3rd Sunday after Epiphany

January 21, 2024

Lectionary Texts

Jonah 3. 1-5, 10. God sends Jonah to speak to the city of Nineveh (which he has tried to avoid). Surprisingly, he does—and, even more unexpected, they listen to his message and repent!

Psalm 62. 5-12. For God alone my soul waits in silence… Trust in God … power belongs to God.

1 Corinthians 7.29-31 Time is short. Live as if you are not married, mourning. The present world is passing away.

Mark 1.14-20 Jesus calls fishermen beside the lake to follow him as his disciples. Leaving everything, they go with him.

Preaching Thoughts

Today’s readings speak of God’s call, inviting us out of our familiar ways into new ways of service.

This lectionary selection guts the story of Jonah like a fish, leaving a pretty skin but none of the good stuff. It takes the story literally: God calls Jonah, who runs away but then obeys —and, look: success! See? You should obey God and go where God calls you. It will turn out OK.
      Baloney. That’s not what this story is about. Or even how it goes. They leave out all the irony—and this is a story about irony. What they leave out, for starters, is that Jonah is pissed that God relents from punishing Nineveh. In Jonah’s eyes, it’s not success. It’s disappointment, resentment and maybe shame as well. The people of Nineveh are despised bad guys; having them all repent, from the king down to the animals, makes them look good. That’s not what Jonah wants. Repentance or not, he wants them destroyed—maybe partly because they’re the bad guys, and partly because that’s what he said would happen, and he wants to be the key power person here, not them. And not God. Which is what the story is really about. Even seeming to obey God, we can harbor our own agendas.
      The thing is, the story of Jonah is not a serious prophetic vision. It’s a farce. It’s slapstick. (There’s whales and storms and worms, but it could have been pies in the face and slipping on a well-placed banana and a poke in the eye.) But we take it all so damn seriously. Jonah thinks running away will work because, what, God can’t leave the office? God sends a storm to get at Jonah? Really? God’s GPS can’t pinpoint his location any more specifically than “somewhere at sea?” … Right. Then Jonah, Mr. Selfish, says “To save you, throw me overboard.” So, he can’t just jump? Sure. Three days in the belly of a fish? Yeah, why not. He’s barfed up onto shore and sees Nineveh—which is how far from the ocean? And then everybody in Sin City, from the mayor down to the stray dogs, repents and gets all pious! Yea, right. And then the funniest part: Jonah gets a good seat for the fireworks, but they get cancelled (poke in the eye) and Jonah whines about that, and besides it’s too hot (banana peel) so God gives Jonah a bush, Jonah whines, and God sends a worm, which destroys the bush (pie in the face), and Jonah whines about that… and God says “You really don’t care do you? Those are my people. And also much cattle.”
       And also much cattle. What a punchline.
       Jonah is making fun of us. I think this story is about how silly our desire is to be independent of God, and how laughable our inability to have compassion. We are the Three Stooges of love. So how do we preach this little snippet? Tell the whole story, even if you only read this little lectionary verses. Preach about how we leave out the funny parts because they’re the embarrassing parts because they’re the true parts. Even after Jonah obeys God he’s still running away from God, and never does turn around. And yet, by God’s grace, a good guy with a bad attitude helps the bad guys do the good thing.

The Psalm proclaims what Jonah can’t get: that only God alone has real power in this world, and so it is in God alone that we put our trust. Human efforts, and all that we cling to, provide nothing.

1 Corinthians
Paul assumes that the Second Coming will be immediate, so he tells people: let go of the things of this world. Let go of your plans and preferences. Don’t even bother getting married or mourning the dead. It’s all going to change any minute now. I don’t think it’s helpful to count on the Rapture any time soon. However, Pauls isn’t really talking about the future, but the present. We’re called to live in a new way, right now. We might have to let go of a lot of things to live this new way. Like disciples leaving everything to go with Jesus, Like an addict leaving behind familiar activities, places, even friends. Like Jonah needed to do but couldn’t: to leave behind his snitty attitude. Even after his great prayer in the belly of the whale, he backslides into his old ways. Paul says, go a new way.

      To be “fishing for people” doesn’t mean to drag them into church, or convert them to Christianity. (Jesus didn’t convert anybody.) We can be tempted by allusions to “catching” people—capturing them, or controlling them—but the metaphor is not about the act of fishing. It’s about turning our loving attention toward people instead of our own business. It’s not about changing our occupation but our preoccupations.
       Jesus’ call to us is neither as once-and-done as deciding to be Christian nor as farfetched as leaving our job and family to go off on some quest. It’s an invitation to live in a new way for a new purpose, a call that is renewed every day, every moment. Maybe when you’re in an argument with someone, Jesus is calling you to lay aside the nets of being right and come with him on a journey of listening. Maybe when you witness another act of injustice Jesus is calling you to leave the boat of your comfort and speak out. Or maybe in the cut and thrust of your justice advocacy Jesus is calling you to be at peace and practice Sabbath. The “call” isn’t just to be a pastor or evangelist, but a to be a loving person. That takes many forms. We have to keep listening, moment by moment.

Call to Worship

Leader: God, in the beginning you called forth light.
All: O Holy Mystery, you call forth life!
Christ, you called to the fishermen and they followed.
O Deepening Love, you call forth love!
Holy Spirit, you call to us from within.
O Life-Giving Voice, you call forth our gifts!
We hear. Our hearts are awakened, and we follow. Alleluia!

Leader: God, you have created us for your purposes, and we give you thanks.
Christ, you set us free, and we give you our lives..You call us out from our lives into your life.
You call us to follow you instead of our own ways.
Help us, Christ, to relinquish all things and follow you.
Alleluia! Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!

3. [ Ps. 62]
Leader: For God alone my soul waits in silence.All: My hope is from God.
God alone is my rock, my salvation, my fortress.
Trust in God, and pour out your heart.
Power is God’s alone.
And to you, Holy One, belongs steadfast love.
We worship you in joy and faith.

Leader: Wind of Life, Song of God, Breeze of Freedom, you blow about us.
All: You fill our lungs with blessing, and we sing praise.
Breath of Grace, Call of Christ, Word of Promise, you whisper to our hearts.
You fill our ears with hope, and we rise to our feet.
Spirit of Love, Presence of Heaven, Light of our Hearts, you bear us in your arms.
You fill our sails with your courage, and we follow you.
Alleluia! Arise, Spirit of Life, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!

Leader: God, you made all kinds of creatures.
All: We thank you! We are glad to be here.
Jesus, you have caught us in your net of love.
Thank you for bringing us here! We are glad for one another.
Holy Spirit, you baptize us deep in your grace.
Thank you for your love.
God, your love is deeper than the ocean.
We come to plunge deep into it with Jesus.
Alleluia! We thank you! We praise you!
We give ourselves to you! Alleluia!

Collect / Prayer of the Day

God of life, Jesus called to the fishermen and they heard something in that voice, something compelling—and they followed him. Call to us now. Let us hear your voice; let it touch something deep in us; and move us to respond. We are hungry to hear and to follow. We open our hearts to your word. Amen.

Gracious God, in Christ you called the fishermen beside the sea. Call us now. Let us hear your Word, recognize your voice, and follow. Draw us up like fish from our own deeps, and bring us into your good work, in the name of Christ and the power of your Spirit. Amen.

God of Silence, God of the Call, you speak our names and beckon us to follow you. Christ, you walk into our lives, into the ordinary tasks and duties of our days, and you draw us into another world. Our hearts leap at your Word. Grant us the grace to listen with passion, to follow with faith, and to stay with you, with courage, resolve and trust. Amen.

Creator God, you called your prophets to speak on your behalf. Your Christ called disciples to follow him. You call to us now, deep in our hearts. We listen for your voice. We wait for your will. We want to follow. Call us, and we will follow, in the Spirit of Christ. Amen.

Gracious God, Jesus walked among fishermen and called them to follow him. So now you move among us and call us. You speak our names, and you reach out to us in the midst of our daily work. You touch us as we mend the nets of our lives, and call us to follow you. Help us, as we hear and reflect on your Word, to hear your voice, to trust your call, and to follow in faith. Amen.

Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

Beside the sea of familiarity,
among the boats of busyness,
we lay down the nets that entangle us,
and listen for your voice, calling us,
calling us deeper, calling us beyond,
calling us to you.
We listen, and we draw near.

Prayer of Confession

Tender God, we have been caught in the nets of our own lives,
living in the small boats of our own ways, our own fears and desires.
We confess that we have become entangled.
In our fear and hurt we have hurt you and others.
We have not brought forth life as you have called us to do.
We confess our self-centeredness, and ask your forgiveness.
Call us out of our lives into yours.
Help us let go of all that holds us back, all that traps and entangles us.
Set us free by your grace, free to follow you and serve you all our days.

God of mercy, you create us in love and for love;
but we make our own lives by our own will.
Now we release our lives to your making.
Call us out of our self-made lives
into the life you offer us.
Transform in us what is not of your Spirit
and lift up what is,
that we may be true to your will in us, by your grace.


Psalm 62.5-12, A paraphraseVersion 1

Beloved, for you my soul waits in silence.
         My hope is hidden in your silence.
Life of my living, you are my earth.
         You are what cannot be taken.
In the gravity of your grace I rest.
         In your silence is my deep belonging.

I trust in you, Holy One.
         I pour myself into your hands,
         into this light, my resting place.

Rich or poor mean nothing;
         they are an illusion.
I abandon my little “happy” and “sad.”
         They are both lint.
Do I catch myself trying to gain?
         Ah, ignore all that fool’s gold.
         Ignore it. Let it go.

I keep hearing this in the silence;
         the silence says it over and over:
the only power is Love,
         and love, all love, is God.

Beloved, you live, you speak, you resound
         in all we do.

Psalm 62.5-12, A paraphraseVersion 2

God, for you alone my soul in silence waits.
        in you alone my confidence is rooted.
God, you are my steadiness, my solid ground.
       I n you I find my resolute steadfastness.
You are my only security, my truest strength.
        You are where I belong.

People, notice where you put your trust:
        root it in God, not some other fluff.
Let your heart and God flow into each other.
        It’s where we all belong.

The way we judge and compare people
        is a complete delusion.
A noble person, a lowlife—it’s a sham.
        Who made this up? Who believes it?

Don’t think your life will be enriched
        by getting your way, or having stuff.
Learn to see through the shimmer
        to what really matters, what really is.

Pay attention: it keeps coming up:
        God is the only power.
And God, you are the only Love,
        No matter what we do.

                 Jonah’s Prayer – Jonah 2.1-9
I was in a bad place so I cried out to you, God.
       I was in the belly of death, but you heard me!
You threw me into something deep and mysterious.
       I was at the bottom of the ocean,
It was dark all around and stormy waves crashed over me.
       And I said, “I can’t see you anywhere!
       Will I ever see you again?”
The water closed up around me. Seaweed wrapped around my head.
       I was at the bottom of the whole world.
I went down to where there was nothing but death.
       But, God, you brought me back up!
       You bought me into life!
As my life was draining away, I thought of you.
       When I was afraid, I prayed to you.
You are the one I can really depend on.
       I will always sing a thankful song to you.
       You are the one who saves us no matter what

Response / Creed / Affirmation

We believe in God, who called light out of darkness, who calls all things into being.
       Holy One, it is you who call us to life, and you call us your Beloved.
       We hear your call, and we turn to you.
We live in the name and Spirit of Jesus, God’s Christ, who loved and taught,
who called demons out of people, who called out injustice,
and who calls forth the best in us.
       Loving One, you call to your disciples to follow you.
       We join ourselves to your life, your ministry, your death and resurrection.
We breathe the Holy Spirit, the spirit of life, who grants us gifts and calls them forth.
       Living One, we open ourselves to the grace you give us
       to live lives worthy of the calling to which you call us:
       lives of awe and gratitude, humility and love, forgiveness and mercy.
       We give ourselves to you, to follow your leading
       moment by moment, day by day.
       Loving God in Christ, you have called us by name, and we follow. Amen.

      We live in God, Creator of all that is and all that is to come.
      We live in the company of Jesus, the love of God made flesh, who taught and healed, who called disciples to follow, who died and rose, and who speaks in our hearts, who names the truth that gives us life and sings the song that makes us dance, and who bids us go with him in love to all the world.
      We live in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Breath of God, that gives us the faith to follow, walking with God, and the love to be fishers of people: to connect deeply, especially with those who have been rejected. We follow as one Church, with gratitude for the power of forgiveness, the mystery of resurrection and the gift of eternal life, in the name and Spirit of Jesus, for the sake of the world. Amen.

       We belong to God, eternal and infinite, Creator of all things and all that is to come.
       We follow Christ, who comes to us from God, and reveals God to us. He heals people and transforms lives, and calls us to join in his ministry. He was crucified, died and was raised again by God, and reigns over all Creation; and he bids us to die and rise with him in the service of the healing of the world.
       We are moved by the Holy Spirit, together with the communion of saints, as members of the Body of Christ, God’s holy universal church. We are confident in the forgiveness of sin, the power of resurrection and the reality of eternal life. In all things it is our desire to follow Christ, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, for God’s glory. Amen.

Holy God we ask your blessing
as you gather us and send us as members of your church.
Unite us in your love, and hold us together in one another’s hearts.
Give us the gift of trust in you and in each other.
Forgive our sins, grant us your grace and blessing,
and imbue us with your spirit of forgiveness.
Show us your Way, and help us on our journey.
Give us wisdom and grace in al our hardships.
Help us tend the light you have given us
so we shine with your love,
in mercy and justice, throughout the world,
in the name of Christ, Amen.

Prayer of Dedication / Sending

Gracious God, you call us to follow, and so we surrender what is dear to us, and we come. We give you our gifts as symbols of our lives. Grant us your Spirit to faithfully follow Jesus all our lives: to draw near to him, to learn from him, to receive your grace through him, and to join him in ministry to the world. May we cast your net of light over all people, in the name of Christ. Amen.

Generous God, we leave the boats of our own desires to follow you. We surrender the nets of our possessiveness to do your will. We let go of much, so that we may cling to you. Bless us that in our letting go we will know fulfillment. Bless those who are in need, that our gifts may give them life. Bless us that in our giving we may understand how we receive. We pray as followers of Jesus. Amen.

Wondrous God, you have fished us out of our little worlds for your purposes. You have immersed us deep in your grace. Send us into the world, trusting you and your love, to share your love and to do your will for the sake of the healing of the world, in the name and the Spirit of Christ. Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)

Calling Me (Original song)

Dear God, Creator eternally, you call everything to be.
How are you calling me, even now?
Who do you call me to be? Where is your image in me, calling me?

Jesus, lord of the fishermen, calling your children,
you call to me once again, even now.
What will you lead me to do? How can I witness to you, calling me, calling me?

Spirit, power of love in me, how do you set me free,
what gifts are you giving me, even now?
I am a vessel for you. Humbly I listen to you, calling me, calling me.

Drawing Me (Original song)

Holy One, Mystery, how will you keep drawing me
nearer to the heart within the heart?
Nearer still, falling in, closer to the heart within,
draw me God. I fall into your love.
Lover, you are calling, you are drawing,
I am falling into you in love.

Deep in me there’s a voice, there’s a hunger, there’s a choice,
seeking something vital that is you.
By your grace drawing me, may I fall eternally
nearer to my center deep in you.
Lover, you are calling, you are drawing,
I am falling into you in love.

I Am Open      (Original song)

Dear gentle Jesus, I open to you
the deepest chambers of my soul.
My heart is open, wounded and broken.
Heal and forgive and make me whole.
Open, I am open, open to your grace.

Beloved Jesus, my eyes are open;
your healing touch restores my sight.
Like open windows, they shine, and in flows
your glory filling me with light.
Open, I am open, open to your grace.

My wounded Jesus. Your arms are open,
our hurt and dying to embrace.
When I would close them, hold my arms open,
to be so loving by your grace.
Open, I am open, open to your grace.

Now risen Jesus, my life is open,
a flower unfolding in the sun:
by your light growing, and boldly showing
the love of God, as you have done.
Open, I am open, open to your grace.

I Am Listening     (Original song)

Speak, for I am listening.
My heart is open.
Speak, for I am listening,
open to your word.

I Wait for Your Will (Original song)

I wait for your will.
I wait for your will.
I wait for your will, O God,
for your loving will,
your life-giving will.
I wait for your will, O God.

1. All I desire to control
I let go and place into your hands, my God.
2. Heal and protect and provide.
Hear me and stay by my side.
3. You are my wisdom and strength.

I will do your will alone, my God.
4. Help me to listen and wait,
trusting your Spirit to move, my God.

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