A popular children’s book called Where’s Waldo has readers searching the pages to see if they can locate the red and white striped shirt of the books main character: Waldo. Sometimes I wonder if God ever feels that way about us? We just finished a eight-week sermon series called “Sent.” But we struggle to actually incorporate the actions of being sent into our everyday lives. Jonah had a similar problem! Far from being just a story about a man who got swallowed by a big fish, Jonah is an epic tale of our struggle to embrace the immensity of God’s compassion for this world. “Where’s Jonah” will give us the opportunity to marvel at and be moved by God’s unfathomable grace. (August, September 2020)
Arise and Go!
Sunday, August 2 – The book of Jonah begins and ends with God speaking. The story is about God, his Word and its impact on those who hear it. Jonah was a prophet, we might say a pastor to God’s Old Testament people in a time when the leadership, the government of Israel had become corrupt. There were two kinds of prophets/pastors in that day, those who preached what those in power wanted to hear and those who spoke the truth as it was revealed to them from God. Jonah gets the shock of his life when God says, “Arise, go to Nineveh.” Imagine being sent to the heart of Berlin at the height of WWII, or to Moscow at the peak of communist power, to call for repentance! But God’s Word will not be constrained by social, geographical, and moral boundaries. Jesus is for all people. Arise and Go are more than a little uncomfortable still today.
Sunday, August 9 – The plot thickens, as they say. God speaks. Jonah flees. And God pursues him. The storm is not wanton destruction or God’s temper tantrum. His goal is to save Jonah and the sailors. God will never give up on us. As the “Hound of Heaven” God persists in seeking out, even those who run away from him, with the hope that they will come to embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ which is for everyone. Behind the storm, beneath the waves is a merciful, compassionate, and gracious God who proves his infinite love by going all the way to the cross to rescue us from sin and death.
Sunday, August 16 – Jonah imagined he could escape God’s call through death. But rather than kill Jonah God saves him by means of the great fish. There is nowhere in the world, even death, where we can escape God’s loving presence. Jesus will cite Jonah’s three days and three nights in the belly of the fish as a reference to his own resurrection! Through death God destroys death. Swallowed and saved Jonah prays. Such is our instinct in the face of disaster. And God hears our prayer. Jonah is saved by God’s grace alone, a grace we receive through faith in Jesus. Now what?
Sunday, August 23 – Jonah is the only prophet in the Bible who had to be called by God twice! Interestingly, God doesn’t even mention his first failure. He graciously gives him a second chance. And as one commentator put it: “The bedraggled, seaweed-draped, vomit-stained, and traumatized prophet was a bit more receptive to the Word of God this time!” Jonah preaches. Nineveh repents. And God relents from the destruction they justly deserved. Once again, the power of God’s Word to change the hearts of fallen and broken human beings rings loud and clear. Once again, God’s amazing grace dumbfounds us all.
Sunday, August 30 – If the story had ended after chapter 3 we might expect to read that the sailors, Jonah, and the people of Nineveh lived happily ever after trusting and believing in God who is merciful and gracious to all! But, no, instead we find Jonah exceedingly angry with God. Nineveh’s evil had risen up before God (1:2). Jonah had begrudgingly preached God’s Word and the Ninevites were transformed. Jonah now steps into the place of Nineveh. He will accuse God of evil. Swallowed by a big fish, Jonah is now swallowed up by his anger. “It’s not fair!” Jonah protests. Evil people should be punished. Where’s the justice?! And there is the lesson God seeks us to learn. In Jesus God’s mercy and grace trumps his justice everytime.
Sunday, September 6 – Jonah’s self-righteous anger and his cry for justice according to his standards is met by God’s patience and his call for Jonah to rethink his situation. As one commentator put, “Here the Lord of history, who rules the wind and sea…, who has converted and saved a formerly wicked metropolis, stoops down to hold conversation with a pouting child. What patience! What grace!” (Concordia Commentary on Jonah, Reed Lessing). The story ends without revealing whether or not Jonah turned from his anger. Such open-ended stories beg the question of our ongoing response to God’s mercy and grace in our own lives and for all people, even those we would rather he not save.