The cruise ship, Costa Concordia ran aground on January 13, 2012 and struck rocks that tore a hole in the hull. The ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino, 53, is still on trial in Naples, Italy and is charged with manslaughter, failing to notify the Coast Guard promptly, and climbing into a lifeboat while hundreds of the 4,200 passengers and crew members were still scrambling to escape. This captain made several wrong choices that caused death and injury to many passengers. His life will never be the same. He will pay dearly for his choices.
In our first reading today Jonah had a choice to make. The Book of Jonah starts out by saying that “one day long ago, God’s Word came to Jonah: “Jonah, up on your feet and on your way to the big city of Nineveh! Preach to them. They’re in a bad way and I can’t ignore it anymore.”
But Jonah made the wrong choice. He got up and went the other direction to Tarshish, running away from God. He went down to the port of Joppa and found a ship heading for Tarshish, trying to get as far away from God as he could get. But, God sent a huge storm, and the waves towered over the boat. The sailors were terrified and threw everything they could overboard, and then they drew straws to see who was responsible for the disaster. The small straw went to Jonah. The sailors grilled Jonah: “Who are you and what have you done? Confess! He told them: I’m a Hebrew. I worship God, the God of heaven who made the land and the sea”.
The sailors realized that Jonah was running away from God. Jonah said: “Throw me overboard into the sea, and then the storm will stop”. Reluctantly they did throw Jonah overboard and the storm did stop. But, our story does not stop there. God assigned a huge fish to swallow Jonah. Jonah was in the fish’s belly for three days and nights. Jonah “had a come to Jesus meeting and prayed for mercy and saying to God: If you give me another chance I’ll make the right choices this time. Then God spoke to the fish and it vomited Jonah on the seashore”.
Then God spoke to Jonah a second time. He is told to go to Nineveh, and this time he makes the right choice and goes. When Jonah got to Nineveh he began to preach: “In forty days Nineveh will be smashed”. And we are told that the entire city, including the king repented and turned their hearts back to God. They began to prioritize and put God first in their lives. “And, God saw what they had done and He changed his mind about them. What he said he would do to them he didn’t do”.
In our second reading today in 1 Corinthians the Apostle Paul says: Now is the time. You need to prioritize everything in your life, and everything in your life needs to take a backseat to your relationship with God. You need to put your mind and heart, and everything you have and everything you are, your life, your finances, family, relationships. The most important relationship you have is with Jesus. So, it’s a calling to live in the Kingdom of God, transformed by a life in Christ. This is your calling. It trumps everything else.
“Brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it, For the present form of this world is passing away”. (1 Corinthians 7:29-31)
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus is has come to Galilee and his message is this: “Times up! God’s kingdom is here. Change your life and believe the good news and choose to live the life, to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.(Father Dave’s translation) In other words, if you have heard the good news, the evidence is that it will change your life. If you were arrested for being a Christian would there be enough evidence to convict you”?
Jesus is calling. He is saying: Come and join me as we bring the kingdom of God into the kingdom of this world. There is no problem with the Kingdom in Heaven. It’s the Kingdom of Heaven on earth that needs our attention! Heaven’s got it together, but we are invited to help bring this Kingdom of God on earth, and we start by the way we live and the choices we make in our lives every day. “As we are reminded in our daily prayer, the Lord’s Prayer: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven”.
As Jesus is walking along the shores of the Sea of Galilee he sees Simon and his brother Andrew casting their fishing nets into the sea. He says to them: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men”. And it says that “immediately the left their boat and followed Jesus”. It doesn’t say they went home to think about or: Let me go home and think about it and in two weeks I’ll get back to you, when I get things more together in my life.
He goes on a little farther and he sees James and his brother John and he says to them: “Follow me. And they immediately followed Jesus, leaving their Father and the rest of crew in the boat.
They took it seriously, as we are reminded again of the verse in Corinthians, and they made the right choice about their lives in Christ”.
God wants us to take it seriously; to make right choices about our life in Christ. It is serious business. You can make excuses about a lot of things, but not about right choices about your relationship with Jesus Christ. I believe what Jesus is saying here today is this: What is the most important thing in life? Why is it that you come to church? We must remind each other from time to time, why we are Christians’. Why are we Christians and what does that mean to us? Does that mean that we were born into the Christian faith? Yes, for so of us that is true, but for others, you came to the church later in life.
We confirm with the writer of 1 Peter: Friends this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Live an exemplary life among the natives so that your actions will refute their prejudices. Then they’ll be won over to God’s side and be there to join in the celebration when he arrives. (1 Peter 2:11-12)
Just as God called Jonah, Andrew, James and John, so He is calling you. Jesus is calling you by name. He is saying, come follow me.
- Make the right choices in your life
- partner, hook-up with the Holy Spirit to work with you in bringing the Kingdom of God (the Dream of God) into your life and into the life of the world around you.
- Put God first.
- Make the right choices in your life, and don’t delay. Don’t wait!
- Do it now, immediately; just as the four disciples in our story did.
Jesus is calling you. He is calling me. We can’t respond for each other. You’ve got to walk it by yourself. It reminds me of the Woody Guthrie song, Lonesome Dove:
You gotta walk that lonesome valley,
You gotta walk it by yourself,
Nobody here can walk it for you,
You gotta walk it by yourself.
There’s a road that leads to glory
Through a valley far away,
Nobody else can walk it for you,
They can only point the way.
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen