Jonah 3:1-5,10 & Mark 1:14-20

Perspective is another one of those wonderful words that has two meaning. It can mean: the art of representing three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional surface so as to give the right impression of their height, width, depth, and position in relation to each other.

Matt Skinner of Fuller Seminary tells the story of his high school biology teacher who made them draw a pencil at the start of each class to help them be able to draw field notes of flowers and animals when they went out. Drawing the pencil helped them to get the perspective right.

One day one of the students handed in this…

Slide of circle with a dot.

The teacher was confused. What is this? I asked you to draw a pencil.

It is, Sir, said the student. It’s the end!

And he was right. It was just a different point of view. A new perspective.

We know immediately when we look at a drawing or painting if the perspective is off. Mostly. And when we don’t, like in an optical illusion, our minds are scrambled. But perspective also means a particular attitude towards, or way of regarding something. Perspective is a point of view. And we all have one of those.

I wonder what has shaped yours? What has influenced what you believe and how you think about the world? What has informed your point of view?

This week I’ve been teaching the latest two groups of people who (like Anne and Yvonne) are learning about leading worship in their own churches and that’s one of the questions we were thinking about. Why do you think and believe what you think and believe and where did that come from?

The question is based on the idea that each of us is in some way everything that has ever happened to us. We are a collection of experiences and all of it, to a greater or lesser degree, makes us who we are.

That can be anything, from what someone said to us in the playground when we were 6, to the words of a song, the pages from a book, your parents, the films you watched, the places you have visited, the people you are related to, the people you are friends with, the newspapers and magazines or websites you read, and the jobs we have done. All of it influences us. It colours how we see the world. All of it creates our point of view.

It affects how we understand the world. Things like relationships, what we think is fair, our attitudes to power, money, sex, family, justice, race, gender… all of it… even what we think about God, is seen from our own particular perspective that we have developed throughout our life.

So, for example, when we hear the story of Jonah what comes to mind?

Maybe two things.
‘Being a Jonah’ is to bring bad luck.
And Jonah was swallowed by a whale.

When you hear the story of Jesus calling the fishermen to follow him, some of you will hear in your head the song you learned in Sunday School or sang at school assemblies… I will make you fishers of men if you follow me.

All you see is that bit of the story. The part someone else has told you about, probably a long time ago… and it has stuck. We think that we know it and so we don’t need to bother looking at it again because there’s nothing new there… is there?

I like when people tell me they don’t believe in God because then I get to ask them why not. What is it about God you don’t believe in. Mostly people say stuff I don’t believe either. And mostly the last time they gave any real thought to who or what God might be was a long time ago. It’s odd, because I’m pretty sure we don’t decide whether we believe in gravity when we’re 12… or quantum mechanics, or love, or… well pretty much anything really.

It’s a bit like thinking that a circle with a dot in the middle is what a pencil looks like. It is, but it’s far from the whole story.

If we do that then I think we have a problem. We won’t ever learn anything new. We won’t ever reconsider. We won’t ever change our minds.

Brian Cox, the physicist, was asked in an interview if he believed in God. His answer was brilliant. He said something along the lines of I haven’t seen any evidence to disprove the existence of God, so as a scientist I can’t say no, no matter how sceptical I might be. I have to be open to the possibility that new evidence will come to light.

We live in a world where that kind of openness is rare.

And that’s a huge problem for us today because reconsidering, learning something new, changing our minds is exactly what we are being invited to do.

Jonah is a brilliant story.

Johan is minding his own business when God tells him to go to Nineveh to tell them they are doomed if they don’t change their ways. Jonah didn’t want to do what God asked him because Nineveh was the worst place anyone could ever go. It was a terrible place full of violence. They have invaded their neighbours and committed awful crimes against them. Why would anyone want to go there?

And more to the point, why would I want to go there and tell them they are all doomed! That’s not going to end well for me. The only person who will be doomed is me!

So Jonah runs away in the opposite direction.

He gets on a ship and sails away. But there is a big storm and the sailors think it’s because of Jonah… so they throw him overboard. And then a big fish swallows him. And he’s inside the belly of the big fish for three days.

The fish spits him out and God tells Jonah again to go to Nineveh. And so he goes. Nineveh is massive. It would take 3 days to walk across the city. So Jonah walks for a day and in the morning he starts to tell the people that they have 40 days to shape up or God is going to destroy their city and all of them… and much to Jonah’s annoyance they believe him and they change their ways. Jonah goes and sits under a tree and sulks because God hasn’t obliterated Nineveh. Why? Because he doesn’t want them to change. He wants them to be punished!

It’s a morality tale. A lesson for all of us about the possibility of change even for people we either don’t think can change or who we don’t want to change because we wouldn’t know what to do with them if they did… We would have to change too.

There’s a great scene in the movie The Commitments when a two of the newly formed band meet at the dole office when they are collecting their unemployment benefit. Saxophonist Dean tells Jimmy “It feels better being an unemployed musician that an unemployed pipe fitter!” Perspective…

I wonder about the perspectives of those four fishermen Jesus meets.

They’re mending their nets getting ready for going back out on the Sea of Galilee to fish at night. It’s all they have ever known. They are fishermen. It’s not just a job. It’s their identity. They work with their family. James and John are with their dad, Zebedee when Jesus walks along and invites them to see the world differently. Come with me and I’ll make you fishers of people.

Come with me and I’ll help you to use what you are, what you know for a different purpose. Come with me and I’ll give you a completely new perspective.

The word that means change your perspective is repent. It means to re-think. To change your understanding. To get a new perspective. Come with me and I’ll open your eyes to how all this really works. I’ll show you why empire is a lie. How power and violence and wealth are illusions. How fame is false and how religion has been corrupted. And once you see it you can’t ever un-see it.

But to help them understand Jesus doesn’t use a load of big fancy church words. He talks in their terms. I’ll make you fishers for people. But that’s not the only option.

I wonder how that would sound for you? When Peter speaks on the day of Pentecost people hear his words in their own language. We’re surprise and confused by that but it starts here when Jesus talks fishing on the shores of the lake. What would Jesus say to you? hey you… yes you… come and follow me. Bring all that you are with you because we’re going to need it. Some of it will help you speak to people who have had the same troubles or the same joys. Come and see. The world looks different from Jesus’ point of view.

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