Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost – September 1, 2019
Jonah 1:11-17; 2:10 – 3:3
This morning we continue our series of sermons on the book of Jonah, titled “The sign of Jonah”. Today we look at scene 4. Scene 1 was about Jonah being called by the Lord to speak to the terrible city of Nineveh, but Jonah was refusing to obey and took a ship in the exact opposite direction. Scene 2 portrays the situation on board the ship as a fierce storm threatens to sink the ship. When Jonah asks to be thrown overboard because he knows the storm is due to him, a great calm comes over the sea. Sinking into the bottom of the sea, it is obvious that Jonah would drown. But then in scene 3 an enormous fish miraculously swallows him up and delivers Jonah onshore by spewing him out. As I said last Sunday, whether this happened historically is in a sense beside the point, and if it did happen, it says something about how almighty God is. However, fixating on a literal interpretation might take us off track. More importantly, we can rather listen to the human message received from God by listening to the deeper story.
The message is as fresh to us as it was when it was written long before the birth of Christ. It is about the sign of Jonah.
What is this sign of Jonah? Is it all about dying to ourselves? Does it perhaps refer to our baptism, where our old self dies and we become new people through faith? We’ll discover this as the series goes on.
Now, was Jonah changed, or just whipped; repentant or simply compliant? Standing there, soaking wet, on the shore of the Mediterranean, only a fool would have gone looking for another boat headed to Spain. This God is too big to fight; does Jonah decide to outsmart God? Perhaps Jonah was thinking, “Want me to go and preach to my arch enemy, the people of Nineveh? Okay, I’ll do just that, I’ll do it in spades.” “Look out Nineveh, God has had it with you, you are about to get yours!”
It stands out that Jonah is getting the message a second time around. We often tend to reason that God is like us and that the chances God gives us are limited, as we might give three warnings, but then we’ve had it. It becomes just too much, and we want to pull the plug. No, God is a God of second chances, of seventh chances and even “seven times seventy”; infinite. God does not give up on us.
My refrain throughout this series is: “What does it look like when we reach out beyond ourselves?” We might bump into obstacles. We expect the world out there to be resistant to what we have to say or do. So to stay safe and to avoid the risk of being rejected and therefore hurt we might find it easier to simply take care of our own.
But for you and me to be facing an environment of resistance to what we have to offer might feel like a crisis. My friends, it is not the biggest spiritual crisis we can experience. A crisis is only created when the Church refuses to recognize that in a non-Christian culture, the proper posture for believers can only be a missionary posture. I sense that our young ones are getting it, they want to take on a missionary posture, one of making a difference. This missionary path is the path that could take us to vitality. Will it not happen when we reclaim our missionary posture in the world, our so-called “gadfly status” of upsetting the status quo with principalities and powers of all types? While it is the path to vitality, it will be a path paved with integrity, that I have an inkling is the true way for the Church in the twenty-first century to go.
We might resist the call once, maybe a second time and many more times, but it is never too late. The chances are never over before God. But at the same time, we can’t keep on relying on those second chances, as Jesus’ parable of the fig tree illustrates it. Let’s spring into action and start affecting those around us. Jonah was about to lash out against a Nineveh that to him was beyond being saved, being redeemed. But were they so much beyond being saved? We shall see further along with the series as we proceed through the story of Jonah.
How long will God have to wait for us to come around to God’s way of loving?
Copyright 2019 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church
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