Episode 9

January 11, 2024


B205 - Epiphany 3

B205 - Epiphany 3
By the Well
B205 - Epiphany 3

Jan 11 2024 | 00:28:44


Show Notes

Alistair and Fran discuss Jonah 3:1-6; 10 and Mark 1:14-20

We mention Daniel Smith-Christopher's A Biblical Theology of Exile

And Anna Carter Florence's address A Preacher's Alphabet - section on Jonah

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Episode Transcript

[00:00:04] Speaker A: You're listening to by the well, electionary based podcast preachers recorded on the land of the Warunderi people. Hello, everyone. I'm Fran Barber. [00:00:18] Speaker B: And I'm Alistair McCray. [00:00:21] Speaker A: Welcome, Alistair. Welcome back to by the well. [00:00:23] Speaker B: Thank you very much, Fran. Great to be here and hi to fellow preachers indeed. [00:00:30] Speaker A: So Alistair will be familiar voice to many of you. Alistair's been on by the world before. Alistair is a recently retired minister in the Uniting church. So this week we are looking at the third Sunday after epiphany and in particular, Alistair and I are going to focus on Jonah. Three, one to five and verse ten, though in reality probably the whole book of Jonah and the Gospel of Mark, chapter one, verses 14 to 20. So a common theme between these two this week, do you think, Alastair, or are we forcing it? [00:01:06] Speaker B: No, I don't think we're forcing it. I imagine this was in the lectionary composer's minds, but there's a very strong theme of repentance in each of these. Obviously in the mark reading Jesus, his first public call really is to repentance. Came preaching the good news and calling people to repent and to believe it. And Jonah is littered with repentance. [00:01:37] Speaker A: Dripping with it. [00:01:38] Speaker B: It's dripping with repentance. [00:01:39] Speaker A: We'll get to that detail shortly. So we're in true mark and style. This is great brevity in this section, isn't there? So we've met John the Baptist and heard that he is not greater than the one that comes and so on is coming. The first fragment here is that he was after John was arrested. [00:02:03] Speaker B: Yes. [00:02:05] Speaker A: So the specter of, well, suffering and resistance or conflict is there from the very beginning. And I did read somewhere, because I'm now a bad greek scholar. I used to be a good one. I forget the word, but the greek word for arrested, you can all go and paradothe. Oh, thanks. [00:02:31] Speaker B: Look at him. [00:02:32] Speaker A: Anyway, in English, it's a fairly poor translation of arrested. It's really overthrown. It's got a much more dramatic and violent overtone and used in terms of Jesus being handed over to death later in the gospel. So again, in true Mark and style, there's this incredibly profound and somewhat hidden but very, very deliberate detail put in here. [00:02:59] Speaker B: Yeah. The translation I read for that was given up. Arrested, as in given up. And Jesus later will be given up as a result of his preaching. He later warns his disciples that they also, as a result of their proclamation, the kingdom will be arrested. Given up. And, yeah, preachers can reflect on when was the last time your preaching opened up the possibility of you being given up or arrested? Sadly, I can't really think of any time in my recent preaching. [00:03:39] Speaker A: You know, the job's done well, if you've been arrested. [00:03:42] Speaker B: Yeah. [00:03:45] Speaker A: The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near. [00:03:49] Speaker B: Yes. And the word for time there, of course, is the Kairos word, rather than the Kronos word, which is a much more heavily weighted word and different translations, but it's basically saying the time for decision. This is a critical time, not just ordinary chronological time. And that's a word that reappears at various points in the gospel. And then the key word, I think, for today, where Jesus calls people to repent and believe in the good news. [00:04:35] Speaker A: And how, like, we would be true to say, wouldn't it, that we live in a world where, generally speaking, the word repent is incredibly foreign, and it is one that might embarrass some christians as being really offensive. And we also live in a culture and we would be part of that, where we're thinking, well, what have I got to repent? So it's quite a task to unpack that and see that this God of love, that everybody might popularly and flippantly know of their relationship with that God. [00:05:11] Speaker B: Involves this sort of mean that could. That could be a very good sermon. Focus. David Bentley Hart translates it as change your hearts, which I like. But I think the word does need to be recovered, particularly the way Jesus uses it. When John the Baptist uses it, it's kind of surrounded by threat. [00:05:34] Speaker A: New brood of. [00:05:35] Speaker B: Yeah, yeah. Whereas I don't know if this oversimplifying it, but when Jesus uses it, it's much more positive. I remember the great german preacher Helmut Tillica saying, whenever the word repentance is on Jesus'lips, joy is in the background. I love that. That really helped me. [00:06:01] Speaker A: Well. [00:06:01] Speaker B: And understand it. [00:06:03] Speaker A: Yes. And here, believe in the good news. I mean, that's the joy. [00:06:07] Speaker B: Yep. [00:06:07] Speaker A: To me, in the same breath. [00:06:09] Speaker B: Yeah. And there's also the sense in the word of turning and turn towards the abundant life that God wills for us. [00:06:22] Speaker A: It's true though, too, that the good news that we have of Christ, the kingdom coming near in Christ, integral to it, is that it throws shadows on the kingdoms and the world that we live in. That's relating a bit to our flippant joke about being arrested for preaching. But this big yes of God actually involves a no to many of the ways of the world. [00:06:55] Speaker B: And I guess if we're looking for kind of secular equivalents, there is a strong call to repentance in terms of the way we use energy. We're told if we don't change our ways, then the world is heading towards catastrophic. Catastrophic situation. So there are versions of the call to repentance out there. It's just the word isn't used. But the call for radical change, particularly in the environmental area, I think is. [00:07:33] Speaker A: Quite common and truth telling. So moving on to the call here, what is so striking to me, and probably not just to me, but these two men just immediately follow. Like there's no persuasion, there's no cajoling, there's absolutely no real plan at all provided to these two fishermen. And no, like you're going to an unknown destination on a route you're not clear about with someone who you don't know. Well, presume they. I mean, maybe they. Either way, there's something very. That pins us to the wall. [00:08:13] Speaker B: Yeah, I'm not quite sure how to take that. I mean, Mark loves this word immediately, doesn't he? I did account, not this time, but I think in the first two chapters that word is used eleven times. So maybe Mark's gilding a lily a bit here with the urgency of it all. And there's no. Because later Jesus will say, look, count the cost before you follow me. Well, there's no cost counting here, is there? They just up and leave. But I really like this passage for a number of reasons. Jesus is out walking around the place and he comes to the first disciples place of employment. Like he comes to them, he goes to the factory. Yeah. And kind of theologically and experientially, that's a good emphasis, that Christ comes to us first before we have to desperately search and find God in Christ. He comes to where we live and work and calls us to be disciples there and. [00:09:40] Speaker A: Is that a joke? Do you think I'll make you fishers of people? I don't know. [00:09:47] Speaker B: Might be, possibly. It's hard to tell, but maybe it's just saying, look, you're good at fishing for fish. Let's use your gifts and capacities for a bigger work, which is catching people. [00:10:04] Speaker A: Which leads to another theme that pins us to the wall, like repentance, which is evangelism, and how our church in particular, or your church listeners, wherever that may be, embraces and embodies that call, because it's not one in our tradition that's embraced wholeheartedly. Like there's an apology, there's a sort of. [00:10:31] Speaker B: Yeah. Almost an embarrassment sometimes. [00:10:33] Speaker A: Yeah. I've heard someone, I was reading called it. Was it missional vegetarians or something with the fishing metaphor? We don't really want to use bait. Like, what is the bait that we're. Maybe that's our problem. What is the bait? [00:10:51] Speaker B: Well, an invitation to life with God and participating in God's great mission of love and justice. I've never quite understood our reticence about evangelism. You know, if we. If we see it as sharing that which is most precious and central to. [00:11:21] Speaker A: Us. [00:11:23] Speaker B: It'S not an imposition, but we've so privatized the faith in this culture and in our church tradition. I think it's kind of not quite our dirty little secret, but it's something we keep to ourselves. And I think that's a real shame. [00:11:44] Speaker A: Yeah, well, I mean, I think built in it is the judgment that whoever one is speaking to hasn't found the kingdom, and here it is. It's all that sort of apology or discomfort. But you're right. I mean, this is the message of the nearness of God, closer than God has ever been in our brother Jesus. [00:12:12] Speaker B: What's not to like? [00:12:13] Speaker A: Yeah. [00:12:18] Speaker B: I think this is a really good passage for people in our church about the call that Christ comes to us, calls us to follow, recognizes our capacity and can put that to use for God's work. And part of the task is to share the good news that God loves us and has a role for us. [00:12:59] Speaker A: And it also, I think, that question sometimes we don't perhaps ask often enough, and it's getting towards, I suppose, the area of testimony and witness. But why do you keep coming back? What brings you to the church? What is it that compels you to remain within this story and getting people to articulate that in the myriad ways they can? [00:13:25] Speaker B: Yes. And quite a lot of churches, I'm sure, yours and certainly mine. Periodically we ask people in the congregation to give witness precisely to what is it about the gospel that compels you and has you here with the rest of God's community on a regular basis nourishing that call, albeit perhaps not as. [00:13:53] Speaker A: Decisively and wholeheartedly as these two Fisher people who left absolutely everything. [00:13:59] Speaker B: Yes. And in the first case, they leave their livelihoods, and in the second case, they leave their family. [00:14:12] Speaker A: So, I mean, I'll make you fishes of people is both a promise and perhaps also getting back to the word handed over the beginning. Well, it's not a threat than perhaps a portent of conflict or difficulty. [00:14:32] Speaker B: Yes. [00:14:34] Speaker A: Could well be encounter with the world. [00:14:37] Speaker B: Yeah. [00:14:38] Speaker A: Are there last remarks you want to. [00:14:40] Speaker B: Make about this one, or is there something in boat? They leave their boats in order to join the new boat, which is the church. I don't know. You wonder, like, mark seems so simple. [00:14:58] Speaker A: Yeah, it's not, though. [00:14:59] Speaker B: But it's not. You can just find phrases and words and think, oh, that's code for a whole lot of interesting stuff. [00:15:07] Speaker A: I mean, here, boat is familiar. And liverhood. Yeah. Not sure. All right, shall we move on now to Jonah? [00:15:16] Speaker B: Jonah. [00:15:17] Speaker A: Which Jonah? Three, chapter three, verses one to five and verse ten. [00:15:22] Speaker B: Yes. [00:15:26] Speaker A: So this is the only time in the three year lectionary that we hear from Jonah. So I think if you can people, in some way tell the whole story in a way that's engaging for people, whether it's quite short chapters, four chapters, if you have four different voices in four different parts of the building. And maybe you could even use funny hats to depict different characters, because it is a funny book. So obviously we have specific verses set here. The second call onto Jonah, who to go having when he resisted the first one or two. So, yeah, telling the whole story. [00:16:09] Speaker B: I like the idea of taking a big chunk of time on a Sunday morning to read the whole book. If you didn't do that, you would have to tell a condensed version, chapter one and two in dot points. Read chapter three and then dot points for the rest. You could do it that way. But I do think it needs to be preached as well as told, because there's real layers to this one, which we will discover in the next few minutes. [00:16:42] Speaker A: Yeah. So it's not your typical prophetic book, because it's about the prophet in particular, not about his or her. His usually speeches. [00:16:52] Speaker B: Yeah. [00:16:56] Speaker A: And the prophet's actually rebuffed and shown to be in a very poor light. And actually, as we've indicated, we've already alluded, there's hyperbole and satire here. So that none of the characters actually behave in a predictable way at all. [00:17:12] Speaker B: No, it's very comedic. [00:17:18] Speaker A: Yeah. So you've got the king, who does actually humble himself, and you've got the sailors who repent. Well, it doesn't use the word repent, but they behave very much as if they totally understand what's going on and what their part in it. And even the cows repent in the end, the animals, they do. [00:17:36] Speaker B: Did you notice also that in the little bit that's maddeningly left out in the lectionary? [00:17:44] Speaker A: Don't leave it out, though. [00:17:45] Speaker B: No, read it. Read it. Right. [00:17:46] Speaker A: Those verses six to nine about the king and the repenting animals. And it's the public nature of the repentance already depicted there. Sorry, I interrupted you. [00:17:55] Speaker B: No, not at all. But did you notice in those omitted verses that even the animals wore sackcloth? [00:18:01] Speaker A: No, I missed that. [00:18:02] Speaker B: Just picture that. I just love it. So if you had any doubts about whether this was figurative or parabolic, it clearly is. Even St. Augustine regarded it as figurative. So any attempt to literalize the story is really doing damage to it. [00:18:22] Speaker A: So I think it's Brugerman who sees it, obviously politically and theologically. So it's a book that's challenging israelite theology about how God operates and how they understand themselves and God and their enemies. And this is really challenging them to understand God's freedom to restore enemies. [00:18:43] Speaker B: Yes. [00:18:44] Speaker A: And that's a hard word when you've thought it's all on my side. [00:18:51] Speaker B: Exactly. And I think this is where a little bit of historical context is useful and really repays the effort. For example, when was Jonah written? Now, the book that my go to book on Jonah and the post exilic prophets is Daniel Smith Christopher's biblical theology of exile. [00:19:20] Speaker A: Okay, we'll put that link to that in great. [00:19:24] Speaker B: But he argues that it's very late and it comes after the writings of Ezra and Nehemiah. Now, Ezra and Nehemiah, particularly Ezra, is really heavy on emphasizing purity and distinctiveness of the people of God, to the point where, chillingly, at one point he issues the order. Or is it God in? Ezra says that everybody who's married foreign wives has to divorce them and send them away. [00:20:05] Speaker A: Wow. [00:20:06] Speaker B: Yeah. Today we'd call it ethnic cleansing. [00:20:09] Speaker A: We would. [00:20:10] Speaker B: Yeah. So Smith Christopher argues, and quite compellingly for me, is that Jonah was written as a counter to that extreme exclusivism, an emphasis on purity. And to say, no, actually, the God who has a particular role for Israel loves all people. [00:20:32] Speaker A: Right. And that would. I'm thinking of the end of the book, people, where if you need to reread, if you haven't read it for a while. So Jonah goes off in a huff and he sits in the desert and God goes, oh, he's going to die of dehydration. What an idiot. I better plan. I'll get a tree to grow up over him. But then God also decides a worm to eat the trees. A great idea. And then Jonah's going, oh, what the hell? Like, what are you doing? And there's a conversation where basically God says, don't you think, if I can make a tree grow this much and make it die, do you not think that I worry much more about a group of people and their animals, incidentally. [00:21:08] Speaker B: Well, he actually says Jonah's really. What's the word I can use? He's really angry at God. Yes. For killing this plant that Jonah has affection for because it's protecting him from the sun. And he gets angry at God for killing the plant. And then God says, look, you've got this beautiful sympathy for a plant. [00:21:39] Speaker A: What about. [00:21:40] Speaker B: What about all these people? [00:21:42] Speaker A: So I can see Daniel Smith Christopher's argument even in. I mean, it'll all through it, but that's very clear. [00:21:49] Speaker B: Yeah. [00:21:49] Speaker A: It's very profound. [00:21:50] Speaker B: Yeah. It really. [00:21:54] Speaker A: Mean. A benefit, obviously, of reading the whole thing is you get to see the question that God does ask, is your anger justified? Like, I think that's probably that phrase might even be in the bit that the lectionary leaves out today. But our self righteous anger at what should be is really challenged by this story as well. [00:22:17] Speaker B: Yeah. And it's interesting, right throughout, you get the sense that Jonah, when Jonah is commissioned with this message, he's not committed to it, because it's as if he's got this suspicion that if the people of Nineveh heed the warning, God, because God is so damn merciful, God will change God's mind. And of course, that's exactly what happens. And in the end, when God relents, God repents. That's the other interesting repentance in this story. Jonah's furious with God. Why don't the boundaries of your love and mercy coincide with mine? [00:23:06] Speaker A: Yeah. Such a great question. And that brings me back to that little fragment of verses that's missing from this reading, because it's where the king. The king. It's actually in the character of the king that you first see the possibility that God might change God's mind. And in a brief link to the corinthians. We haven't talked about the epistle. It's a couple of verses, but it's a peculiar passage. It appears at first sight about marriage and singleness and so on. But it's an eschatological conversation Paul's having about how we must live as if the kingdom is here. So don't be so hung up on your singleness or your marriedness or whatever it's about. And in a sense, the king here is living as if God could change. And that's what ends up happening. [00:23:54] Speaker B: Yeah. And that's one of the lovely ironies. The king of Nineveh, the great city of sin, has an inkling that God could be merciful much more than Jonah prophet of God. [00:24:09] Speaker A: So in my musing and googling about this book, last week I came across a fantastic YouTube address by Anna Carter Florence, a theologian, minister and great preacher in America. And she's writing this book, an Alphabet for preachers. Now, it's based on something else. It doesn't matter now, but basically using the Hebrew and the New Testament and the greek Alphabet. So she ends up with 52. [00:24:38] Speaker B: All right. [00:24:39] Speaker A: And 52 essays, I suppose, and each one ABCD. Well, Jonah, she said, there's so many things starting with j. It's actually under f for fish. But the point of it all is what this says, particularly to preachers. And she talks about how whereas the fish we encounter in most other stories, we catch them, here is a fish that catches us and keeps us well clear of mediocrity, because while we're saved from the depths of the ocean, we're in this slimy fish, gutsy, nowhere like limbo. We don't know for how long, and we're spewed up on the beach and we're saved, but we're put through the mill. And that's actually what we do when we go through the process of prayerful consideration and sermon writing and delivery. But her focus is also on the use of verbs in, you know, the ridiculous verbs for Jonah is he runs away, and we can't run away. And the story plays out that you can't run away from God or your task. [00:25:43] Speaker B: Nowhere to hide. [00:25:44] Speaker A: But for the fish, the verb is spewing. And I forget what the other one is now. But anyway, it's a really entertaining. I might put the link in the show notes, because if you want to have a bit of a boost as a preacher and a bit of a laugh, but have a really quite profound theological message, it's fun. [00:26:03] Speaker B: Yeah, that sounds great in terms of preaching. I think if I was preaching this, I'd talk about that tension between the kind of Ezra Nehemiah emphasis on purity and this kind of tending, more universalistic vision of Jonah. I think in church like ours, we're much more comfortable with Jonah's perspective, and we don't often pay enough attention to the tension. Smith Christopher is very helpful with this, and he doesn't just bag Ezra. He says, look, the expelling of foreign wives is inhuman, terrible outcome. However, the people of Israel and the church, there is a particularity about our call and we uncomfortable with the term purity, but what is it that we stand for that may at points put us at ods with the wider culture? And how do we protect that. So this tension between particularity and the universal I think is one that we need to pay attention to. [00:27:39] Speaker A: Well, yeah. Well, the world stage now is ripe for faithful, compassionate, prophetic comment in terms of how we seeing the other and the othering of the so called of the enemy is just the fellow human being trying to live their life. [00:28:02] Speaker B: Can I read a quote from Smith Christian? [00:28:04] Speaker A: You can, and then we might close. [00:28:05] Speaker B: Okay, good. Our task is Jonah's sense of mission to the world, informed by Ezra's attentive eye to non conformity and embodying tobit. That's another one of these post exilic prophets embodying practicality. [00:28:24] Speaker A: Good time. Good. [00:28:25] Speaker B: That's pretty good, isn't it? [00:28:26] Speaker A: Comment to end on. Thanks for the conversation. [00:28:28] Speaker B: Good on your friend. Thank you. [00:28:31] Speaker A: By the well is brought to you by pilgrim Theological College and the Uniting church in Australia. It's produced by Adrian Jackson. Thanks for listening.

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