How many of you out there are sports fans? So there’s this strange phenomenon that happens in sports where you’ve got a stellar team, the favorites to win it all, and they go up against teams near last place and what happens? The stellar team comes out flat. They look like they just don’t care. They’ve become complacent or worse, they expect that because they are who they are, they’ll just win. And what happens?
They often end up with a tie or loss, unless they’re able to recover quickly enough, to wake up to the reality of what’s going on, to take stock, to change their approach and take hold of the opportunities presented to them that they’d let slide or slip, or just plain missed. I don’t think this is unique to sports alone; this tends to happen across the board in the things we do: school, jobs, relationships, etc.
I think this is the phenomenon that’s being drawn to our attention in our readings today: Israel and the Church, you and I, friends, are God’s team. And we’re being called to wake up from our complacency that God has come into the world and is active and present, to wake up, take hold of that reality and reorient how we think and what we do to that reality, for reorienting ourselves is what it takes to be a part of the winning team captained by God himself.
First we have the prophet Jonah who is sent to the Ninevites to wake them up from having fallen into a complacency about following God. It’s not just that this is bad and God is mad. It’s a complacency that has real consequences for how the people of Nineveh live together. Jonah, if you remember, is enraged at God for God being willing to forgive the Ninevites because they exhibit what we might call today, morally depraved behavior: that is, behavior that is deeply harmful to one another. Behaviors like theft, adultery, extortion, lying, cheating, assault, and murder.
What we don’t get to hear from our reading is how angry Jonah is about having to go and warn the Ninevites to repent. He wants God to destroy them for their immorality and the harm it has done not just to the people there, but to God’s own name, as his witness and so Israel’s ability to point to God as the very definition of Goodness/holiness/love. Wipe them out; Jonah says; pull a big old flood out on them and leave the Ark out of it this time. But no, God makes Jonah into the Ark of salvation: repent Ninevites, get on board God’s Ark. Turn from your ways and get onto his Ark so you can be transformed into his likeness. And lo and behold. They do. Saved from the flood of their own self destruction. They wake up. They turn from what they were doing and heed God’s call.
And of course we have Paul warning the Corinthian Church in a similar kind of prophetic way: friends, time has grown short. Christ has come, the world has changed in the blink of an eye, right yourselves, do not be complacent.
Although you have wives, be attentive in such a way that you realize that marriage is not the ultimate goal of life, for in heaven, there will be no marriage; this world, Paul says, is passing away. So realize your marriages here have the primary purpose of getting you and those whom you encounter through your marriage, ready for the life to come; a life, we hope, with God. Mourn, yes, have joy, yes, and yeah, you’ll need possessions in this life; but don’t get stuck in these things, pursuing them as if they are the be all and end all, or you’ll turn on one another in order to possess them or to fend off losing them.
Doing that will make you complacent or actually evil in pursuing God; it’ll send you off track and that mission you entered into at your baptisms - of sharing God’s love and God’s way - will become distorted into pursuing your own desires; and you, the chosen people of God, will lose your way; you’ll stop running the race of faithful sacrifice to build up and draw others to God, and start to put on the gluttonous fat of complacent jeering fans in the stands.
Finally we get to our Gospel and what do we hear? We encounter the true Ark who does not baulk, as Jonah did, at God’s command to faithfully love even his enemies who betray, torture, and kill one another, including him.
The true Ark, Jesus, the only one who truly can save, the God man, who takes on the Ninevites and Corinthians and our sin, who bears it and endures it but does not turn from his love of us or of God, he says, turn from what you are doing. Wake up. Shake off the illusion that what you have here is the ultimate goal in life. These things have importance only insofar as you use them in a way that keeps you awake and alert and present to what God is doing, to where God is leading, and to how God is calling you to use these things not for your own sake, but to equip you for drawing others to him, including your churches, your money, your property, and yeah, your life.
That is what it means to be given a net i.e. gifts, to become fishers of people i.e. learners and witnesses, opening yourself with love and vulnerability to other people who desperately need to hear and seegg God’s love in action. AMEN