January 24, 2021

Culture of love

Preacher:

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

3 The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, 2 “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” 3 So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. 4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

1 Corinthians 7:29–31

29 I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, 30 and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, 31 and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

Mark 1:14–20

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

 

 

Culture is the characteristics and knowledge of a particular group of people encompassing language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts.

Cristina De Rossi, an anthropologist at Barnet and Southgate College in London, told Live Science: "Culture encompasses religion, food, what we wear, how we wear it, our language, marriage, music, what we believe is right or wrong, how we sit at the table, how we greet visitors, how we behave with loved ones, and a million other things,"

Culture is what anthropologists study. And they look at the differences between cultures…. What makes a culture unique… Sociologists look at the structure of groups and societies and while Sociologists and Anthropologists both study people collectively, anthropologists focus on culture and what makes cultures different and unique, while sociologists focus on society and how the structures itself  have characteristics independent of the individual members, and how these structures affect the individuals.

The term "Western culture" has come to define the culture of European countries as well as those that have been heavily influenced by European immigration, such as Canada and the United States.

Other terms you may have heard for large cultures. Eastern Culture, Latin Culture, Middle Eastern, African Culture, Aboriginal Culture…

 

Cultural groups can be large, and within a cultural group there can be a variety of cultures, or sub-cultures and within those sub-cultures there can be a variety of cultures and so on.

All organizations, institutions, groups, countries, communities, extended families, families have a culture.

 

Our congregation has its own unique way of being together. It has its rules, formal and informal, its way of worshipping, its rituals, it way of socially interacting, its favourite music, its special events, even the food we eat sometimes after church. And while it may be similar to other churches or other Presbyterian Churches it is unique.

Different parts of Canada have different cultures. Moving to Newfoundland or PEI or Cape Breton or Quebec can be quite a profound culture shock for someone who lives in the West or Ontario.

 

Just to give you a little difference for the difference between Atlantic Canada and a particular congregation in which I was minister.

I wore my clerical shirt and collar every day to work in PEI. I wear jeans here in the west to work except on Sundays. Expectations of ministers vary widely from denomination to denomination,  from congregation to congregation, from urban to suburban to rural, from large congregations to small congregations, from the particular theology of the congregation, and from the particular part of Canada in which you live.

 

In 1956 Horace Mitchell Miner wrote a paper and published it entitled “Body Ritual in the Nacirema” He described a little known tribe living in North America and the curious practices that this group performs. He talked about Medicine Men and Women, a charm-box, the mouth ritual.

It actually was about the average North American. Nacirema is American spelled backward. It was a fun way to use anthropology to look at one’s own society.

 

In 1998 the movie Krippendorf’s Tribe was released. Starring Richard Dreyfuss as Krippendorf. Krippendorf is an anthropologist given a 100,000 dollars to look for the last lost tribe in New Guinea. He and his wife and children look for the tribe in New Guinea but cannot find it, but his wife gets sick and dies and Krippendorf spends much of the money just raising his family. With the money gone and a deadline approaching, he creates a mythical tribe and films his own children, himself and a friend anthropologist played by Jenna Elfman, in increasingly imaginative rituals.

There are a couple of really funny scenes in a movie that it is some ways pretty over the top and unrealistic and stupid. Krippendorf creates his own culture.

 

Culture is important. And I wanted to talk about culture today because I think it is extremely germane to our scripture texts today.

 

When Jesus says to Simon and Andrew, come after me and I will teach you to fish for people, and when Jesus called James and John to follow him,

what Jesus was doing was inviting them to leave a culture and enter another culture. A culture we have often called the Kingdom of God.

The Book of Jonah is a kind of comedic parable about the resistance to this culture and our brief epistle text mentions the fact that the present form of this world is passing away. It is about the fact that the Culture of Christ and the Culture of the World are different.

 

Culture might be an even better word today for us than Kingdom. In Jesus’ day the world was most ruled by Kings who had Kingdoms and mostly were dictators, and sometimes these dictators were propped up and supported and in league with the religious institutions.

And the kingdom of God was an alternate to these kingdoms of autocratic rulers. This new kingdom was about love where everyone was valued and important and loved and the values of this kingdom were non-violence, peace, sharing, equality, love and compassion. And these values of this kingdom of God were the values of God.

That was what God was about.

 

Today the word “Kingdom” does not seem as applicable. It is a masculine term. We don’t say Queendom. Most countries now are ruled not by Kings and Queens but by a democratic process.

The word “kingdom” implies that God is autocratic and a dictator when God invites and loves and doesn’t control or force.

 

So instead of Kingdom of God, maybe the term: Culture of Love, could be used.

 

When Jesus said follow me, he was inviting people into a culture of love.

What would it be like to live in a culture of love, where everyone in that culture listened to you, loved you, appreciated differences, respected you, didn’t get angry, but talked through things, where people freely shared, where someone always understood what you were going through, where you weren’t put down, and no one intentionally hurt you, or said bad things about you and food and resources and money were shared so that all had enough.

All this was in some way implied when Jesus said that Simon and Andrew would fish for people.

 

Much is made of the term “fish for people.” It may just be a play on words and the fishing metaphor is more incidental and the focus is on the people than on the metaphor of “fishing.”

Maybe Jesus said to the tax collector. Come with me and I will teach you to collect people.

Or to the farmer. Come with me and I will teach you to nurture and grow people.

Or to the carpenter. Come with me and I will teach you to build people.

I am not sure what he said to Simon the Zealot, a nationalist terrorist who believed in violence.

“Come with me and I will teach you to fight peaceably for people.”

 

But I do want you to note that Jesus calls his disciples after this phrase:

“After John was arrested...”

The King James version has “After John was put in prison…”

The Good News has; “After John had been put in prison…”

 

However, if you go back to the Greek, the word is not prison at all. It is not arrested either. The Greek word is paradothenai

 

Literally it is: “after John was delivered…”

Or “after John was handed over…”

 

This same Greek word,  is the same word that Mark uses to describe Judas in chapter 3 who will “hand over” or deliver Jesus. It is the word used by Mark in chapters 8, 9 and 10 of the Gospel when Jesus says he will be “handed over” and killed, and it is the same word in chapter 15 when Jesus is “delivered” to Pilate.

 

The significance is not to be missed. To preach a culture of love, to follow a culture of love is dangerous. The world, for all it talks about love does not want a culture of unconditional love or God’s love, and it will kill those who actually follow it. It is not dangerous to talk of love, especially romantic love. It is dangerous to talk about love for everyone.

 

One other thing I want to point out. What Jesus asks them to believe in is the gospel. He wants them to believe in this culture of love. That God loves everyone. That God is not here to get us but to save us from hurting each other. That there is another way to be in this world.

And in order to get there we literally have to repent, which literally means turn around and go in a new direction. That direction is love.

 

I don’t know about you, but it bothers me when people say they believe in Jesus, or they believe in the resurrection, or they believe the bible or they believe in the Virgin Birth, but they don’t seem to believe in the gospel. They don’t believe in love for all and for their enemies.

If you really want to believe in Jesus, you have to believe in his message of good news for all people. If you really want to believe in Jesus, you have to believe and trust enough to actually do what Jesus wants you to do. Love people.

 

Jesus invites us into a new culture where are interactions, out groups, our faith, our morals, our ethics, maybe even the way we share food, and do arts and music and do family, and do justice is guided by love.

 

And just to put a concrete point to entering a culture of love, we have the story of Jonah in the lectionary today.

 

Scholars argue a bit over the genre of the book of Jonah. Was there ever really an historical Jonah? Is this a story that actually happened or is this merely a made-up story to illustrate something? Is it a parable before we really had parables?

 

And we really cannot definitely say how much is historical or not?

It has the function of a parable though, a story that has levels of depth, that makes us think, a story with a surprise twist at the end.

And the way it is told, is sort of like a tall tale. Hardly anything is believable.

God called Jonah to go to Nineveh.  Nineveh was the capital of Assyria. Assyria was the Evil Empire that completely decimated the Kingdom of Israel, also known as the Northern Kingdom, and killed hundreds of thousands of Jews. To go to Nineveh to preach would be like a Jew going to preach in Berlin during World War 2.

Jonah gets in a boat and heads the other way from Nineveh. God sends a storm. The storm is so bad that the sailors realize that God must have sent it to punish someone so they cast lots to see who the bad guy is, and the lot falls to Jonah. “Fess up” they say, and Jonah fesses up and says that it is his fault because he is running away from God’s call.

So, they throw him overboard and the storm ceases.

Meanwhile a fish comes to rescue Jonah and swallows him and after three days and nights, like someone else who spends three days and nights in the belly of the earth, Jonah is in the belly of the fish and spit up on the shore.

Jonah finally decides to go to Nineveh. The city is so big that it is a day’s journey to the middle. That makes the city fourty miles wide.

Then he preaches that if they do not repent God is going to do something nasty to them.

And a miracle happens. They all repent. Every last one of them, including the animals.

 

And Jonah is mad. He didn’t want them to be saved. He wanted to watch his enemies burn.

 

He even says that the reason he didn’t want to come was that he didn’t believe in a culture of love, mercy and forgiveness. He says: I knew you were going to forgive them and be merciful. That’s why I didn’t want to come, not because I was quaking in my boots with fear.

 

And he goes and sulks on a hill. It is hot and dry and God makes a plant to grow up fast and give him shade, and the plant dies and Jonah is so angry.

And God tells him. You are so angry over one plant and yet you don’t give a hoot about 120 thousand people and their animals. But I God care about them.

 

It is one of the most amazing books in the bible. Even the enemy is loved by God. God’s grace goes out to all. The Culture of love is for everyone, but some cannot stand it.

We sometimes cannot stand love for everyone. We want people to be punished. We want the people who hurt others or us, to be hurt.

We think justice is when the bad guys get killed or wiped out, or exterminated, or pay, or suffer.

That is not the culture of love. And we have trouble with the culture of love.

 

In fact, the interesting thing about Jonah, the good Jew, is that he believes in the commandments. He believes that there is only one God. He believes in not making idols or graven images. He believes that one should not take the Lord God’s name in vain.

And one of the reasons he cannot forgive the Assyrians is not just their violence, but that they do not know or accept the law of Moses.

How can they be forgiven or shown mercy, he thinks.

 

But when he doubts that God should show mercy to the idolaters, he becomes an idolater himself. Instead of worshipping God, he has now raised the Law as his idol instead of God.

Religious groups and Christians do it all the time. The Bible, or the Law, or our rules, or our beliefs become more important than God and we use, the bible, or the law, or the rules, or our beliefs to get the bad guy, to hurt or punish or exclude people.

When we do that, we stop worshipping the God of love and take God’s name in vain. When we use God for other than love, for other than peace and reconciliation, when we use God’s name, or the bible, or our rules, or our faith, or our beliefs to hurt… we are creating our own idols, and blaspheming the Holy Spirit

 

We are saying that our culture is more important than God’s culture of love.

Human culture nearly always wants to find the bad guy and ignore the beam in our own eyes.

And the church as an institution and we as individuals have to confess that so-called Christian culture has not been the same as the culture of love.

 

In fact, the truth is that very few churches and Christian communities are a total culture of love. Following Jesus, leaving a culture of punishment and limited grace and entering a culture of love, does not makes us perfect. We will always struggle with following Jesus and his culture of love, a culture that will take him to the cross.

We hesitate, I hesitate to love so deeply, so unreservedly, so completely, that I risk my life.

 

You know Jesus found James and John. What were they doing? They were mending nets.

 

It is yet again another metaphor.  Come and follow me, Jesus says, and I will teach you to mend and heal relationships…to mend and heal souls…. To mend a broken world….

….and it is by following and entering and living a culture of unconditional love.

Amen.