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Sermon and Liturgy For The Third Sunday After Epiphany - Year B
Jonah 3:1-5, 3:10 - 4:1; Mark 1:14-20
"A Whale of A Tale"

READING:  Jonah 3:1-5, 3:10-4:1 and Mark 1:14-20
SERMON :  "A Whale of A Tale"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
b-or03se 540000

   The following is a more or less complete liturgy and sermon
   for the upcoming Sunday.  Hymn numbers, designated as VU are
   found in the United Church of Canada Hymnal "Voices United".
   SFPG is "Songs For A Gospel People", also available from the UCC.
   The Prayers of The People are adapted from "The Servant Prayer" by
   Patrick Kelly,, of Shepherd's Care Chapel, Tucson,
   AZ, 14 Jan 2000.  The Invocation and Offering prayers are adapted from
   materials of John Maynard,, "Prayers and Litanies
   for the Third Sunday After Epipany" as sent to the PRCL List Server
   on January 18 2000.  

GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                            (* = please stand)

L  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, 
   and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
P  And also with you.
L  To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
P  In you I trust, O my God. Do not let me be put to
   shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me. 
L  No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame,
   but they will be put to shame who are treacherous without excuse. 
P  Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths.

* INTROIT: "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee"                - VU 232 (verse 1)

Almighty God, You sent Your Son to proclaim Your kingdom and to teach with
authority.  Anoint us in this time of worship with the power of Your
Spirit, that we, too, may bring good news to the afflicted, bind up the
broken-hearted, and proclaim liberty to the captive.  Bless us with your
word, shine upon us with your wisdom, and bring us into deeper communion
with you and one another through Your Son, Jesus Christ.  We ask it in his
name.  Amen.


* HYMN:  "Holy Spirit, Hear Us"                                    - VU 377

CHILDREN'S TIME:  "God Calling"
Theme     How God Speaks To Us and Uses Us
Object    None
Source    Adapted extensively From "The Whole People of God - Theme
          Conversation" for January 23 1994

Do you ever use the telephone?  Who do you call?  Who calls you?  Why do we
need phones?

Do you ever get messages about what is going on or what is expected of you
that are given without the use of words?  For example - what is the message
when you see your father or mother do this (crook a beckoning finger)?  Or
when they (shake your head) or when they do this (one finger to lips and
nose) when you come into the room?

There are many messages that come to us in a great variety of ways.  When
we see buds on the trees and flowers poking out of the ground we know for
example the soon - winter will be here (grin).  Or when it is snowing out
we know that we should put on our swimming suits.... No?  Boots and coats? 
Right.  We know things, we figure out things, often without any words.

Today you will hear downstairs that God has messages for us.  That God
calls us - and tells us certain things - and asks us to do other things. 
But God's call is not always in words that we hear with our ears like we
hear our friends on the telephone.  They come in our heart.  Perhaps they
come because of the actions of others - or even because of their words.

God's calls us all to follow Jesus and to do the kind of things that Jesus
did.  When our mother tells us that it is time to go to church - that is a
call from God.  Jesus went to church every week.  When we see someone hurt
and we want to help them get better - that is a call of God.  Jesus prayed
for and healed people.  When we hear about a war and wish that their was
peace in the world - that is a call from God to pray and to do only those
things that are caring and truthful - just as Jesus did.  When we see
someone who is unhappy, that may be a call to give them a hug and let them
know that God loves them and that you love them too - just as Jesus did.

The main thing that God calls us to do is to follow Jesus - to learn from
him how to live - and then to live that way - and to show other people how
much God loves them.  That may come from the words of the bible, or from
things that you see and hear around you.  However it comes - it will leave
a feeling in your hearts that you need to turn to God in prayer and do what
it is he is asking.  From that point on it is up to you to pay attention
and do it.

   Let us Pray:   Loving God   help us to hear your message   and to do
   what you ask - help us to follow Jesus - and to show your love - to
   everyone we meet.   Amen

* HYMN:  "It Only Takes A Spark"                                   - VU 289

A READING FROM JONAH 3:1-5, 3:10 - 4:1
   (NIV) Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: {2} "Go
   to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give
   you." {3} Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now
   Nineveh was a very important city--a visit required three days. {4}
   On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: "Forty
   more days and Nineveh will be overturned." {5} The Ninevites
   believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the
   greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

   When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways,
   he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had
   threatened.  But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry.

L  This is the Word of The Lord.     
P  Thanks be to God.


RESPONSIVE READING: Psalm 62 (Voices United 779 and Sung Refrain)

   (NIV) After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee,
   proclaiming the good news of God. {15} "The time has come," he said.
   "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" {16}
   As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his
   brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.
   {17} "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of
   men." {18} At once they left their nets and followed him. {19} When
   he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his
   brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. {20} Without delay he
   called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the
   hired men and followed him.

L  This is the Gospel of our Risen Lord.
P  Praise be to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

* HYMN: "Jesus Calls Us"                                           - VU 562

   Bless thou, the words of my lips and the meditations of our hearts
   that they be of profit to us and acceptable to thee, oh our rock and
   our redeemer.  Amen

Today I want to tell you a whale of a tale,
   it is about the prophet Jonah,
       and perhaps it too is about us.

Jonah was a man of faith,
   a man who loved his God and his people,
       yet Jonah got himself into a mess of trouble.

It all began when the word of God came to Jonah in a dream.

In this dream God told Jonah to leave Israel 
   and to go to the great city of Ninevah 
       and to preach against it because of its great wickedness.

God's opinion of Ninevah did not come as a great surprise to Jonah,
   the evil of Ninevah was known throughout the world.
Ninevah was an ancient city, 
   built in the dim recesses of time by Nimrod, the mighty warrior,
       and the violence of Nimrod seemed to have been stamped upon
          his city - it was a den of iniquity 
              and the source of much suffering 
                 upon the face of the earth.

So Jonah was told by God to go and preach against the wickedness
   of Ninevah and to warn the people there that the city would be
       destroyed forty days after he arrived.

Jonah was a man who hated evil and so we might assume that he would be
willing to deliver this message of doom to the city of Ninevah.  Yet - as
the Book of Jonah tells us, Jonah wants nothing to do with delivering this
message of warning and judgement.

Instead of answering God's call to him to go to Ninevah, Jonah tries to
flee in the opposite direction.

The Bible says that Jonah ran away from God.

Instead of making the 500 mile trip eastward from Jerusalem Jonah boards a
merchant ship at the port of Joppa and heads towards Tarshish, a city some
2000 miles to the west.

Why did Jonah do this?
Why did he refuse to deliver God's message to Ninevah? 

Many of us I am sure are tempted to think it was because Jonah did not want
to see thousands of people die.  But this is not the case, as we shall see.

Our whale of a tale continues with Jonah at sea,
when the ship he is on is caught in a huge storm.

The storm is so bad that the ship begins to come apart at the seams.
The sailors are terrified.

Each man prays to his own god for salvation,
   and they run to and fro throwing the cargo into the sea, 
       hoping against hope to lighten and therefore save the ship, 
but to no avail.
Instead the storm gets worse and it seems that the ship is about to

Working on the theory that where the various gods of the crew have failed,
perhaps the god of his passenger might succeed, the Captain of the ship
goes below to ask Jonah to pray for the ship's salvation.

To the Captain's horror he finds Jonah fast asleep,
   the ship is in mortal peril,
       and yet Jonah snoozes; 
He does not seem to care.

Meanwhile the fear of the crew is increasing moment by moment,
   and being both desperate and a superstitious bunch
       they decide that someone on board must have made a god angry
and so they cast lots to determine what person is responsible for causing
the storm.

The lot fell to Jonah and honest man that he was,
he confessed to the crew that he was running away from the Lord,
the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.

This confession frightens the crew even more and they ask him: "WHAT HAVE
YOU DONE!", and as they ask, the storm gets even worse, the seas become
rougher and rougher, and so finally, in desperation, they ask Jonah:

   "What shall we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?"

Jonah was a man of faith, a man who loved his God and his people.
He was also a man of conscience, and to his credit he tells the crew,

   "Pick me up and throw me into the sea and it will become calm.  I
   know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you."

The crew refuses to do what Jonah suggested to them.  
Instead they break out the oars and attempt to row the ship back to land.  

But they are not successful. 
   The seas became even wilder, the waves became even higher,
and finally they have to give up,  
and they cry out to the God of Jonah, they cry out to our God,
   they ask forgiveness for what they are about to do,
       they ask forgiveness for taking the life of an innocent man,
and they take Jonah -  and they toss him overboard.

Almost immediately the storm abates and the crew is once again afraid,
afraid because they realize that they have encountered a truly powerful
God, and they offer a sacrifice to the Lord and make vows to him.

As for Jonah, well he was swallowed by a great fish,
   some say it was a whale,
and for three days and three nights he was in the belly of that whale,
   where, as you can well imagine, he prayed to God.

In his prayers Jonah thanks God for saving him from drowning,
and he promise God that he will once again seek to do his will,
that he will make sacrifice at the temple to him,
and do for God all that he has vowed to do.

God hears the plea of Jonah,
   and as the ancient ones tell the story,
       the Lord commands the fish, 
          and it vomits Jonah onto the dry land.

Gives you kind of a vivid picture doesn't it?

I think the story is told this way for a purpose.
I think that we are meant to understand that for all Jonah's good points,
the whale couldn't stomach Jonah for very long.

I say this because of what happens next in this whale of a tale.

God once again commands Jonah to go to Ninevah and proclaim to it the
message that He had given him.

Jonah has learnt his lesson,
he keeps his vows and he obeys - he goes to Ninevah, 
   to that great and wicked city,
       a city so big that it requires three days to see it,
and he proclaims the message of God, 
saying: "Forty more days and Ninevah will be overturned".

The rest of the story you know.
The people of Ninevah, 
   from the least who lived in slums and stole for a living,
       to the greatest who lived in luxury & grew fat on injustice,
          every single one of the Ninevites repented,
they gave up their evil ways 
and they put on sackcloth and ashes and fasted and prayed to God for mercy.

The people were so desperate that they even dressed their animals in
sackcloth and caused them to observe the citywide fast.

And God saw the repentance of Ninevah 
   and he had compassion,
   and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.

Imagine it if you can.

Imagine if every terrorist today who preaches hate and murder were
   to suddenly change their minds and lay down their weapons 
       and to pray to Allah, to pray to God, 
          for deliverance from the destruction coming upon them.

Imagine if all the pornographers and thieves and environmentally brutal
corporations were to change their minds about how they lived and worked.

What a cause for celebration it would be!
   All of us here, 
   all of those in Ottawa and Washington and capitals around the world
would sing and dance for joy...
It would be so tremendous - so exciting.

But my friends, this is not how Jonah felt.

Even though the miracle that happened in Ninevah was greater than we can imagine, 
      even though it was better than what we could possibly pray for,
Jonah was greatly displeased, and he became angry.

He became angry and he prayed to God saying:

   "O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home?  That is
   why I fled to Tarshish.  I knew that you are a gracious and
   compassionate God,  slow to anger and abounding in love; a God who
   relents from sending calamity.  Now, O Lord, take away my life, for
   it is better for me to die than to live."

My friends, how should we understand Jonah?
Why is this incredible story, this just so story, told to us?
Why is it in the Bible?
The answer is in Jonah's anger,
and in the prayer he makes in his anger.

Jonah, as I have said, was a man of faith, a man who deeply loved his God
and his people.  He had integrity, he hated what was evil.

Certainly, as his story shows, Jonah was not a man who would do evil
himself, that is why he confessed to the crew of the ship that he was
running from God and suggested they toss him into the sea.

He was not a man who would bring suffering upon the innocent.

But when all this is said,
THE FACT REMAINS THAT JONAH hated evil more than he loved good,
and this my friends, is the root of his problem.
In this whale of a tale we are told that the reason Jonah fled from God, 
the reason that Jonah did not want to go to Ninevah with God's warning,
and the reason he got so angry at God later on,
   is because he was afraid that Ninevah would repent 
   and that God would save the city.

Does this seem incredible?

Well, it is.  Yet some people I know are unhappy about those among us who
repent of their evil later in life.

They cry out "why should they have all their fun" and then get off the hook
at the last moment?

Others I know pray for the destruction of their enemies,
   they long for the grasping rich to loose their wealth,
       the selfishly beautiful to loose their looks,
          and the brutal bullies of live to be imprisoned.

Jonah was not unlike many of us.

He hoped that God would punish evil, that he would utterly destroy Ninevah,
- in much the same way some of us hope that God will get our enemies,
- in much the same way we hope some bad thing will fall upon those who
afflict us or our families and our friends
- in much the same way that we hope with regard to others - that what goes
around will come around - and come around quickly.

Where Jonah differs from some of us is that he knew God does not seek to
punish evil for the sake of retribution,
      he knew that God punishes only so that those who do evil may learn to
   repent and to walk in a new way.

However, while Jonah knew the purpose of God's judgements, 
Jonah didn't like that purpose - he hated more than he loved.
   he desired that the doers of evil die,
       instead of longing for their salvation, 
          for their change, their conversion to righteousness.

The Book of Jonah is a fantastic story,
it is like a just so story, it is a whale of a tale,
and it is like that so that it will grab our attention.

We are meant to look at Jonah and his attitude 
and then consider our own.
Jonah is a model for us of the wrong kind of faith,
   a model of those who forget the lesson of their own salvation,
       a model of those who forget that we too deserve to perish,
          for we too, like Jonah, often flee from God and do not do the
things he asks of us.

Are we like Jonah?  Do we want to see our enemies destroyed?
Or do we want to warn them of their peril,
and sincerely hope that they will respond
and repent and turn from their evil ways?

The gospel lesson this morning referred to the call issued by Jesus to
Simon and Andrew, a call that is issued to us all by our Lord.

Jesus asks us to follow him,
and to become "fishers of men"
much as he asked Jonah to go and fish for men in Ninevah.

We cannot catch anyone, we cannot bring a good harvest to God,
if we desire that all evil people be punished,
all that we can do if we desire this is condemn ourselves.

We can only bring a rich catch to God
if we speak God's word to others,
the word he has commanded us to speak through Jesus Christ.

We can only fill the nets for God,
   if we do what God asks of us,
       and love our enemies,
          and do good to those who would hurt us.

God will take of judgement in his own time and way,
   we are called, like Jonah, to be but his messengers,
       his followers,
          the people who call upon others to repent as we repent,
              the people who call upon others to love as we love.
Praise God for his judgement and his mercy upon us and all people who turn
to Him in faith and trust.  AMEN

Precious Lord Jesus, Wonderful Holy Spirit, Loving Father, we are grateful
you have touched us and called us to be your servants.  Our hearts know you
are within us, above us, and all around us.  We thank you for the call you
have put on our hearts and lives....  Lord, hear our prayer....

Lord you call us to follow you - to be your disciples - and you call us to
make disciples of others - to be ambassadors of Christ - to share your
reconciling love with our neighbours - to be instruments of your
righteousness.  For this we bless your most holy name....  Lord hear our

Lord, you call us to follow you - to be your disciples, your students -
your friends.  Strengthen us in our calling.  Help us to be disciplined in
our daily practice of devotion, prayer, and meditation.  Help us to avail
ourselves of the nourishment you provide us day by day that we may be the
new creation that you seek to make us be.  Draw us closer to you and to our
brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus that we may better know your will and
experience the fullness of your grace.  Lord, hear our prayer...

Lord, you call us to be fishers of men - to be your ambassadors, your
ministers of reconciliation, your righteousness in the world.  Strengthen
us in our calling.  Lord, help us now when we see the world in its
Help us to know what to do, what to say, and how to say it.
When we see sickness, help us heal.
When we see poverty, help us enrich.
When we see grief, help us give comfort.
When we see power and wealth, help us reflect the blessedness of humility.
When we see a need, help us to stoop down and reach out.
When we need to make decisions, remind us that actions truly done In Your
Name and done with humility always bring love.
Help us to see for you, speak for you, and act for you .
Lord, hear our prayer...

Lord, hear our prayers for those upon our hearts today.  For those in need
of faith and those in need of food.  For those in need of healing and those
who need wholeness in their relationships.  Lord, hear our prayer....

We pray O God for: (intercessions as shared)

Lord, we love you.  It is just that we are so often caught up in all the
work we try to do we forget what we are supposed to be about.  Please
forgive our humanness.  And when you can, make us laugh at ourselves.  We
ask it in the name of Jesus, he who taught us to pray to you as one family
saying, Our Father...


* SHARING GOD'S BLESSINGS: As the Offering is presented all stand for the
Doxology (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow - VU 541) and Prayer of

   We offer these gifts, O God, as a sign of our pledge, to serve you,
   not only in this place, but in all places.  Accept and use them, and
   use us, as instruments of your peace; through Christ our Lord. 

* HYMN:  "Take My Life And Let It Be"                              - VU 506

* COMMISSIONING (Unison): In the power of the Holy Spirit we now go forth
   into the world, to fulfil our calling as the people of God, the body of

Go in peace; love and care for one another in the name of Christ;
- and may the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy
Spirit go with you and radiate forth from you to the glory of His name, 
both now and forevermore.  Amen

* THREE FOLD AMEN & CHORAL BLESSING:  "Go Now In Peace"            - VU 964

copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2000 - 2006
             please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.

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