Sunday message: Jonah overboard (The sign of Jonah part 2)

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 18, 2019


Psalm 82

Matthew 12:38-42

Jonah 1:1-17

The curtain opened on the incredible story of God and God’s prophet last Sunday. Scene 1 was entitled: “God calls Jonah,” and it read as follows: “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, ‘Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.’ But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.”

God called God’s prophet to go to Nineveh. This call was a little bit to the north and a lot to the east. Jonah headed for Tarshish, which was a little bit to the south and a lot to the west. Jonah’s purpose was to flee from the presence of the Lord. Jonah was indeed a reluctant prophet of God’s. 

Scene 2 takes place onboard the ship that Jonah chartered to take him as far from the presence of the Lord as possible. We’re not told how far the ship sails westward across the Mediterranean Sea. All we’re told is that the voyage is suddenly interrupted with a big, loud “But…” That’s the sound of God saying, ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts and my ways are not your ways.’ And ‘My will be done,’ even if it is contrary to your will.

We at Dayspring are, in a sense, on a voyage. I don’t need to remind you that our congregation’s name is derived from the ship by the name “Dayspring” that sailed on a mission from Nova Scotia to the New Hebrides in the South Pacific. So in a sense, it once again is a voyage – albeit it in a different form – for us as a faith community. Some of you’ll recall that in 1969 this congregation was started as a “New Church Development” as a ministry in the southwest of Edmonton. It was a mission-oriented move, meant to expand Presbyterian ministry in the southwest of Edmonton. 

Fifty years later, we know that the Lord has been good to us in many ways. We expanded our own building and many building projects have been completed. We have no mortgages to pay off anymore. 

How do you and I respond to this piece of God’s grace towards us? Do we see it as a chance to sit back and relax? Do we look at it as a moment to enjoy the fruit of our labours, so to speak? Or as we are reminded of so regularly, do we look upon it as a God-given moment in our life as a faith community to “Go out”? Maybe not as much to a “city filled with wickedness”, but nevertheless to “go out”. 

For a series of six, which started off last Sunday, I plan to pause, along with you, around “The Sign of Jonah”. I am curious as to how God speaks to Heinrich, and how God speaks to each one of us. 

You see, on three separate occasions, the Pharisees, Scribes and the crowds asked Jesus to give them a sign to convince them of who He is and what He’s up to. On all three occasions, Jesus answers the same way. “No sign will be given to you except the sign of Jonah.” In other words, knowing the story of Jonah is important to knowing the story of Jesus Christ. So our mission now is to get to know the story of Jonah. 

According to this morning’s reading we find Jonah being on the ship on his way to Tarshish, which is in the vicinity of where Spain is today. And now the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea.

Perhaps our sea is not nearly as stormy as the one that Jonah finds himself in. Our sea is actually a very placid sea. It is a sea of comfort and one of feeling quite secure. Does this mean that God can’t speak to us as well?

Well, through the story of Jonah, we too can be brought to a place of discomfort. We need to continue to ask ourselves whether God does not have a greater purpose for us, beyond the four walls of this church building. 

When God calls it is for a purpose. And in our minds we can run away from God’s call. No matter how far or hard you and I try to run, God always wins. Some of us learn that early on in life. For others of us it takes a lifetime. We head for our own private Spain. Yet, God has a way of getting us where God wants us. Sometimes life is generally quite good. At other times, life gets stormy, choppy, and more often than not we end up overboard. Like Jonah, when we ignore God’s call in our lives, it leads to stormy, treacherous, and desperate times. And, as was the case for Jonah, all but the most stubborn or obstinate of us cry to God for help.

Another name for that is crisis religion. It reminds me that in Chinese there are two characters for the word crisis. One means “turmoil and tragedy” and the other “opportunity”! Crisis is God’s way of creating an opportunity for us to respond to God. I mean, who else is there to call upon in a crisis but God? 

Crisis is God’s way of creating a context for change in our lives. Again and again in the Bible when people encounter God it is in a time of crisis, and a genuine response leads to change, a shift in values and life’s orientation. Lives change, or at least begin to change, and people begin to live differently. Encountering God means change in direction. 

God cares for you and me and wants to guide each one of us. 

Whenever you are tempted, whenever clouds arise,
When songs give place to sighing, when hope within you dies,
You can draw closer to Him, from care He sets you free;
Because — His eye is on the sparrow, and we know He watches us.

Today, God watches us and we can allow God to speak to us. It doesn’t help running away or putting our heads under the sand to ignore God’s call. Jonah had to be thrown overboard for the sea to cease from its raging. For the next number of weeks we will be looking at how the Lord is speaking to us here at Dayspring in this year of 2019. After Jonah was thrown overboard, he was swallowed up and spit out. So, next week, the curtain will open on scene 3: “Jonah in the belly of the fish”. Let’s allow the story of Jonah to speak to us today in 2019 as well. Amen


Copyright 2019 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church

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