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God, open us to hear and receive your scriptures today as you would have us hear them, understand them as you would have us understand them, and to act upon them as you would have us act upon them.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

*Scriptures this morning are from the NRSV.

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.”

So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across.

Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”

And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

Mark 1:14-20

Now after John was arrested, 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.”

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea–for they were fishermen.

And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets.

Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

L:  The scriptures of God for the people of God.

A: Thanks be to God.       

Message – Say that Again, Please?*

Rev. Val

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer, and may you see fit to use me as a vessel from which you pour out your Divine Word.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Both of today’s passages are about a call. In the passage from Mark, Jesus calls the first of the disciples – Simon who would later be called Peter, his brother Andrew, and James and John, the sons of Zebedee. In the passage from Jonah, God calls the prophet Jonah.

But there’s a difference between the two calls. Not that one is Jesus and the other God. No, the difference is something else. The difference is not in the call itself, but in the response of those called.

When Jesus called the first disciples, “They immediately left their nets and followed him.”

Have you experienced that … calling someone to go do something most of society would think at least strange if not outright crazy? Did you have to ask twice?

Maybe the author of Mark left out details, trying to keep the story brief. Or … maybe the better clue is in Jesus’ announcement – or what some call his first sermon, at least according to Mark.

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of heaven has come near,” announces, and then invites the disciples to “repent and believe the good news.”

What was it that caused Simon and Andrew, and then James and John to jump up and follow this stranger? It does happen, you know.  The call comes and and the person called is ready, is leaning in already, is itching to get going. Maybe Peter and Andrew were already thinking about leaving this fishing thing behind. Maybe James and John were just looking for an excuse to get off their boat, leave their dad behind, and set off on an adventure.

Or … maybe …. Maybe they did so because it was the right time.

“The time is fulfilled, says Jesus,” and Mark uses the word “kairos” to talk about that time. If someone said to one of us, “the time is fulfilled,” its likely our first instinct would be to look at a clock, and then to check our calendar to see what appointment or meeting we’d forgotten about. We think of time as meant by the word, “chronos.”  Kairos, the word Mark used, means “the right time,” the appropriate time. Or as many of us say so easily, God’s time.

But what does that mean: God’s time? Of the many things that it could mean, it might include an idea of preparation, of watching and waiting, of conversation and questioning that plants some seeds and gives them some time to grow. Maybe Jesus did that in the unspoken background of the text. Or maybe Jesus listened to the questions that they were asking one another or to the complaints that they made at the end of a long day. Maybe Jesus was paying attention to the condition of the spirit of those he was wanting to call. That’s what made it the right time. And the kingdom is near because they were somehow open to God, ready for the Spirit to come and set their feet on a new path, to respond to the hope in their hearts. Maybe they responded because Jesus listened to them first, got to know them, saw them, and heard them, and then invited them.

And what did he ask them to do? “Repent and believe the good news. “ Wait … repent? What had they done wrong? That’s the problem with the word “repent.” We’ve been indoctrinated to associate it with doing something wrong, with sinful acts.

Sometimes that’s what repent means, but in this case, it is more like Jesus was calling them to reorient their lives. You’ve been working for one thing; now it is time to strive for something else. You’ve been going in one direction, now you need to make a turn toward a new destination, a new set of priorities. Jesus was asking them to change. That is a considerably larger transformation that stopping some habit or behavior. And he tells them what they are to change toward: “Believe the good news.”

Here we have taken this word, this call to a new way of living, and turned it into an intellectual assent to certain propositions or ideas. There are, to be sure, intellectual components to this call to believe. But it never was intended to be a head thing only. It is a way of living. It is claiming a new possibility with every fiber of your being. It is putting all your eggs in this one basket. It is betting your life on the truth of the gospel. All of that and more. It is the lens through which you look at everything in the world, including yourself. We dabble with belief for the most part. We skirt around the edges, nod our heads, and recite the proper creeds. But this placing all our hopes and dreams in Jesus seems distant for many of us. At our best, we are on the way.

Did Peter and Andrew and James and John get all this at first? Not in the least. But they had an inkling, I believe. There was something passionate about this invitation and the person who issued it to them. There was something attractive in an indescribable way. So, maybe they did seize the moment and follow immediately. We can always hope that is the case when we invite and encourage and reach out to our community, that they too will jump at the chance and follow the one we follow too.

But what if they don’t? What if, instead of leaving their old lives behind, they turn and dive even deeper into whatever they were doing when we encountered them? What if they listened politely and then went on understanding life and love the way they’d always understood? What if they ran from us? Then what do we do?

We turn to the passage from Jonah. “The word of the Lord came a second time.” God had to call Jonah twice. 

We’re not getting the whole story from our Jonah passage this morning.  The Book of Jonah tells the story of the prophet, Jonah, who is instructed by God to go to the city of Nineveh and warn its people of impending divine judgment due to their wickedness.

What we don’t get from today’s passage is that Jonah didn’t want to go. Going back to verse 2, God says, “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it, for their wickedness has come up before me.”

Instead of obeying God, Jonah bought a ticket on a boat going in the opposite direction. Jonah knew that if he gave the people of Nineveh the warning and they repented, God would show them mercy and not destroy them, so Jonah attempts to flee.

During the voyage, a great storm arises, and the sailors, realizing Jonah’s role in the calamity, throw him overboard. Jonah is then swallowed by a large fish or whale, where he remains for three days and three nights. In the belly of the fish, Jonah prays for deliverance and expresses his own repentance.

God tells the fish to vomit, it spits Jonah onto dry land, and God renews His command for Jonah to go to Nineveh.

This is where our passage begins.  This time, God says, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.”

This time, Jonah grudgingly obeys and delivers the message of impending judgment to the people of Nineveh. Surprisingly, the Ninevites repent and turn from their wicked ways. God, in response to their repentance, chooses not to bring the foretold destruction upon the city.

We might get some insight if we compare the two calls. The first comes in chapter 1, verse 2, “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” The second is from our passage today, chapter 3, verse 2: “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.”

The verses are similar, but there’s a subtle difference.  Yes, there is the “get up” in the second call. But that’s because Jonah is lying on a beach covered in the regurgitated meal of a great fish that served as an Uber. So, yeah, get up Jonah. Maybe take a shower? That’s implied, I think.

Nineveh is still a great city, so great in size, it takes three days to walk from one side to the other. Jonah is still called to proclaim. But the tone has changed. There’s no talk of their wickedness in the second call. Just the command to tell them what God wanted them to hear. But it seems like the tone has changed. This makes us think that maybe the hard line in chapter one was more for Jonah’s benefit than for Nineveh’s. God knew that Jonah didn’t want the job, didn’t much like Nineveh, and was likely to hit the bricks—err waves, in this case. But now that Jonah has been chastened somewhat, God just says, “Go tell them what I want you to tell them.” And Jonah drags his feet partway into the city.

One of our constant questions when addressing a biblical text is, “Who are we in this story?” If we’re honest with ourselves, we can’t help but identify with Jonah. Maybe this is our story too. And it is good to be honest enough with ourselves to admit that. But the real call of the book of Jonah is to be more like the God who sent him; the one who believes in second chances; the one who doesn’t give up issuing the invitation, even when the response isn’t what was hoped.

Our job is to “Say that Again.” To find the courage to ask again and again; to invite again and again. To make ready, roll out the carpet, and focus on hospitality again and again. God didn’t give up on Jonah, and we shouldn’t give up on one another and on the community around us. We are in the business of making disciples who make disciples.

Let’s pray:

Holy One, what a blessing and privilege we share here in this sacred space and among this loving community.

But, like Jonah, we sometimes are jealous of what we share here. We know that others are longing and thirsting for what we know and experience.

Forgive us our reluctance to open our doors, open our hearts to others; some like us, some not.

We repent of our hesitations and unwillingness to witness to those we have considered strangers and even enemies for fear they just might become friends.

Change us, Lord. Strengthen us. Give us courage so that instead of uttering “Say that Again, please,” we simply answer, “Here I am, Lord.”

Today we lift up Dani and Chris, Jenn and KK, and Carol, Anthony and Trisha. You know their needs and we ask that you be with them.

Today we lift up all those like Linda, an unsheltered woman in our area who was unable to find shelter and froze to death this week. We know she is warm and safe in your arms. We know too well there are many others who are still here in the bitter cold. Be with them, protect them, and embolden us to ask for the help we need to be able to reopen our mission.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers.

We pray these things through Christ Jesus our Lord.



  • Unless listed below, all works cited within the text above.
  • *Adapted in part or full from Preaching Notes, Discipleship Ministries Worship Planning Series, January 21, 2024.

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