The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Jonah 3:1 “Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2 ‘Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.’” (NASB)
1 Corinthians 7:35 “This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.”
Mark 1:16 “And as He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’ 18 And they immediately left the nets and followed Him. 19 And going on a little farther, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets. 20 And immediately He called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went away to follow Him.” (NASB)
You may know, I love good movies. I especially love war movies, especially war movies that are based on true events. The more faithful they are to the real story, the better I like them.
There is a clarity in such stories. That clarity is the result of clearly defined a mission.
In every war there are battles and those battles are fought with a mission or missions in mind. However, there are two complicating factors. The first challenge is the is the obvious one. The objective must be captured, rescued, taken, destroyed, killed, or defended. The second conflict centers on the human condition, the conflict between the sense of duty to the mission and the personal interests or other factors that place one’s commitment to the mission and the mission itself in danger. Thus the mantra , the mission first, the mission last, and the mission above all else.
That is the underlying theme of all three assigned readings for this third Sunday in the Epiphany Season. The Old Testament lesson tells us about the second time the word of the Lord God came to Jonah and called him to preach the Law and Gospel to the people of Nineveh. You know the story. The first call came and Jonah didn’t accept it. He ran away. He ended up in the belly of whale which three days later deposited him on a shore near Nineveh. When the second call came, Jonah wasn’t any happier about it, but he had learned his lesson. Mission first, mission last, mission above personal feelings.
The Epistle lesson 1 Corinthians 7:29-35 strikes the modern ear harshly. 29 “The time has been shortened, so that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none.”
People who have spouses ought to think and act in regard to the mission as if they do not have a spouse for the one who is free from a spouse is free from that concern. Such a person doesn’t have divided loyalties. So it is in regard to all matters. St. Paul and the Word of God are setting forth a principle here. That principle is stated in verse 35, “This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.”
The Gospel, your salvation, and the mission of the church stand even above loyalty to your family. That’s the point. Mission first, mission last, mission of above all else.
The Gospel lesson consists of the calling of Simon (you know him better as Peter), his brother Andrew, James, and his brother John to take their place in the fulfillment of the mission. “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”
Let’s start with Jonah. If all you knew of Jonah was what was contained in the assigned readying for this morning, the beginning of chapter three, you might be led to think, that Jonah was a dutiful prophet sent by God to happily call the people of Nineveh to repentance and faith. That is not what Jonah was.
Jonah hated them. They were a pagan and immoral lot whose immorality exceeded all others at the time and that is saying a lot. Jonah had no intention of spending one moment in heaven with any repentant Ninevite.
From the earliest days of the recorded record, the devil made war against God and came to stand as humanity’s accuser. In Luke 10:18 Jesus told 70 of his disciples that He “watched Satan fall from heaven like lightning.”
From the moment Adam and Eve fell into sin, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit entered into a spiritual and cosmic war. His war was to save sinners from sin, death, and the devil. His mission was clear. He would redeem the whole of His creation. From the moment of the fall, it is always “Mission first; Mission last; Mission above all else.”
His weapons, His powerful, living, and active word and the sacraments of His holy house. Be they the Old Testament sacraments or the New Testament sacraments. To this end He established the offices prophets, priests, and kings and enlisted, even conscripted in Jonah and St. Paul’s cases, men. He created His heavenly family, the Israelites of the Old Testament and the church of the New Testament.
Jonah spent three days in the belly of the whale and he spent three days walking through the city of Nineveh preaching the Gospel. The Lord God opened their ears and hearts and the people who Jonah so hated did the thing that Jonah didn’t want them to do. They repented Listen to how Jonah responded.
Jonah 4:1 “It greatly displeased Jonah, and he became angry. 2 And he prayed to the LORD and said, ‘Please LORD, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore, in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that Thou art a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity. 3 Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life.’”
Jonah’s disposition toward the Ninevites did not deter God in the least. Mission first. Mission last. Mission above all else was to save a people from their sin.
Enter St. Paul and the Epistle lesson, that hard and uncomfortable chapter 7. St. Paul who was not married wrote of his status as single in 1 Corinthians 7:7; “I wish that all men were even as I myself am,” namely single. Yet, the institution of marriage is held in high regard in the Bible. Even by Paul himself. He likened the institution of marriage to the relationship between Jesus Christ the Bridegroom and the Church His Bride. Jesus Himself used the institution of marriage and wedding ceremonies to teach us about His rule and our place the kingdom of heaven.
As St. Paul and the Bible work their way through the topics of marriage, divorce, being single, widowed, or married to a spouse who is an unbeliever, the primary concern is the mission of the Gospel. The mission of personal salvation and the mission of the Church, which is personal salvation.
Just as a soldier’s mission can be undermined by concerns over his own life and his family’s happiness, so also the Word of God is teaching us that the Christian’s and the Church’s mission of salvation can also be undermined in the same kind of way.
In 1 Corinthians chapter 7 Paul applies the principle to everyone, to every Christian. All Christians are torn between the duties and hardships of marriage and family life and being faithful servants of Jesus Christ as members of His Church. It simply happens. It happens when people of the same household hold significant religious views, different doctrines, even different philosophies concerning one’s duties to the Word of God, the Church, the family, and other vocations in life.
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” Divided loyalty: that’s the problem. Jesus points to loyalty divided between God and money. 1 Corinthians 7 is about divided loyalty between devotion to God and service in the church and our spouses and families. Mission first. Mission last. Mission above all else.
Finally we have before us this morning the Gospel lesson. “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men,” Jesus said. 18 “And they (Simon, Andrew, James, and John) immediately left the nets and followed Him.”
Without getting too much into the woods, all four of these men had heard and seen Jesus before. This was not some kind of “Kierkegaardian” blind leap of faith. James and John were students of John the Baptist and he told them to go learn from Jesus and John the Baptist was now in jail.
Jesus had been in the area preaching and teaching and healing people through miracles. Jesus was the talk of the territory and Simon and Andrew were among the people who had come to see and hear him. They were part time students. They came and went as they could. In other words, they had divided loyalties. The mission wasn’t first. It wasn’t last. It wasn’t above all else. It was along the side of other concerns.
Matthew 10:37 Jesus said, “The one who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and the one who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.”
Jesus was calling them to set aside the everyday worries of the family fishing business, as well as their families, and be fully devoted to the mission; to learn what they needed to learn so that they would one day be the prophets, priests, and kings of the Apostolic Church.
We are beginning to populate the Lutheran congregations in America with part-time pastors, who out of necessary have competing demands on their time, family, gainful employment, and congregations. The irony of the situation is that we have multiplied the problem and temptations because our families, local congregations, and church bodies have not placed the mission of salvation first, last, and above all else.
This is what stands behind what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:14, “So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.” a couple of verses later he wrote, “ I am under compulsion; for woe to me if I do not preach the gospel.” But even if a pastor has to earn a living or subsidize his wages doing something else, he is still obligated to preach the Gospel without divided loyalty.
It is a good thing Christ Jesus didn’t suffer from divided loyalties isn’t it? Luke 18:29 “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life. 31 Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished. 32 For He will be handed over to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and mistreated and spit upon, 33 and after they have scourged Him, they will kill Him; and the third day He will rise again.”
Did you hear what Jesus just did in that little speech to His full-time disciples? He and they had two paths before them. He was teaching them that in time they all would have to pick one. Family or the mission. As for Christ Himself, He tells them what choice He is making. It’s the mission to die as the Lamb of God, the blood sacrifice for the sins of the world. He chose the mission. It was first. It was last. It was above all else.
That mission was to save you, to rescue you from sin, your sin, death, spiritual and physical, and the power of the devil. The mission was to create a new wife the Church for the Bridegroom the Christ. He gave His bride a mission, to make children of God through the water and the Word; the Word and sacrament ministry.
He along was able to keep and complete the mission without confusion, without wavering, without divided loyalty (Not My will but Thy will be done). Why? Because you are His mission, first, last, and above all else. With Christ there is no distraction. No wavering. In the moment of your physical death, His mission and yours will be accomplished.
May the peace that surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.