FAIRBANKS — This past Sunday, like every Sunday, we had readings from the lectionary at church. These are readings that are picked out far in advance by people far, far away. (We use the revised common lectionary.) I was struck by the opposite nature of the people in the first and last readings.
The first reading was from the book of Jonah. The last reading was from the Gospel according to St. Mark. In both readings, God is calling people to follow. The responses of those called are entirely opposite.
The book of Jonah tells the story of the prophet Jonah. Briefly put, God calls Jonah to preach to the people of Nineveh, a town approximately 500 miles away. Jonah, deeply hating the people of Nineveh, instead hops on a ship and heads in the opposite direction for Tarshish, approximately 2,500 miles away.
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus begins calling his disciples. Each one leaves his fishing nets and boats and immediately follows Jesus.
Do you see the contrast? Jonah flees God’s call and hops on a boat to sail away. Jonah seeks to go away from God. The disciples flee their fishing lives and boats to answer Jesus’ call. The disciples seek to go to God.
The contrast couldn’t be greater. One might ask which was the “right” response and which was the “wrong” one? It could be easy to judge. But such questions/judgments don’t help.
Instead I ask you this question: “What do you do?” That’s right. That’s the question. Notice I am not asking what you would have done. I am asking you, what do you do? Present tense. Do you believe God stopped speaking thousands of years ago? I believe that God continues to speak today. Do you hear God? What do you do when you hear God? How do you know?
A good starting point to hearing God is to begin with reading a passage from 1 Kings 19:11-13. In that passage, the great prophet Elijah seeks to hear God. He listens amid powerful events — windstorms, earthquakes and fires, but he does not hear God. Then comes the silence that follows. In the silence he hears the still small voice of God.
How do you hear God? There are things that work and things that don’t. Gossip doesn’t work. I used to work in a very catty environment where gossip was the primary form of communication. It was very unhealthy — which was sadly ironic. Nasty rumors were easily believed, destructive and interfered with hearing God. That’s not how one hears God.
Some might be tempted to “go” to a place where one can hear God. Jonah tried the opposite approach, “to flee from the presence of the Lord.” Neither approach really works. The idea of needing to “go” to a place to be with God or “go” from a place to be away from God implies that God is somehow only in one spot. Do you think that is true? I think God is everywhere. Spiritual retreats or a nature get-away to the mountains or the rivers are great fun (hunting/fishing, etc.), but God can also be found in your living room and in your place of worship and maybe even at your work.
Listen for God’s still small voice and think of Jonah, Elijah and the disciples, and respond.
The Rev. Stephen Reed is interim pastor of Christ Lutheran Church and a Fairbanks Police Department Chaplain. Insight is sponsored by the Tanana Valley Christian Conference.