To be fair, there is a clear thread throughout the Bible that this is how the world works! In preparing God’s people finally to enter the Promised Land, Moses told them this in Deuteronomy 8:
But watch yourself! Don’t forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commands or his case laws or his regulations that I am commanding you right now. When you eat, get full, build nice houses, and settle down, and when your herds and your flocks are growing large, your silver and gold are multiplying, and everything you have is thriving, don’t become arrogant, forgetting the Lord your God:
the one who rescued you from Egypt, from the house of slavery;
the one who led you through this vast and terrifying desert of poisonous snakes and scorpions, of cracked ground with no water;
the one who made water flow for you out of a hard rock;
the one who fed you manna in the wilderness, which your ancestors had never experienced, in order to humble and test you, but in order to do good to you in the end.
Don’t think to yourself, My own strength and abilities have produced all this prosperity for me. Remember the Lord your God! He’s the one who gives you the strength to be prosperous in order to establish the covenant he made with your ancestors—and that’s how things stand right now. But if you do, in fact, forget the Lord your God and follow other gods, serving and bowing down to them, I swear to you right now that you will be completely destroyed.
Sum it up the way the Psalmist did in Psalm 37:25
I was young and now I’m old,
but I have never seen the righteous left all alone,
have never seen their children begging for bread.
This IS the way the world is supposed to work! It is clear, biblically, that this pattern is advised by God.
But what happens when not everything works this way?
I mean it’s easy to heap judgment on someone else – like Nineveh or the next natural disaster (that must be God’s judgment on them) – but what happens when YOUR world doesn’t work this way?
Most of us, I remain convinced, easily blame God – or give God credit. I mean, if you and are nothing but sinners and we have no hope to change or grow or get better or leave negative behavior behind, then OF COURSE if something bad happens it MUST be God’s judgment.
Except, there’s Job. We KNOW Job isn’t cursed for his sin or misbehavior. Job’s losses are presented as a kind of a wager between the Satan and God.
Job also knows that these horrible losses he suffers are not on account of his sin or anything he’s done wrong.
But he doesn’t so easily grasp the bigger point – that his world isn’t the world.
In his world things always work this way – good behavior brings blessed, bad behavior brings curse.
But in THE world, let’s face it; this is NOT always how it works.
The best paid person is not always the most virtuous person. The most powerful is not always the best.
Some criminals never get caught and live long lives with lots of material possessions.
What seems even less fair, of course, is all the people who just keep their heads down, do the things they’ve always been taught to do, and struggle their whole lives.
Along the way, pretty much all of us get a chance to learn that our world is not the world.
In this morning’s reading, Job still doesn’t get it: he is so convinced that what has happened to him is unfair that he both wishes he could just die and he wants to take God to court.
Have you ever felt like taking God to court? If you have, it’s ok: Job isn’t punished for his exasperation; neither will you be.
But neither does he get an explanation. At least, not one that satisfies. Not one that assures him that his world is the world; that everything works like you think it ought to work.
I hope you don’t take this as a spoiler, being only the second week in a 6 week series, but the way this comes out is God appears in a whirlwind, not for Job to ask all his questions or continue all his claims to be justified in getting answers.
God shows up with questions. Lots of questions. Here’s a summary of God’s questions:
“Do you really think you’ve got the world – the whole world, the real world – figured out?”
What all these questions really say, though, is that “your world is not the world.”
There’s this beautiful little passage where we see that Job starts to get it. God starts asking questions in chapter 38. Then, in Ch 40,
The Lord continued to respond to Job:
Will the one who disputes with the Almighty correct him?
God’s instructor must answer him.
Job responded to the Lord:
Look, I’m of little worth. What can I answer you?
I’ll put my hand over my mouth.
I have spoken once, I won’t answer;
twice, I won’t do it again.
Then, more questions from God. Finally, in Ch 42, Job answers:
Job answered the Lord:
I know you can do anything;
no plan of yours can be opposed successfully.
You said, “Who is this darkening counsel without knowledge?”
I have indeed spoken about things I didn’t understand,
wonders beyond my comprehension.
You said, “Listen and I will speak;
I will question you and you will inform me.”
My ears had heard about you,
but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore, I relent and find comfort
on dust and ashes.
Job doesn’t get answers, but, by this time, he doesn’t seem to want all the answers anymore. He has realized that his world is not the world. He has also realized that in the world God is still God, whether or not everything falls orderly into patterns as we think it should.
Whether or not your world is neat and orderly and consequences all seem to make sense, God is still God, and God still loves you enough to come to you, face the questions, maybe ask a few of God’s own questions, and welcome you into this larger perspective that your world isn’t the world.
Let me add this: your world may not be or feel orderly. Maybe it never has! I’m not encouraging you to better order your life. No, Whatever state of order or chaos your world is, I want to assure you that your world is not the world.
Are you ready for a larger perspective? Or are you ready, at least, to consider not holding so tightly onto the perspective you have?
Mark’s Gospel tells us nothing about Jesus’ birth. In fact, we meet Jesus at his baptism. Jesus goes to John for baptism. John knows, in each of the gospels, that he isn’t worthy to baptize Jesus.
But even his world isn’t the world.
In the world, the world where God is God and God loves us whether or not everything falls orderly into patterns as we think it should, Jesus presents himself humbly for baptism by John.
Jesus is, of course, continuing the pattern of being born in a barn and laid in a food trough. Jesus is born humbly, he is baptized humbly, and he will die humbly. Jesus, our best opportunity to grasp who God really is, is humble.
Sometimes we want loud, boisterous, let-em-have-it God, “Show our opponents who’s right” God, but that’s usually a God we’ve created within our world. That’s the way we want God to be because that’s the way we want to be.
Jesus submits to being baptized. As he comes up out of the water, a voice from heaven said, “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”
In baptism, you and I are invited out of our world, beyond our world, into the world. The world where, I believe, God wants us to hear, “You are my child, whom I dearly love; in you in find happiness.”
We have a rubber ducky for you – for each of you – this morning, as a reminder of Jesus’ baptism, and of yours. The duck reminds us of water, and of the dove. I know doves aren’t ducks; but they don’t make rubber dovies. The rubber duckies did, though, come in packs of twelve, just like the disciples. So, as you receive a rubber ducky, may it remind you that in the water of baptism, God welcomes us beyond our own world, into the larger world; into the world where God is still God, and God still loves you whether or not everything falls orderly into patterns as we think it should.
Text for “remember your baptism” that I’ll say after everyone has their ducky:
the Holy Spirit work within you,
that having been born through water and the Spirit,
you may live as a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.Amen.