12 Jul Jonah: Digging in our Heels
Water is an integral part of summer. Kids splashing in the neighborhood pool; fishing and boating; slip-n-slides and water parks; beach vacations; “noodles” and boogie boards; jet skis and water skis; watering parched plants and parched bodies. As both necessity and pleasure, water is a daily part of our lives.
Water is also a major theme in scripture. From the waters of creation to the prophetic vision of “flowing streams of justice,” water is as central to faith as it is to the physical body. Many of the great stories of the Bible take place in or around water: the woman at the well, the Israelites crossing the Red Sea, Jesus calming the storm on the lake, water turned to wine, Jonah thrown into the sea where he is swallowed by a big fish.
I’ll be preaching on Jonah this Sunday. Jonah is the fifth of the twelve Minor Prophets we’re studying this summer. I am loving this sermon series on these short, prophetic books of the Old Testament. Family feuds, evil, suffering, social injustice, spiritual dryness, waiting—these ancient writings touch on very contemporary concerns. Far from being irrelevant, they speak directly into our living rooms and our hearts.
Jonah is a familiar story that touches on familiar themes. Digging our heels in and being “stubborn as a mule” as the expression goes, is something most of us can relate to because most of us have experienced it. We don’t want to be inconvenienced. We don’t want to get involved. We don’t want to be bothered. We just don’t want to. We see a need and like Jonah, we want someone else to take care of it, or no one else to take care of it, but either way, we don’t want it to be our business or our concern.
Jonah was so adamantly opposed to getting involved that he chose to run away which didn’t work out so well for him. He forgot that it is impossible to run from God or to escape God’s presence. He also forgot that God’s love and compassion were not gifts for him to hoard for himself. He was a prophet, for Pete’s sake! His job was to invite everybody, everywhere to be part of God’s big family and part of the wonderful plan God has for all of creation to flourish. Jonah wanted to include some folks in the family and exclude others, an idea that God wasn’t a bit keen on.
Apparently, cooling your heels in a dark, slimy, stinky fish gut is a good place to get a new perspective, and when he found himself barfed out on the beach, Jonah got on with the task he’d been given to do. You might say the Jonah story is a nautical version of the phrase “hit over the head with a 2 x 4.” In other words, life—and God—has a way of getting our attention, one way or another. Occasionally, I am struck by something so beautiful that it has the power to change me right then and there. An insight comes when I am reading or walking or praying. A soaring piece of music opens my heart, or a stunning vista makes me aware of God in a fresh way. But most of the time, it’s something hard. I find myself in a dark place or a set of circumstances that really stink, and in that space, an eternal truth pierces my stubbornness, allowing me to gain a new perspective, a perspective more in line with the gracious love of God that God wants to permeate my entire being.
We’re going to have a lot of fun with Jonah on Sunday because as any kid can tell you, water and whales and stubborn prophets make a hilarious combination. Join us, if you’re local, for “The Jonah Soundtrack.” If you’re further afield, the sermon will be online early next week.
Yours for the Kingdom,