The Hardest Job You'll Ever Love
A sermon on Jonah 3:1-10 ad Mark 1:14-20
[there are visual elements to this sermon, so if you would like to see the video recording - including the cameo of Pastor's son, click here].
Several years ago there was an ad circulating (watchable here) that purported to show job seekers interviewing for a potential position. The ad showed their reactions as different elements of the job expectations were explained:
· 135 hours to unlimited hours per week, with no breaks provided;
· Willingness to stand/bend over/and physically exert yourself on a continuous basis;
· Ability to work in a chaotic environment;
· Constant attention to the needs of your associate, including – sometimes, throughout the night;
· And the real kicker: the job only paid in the satisfaction you receive from your investment in your associate.
The “job applicants” were understandably dismayed, and even horrified by this job description… up until the big reveal. They were interviewing for the job of a Mom! Cue laughter, chagrined head nodding, and a few teary eyes as the interviewees express their gratitude to their moms for all their labors of love.
At this point you might be thinking “cute story, but why are we talking about a Mother’s Day commercial in the middle of January?” Well, as I was reading and reflecting on the stories of Jonah and the calling of the disciples, I had a thought: What if we did the same thing with the “job descriptions” of these biblical characters as the commercial producers did with moms? And then I thought rather than just imaging how that might go, what if I actually did it? Take a look
[Cut to recorded interview:]
Heavenly Job Fair Interviewer: Thank you for coming in for this interview, before we get into your qualifications, I’d like to share a little about the two available positions, so you can let me know which one sounds like a good fit?
Interviewee: Sounds good.
HJF: Well, the first job involves an exotic travel destination, but I do have to warn you that there is a hazard factor involved.
I: What kind of hazard?
HJF: The travel destination is the capital city of an enemy state known for its violence and immorality. And you would be going there to issue a warning that they are all about to be destroyed by God, so… you know… there might be some reaction.
I: Uhhh, yeah. I expect there would.
HJF: But the upside is the possibility that God would show mercy to your mortal enemies!
I: Ummm, honestly, that doesn’t really make it more appealing.
HJF: OK well, maybe the other job would be more your speed. It doesn’t require travelling to enemy territory (at least not alone), and you wouldn’t be responsible for delivering the messages of judgement or grace – that’s really on your boss. But, there may still be some risk. You would be reporting to someone whose predecessor was just arrested and may be executed.
HJF: Possibly, it’s not entirely clear yet. And – just to be completely forthright, in this position, it’s actually you who would be called to repentance and to leave behind everything from your old life.
HJF: Job, family, possessions, your former way of life. It’s really a fresh start!
I: O…kay…. a fresh start to do… what, exactly?
HJF: To fish for people! Isn’t that cool? I mean, I know it’s probably not something you had listed in your career goals, but… it’s all experience right?
I: Uhh, yeah. I’m gonna have to think about it….
OK, that take might have been a little tongue-in-cheek, but you get the point. Just based on the job description elaborated from these two stories, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would sign up for one of the offerings at the heavenly job fair: Significant prospect of danger...Radical lifestyle change, with a side of awareness of your own sinfulness... Job goals that you never in a thousand years would have imagined pursuing...These are not selling points! No wonder Jonah tried to run away!
And yet, here we are, on the day of our annual congregational meeting, and these are the stories we get just before we contemplate the work God is calling us into this year. (These and a confusing couple of verses from Paul about how the world is passing away, so there’s no reason to engage with temporal conditions, which isn’t that helpful either in a context of talking about planning and commitments!)
Part of me honestly just wants to just throw up my hands and laugh at the incongruity (probably the part of me that wrote that little interview skit). But another part wonders if “the worst job sell ever” might not actually be the PERFECT way to open up our congregation’s conversation about how we will follow God’s calling this year.
Because before we talk about “how” we need to think about “why”?
Why do we participate in an institution and practices that – in some ways – our larger culture has left behind? Why do we commit our time, talents, and treasures to the activities of the church? Why is it worth spending – not just an extra hour on a Sunday morning for yet another zoom meeting – but also another year of our lives… engaging with scriptures that challenge us with confusing stories, … and serving in ministries that ask us to give of ourselves to meet the needs of others, … and wrestling with practices like confession of our failures and weaknesses, and prayer for people whose politics or lifestyles we disagree with… Why would we sign on for any of the uncomfortable, stretching, challenging things about faith when we could just… walk away?
Our “job description” might not be quite as dangerous and disorienting as Jonah’s. And Jesus might not literally be asking us to leave our jobs, and families, and homes to follow him. But that doesn’t mean that our faith is without its costs, or its discomforts. If we are really committed to following Jesus, Jesus will demand things of us.
Maybe he will require that we speak hard truths that make people angry (or – even worse – that make our enemies repent and receive mercy when we want them to get justice).
Or maybe it will be we who need to repent and let go of ideas, or commitments that harden our hearts.
I learned this week that other times in the gospel the phrase Mark uses here for the disciples “leaving their nets” is used to describe people leaving the things that bind them. Perhaps there are nets of ideology, or loyalty, or insecurities, or prejudice, or desires, or resentment, or God only knows what that have tied us up in ways that stop us from following Jesus.
I don’t presume to know what it is that each of you might struggle with in the call to leave your nets and follow Jesus. But I do know that Jesus never calls anyone to stay exactly where they are and not change a thing. He meets us where we are, but he doesn’t leave us there.
So, we do have to ask why. Why do we answer his call? Why take the job? Why commit to being part of the work of an imperfect church, that will ask things of us and – I hope – challenge us to listen to Jesus even when he says uncomfortable things?
The stories we read today are just pieces of larger narratives, so they don’t really help us to answer the “why” question… but, strange as it sounds, I think the Mother’s Day commercial might. When the supposed interviewer is describing the impossibly unappealing job description to his skeptical interviewees, he pauses to offer this perspective: “the meaningful connections that you make, and the feelings that you get from helping your associate are immeasurable.”
The statement is met with raised eyebrows and clear skepticism, until the big reveal… And then they know, immediately, it’s true. It’s the hardest job in the world and it is totally worth it. Because of the relationship. Because of the connection.
And it’s the same thing, only more so, for the job to which each us of are called, and to which we are called together as the church. It’s impossible, and unappealing, and just plain hard – but it’s utterly worth it because of the relationship. Because of the connection.
The value of knowing and being known by God really is immeasurable. There is nothing that isn’t worth giving up in order to be transformed to the depths of our souls by the one who made us for a purpose and seeks to separate us only from those things that divides us from that purpose. And, whatever the imperfections of the human communities with whom we respond to Jesus’s call, it is worth the investment of our time and resources to walk this journey of faith with companions who can encourage us, and challenge us, and connect with us on that journey.
It sounds like the worst job in the world… but it’s worth it.
Thanks be to God.