The time has come: The Academic Year 2019 has begun at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Tshwane (LTS), Pretoria. By Monday, February 4, most national and international students had arrived on the campus for the beginning of the new year, and on Tuesday, February 5, the academic year began with a divine service. Rector Winterle preached on Jonah 1:1-17, calling on the seminary students to prepare to be sent out to proclaim repentance and forgiveness to wherever the Lord would send them. His sermon may be found below (please scroll down).
Representatives of the LTS Board of Members (Trustees), drawn from the Lutheran Church in Southern Africa (LCSA), the Mission of Lutheran Churches (MLC), and the Free Evangelical Lutheran Synod in South Africa (FELSISA), were present at the opening service to greet the students, staff, and faculty. The textbooks so graciously received from the LCMS were distributed during the classes that followed. And so it begins! May the Lord bless the teaching and learning at the LTS in 2019 in service to His kingdom and to the glory of His name.
Rector Winterle’s sermon:
Text: Jonah 1:1-17
1 The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”
3 But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.
4 Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. 5 All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.
But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep.6 The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.”
7 Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?”
9 He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”
10 This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so.)
11 The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?”
12 “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”
13 Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. 14 Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.” 15 Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. 16 At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him.
17 Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
We are at the beginning of a new Academic Year at our Seminary. Is it just another beginning of another new year? What is your goal for this year? What are my goals for this year? And there is the big question: Why are we here?
I – God called Jonah
We are still in Epiphany Season. The reading from Jonah is the Old Testament reading from the past Sunday (One Year Series). Epiphany begins with the visit of the Wise Men from the East, foreigners, Gentiles, coming to worship the New Born King, and continues up to the Transfiguration of our Lord. Epiphany reveals Jesus as the Son of God, and the emphasis is always on mission: God sent His Son not only to the Jews, but also to the gentiles, to all peoples.
Jonah was one of the few prophets of the Old Testament who was sent to a foreign country to preach repentance: People should turn from their evil way and worship the true God. And Jonah was sent not to any city, but to the so-called “great city” (Genesis 10:11,12), Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. Nineveh was founded shortly after the flood and played an important role in ancient history.
As it had happened with Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:20-21), God was angry with the bad behavior of the people of Nineveh. But instead of destroying the city as He did with Sodom and Gomorrah, God decided to give a chance to it. He said to Jonah: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come before me.”
But Jonah, instead of obeying God, took the opposite direction from Nineveh. He tried to flee to Tarshish, probably a city in Spain. He ran away from the Lord.
Jonah didn’t know the African Proverb that says: “There is nowhere on earth where the wind does not blow” (ABC p. 1045). And he forgot Psalm 139: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? … if I make my bed in the depths, you are there…if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”
We see God’s mercy to the Gentiles even in the midst of the storm, when the sailors were crying out each of them to his own god. Here Jonah had an opportunity to witness his faith to them: “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.” And they acknowledged the God of Jonah and believed in the Lord, even to the point that they prayed to the Lord before throwing Jonah into the sea. And after the calm came, they worshiped the Lord, offering a sacrifice and making vows to the Lord. How many of these Gentile sailors were saved by this testimony of Jonah? We don’t know… but God works in strange ways.
We know from the story that Jonah eventually went to Nineveh, preached there, the people repented, beginning with the king, and God had mercy on them and didn’t destroy the city.
II – God calls you
Mafa, Karabo, Younan, Desta… “go to the great city… and proclaim to it the message I give you” (Jonah 3:1). Will God call you to proclaim His Word where you are now? Will He send you out after graduation? The circumstances will not be favorable to your preaching. The world around us behaves like Nineveh, Sodom and Gomorrah. Some sins of Nineveh are mentioned, and it is nothing new under the sun: violence, evil ways, plotting evil against the Lord, cruelty, prostitution, witchcraft, commercial exploitation (Nahum 1:1; 2:12,13; 3:1,4, 16, 19).
We are facing some of these sins not only outside the walls of the Seminary, but even inside, as we had to deal with several problems last year. How will it be this year? God is still merciful and He sends His messengers to call for repentance. The time of destruction has not yet come, and we pray it will never come. – Lord, have mercy…
What is our reaction to God’s call and to God’s message? Will we run away from our responsibilities? Will we listen to God’s call to repentance, confessing our faith in Jesus, changing our behavior, and trusting in God over all?
III – God wants to reach others through our ministry
God’s love has no limit. In His eternal plan, He had decided to offer salvation to all, not just to the Jews. He sent Jonah to Nineveh, a Gentile city, and they repented. He sent someone who called us from darkness to His light and who baptized us. He called us to this Seminary to learn His message and to prepare us to be able to share His Word with others. And Jesus was sent to all, without discrimination.
We have to learn from the Bible, we have to learn from the History, we have to learn from our experience. The Seminary provides sound teaching based on the Bible. But knowledge is not all. Behavior goes hand by hand with knowledge. We are silly if we don’t learn from our own experience or from other people’s experiences. And God’s grace in Christ is plentiful among us to forgive us and to lead us in a godly life.
Conclusion: Jonah learned the lesson. He prayed for forgiveness in the belly of the fish and confessed his faith: “Salvation comes from the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). After this he was ready to do God’s will.
Jesus confirmed the historicity of Jonah’s story when He compared the length of time between His burial and resurrection to the miracle of Jonah surviving after three days in the belly of the fish (Matthew 12:40).
Daily repentance and confessing of faith is the way God shows us to follow as Christians. By our behavior and by our words we are witnessing to each other, to our neighborhood and to the great city of Pretoria, about who our God is and how merciful He is in Jesus. And sometimes in the future He will send us somewhere to preach repentance and forgiveness through faith in Christ. Are you willing to go? Are you ready to go? This is the goal of this Seminary: To prepare you for going to the Gentiles to preach the message of God.
May God give us all in this new Academic Year faithfulness to follow His way, give love to deal with each other, and give strength to resist the temptations and turmoil of this life. Amen.
Rector Dr. Carlos Walter Winterle, LTS, Pretoria, 05 February 2019