Pastors have a frequent question when they begin to discover mimetic theory. “That’s great. But how does it preach?”
Reverends Tom and Laura Truby shows that mimetic theory is a powerful tool that enables pastors to preach the Gospel in a way that is meaningful and refreshing to the modern world. Each Wednesday, Teaching Nonviolent Atonement will highlight Tom and Laura’s sermons as an example of preaching the Gospel through mimetic theory.
In this sermon, Tom and Laura explore the story of Jonah and Jesus the revelation of “God’s absolute tenderness, God’s powerful nonviolence.” I hope you enjoy reading this powerful sermon as much as I did!
January 22, 2012
Rev. Tom and Rev. Laura Truby
I think the story of Jonah is a comedy with a point. We discover the point as we enjoy the comedy. Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh. When God said “Go to Nineveh,” he went toward Spain. Well, the ship encounters a storm and Jonah gets thrown overboard. He’s in deep trouble until he is swallowed by a whale. He spends three days in this whale and then gets spit up on the Mediterranean Shore. Does that remind you of any thing that happened to Jesus? Then 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,” This time Jonah goes. He has learned from his mistakes.
Why was Jonah reluctant to go to Nineveh? He didn’t like Nineveh. In fact he hated it. This city had dominated his people for years, taken his people into exile and exploited them for as long as anyone could remember. It was a powerful city looming large in their imagination—and the Hebrew people despised it.
So Jonah, this time obeying God’s orders to the letter, goes a third of the way into the city and then gleefully announces, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” He was happy to be the bearer of what he thought was God’s judgment.
Now the story takes a surprising twist. The people of Nineveh believe God, proclaim a fast and everyone, great and small, puts on sackcloth. They repent! These people that Jonah took satisfaction in thinking were lost, these people that Jonah thought would never change, these people who had been so rich and arrogant that Jonah assumed they would never humble themselves and find God; repent! The text says, “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.”
God showed mercy and grace toward the Ninevites! The Ninevites were the last people the Hebrews wanted to experience grace—God forgive them?! Jonah and the Hebrew people wanted vengeance and judgment but God “changed his mind”. Doesn’t that frost you? How disappointing! No judgment on these people who so richly deserve it!
The book of Jonah is one of those places in the Old Testament where we see a God of mercy and forgiveness rather than the more common depiction of judgment and violence. Even the Old Testament has humans struggling to understand a God so different from us that we often misunderstand God and attribute to God what really belongs to us. We are unforgiving and violent as a people and therefore think God is. Even in the Old Testaments we see breakthroughs toward a new way of thinking. Abraham is not required to sacrifice his son. Cain is not destroyed after killing Abel, and instead marked with a sign to protect him from retaliatory violence. Isaiah presents a suffering servant rather than a vindictive one, and all the prophets insist that God does not want any sacrifice other than the sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise. Jonah, using humor, is another breakthrough story that catches us projecting violence onto our neighbor. It functions like Jesus’ parables. We discover, to our chagrin, that God is far more loving than we are. This is the point of the book of Jonah.
Jesus continued, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.” I agree. We are ready to expand and proclaim Good News. The message of “God’s absolute tenderness, God’s powerful nonviolence revealed in Jesus” is beginning to dawn on us. We are in the process of changing our minds and believing in this good news. We have something to say and an orienting center from which to live.
But our culture doesn’t see it, nor want it. The cultural movement in the Northwest is away from Christianity. In the Northwest, Christianity is seen as fearful, rigid, rejecting and irrelevant—the possible cause of the problem, and certainly not the solution. Is this perception so strong that we cannot counter it with a more graceful, inclusive and vital interpretation? I don’t know. I think small groups who get it will continue to exist but will we grow? Maybe, maybe not. I can live with our being a small group as long as I know we are doing all we can. The early Christian existed in small groups and often underground.
No matter what the world says, I believe the gospel is a powerful and enlightening force illumining what is actually happening in the world. It has a way of understanding the human condition that explains phenomena otherwise hidden. But how do we present it in a way that people see this and make use of it to calm, orient, and guide them through the difficult years ahead—and they will be difficult? Let’s face it and not hide our heads in the sand.
Next week some of us will be working on a document that begins to define goals for our church in the year and years ahead. I am sure we will be sharing our work with all of you. We will be thinking about spreading the word and expanding God’s kingdom of grace. I think this is a document come “just in time”. I believe we are at the point where we can join Jesus who, “as he passed along the Sea of Galilee, saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea…and Jesus said “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”’
Simon and Andrew were fishermen; that’s what they did for a living. They organized their lives around catching fish. Jesus offered them a new locus around which to organize themselves. They were to follow Jesus, make Jesus the center, focus on Jesus in the same way as they had focused on their fishing and then Jesus would change them. He would cause their desires to change. Instead of thinking about fish, they would find themselves wanting to impact people with tenderness and forgiveness. They would find themselves dreaming of people finding release, wholeness and direction for their lives. They would, to their great surprise, have visions of smiling faces, well-fed tummies and nurtured souls residing in peace.
Jesus gives us a new vocation; a vocation not tied to our ailing economy nor “the present form of this world that is passing away” to quote our Epistle lesson. It is a vocation filled with meaning and laden with joy that also includes some suffering. This vocation aligns us with the direction of history. The kingdom of God has come near and it cannot be deterred. It will come whether we join it or not.
Simon and Andrew break the path we are called to follow. Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” “Immediately they left their nets and followed him.”
Then Jesus went on a little further and he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John who were in their boat mending nets. Interesting that they are mending nets! James and John are called the “sons of thunder” – hot heads and rivals to each other. It was their relationship that needed mending and when they both left their father and followed Jesus they began moving toward peace between them in their common commitment to follow Jesus rather than struggle with each other as to who was the greatest.
All of us are rivals with each other until we choose to follow Jesus. It is Jesus who unites us and gives us a vocation. As we plan for the future and live into it, may the vocation for Clarkes United Methodist church take on even more specificity and may it increasingly catalyze our vitality. Amen.