A Sermon based on Jonah 3:1-10 and Mark 1:14-20 preached on January 25th, 2015
We’ve all heard the poem Footprints in the Sand. 2 sets of footprints—one belonging to Jesus, the other, our own—along the beach, then all the sudden only one set. Then that line where Jesus says,
It was then that I carried you.
I never really got much out of the poem. Some people find it very meaningful and I’m glad they do, but Footprints in the Sand never really registered with me on a spiritual level. I can’t see its resonance in my own faith story. Sure there have been times in my life where I have indeed been carried and taken care of and comforted by God, but I identify more with another poem: Butt Prints in the Sand. Butt Prints in the Sand is a spoof on the original poem, and I feel it’s more realistic about the walk of faith:
One night I had a wondrous dream,
One set of footprints there was seen,
The footprints of my precious Lord,
But mine were not along the shore.
But then some stranger prints appeared,
And I asked the Lord, “What have we here?”
Those prints are large and round and neat,
“But Lord they are too big for feet.
“My child,” He said in somber tones,
“For miles I carried you alone.
I challenged you to walk in faith,
But you refused and made me wait.
You disobeyed, you would not grow,
The walk of faith, you would not know.
“So I got tired, I got fed up,
and there I dropped you on your butt.”
Because in life, there comes a time,
when one must fight, and one must climb.
When one must rise and take a stand,
or leave their butt prints in the sand.
I like that much better. That speaks to me! Buttprints in the Sand. I don’t want to be carried. I want to learn how to walk. Jesus can walk beside me the whole way, I don’t mind that—in fact, that sounds nice, but please let me take my own steps, and if I fall down along the way and I don’t feel like getting up right away—Jesus, just be there with me, but let me do the fighting, let me do the climbing.
There’s faith in the struggle to get up onto your feet after a fall, isn’t there? There’s faith in getting up under your own power and starting all over again and Jesus doesn’t want to do it all for us—that not what God has promised us. What’s the challenge of faith if all Jesus does is hold our hand and spoon-feed us along the way?
There’s a challenge to following Jesus. The call to discipleship is nothing if it’s not first a dare. What Jesus says to us is,
I dare you to move. I dare you to get up and start over again. I dare you to brush yourself off and start walking on your own.
“Caught” is a good word to summarize the book of Jonah. We all know the story. Jonah is the prophet who didn’t want to.
Most of the 4 chapters of the book of Jonah involve buttprints in the sand. Jonah refuses to move. God has called him to go to a place called Nineveh. Jonah thought Nineveh was a wretched place filled even more wretched people. God wanted Jonah to travel to go there anyway and give a 9-word sermon. Here’s what God says to Jonah,
Get up off your butt, and go to Nineveh, that great city, and declare against it the proclamation that I am commanding you.
And here are the 9 words:
Just forty days more and Nineveh will be overthrown!
That’s all Jonah had to say. That’s all God wanted him to do. But Jonah said No. He’s the prophet who didn’t want to.
Jonah didn’t want to say those words because he thought they gave the people of Ninevah a chance to repent, to ask God for forgiveness. Jonah didn’t want that. Jonah wanted all of them zapped immediately—no forewarning, no way out. Jonah was caught between what he wanted for himself and what God wanted him to do. It took two times for God to drag Jonah into Nineveh. Jonah was the prophet who didn’t want to.
There’s no such thing as a faithful disciple who stays right where they have always been. Whether there’s dragging involved or whether we walk on our own and follow where God leads us, the path of discipleship is always forward. Discipleship means moving ahead lest we be caught way back there, left behind. That’s what Simon and Andrew and James and John found out. They were the first 4 disciples called by Jesus. They were fishermen.
Fishermen were hard workers—constantly moving, tireless, motivated, focused at all times. Fishermen were down-to-earth, gritty, and real. They were used to long hauls, no chances to stop and eat while working. They were exactly who Jesus needed as his disciples.
We often read this story thinking it’s about 4 guys who at the first encounter with Jesus become mesmerized by him and drop everything without a word or an explanation, and suddenly make a clean break from their lives and their families.
There’s no doubt that Jesus is persuasive, but we shouldn’t think this was the first time Simon and Andrew, James and John, encountered Jesus. Most likely Jesus and the first 4 disciples had known each other for a while. They might have been friends before this moment, and it’s even possible that Jesus had already discussed with them the idea of following him and becoming a part of his ministry, whenever the moment was right, whenever it was time. This was that moment. And they were ready to go, as Mark says, “the very moment he called them.”
There’s this sense for us that in order to really practice discipleship we have to be willing to forsake everything for Jesus—family, friends, careers, you name it—just walk away from regular life as we know it whenever Jesus calls out to us.
We’ve been taught that there’s something prohibitive about becoming a disciple—a real disciple—after all, it costs too much. But there are nets to mend here at home, and it’s not wrong to get caught up with the regular, everyday stuff of life. There’s even evidence to suggest that the 12 disciples weren’t away from home for the entire 3 years they followed Jesus. They had chances to return home and be with their families throughout their ministry. There is an immediacy to discipleship—this sense that when God calls, we get up and go, whether that means leaving what we know or being called out to do something we never thought we’d ever do.
But discipleship, for most of us, isn’t about leaving all we know or going who knows where to do who knows what. Discipleship, on the other hand, isn’t God saying to us,
I’m giving you something extra to do today.
Discipleship isn’t just another thing on our daily to-do list. Discipleship isn’t one of the choices we make in our day. Discipleship is rather a new identity and a new responsibility (response-ability) we take on that informs and transforms all the choices we make during our day. Wherever we find ourselves, whatever we do in our everyday lives—discipleship is not so much God saying to us, I’m giving you one more task to do today. It’s God saying to us, just as he said to Jonah and through Jesus to those 4 fisherman,
I’m going to change who you are!
Back in Jonah’s day, “Being swallowed by a whale” was a turn of phrase meaning, “In over your head.” The first hearers of the book of Jonah would have known that.
Jonah did not at have the ability (or the desire) to respond to this new identity God was inviting him to take on. He was caught between God’s call upon his life and own ability to respond to it—thus all the butt prints in the sand.
There’s a scene from the old TV series Northern Exposure where the main character, Joel, is fishing on a lake and suddenly images of his Rabbi from New York pop into his head. In this vision, Joel and Rabbi Schulman are inside this huge fish, and Rabbi Schulman says, “We’re inside, Joel.”
“Inside what?” Joel replies
“The fish…the belly of the beast…you know, Jonah may be the key here.”
“The key to what?” Joel asks
“The meaning to all of this.” His Rabbi begins, “Think a minute, Joel.
“Why was Jonah swallowed in the first place? God told him to go to Nineveh, cry out against their wickedness. Instead, Jonah flees, hops a boat for Tarshish. God raises a ruckus, Jonah gets the heave ho. What’s the message, Joel?”
Joel replies, “Next time go to Ninevah?”
His Rabbi laughs, “Responsibility. Jonah was trying to avoid his responsibility.”
The call to discipleship is one of response and ability. It’s us responding by saying,
Yes, I’ll go,
and it’s God ability to transform our lives so we can live to serve Him and be strengthened for the journey forward.
There’s a challenge to following Jesus. The call to discipleship is nothing if it’s not first a dare.
What Jesus says to us is,
I dare you to move. I dare you to get up and start over again. I dare you to brush to sand off your butt and start walking on your own.
Jesus says to us,
Come, follow me. I’m not giving you something extra to do. I’m gonna change who you are.
May we go where Jesus leads us.
All praise to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!