EPIPHANY 3, B, 2018 – LIFE SUNDAY

SCRIPTURES: Ps. 113; Jonah 3:1-5, 10; 1 Cor. 6:12-20; Mark 1:14-20

The Lord is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens! He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap.”  Psalm 113

 

Last week I drove to the seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN to attend a Symposia and listen to renowned scholars and theologians from our own Synod and other churches. One of those I heard from was a native of Ft. Wayne: Major Frank Burns of the 4077th M*A*S*H. From him came this pithy statement: “It’s nice to be nice to the nice.”

“It’s nice to be nice to the nice.” Few would say it so crassly, but this idea, this “theology,” motivates plenty of people; including ourselves, at times. Don’t think so? Just look at who wanted to be nice only to the nice:

Ø  God’s prophet Jonah. Why did the word of the Lord come to him a second time, as our OT reading says? Well, the first time God told him to go to Nineveh Jonah went the other way. He jumped on a boat and sailed away… until God sent a storm to stop him. He ended up overboard and swallowed by a great fish. After he was barfed up on the beach God called him a second time to go to Nineveh.

     Why didn’t he want to go? The Ninevites weren’t nice people. In fact, they were ruthless enemies of Jonah’s people. Jonah didn’t want to go because he knew that God was merciful, even to the unmerciful. He wanted God to be nice to the nice, and not to his enemies; and so he ran away.

Ø  James and John, whom Jesus called to follow Him. Luke tells us of a day much later on when Jesus and His disciples were passing through a Samaritan village, and the people refused to give them a place to stay. Why? They were Jews, traveling to Jerusalem, and the Samaritans hated the Jews. Those Samaritans were not nice people, and so James and John asked Jesus if they could call down fire from heaven to destroy them.

James and John, and Jonah, agreed with Frank Burns that “It’s nice to be nice to the nice.” Admit it: you also agree with this; at least, you do sometimes. You know, when you don’t feel sorry for a couple who is shacking up and end up pregnant and so plan to have an abortion because they just can’t afford a baby right now and don’t know what else to do. It’s their own dumb fault! Or, the feeble old man who has shunned God all his life and now is depressed and without hope and just wants to end it all. Why should you go out of your way to try to encourage him? I confess that riding with the police and seeing the selfish and hateful things people do hardens me at times. Yea, I can understand Frank Burns. “It is nice to be nice to the nice.” Selfish and mean and nasty people just make life difficult and unpleasant!

Thank God that being nice to the nice is not what motivates Jesus or His Father! The God and Savior who calls us to follow Him is so different, so merciful. “It’s nice to be nice to the nice?” No, the God who has called you to follow Him “raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap” (literally, dung heap), as Psalm 113 says. To do this Jesus – God the Son – came down from His glorious throne in heaven to become a man, dust like us, and live in the stinking dung heap of poverty-stricken 1st century Israel. Then, He took from us and wrapped His arms around the filthy, stinking dung of our sinful thoughts and hearts and lives and on the cross was thrown into the dung heap of hell for them. He did all this that He might lift us up with Him in His glorious resurrection, give us new and clean lives, and seat us with Him in heaven!

How blessed you are because God through Jesus went far beyond being nice to the nice and reached out in mercy to the sinful and unclean! What has God done for you and given to you who have been baptized into and believe in Jesus? He is far more than just nice to you. “Your bodies are members of Christ himself!” the apostle Paul declares in 1 Corinthians 6. Even more, “your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God.” You are not just forgiven and clean before God. You are made far more than just nice. You are made into Christ’s, into holy children of God! And, even if you don’t feel this and the memory of sins remain, know that God does not see them or deal with you on the basis of them.

Ø  Jesus spoke of Jonah but not of his unwillingness to be merciful and his disobedience to God. He spoke of his life as foreshadowing Jesus’ resurrection. “Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth,” Jesus said (Matt. 12:40).

Jesus used Jonah’s punishment for and his miraculous deliverance from his sin to speak of His own victory over sin and death and the new life there is for us because of them. He will do the same with you in your own life, for He who triumphed over your sins and death by His own death and resurrection now fills you!

We live in such a sinful and broken world. So many say, as did the Corinthian people, “I have the right to do anything,” and so there is great sin and disobedience in our world:

Ø  Sexual promiscuity and its results: venereal disease; unplanned pregnancies and unwanted children; the legalized murder that is abortion; etc.

Because so many live by the code, “It’s nice to be nice to the nice,” little value is seen in those who are not nice, such as the physically and developmentally disabled, or the old and frail. They are a little more than a burden weighing us down! It’s no surprise that so many are oppressed by their sins and by the evils in this world and so are depressed and without hope.

But for us life is so different. Even in our struggles we have hope, great and eternal hope – and life – in Jesus! “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the dung heap.”

“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men!” Jesus cries. And so, we hold out hope and new life in Him. We extend it through the voice of organizations such as Lutherans For Life, and Birthright, our Mission of the Month for January. We give hope and physical help through organizations

Jesus gives them to us as a burden to carry, as He carried – and still carries – us.