Revised Common Lectionary: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:5-12; Mark 1:14-20; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31

The prophet Jonah is given a very tough job: go proclaim to Nineveh, a foreign city, that God is going to overthrow it. God is going to destroy this city for their wicked ways. However, in verse 10, God sees that the people have truly repented, turned away from evil, and have turned from violence (vs. 8). God changes God’s mind about what was going to happen to this city; God does not destroy the city. While we often say in Christian colloquialisms that God never changes, the truth is that throughout the Old Testament, God shows that God can change. That we have the opportunity, again and again and again, to repent of our sins, to turn back to God’s ways, and that God desires continued, eternal relationship with us. Once again, we must learn that God does not desire punishment, but God desires life. It is our own desires, greed and violence, that get in the way of that. God does not desire punishment, but desires life.

Psalm 62:5-12 sings the desire of the psalmists’ heart, that it is for God alone, and that God alone is our refuge. When we turn our desires towards God and away from earthly greed, we find God’s steadfast love encompasses us. The “repayment” is really our understanding the depth and breadth of God’s love when we give our love to God.

Mark 1:14-20 tells of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry after John the Baptist’s arrest. Jesus continues the message of John the Baptist: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” As Jesus calls the first disciples, we understand the full message of that sermon of repentance: to turn away from the old life and give our lives over to Jesus. To follow Jesus rather than the ways of the world. To repent of our sins of greed and violence, envy and hate. Following the ways of the world, we want to get ahead, to succeed; to have what others have and then have more of it. We will work hard, judge ourselves harshly and judge others; we will backstab and gossip and lie and slander to get ahead and get what we want. We will sin. But to follow Jesus is to leave that behind, to become last and least, to become servant of all. To love all others before ourselves, and take up the cross.

1 Corinthians 7:29-31 is a passage that is hard to understand, but Paul is speaking to followers of Jesus believing in the imminent return of Christ. However, there is much we can learn–Paul is calling for others to stop pursuit of earthly desires, that this world as it is known is passing away. As citizens of the reign of God, we know that we have one foot in the kingdom of heaven and one foot on earth. We are participating in the reign of God now. Paul calls us to follow Jesus, to not be worried about the things that separate us, such as having possessions or being married or rejoicing or mourning–put all these aside and look towards Jesus, and how we might further the reign of God.

As the people of Nineveh put away their desires and sin, putting on sackcloth and ashes, demonstrating themselves as last and least, God changed God’s mind. To follow Jesus is somewhat like being a citizen of Nineveh; repenting, not worrying about what we wear or what we will eat, not fretting about our jobs or getting ahead or earthly success; but to become last of all and servant of all. To participate in the reign of God is to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, to love others, to serve others, to care for others, and not be concerned about the pursuits of this world, for they will fade. Do not be caught up in this world so that you sin. Repent, turn to Jesus, and follow Jesus’ way.

Call to Worship:
Leader: The time is fulfilled, and the reign of God is at hand!
People: Repent, and believe in the Good News!
Leader: Leave behind the rat-race, the earthly ways of success;
People: Repent, and believe in the Good News!
Leader: Turn away from evil, violence and greed;
People: Repent, and believe in the Good News!
Leader: Follow Jesus, become last of all and servant of all;
People: Repent, and believe in the Good News!
Leader: Come, let us worship and follow Jesus, sharing the Good News with all!
All: Repent, and believe in the Good News!

Prayer of Confession:
Almighty God, we confess that we follow the ways of the World, not the ways You have taught us. We are greedy and selfish. We want earthly success; we want what everyone else wants and we want more. We are filled with envy and desires for the things others have. Forgive us, O God, when we follow the ways of the world and stumble into sin. Forgive us for lying, backstabbing, finger-pointing, gossip and slander. Forgive us for the things we do to get ahead, to succeed. Forgive us for when we do not love our neighbor as ourselves. Forgive us for not following You. Call us into repentance, so that we might believe in the Good News. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon:
God is our rock and our refuge. In God, we shall not be shaken. We are forgiven, find healing and restoration. Go forth, following Jesus the Christ, loving and serving our neighbors as Jesus loves and serves us. Amen.

Loving Jesus, You call us away from the pursuits of the world to a new way of life. You call us away from the desire of earthly success to a desire for relationship with You. You call us to follow You, and we look to Your teachings in Scripture. We long to leave behind the pace of this world to walk with You, yet we stumble and fall. Hold us up, dear Jesus, and keep us to Your path of righteousness. Seek us when we fall away, may we know Your presence is always with us. When we feel alone and forsaken, help us to know Your warmth and light. Set our feet upon the rock that is You, for You are the rock of our salvation. Help us to know Your strength, Your might and Your comforting presence always. In Your precious name we pray. Amen.

Music Suggestions:
“Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” would be a great choice for today, as well as “Open Our Eyes, Lord.” Any song that refers to looking towards Jesus, following Jesus, and repenting from sin would be appropriate for today.

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