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Sermon Illustrations for Epiphany 3 (2021)

Illustration
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
On New Year’s Day, 1929, Georgia Tech played University of California in the Rose Bowl. In that game a man named Roy Riegels recovered a fumble for California, but became confused, however, and ran 65 yards in the wrong direction. One of his teammates outran him and tackled him at their own one-yard line. Cal attempted to punt on the next play, but Tech blocked the kick and scored a safety.

Halftime came and the players filed off the field. Riegels was inconsolable. He put his blanket around his shoulders, sat down in a corner, hiding his face in shame. Coach Nibbs Price looked at the team and said simply, “Men the same team that played the first half will start the second.” The players got up and started out, all but Riegels. Coach Price looked back and called to him again; still he didn’t move. Coach Price went over to where Riegels sat and said, “Roy, didn’t you hear me? The same team that played the first half will start the second.” Roy Riegels looked up. His cheeks were wet with a strong man’s tears. “Coach,” he said, “I can’t do it to save my life. I’ve ruined you. I’ve ruined Cal,” Then Coach Price reached out and put his hand on Riegel’s shoulder and said to him: “Roy, get up and go on back; the game is only half over.”

Though Cal lost that game 8-7, Riegels played an outstanding second half and became Cal's football captain the next season, gaining all-American mention. He was later a member of Cal's football coaching staff, an officer in the Army Air Forces during World War II. In 1991, two years before his death, he was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame. 

Wrong-way Reigels is infamous in Rose Bowl history, but he didn’t quit. Wrong-way Jonah is kind of like that, too. After failing the first time and ending up in a fishy situation, Jonah got word from the Lord to again go to Nineveh. Verse three reveals to us a change in Jonah. It says, “So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh” (3:3). Jonah wasn’t perfect after that, but God did a great work there and sinful people repented.

The message is clear: don’t quit just because you went the wrong way the first time.
Bill T.

* * *

Jonah 3:1-5, 10
The humorist H.H. Munro (1870-1916), who wrote under the pseudonym Saki, once said something to the effect that the only two things that continue to grow after death are fingernails and fish. I don’t know if fingernails really continue to grow after death, but there’s no question that in a good fish story the fish gets larger and larger with each telling.

The book of Jonah is a fish story -- it’s outlandish, hilarious, over the top, and all the more effective for all of that. In a way this is not one, but two stories. In the first fish story Jonah flees after God instructs him to travel to Nineveh to preach repentance to those sinful people, only to be caught in a storm, thrown overboard, swallowed by a great fish, and after imploring the Lord, is spewn up on the shore. Notice that God does not extract a promise from Jonah to fulfill the original mission before sparing his life!

Now comes the second fish story. One ancient Hebrew manuscript inserts a small empty space between 2:11 and 3:1 to indicate this is not a continuation of the previous story, but a reboot! Once again the word of the Lord comes to Jonah, bringing a command to preach to Nineveh. I’m reminded of the movie Ground Hog Day where a flawed weather reporter has to repeat the same day over and over again until he gets it right. In this case, Jonah gets it right in two tries, at least the Nineveh part. As it turns out, chapter four will bring further instruction.
Frank R.

* * *

1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Americans get so caught up in their great plans and desires that they miss how in the moment things of eternal significance are in their midst. We get caught up in the moment of grief or in the day-to-day realities of family that we overlook the life-changing character of love or of the one for whom we grieve. C. S. Lewis offered a reflection in that line. He observed, “I sometimes wonder if all pleasures are not substitutes for joy.” French Enlightenment scholar Blaise Pascal said something along these lines as well (about the vanity of all our pursuits) when he claimed, “What causes inconstancy is the realization that present pleasures are false, together with the failure to realize that the absent pleasures are vain.” (Pensées, p.49)   

Paul wants us not to live in the world this way, but to realize that the end times are on the horizon, that God is present in the moment. Though not a practicing Christian, 19th-century American writer Henry David Thoreau had insights very compatible with our faith when he claimed:

The meeting of two eternities, the past and future,... is precisely the present moment... You must live in the present, launch yourself on ever more, find your eternity in each moment.

Live in the moment. Let it define who you are. Like Paul, for the forefather of existentialism Søren Kierkegaard the present moment is essential to our relationship with God. “For in relation to the absolute there is only one tense, the present,” he wrote (Training In Christianity, p.67).
Mark E.

* * *

1 Corinthians 7:29-31
How mired we get in our earthly responsibilities and expectations. It is so very easy to lose sight of the important things in life. If the pandemic has shown us nothing else, it has shown us to pay attention to family, friends, faith, hope and spend a little less focus on earthly stuff and extraneous activities. For me, this time of isolation and separation has reminded me how much I miss human contact, hugs from friends and family. This time of isolation has reminded me that things are much less important than relationships. This time has pulled me closer to God as I seek hope, comfort, and a place to mourn and grieve. The scripture reminds us, “the present form of this world is passing away.” It was true when Paul wrote the letter to the church in Corinth. It is true today. Focus on what is important, on faith and connections with God, on people, on love. That is the message for today.
Bonnie B.

* * *

Mark 1:14-20
Is there anything more important than your relationship with Jesus?

As 1849 dawned, the United States prepared for a change in presidential administrations. This was before Inauguration Day fell on January 20, and the term of the outgoing president, James K. Polk, ended at noon on Sunday, March 4, 1849, at which time his successor, Zachary Taylor, was to be sworn into office. However, that was a Sunday and Taylor refused to miss church to take the oath of office, so he and his vice president were not sworn in until noon on Monday, March 5th.

So, for one day, some contend Missouri Senator David Rice Atchison was the president. This is an historical oddity and few, if any, historians hold that Atchison was “president” in any real sense of the word. However, what is undisputable is that President Taylor put attending church ahead of being sworn in as the 12th president of the United States.

It’s a matter of priorities. When Jesus encountered the fishermen, James, John, Simon, and Andrew, he challenged them to leave the security of their lives as fishermen to fish for him. Notice the common word in both verses 18 and 20: immediately. That’s when they left to follow Jesus. Nothing was more important that to be with Jesus. Is that true for us?
Bill T.

* * *

Mark 1:14-20
Sometimes when a restaurant opens in our area there is tremendous buildup towards a grand opening, with special events, discounts, and giveaways designed to draw people into the building just to take a chance to see what the food is like. This is a crucial way of establishing a business. People tend to go to restaurants they know and are comfortable with. Adding something new to our lives involves a measure of risk. If the grand opening fails to have the impact desired, the restaurant may never recover.

So other times there’s a soft opening. The restaurant simply opens its door without any fanfare. People may or may not notice there’s a new business open in the community, and the more adventurous will take a chance. They will tell their friends and if the friends are impressed word begins to spread, so that by the time of the grand opening, there’s already a core constituency.

I’m wondering if, after his baptism and time in the wilderness, the initial rollout of the kingdom message is a sort of soft opening for God’s kingdom. Jesus, we are told, proclaims: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."

This particular wording allows meanings of the word “near” to be heard. The kingdom of God is near, as in hear physically, in our midst, fully present, but not fully realized. This is a soft opening for the kingdom. In its wake Jesus begins to call disciples, and some of the people in the Capernaum area begin to be impressed with the work and words of this kingdom.

This is kind of a soft opening. There are going to be much bigger miracles, but this is enough to get buzz going. And the whole world will be called to salvation, but right now the focus is on Capernaum.

But these words also mean that the kingdom of God is not its way, that like a grand opening it will burst upon us, and everyone will know we’re open for business.
Frank R.

 
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