The Rev. Bill Deneke
January 24, 2021
Both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Gospel tell stories of being called to get up and follow where God is leading. In Mark’s account several fishermen were called to follow Jesus who said I will make you fish for people and, according to the Old Testament, the prophet Jonah was called to get up and warn the people of Nineveh that their ways would bring destruction. These were divine callings aimed at saving people from despair and ruin.
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were inaugurated this past Wednesday, and it felt like they were being called, called to save our country from despair and ruin.
On the evening before the inauguration, there was a memorial service at the reflecting pool on the national mall. At that service President Elect Biden spoke of the importance of remembering as we grieve and heal. We have lost over 400,000 of our neighbors to the corona virus, and more are seriously ill. The call was to remember.
I watched the inauguration the next day and found myself remembering. As people spoke of hope, it was as though a dark shroud was being lifted. It was as though we had been in an abusive relationship, as though the country had been battered and bruised, lied to and deceived, and now it was over. And in that relief there was joy but also sorrow and anger. I found myself grieving. A shroud was being lifted and I could begin to feel all that came with grief. Remembering is a part of healing. And healing takes time.
The story of Jonah fits this time. Before Jonah got to Nineveh, he went through a hellish time, much of which was of his own making. When God first said follow me, Jonah headed in the opposite direction. And he ended up lost at sea, caught up in a raging storm and chaos. He entered his own dark night of the soul, and there in his pain and grieving, without hope and battered by death, he repented. He repented and was given a second chance to follow where God was calling. And that’s where the story that we heard this morning begins.
Both accounts, the story of the fishermen and that of Jonah reveal that there is a call to follow what is right and truthful. A call of truth and justice. And a call of hope.
We know the backdrop to Jonah’s movement from despair to hope, and while the gospel doesn’t say what the circumstances were when Jesus called the fishermen to follow him, history does. Galilee was occupied by Rome. And Rome had monopolized the fishing industry, driving out the small fishermen. Those Jesus called were without much hope until he came along.
We know that while a shroud has been lifted, there remains the threat of returning darkness. President Biden addressed this in his inaugural speech. He said, Enough of us have come together to carry all of us forward. How true! Jonah led a city to repent. The fishermen began a movement that changed the world.
Those who embrace hope and compassion can make a difference. A big difference. As the President said, Don’t tell me things can’t change. Robert Kennedy put it like this: The future is not a gift; it’s an achievement. Or, in still other words from the inaugural: Hope isn’t something we ask of others, but demand of ourselves. Don’t tell me things can’t change.
Poet Amanda Gorman led the call to follow hope when she said, We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be: a country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free. We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation because we know our enaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation. Our blunders become their burdens but one thing is certain: If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy in change, our children’s birthright.
On this Third Sunday after the Epiphany we say with our President, Don’t tell me things can’t change. We are the inheritors of Jonah. Inheritors of those ancient fishermen. Our lives are built on hope and truth and love. And on courage hard won.
And still we are called to remember. Still we are called to grieve. Amanda Gorman in another poem entitled, The Miracle of Morning, says, For it is our grief that gives us gratitude. Shows us how to find hope, if we lose it. So ensure this ache wasn’t endured in vain. Do not ignore the pain. Give it purpose. Use it.
So we are reminded that in remembering the sorrow we find strength and healing. And in remembering our heritage as people of hope we find the courage to follow where God is leading. Then, as the poet says, justice can rise up, and hope and history rhyme. Amen.