category: Musings, Sermon Starter

Call Me Jonah

By Rachael Keefe

God has a way of getting what God wants. Ask Moses. Better yet, ask Jonah. Jonah did everything he could think of to avoid doing as God asked him to do. What did he get for his efforts? He became whale puke. He then had to go and do what …

Call Me Jonah


God has a way of getting what God wants. Ask Moses. Better yet, ask Jonah. Jonah did everything he could think of to avoid doing as God asked him to do. What did he get for his efforts? He became whale puke. He then had to go and do what God asked him to do anyway, whale slime and all. I have a lot of affinity for both Moses and Jonah. For Moses because he argued with God, saying “no” five times before becoming the reluctant leader of God’s people. For Jonah because he just didn’t want to do what God was asking of him and went through all kinds of stuff before doing exactly what God asked of him to begin with. I have a tendency to respond to God in this fashion.

If I’m honest, I first felt called to ministry at age 10. I felt it again at 14, and again 19, and accepted it at 24. That call has been challenged many times in the intervening decades. I’ve argued with God. I’ve said “no” to God. Others have denied my ability to be in ministry for a variety of reasons. Yet, God always finds a way to make it happen. God’s ways are often surprising and unexpected. We also have a remarkable way of disrupting God’s plans, thinking ours are better. None of these things place us outside of God’s reach. Just ask Jonah. In the depths of the sea, in the belly of a whale, God still called Jonah. There is nowhere so deep, so filled with denial, that God cannot reach in and pull us out again. I suspect God would rather not have to work so hard. There are easier ways to serve God than becoming whale puke in the process.

Peter, James, and John were smart. They followed Jesus pretty quickly. Maybe they thought becoming Jesus’ disciples would be easier than working Zebedee’s fishing nets. They would smell better for sure. I like to think that they were young and impulsive and had no idea the enormity of what they were agreeing to when they left their nets that day. They went along, though. And they got really good at being disciples. We know they gained skills and insight because we’re here now. We also know that they weren’t perfect human beings; they were ordinary people like you and me. God saw potential in them and called them to a life that would use their gifts, gifts none of them knew they had when Jesus first walked into their lives.

We are all filled with potential. I was lucky in that teachers and professors saw all kinds of potential in me. I was luckier still that God called me and I heard it, however reluctantly. We all have gifts that we are called to use. It’s just a question of how graciously we will follow. You already know that I tend to fall into the school of Moses and Jonah – the reluctant disciple/prophet types. I’ve always wanted to be more like Peter, James, and John and drop everything to go where Jesus calls. It’s just not in my nature. I’ve never been very impulsive or trusting that what I hear God calling me to really is what God is calling me to. I’ve trudged through the wilderness and I’ve seen the inside of some whales. I’ve responded to God’s call and sometimes made a mess. I’ve run from God’s call and tried to hide. But God always has a way of getting what God wants, leading us to where God would like us to be, awakening the gifts dormant inside of us.

There’s nothing to be afraid of when it comes right down to it. God wants a future filled with hope and good things for all of us. Yes, it’s not always easy getting there. Sometimes our efforts to use our gifts leave us wandering in the wilderness for a long while or huddling in the belly of a whale wondering what could possibly come next. On the other hand, God calls us each by name and invites us to follow. No matter what happens after that, God does not leave us alone. Whether we are like Moses and Jonah or Peter, James, and John, God is delighted when we claim the gifts that we’ve been given and use them to bring a bit more hope, love, and healing, into the world. If you are a skeptical, reluctant disciple or an impulsive, enthusiastic one, it’s time to get moving. Turn on your GPS if you’re wandering in the wilderness. Take a shower if you’re covered in whale puke. God needs all of us to get busy because the realm of God is at hand. If you and I don’t share this good news with all that we say and do, then who will?

RCL – Year B – Third Sunday after Epiphany – January 21, 2018
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Psalm 62:5-12
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Mark 1:14-20

Photo: CC0 image by Dimitris Vetsikas

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About Rachael Keefe

Rachael is an author, a pastor, a teacher, and a poet. Her latest book (The Lifesaving Church - Chalice Press) is on faith and suicide prevention. She is currently the pastor of Living Table UCC in Minneapolis, and has launched a spiritual direction practice.