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And Immediately, God’s Mind Is Finally Changed

Children's sermon
For January 24, 2021:Note: This installment is still being edited and assembled. For purposes of immediacy we are posting this for your use now with the understanding that any errors or omissions will be corrected between now and Tuesday afternoon.

Katy StentaAnd Immediately, God’s Mind Is Finally Changed
by Katy Stenta
Jonah 3:1-5, 10

In the News
We in the United States of America live in a culture of immediacy. We want all things immediately, and on the whole do not want to look into the past that is involved. When it comes to the insurrection, for many white folks it looked to be something that happened “suddenly,” but the reality is the violent ideology and call to arms has been building for a while. Racism and antisemitism are way more visible and permissible in this day and age, as explained by Taylor Allen of WHYY, “And if you look at the truth of the Black Lives Matter marches, these are problems that have been going on all along, and have just recently been uncovered.”

The vaccine is a similar problem. Never has a vaccine been so quickly developed and produced in the United States. However, not everyone is getting the vaccine. We want it immediately, and distribution could probably be more efficient and effective. It’s a weird incongruence between faster than ever before and not as fast as possible. The reality is the reason the vaccine research was completed so quickly was because of the previous work that had gone into it.

We are continuing our demand for immediacy, as we look forward to the new administration’s work, and can list offhand the many crises that will need addressing.

Then the question is raised of how immediate should grace be administered? Can forgiveness be given immediately? A quick google search proves that no one agrees how many steps there are to forgiveness but that all of them agree that it comes in thoughtful stages, not immediacy — only God can immediately forgive. It is interesting, therefore, to consider when Biden should try to start to extend grace. What anger do we have when those who called the pandemic a hoax, and scoffed at the need for the vaccine and then had immediate access to it? How do we handle that immediacy?

In the Scriptures
It is remarkable that there are times in the Bible when God changes the plans for the people. Is God convinced? Is it a part of what God planned all along? What changes God’s mind? Exodus 32:14 is a notable time, where Moses argues with God after idolatry occurs. He reminds God of his promises: to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. Moses also asks God why he brought the Hebrew people out of Egypt only to punish them now? God וַיִּנָּ֖חֶם , which means relents or repents or changes the harm he would do for the people. Here God’s grace and forgiveness is immediate.

This word is also used for 1 Samuel 15:11 where God regrets making Saul king. Though God had warned the Hebrew people that kings were not a good idea — Saul was anointed by God to be king, and then God relents, repents, and changes direction. Saul is not a gracious king to God’s people, so God makes a correction.

One who has a good understanding of how God might change God’s mind is David. When Uriah is struck ill due to David’s sins, David prays and fasts to try to change God’s mind. When the child dies, David is asked why he even tried to pray, when God already decreed his child would die? David says, “Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me, and the child may live.” (2 Samuel 12:22) The possibility to convince God to be gracious is always present.

So too, in the New Testament, in Mark 4 when Jesus is busy and in the midst of ministry and the Syrophoenician woman begs him to cast out her daughter’s demon. Jesus says that he must first feed the children, and they are but dogs. Jin Young Choi argues in her dissertation “Understanding as embodiment of mystery: Approaching discipleship in Mark on a postcolonial feminist key” (p.189) that the woman uses her otherness, as a Gentile Christian, to convince Jesus to expand his ministry across the genteel border (p. 208). This means that God’s grace has been expanded through the changing of Jesus’ mind in Mark 4.

Finally, Psalm 106:45 sums up God’s changing as God’s expanding of, or cramming of more grace into a situation. God remembers God’s covenant “and relented according to the greatness of His lovingkindness.”

In the Sermon
How long does it take for God to change God’s mind?

It is hard to pull apart just one verse of Jonah without telling the entire story.

So the short version:

Jonah is a grumpy guy. He doesn’t want to do anything that God is asking him to do. He is from the small town of Gath-hepher, in what becomes Galilee, and is called to “go at once” to the big city of Ninevah. Jonah tries to run away from God’s call, and ends up on a ship. A huge storm comes and the lots fall pointing to Jonah as the cause. Jonah suggests to be thrown in the sea. Eventually they do, at which point the storm stops and the crew then become God-fearers. A big fish swallows Jonah for three days and three nights. Then (perhaps after the third day?) Jonah prays, and God speaks to the fish who spews/throws up Jonah. God renews the call to go to Ninevah. Jonah walks three days, and then goes out proclaiming repentance in Jonah 3:1-5. The king of Ninevah responds and commands wholesale repentance saying “who knows? God may relent and change God’s mind. God may turn from God’s fierce anger.” (Jonah 3) Then in 3:10, God immediately changes God’s mind. Jonah continues his grumpiness, and proclaims he knew God was “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and ready to relent” in Jonah 4:2.

Then God gives Jonah the comfort of a bush and rest, and then kills the bush. God reminds Jonah that God’s love for God’s people is more than Jonah’s love for a bush. Leaving Jonah to contemplate “should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also have many animals?” (v. 4:11)

Jonah sees and feels how fast God relents. It is almost as if Jonah is testing God’s mercy. Running away, and then seeing how fast God saves not just the ship but also him. Jonah is in the fish for three days and it is unclear as to whether he prays right away, or not until the third day. Knowing Jonah’s grumpiness, and human nature, it would not be surprising if he waited three days, and the moment he ends his prayer God relents. God immediately gives grace.

What are Jonah’s experiences that he runs away from God? Has he seen God’s grace before? Is he the older son in a prodigal situation? Did he see forgiveness given on the deathbed of one who otherwise was not acting in according to God? What is Jonah’s background with God?

God’s call to Jonah is immediate — go at once. What seeds has God sown in Ninevah? How is God already softening the king’s heart? How is God already at work for the grace of Ninevah? The fish is just one manifestation of God’s grace: the ship, the storm, the spitting up on the beach are others. God is spreading grace immediately to those who ask for it. (What grace might have been giving to the God-fearers on the boat?)

God’s grace is immediate, but after a lot of background work has gone into it. There is no cure without remorse and change. In order to be able to reconcile, truth must be told. Truth first, then reconciliation.

It is a reminder that the human perspective is narrow. Immediate often means out of our scope. It means we haven’t seen or perceived the groundwork that has been done. The timing has to be just right. The pieces have to be all in place. Pretty much every historical event happens this way. Humans turn the story into a single narrative — but it is always more complicated than what can be put into one page.

When we argue with God for grace — we almost always “win.” Biblically God shows that there are more corners to cram God’s grace into than are apparent to the human eye. God can fill every crevice with grace — and can do it immediately. Over and over again, the Bible encourages us to expand God’s grace. Where is there room for God’s grace that we have not seen yet? Can we remind ourselves that God is at work already: at faraway Ninevah, the foreign boat, the ferocious fish, the growing bush, and the grumpy prophet himself.

What is God making immediate at this moment? Where are the moments of amazing grace? What are humans making immediate? What are we revealing about what and who we value by our decisions for quick laws, appointments, monetary decisions and even, and especially, how we ourselves are gracious or forgiving? What is human grace? Can we make it more immediate? When are we more grumpy and reluctant like Jonah? Are we able to repent quickly, what makes that possible?

Repentance is a process, how meaningful that makes immediate grace.

Fishing for Hope
by Mary Austin
Mark 1:14-20

The lectionary’s year-long tour through Mark’s gospel treats us to repeated assertions that, in the vicinity of Jesus, things happen immediately! Simon, Andrew, James and John all immediately leave their work, and follow Jesus. In the presence of Jesus, things happen on a different schedule. Jesus’ recruiting work happens much more quickly than the political appointments for incoming President Biden. His political appointees, many of whom need to be confirmed by the Senate, are awaiting hearings. His first cabinet selections come before the Senate the day before the Inauguration. Nothing in Washington, DC happens with speed, and this is an unusually slow pace. “The Biden transition has been delayed by a confluence of events. For nearly two months, President Donald Trump held up the process by refusing to concede to Biden. Control of the Senate was up in the air until January 5, when victories in the Georgia runoffs by Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff gave Democrats 50 seats in the upper chamber, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaking vote. Covid-19 restrictions on in-person hearings and the impeachment of Trump have also thrown a wrench in the confirmation process.” Biden’s choice for Director of National Intelligence got a slightly earlier hearing, as the government was rocked by the realization of intelligence failures before the overrun of the Capitol on January 6.

Whenever they’re confirmed, Biden’s team will face multiple crises as they begin work. Like the people who choose to follow Jesus, they will need to get started immediately. The economy, ravaged by Covid, demands attention. “The stimulus package that Mr. Biden proposed on Thursday is significantly larger and more targeted toward the economy’s biggest problems than the stimulus he and President Barack Obama pushed through in 2009. It is not intended to generate enough consumer spending to jolt the nation into a rapid recovery, like a traditional stimulus would in a more normal recession. It is meant instead to resuscitate economic activity by more aggressively attacking the Covid-19 pandemic through vaccines and testing, and to sustain hard-hit people and businesses until that job is done.”

Until schools open, parents cannot return to work. Until there’s widespread, rapid testing, no one can safely go to school, or to work in an office. “Mr. Biden’s aides say they proposed a package intended to meet the needs of this crisis, having learned from the struggles of the early vaccine rollout and the failure of policymakers to fully bridge people and businesses through months of dampened economic activity as the pandemic raged. They were encouraged to spend as much as they proposed, in part, by the low interest rates and historically anemic inflation that have persisted for more than a decade, which have brought about a change in many economists’ thinking about the advisability of big deficits. The proposal earned praise on Friday from a Federal Reserve official who has urged lawmakers to spend more to help the economy escape the crisis.”

The Covid crisis also requires attention. On Inauguration Day, 24 million Americans are suffering from Covid. In California alone, three million people have Covid. We are coming close to a milestone that once seemed far-fetched — 400,000 deaths. Biden has said he will “reassert a federal strategy to bring the virus under control,” including a call for everyone to wear masks over the next 100 days and a coordinated plan to widen the delivery of vaccines. “We will manage the hell out of this operation,” Mr. Biden said on Friday. “Our administration will lead with science and scientists.” The strategy signals a shift from the past year, during which the Trump administration largely delegated responsibility for controlling the virus and reopening the economy to 50 governors, fracturing the nation’s response.

Jesus draws on his connection with God to give structure to his work in the world, and the nation’s new President follows in his footsteps, drawing on his lifelong Catholic faith. The work that he will begin immediately after the Inauguration isn’t immediate at all — it draws on his previous government work, his years of faith, and the bitter lessons of heartbreak. He offers a different version of faith than the one we usually see in the media. “The question is how the country will adjust to a man whose faith doesn’t feature literal Bible-waving promises to “save Christianity” or threats…Biden presents a less common image: a devout, churchgoing liberal. The country will soon observe for the first time a president who goes to Mass every Sunday, plus on Catholic feast days, and sprinkles conversation casually with scripture, religious hymns and references to religious history but describes faith’s purpose in general, inclusive terms — as sustenance for the weary, encouragement for the suffering and an obligation to welcome and care for one another.”

Biden’s faith has influenced his life for decades. “Rabbi Michael Beals, a Delaware cleric whom Biden calls “my rabbi,” met Biden 14 years ago when the then-senator came without fanfare to sit shiva — a visit to relatives of the dead during the week-long period of Jewish mourning — for a longtime, small-amount donor. Then, six years ago, at a party at the vice-presidential mansion for the Jewish High Holidays, Beals offered to bless Biden. “He bowed his head the way a Jew never would. I put my palms on his forehead, like I would for my children, and it was such a moment. He really has a sense for respect for religion, religious leaders, deep faith. And his faith isn’t a designer label. He is a Catholic but he treated me no differently than he would have a priest,” Beals said, noting that Biden has his own black yarmulke.” The challenges that the new President will need to address right away will be fed by a depth of faith that has been accumulating for years.  

Jesus and his friends begin their shared ministry immediately, and we long for the same kind of quick change in our world. And yet, our crises have been building for almost a year, and there’s no immediate fix. Still, there is our hope in the Jesus who makes things happen for people, and makes them happen on the divine schedule, instead of a human schedule. On that schedule, more happens than simply changes in policies or even leaders. On that schedule, healing of the heart and spirit can happen.


Dean FeldmeyerFrom team member Dean Feldmeyer:

Jonah 3:1-5, 10
One In, One Out (Making Room)
When Jean and I retired, we moved from a four-bedroom, 2,800 sq. ft. house to a 3-bedroom 1500 sq. ft. house. It became clear as we prepared for the move, that we were not going to be able to fit all our stuff into the new place. So, we got rid of about 2/3 of everything we owned. What didn’t sell at the yard sale went to Goodwill and St. Vincent DePaul.

Even then, after we made the move, we could hardly get all our stuff into the new house. Stuff was crammed everywhere. The closets were nearly bursting. There was no room in the 2-car garage for even one car.

And heaven forbid we should buy something new, some item of clothing or a new small appliance for the kitchen. There just wasn’t room for anything else. So, we instituted the one-in-one-out rule. If you bought a new blouse you had to get rid of an old one. If you bought a new tie you had to give away an old one. Same with kitchen things, tools for the garden, sports equipment, nothing was exempt.

Eventually, the one-in-one-out rule became the one-in-two-out rule as we decided that less stuff and more room would be a good rule to live by.

Fortunately, God’s grace is not subject to the one-in-one-out rule, as Jonah learned at Nineveh. God always has enough grace to go around, no matter how much is needed.

* * *

1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Detached From Things (Detachment)
In this Epistle text, Paul admonishes the Christians at Corinth to adopt a detached posture toward the things of this world because it is passing away. We have come to accept that even though Paul’s timeline was a little off, his moral purpose was right on target.

We can be attached to the Kingdom of God only to the degree that we are detached from this world and the things that are of it.

In his memoir, A Severe Mercy, Sheldon Vanauken relates the story of how he and his wife purchased a new car and then realized that they were becoming its slaves — constantly worrying about it, examining it for scratches or bumps or dings. The young couple believed that they could be faithful Christians only so long as they were detached from the things they owned. So, one day, they took a hammer and, very ceremoniously, wacked the car and put a very visible dent in it. Now they no longer had to worry about it. Now it was no longer the new car, but only the car.

* * *

1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Detached From Anxiety (Detachment)
In his book, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, Rabbi and psychologist, Edwin Friedman, offers a definition of a leader as the non-anxious person in an anxious system. He then adds that all systems — churches, schools, businesses, baseball teams, families — are, inherently, anxious.

Friedman warns, however, that this sense of detachment, being non-anxious in the midst of the rampant anxiety of others, can make the leader the target of criticism. People tend to believe that, unless we are as anxious, unhappy, and miserable as they are, we don’t care.

In fact, he says, detachment in a leader will inevitably trigger sabotage from the least detached and more emotionally over-invested others in the system.

* * *

1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Detached From Worry (Detachment)
In the 2005 movie, “Fever Pitch,” Jimmy Fallon plays Ben Wrightman, who may be the biggest Boston Red Sox fan who ever lived. He has inherited season tickets from his uncle and everything he owns is emblazoned with the Red Sox logo.

The movie takes place during the 2004 major league baseball season when Boston overcame seemingly insurmountable odds and obstacles to win the World Series, but everything along the way was not smooth sailing.

After one particularly difficult loss by the Sox, Ben is sorely disappointed and depressed and even wonders if, perhaps, the loss was due, at least in part, to lack of faithful enthusiasm from the fans. Trying to cheer him up, his new girlfriend, Lindsey Meeks (Drew Barrymore) suggests that they go to a restaurant they’ve been wanting to try.

When they get to the restaurant, they take their seats only to see several of the Red Sox with their families, eating and enjoying themselves, laughing and having a good time. Ben is incensed. How can they enjoy themselves after such a disappointing, humiliating loss?

Lindsey explains to him that the players have another game tomorrow. They cannot become so involved with this one loss that it colors how they play the next time they take the field. The season is 162 games long and the players know they’re going to lose a certain number of those games. It is only through their ability to adopt a certain detachment, even from their losses, that they can successfully play each of the 162 games in the season.

* * *

Mark 1:14-20
Four Myths About Being Called (Calling)
Some people go their whole lives waiting for God to call them to some particular ministry or mission or vocation and never receive that call they so long to hear. Perhaps that’s because they are listening to and for the wrong things.

Here are four myths about being called by God.
  1. The call comes once at a specific time and place.
    We tend to think that everyone who is called by God is called as Saul was: knocked to the ground, blinded, and hearing voices. Sorry. A few may have that kind of experience but the truth is that most of us who feel called, hear a call that develops over a long process of growth through experiences and relationships.

  2. God calls only those with special, spectacular gifts.
    It has been my experience that the gift God is most interested in is teachability. God does not necessarily call those who are prepared as much as God prepares those who are called. The best way to discern God’s call in your life is to be open to learning from new people and experiences.

  3. I must wait to do ministry until I feel called.
    Some people are called and then undertake a ministry. Others undertake a ministry and, in that, hear their calling. Go ahead and do what Christians are called to do: spread the word, heal the sick, feed the hungry, visit the imprisoned. Who knows? You might learn something about your calling.

  4. You have to be good enough or God won’t call you to ministry.
    An unbiblical view if ever there was one. God calls all kinds of people into the divine work. Check out the scriptural record: David was an adulterer and a murderer; Moses had a stutter; Paul was homely and had a seizure disorder and an explosive temper; Peter betrayed Jesus; all of the disciples ran away when Jesus needed them most. You can’t earn God’s approval. God gives it freely and God’s call is based on grace, not on merit.

* * * * * *

Tom WilladsenFrom team member Tom Willadsen:

Jonah 3:1-5, 10
After the Big Fish
Jonah is such a compact book that it’s hard to pull just these few verses out of it for a sermon. For today’s verses to make sense, the entire narrative arc of chapters 3 and 4 needs to be explained. Really, the first two chapters can be ignored; think of chapter 3 as a mulligan for Jonah. He got a second chance, responded to the call he’d originally fled and made it to Nineveh. Today’s text is the sum of Jonah’s prophetic message to the Ninevites, and the unprecedented result: both the citizens of Nineveh “turned from their evil ways” and God “changed his mind!”

* * *

Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Nineveh, that exceedingly large city
Nineveh is described as “an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across.” If we imagine one day’s walk to be 18-20 miles, Nineveh is between 54 and 60 miles across, an impossibly large city. There has never been a city this large in human history. This is just one of many indications that Jonah is not to be read historically, but approached instead as more of a fable. Jonah’s entire message is five Hebrew words, the NRSV stretches it to eight, because English. That he makes this statement only once, after a day’s journey into the city and it has such dramatic effect is another indication of the book’s lack of historicity.

* * *

Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Nineveh, what’s in a name?
The origin of the name “Nineveh” is unclear. One of itst oldest appearances is in a cuneiform with the character for fish inside a house. Perhaps Nineveh meant something like “House of Fish,” similar to the Hebrew for Bethlehem, “House of Bread.” Cuneiform is the writing system of some Mesopotamian cultures in which a stylus made impressions in wet clay.

* * *

1 Corinthians 7:29-31
The End is very, very near!!!
In today’s reading from 1 Corinthians, as in 1 Thessalonians and a few other places in Paul’s writings, there is an urgent tone — the end is coming so soon that it doesn’t make sense to buy green bananas. (I’m paraphrasing.) What are we to make of these texts for those who will hear this message preached today? Someone once said, “Jesus can’t return today; it’s already tomorrow in Australia!” This is an angle that was not available to Paul, given his first century cosmology.

* * *

Mark 1:14-20
Here, or over there?
The Greek word ηγγικεν, rendered in the NRSV as “has come near” could mean “is here.” So which is it? Well, Christian, during the Season of Epiphany isn’t it both — here and emerging? C’mon, this is America, it can be both here and on the way! Lift up that tension for your congregation; it’s the very tension that Paul lifts up with his urgent tone in the Epistle lesson for today.

* * * * * *

George ReedWORSHIP
by George Reed

Call to Worship:
One: O God, you have searched us and known us.
All:   You are acquainted with all our ways.
One: We praise you, for we are fearfully and wonderfully made.
All:   Wonderful are your works; that we know very well.
One: How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
All:   How vast is the sum of them!


One: God comes to us in the good times and the bad.
All: We rejoice in a God who is always with us.
One: God is always calling us into the divine presence.
All: We want to hear God’s gracious voice.       
One: We often hear God best when we share God’s invitation.
All: We will share with others that God is always with us.

Hymns and Songs:
Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah
UMH: 127
H82: 690
PH: 281
AAHH: 138/139/140
NNBH: 232
NCH: 18/19
CH: 622
LBW: 343
ELW: 618
W&P: 501
AMEC: 52/53/65

If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee
UMH: 142
H82: 635
PH: 282
NCH: 410
LBW: 453
ELW: 769
W&P: 429

Hope of the World
UMH: 178
H82: 472
PH: 360
NCH: 46
CH: 538
LBW: 493           
W&P: 404

Dear Lord and Father of Mankind
UMH: 358
H82: 652/653
PH: 345
NCH: 502
CH: 594
LBW: 506
W&P: 470
AMEC: 344  

Jesus Calls Us
UMH: 398
H82: 549/550
NNBH: 183
NCH: 171/172
CH: 337
LBW: 494
ELW: 696
W&P: 345
AMEC: 238  

Let There Be Light
UMH: 440
NNBH: 450
NCH: 589
STLT: 142

Be Thou My Vision
UMH: 451
H82: 488
PH: 339
NCH: 451
CH: 595
ELW: 793
W&P: 502
AMEC: 281
STLT: 20
Renew: 151

Open My Eyes That I May See
UMH: 454
PH: 324  
NNBH: 218
CH: 586
W&P: 480
AMEC: 285  

Holy Spirit, Truth Divine
UMH: 465
PH: 321
NCH: 63
CH: 241
LBW: 257
ELW: 393

Come Down, O Love Divine
UMH: 475
H82: 516
PH: 313
NCH: 289
CH: 582
LBW: 508
ELW: 804
W&P: 330  

Open Our Eyes, Lord
CCB: 77
Renew: 91

Sing Unto the Lord a New Song
CCB: 16
Renew: 99

Music Resources Key:
UMH: United Methodist Hymnal
H82: The Hymnal 1982
PH: Presbyterian Hymnal
AAHH: African American Heritage Hymnal
NNBH: The New National Baptist Hymnal
NCH: The New Century Hymnal
CH: Chalice Hymnal
LBW: Lutheran Book of Worship
ELW: Evangelical Lutheran Worship
W&P: Worship & Praise
AMEC: African Methodist Episcopal Church Hymnal
STLT: Singing the Living Tradition
CCB: Cokesbury Chorus Book
Renew: Renew! Songs & Hymns for Blended Worship

Prayer for the Day/Collect
O God who is truth:
Grant us the grace to face the truth openly
looking for your redeeming grace in all;
through Jesus Christ our Savior.  Amen.


We praise you, O God, because you are truth. In you there is no deceit or falsehood. Help us to accept the truth that comes to us so that we may find your redeeming grace in all situations. Amen.

Prayer of Confession
One: Let us confess to God and before one another our sins and especially our failure to find the good news in all that comes to us.
All: We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. We say we trust in you in all things but when bad things come along we feel that you have deserted us. We think that it is only in good times that you are present with us. Help us to remember that you never leave us or forsake us. Ground us in the true faith that looks for your presence even in the midst of bad news. Amen.

One: God is with us always. Trust in God who seeks to bring wholeness out of brokenness.

Prayers of the People:
We praise you, O God, as you are present in all the situations of our lives. You are closer to us than our own breath as you seek our good. 

(The following paragraph may be used if a separate prayer of confession has not been used.)

We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. We say we trust in you in all things but when bad things come along we feel that you have deserted us. We think that it is only in good times that you are present with us. Help us to remember that you never leave us or forsake us. Ground us in the true faith that looks for your presence even in the midst of bad news.

We give you thanks for your constant presence and care. We thank you for those you send to us to care for us and to guide us. You have given us your own Spirit to dwell within us as our Comforter and Guide.

(Other thanksgivings may be offered.)

We pray for one another in our need. We pray for those who find the bad news of their lives so overwhelming that they feel they are all alone. We pray for those who are suffering in body, mind, or spirit. We pray for those who are struggling with relationships or with addictions.

(Other intercessions may be offered.)

All these things we ask in the name of our Savior Jesus Christ who taught us to pray together saying:

Our Father....Amen.

(Or if the Our Father is not used at this point in the service.)

All this we ask in the Name of the Blessed and Holy Trinity. Amen.

Children’s Sermon Starter
In the story today, God calls for Samuel even though Samuel is just a young boy. God wants to always be with us. God does not wait for us to grow up to love us. God wants us to know we are loved always.

* * * * * *

Something Fishy
by Chris Keating
Mark 1:14-20


Supplies to make a “fish pond”
  • Paper fish with a Christian Icthys or fish symbol on it (use cardstock)
  • Large paper clips
  • Tape
  • A wooden dowel or something to use as a fishing pole
  • String/yarn
  • Magnets
  • A container, basin or cake pan to be your pond

This is not an original idea, but it will be an engaging way to help children understand Jesus’ invitation to “fish for people.” I found the idea for my fish pond on this website but have adapted it for this children’s sermon. In addition, this is a wonderful time to talk about how early Christians used the “Icthys” (Greek for “fish”) as a secret symbol that helped identify other Christians.

Ahead of time:

Make the fish for your pond.

Cut the paper fish and tape a paper clip to the back. Be sure to leave a good portion of the loop end of the paper clip sticking out in front of the fish.

Wrap string or yarn around one end of the dowel or pole to make the fishing pole. You might find it easier to use a glue gun to glue the string to the pole.

Measure out how long you want your fishing line to be and take two magnets back to back and secure to the string (again, the glue gun might be helpful!).

On the back of the fish, write down various places, neighborhoods, or descriptions of people in your community. Take care, of course, to avoid harmful stereotypes or derogative descriptions. Instead, maybe write “People who live near Oak Brook School,” or “The City Park neighbors,” or “people who are sad,” “persons who might be lonely,” “young families,” “older persons,” “friends at school,” “Grandmas” “children who need books,” or “persons with special needs,” “hungry people,” and so forth. The idea is to stock your “pond” with the sort of people who might enjoy discovering your church.

Tell the children the story of Jesus calling the first disciples in Mark. Jesus was inviting them to follow him. It’s hard imagining just leaving everything to follow someone you just met. But this might not have been so uncommon in Jesus’ time. More helpful to children will be to help them imagine what it might be like to follow Jesus today — by listening to stories about Jesus, by learning about the way he loved people, by showing mercy, and so on. Even the disciples might not have been so sure what it meant to follow him — so Jesus says to them, “You’re going to be fishing for people.” Jesus invites them to learn about the Good News so that they can share this good news with others.

The key here is to help imagine fishing not as merely “baiting” people, but as helping them, providing something they need, or reminding them that they are loved by God.

Let’s have some fun today and imagine how our church could fish for people. You or a helper can sink your line into your pond. What did you catch? How might the church “fish for people” who are hungry? How might we help children who need books at home? We fish for people not by trying to trap them, but by offering them reminders that they are loved by God.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The Immediate Word, January 24, 2021 issue.

Copyright 2021 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio.

All rights reserved. Subscribers to The Immediate Word service may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons and in worship and classroom settings only. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 5450 N. Dixie Highway, Lima, Ohio 45807.
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