By Linda Rex
January 24, 2021, 3rd SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY—One of the fun Bible stories put into film by Veggie Tales was that of Jonah the prophet, who was eaten by a large fish and then spit up on the shore near Nineveh three days later. Not many people today have much faith in the miracle of this story, but it is one of the signs which Jesus said pointed toward his death and resurrection. Beyond Jonah being the big fish’s dinner is an element of the story which touches all of us and speaks to much of what we are facing today as a nation, and as a world.
With the number of deaths due to COVID-19 reaching beyond the two million mark, we are faced with the reality of the transience of human life and the fragility of its existence. We are impacted by the limitations of our circumstances and where we live—we may never see the blessing of a vaccine if we do not live in a country where they are provided and paid for. And if we choose the option to not receive this vaccine, what will be the impact on those around us whom we may infect or be infected by? What has been happening lately illustrates powerfully that what we do as individuals has consequences—not just for us, but for everyone else around us.
The story of Jonah speaks to the reality that every nation or people group, no matter its history or military prowess, has to answer to God for its conduct and the way its citizens conduct their lives. God told Jonah that the people of Nineveh were so overcome by evil and depravity that they were facing destruction—but later explained to Jonah that the people simply did not know their right hand from their left. In other words—they didn’t know any better. Jonah, whether he liked it or not, was sent to the Ninevites to help them see they needed to change—to turn away from their evil ways, and to begin living the way they were meant to live.
The church in many ways has failed our nation and the world by not simply helping people know they are loved and accepted, and that there are healthier ways of being in which we can and should live. So often as believers we have been happy to wish upon others God’s flaming judgment of destruction, just as Jonah sat up on the hill waiting to see God pour down flames of fire on Nineveh in response to their sin. We must never forget that God’s heart is not for any person’s destruction, but rather their salvation. It is more important to God that people see they are wrong, turn away from their sin to him in faith, and begin to live in outgoing love and service, than that they pay a painful and destructive consequence for the evil they are doing.
When Jesus arrived on the scene in Galilee following John the Baptizer’s imprisonment, he told the people that the time was fulfilled, the kingdom of God was at hand, and they were to repent and believe the gospel. He called people to believe and live out the good news of God’s love for humanity expressed in Christ—the One who revealed to us the Triune God who lives in other-centered love, unity, and equality as Father, Son, and Spirit. In Christ’s birth and as he lived here on earth, the Son of God inaugurated the kingdom of God. As the king of the kingdom, he called people to turn away from themselves and their sinful ways toward him in faith. Jesus spent time teaching disciples who were called to create new disciples, who would continue to expand this kingdom with more and more disciples or followers of Christ.
God’s word to Jonah as he sat waiting to see Nineveh get what it deserved is his word to the Church today. Are we waiting for Jesus to come and set everything to rights by bringing death and destruction to everything and everyone we believe is evil? Or do we recognize the simple truth that all people, including ourselves, simply do not fully realize what it means to be God’s beloved, those meant to be his adopted children who were created to love God and one another in other-centered love and humble service?
Jonah’s prejudice and hatred toward those he believed were unworthy of God’s love initially motivated him to try to avoid going to Nineveh at all. The ship he got on was headed for Tarshish instead. As believers, what ship are we on? Are we seeking the healing, transformation, renewal, and blessing of those who have different ideologies or beliefs than us, or whose background, status, or position in society is different than ours? Do we pray for, encourage, help, support, and speak words of life into those who just can’t seem to get beyond their addictions, poverty, or mental illness? Or do we avoid them, insult them, or even worse, seek their ostracism or destruction?
Jonah told the men on the boat headed for Tarshish as the storm grew stronger and stronger that they should just toss him over the side of the ship. He would rather have died than have done the simple thing God wanted him to do—call a people to repentance so that they would not die. Are we more willing to bury ourselves in our personal interests, agendas, and activities than to help others hear God’s word to them and to know that they are loved, and that God does not want their destruction, but rather, their salvation?
The apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 reminds us that the world in its present form is passing away. In time, all that we see around us will be either completely different or entirely gone. We are only passing through—we are citizens of a heavenly kingdom which will last forever, long after everything we see, feel, touch, taste, and hear is gone. Surely, we want to encourage each and every person we know to make a better choice, to choose a better way, than the path to desolation, separation, or isolation they are currently on. There is a way that leads to destruction and death, and then there is a way that leads to life and relationship, healing and renewal.
Jesus says to us, “Follow me.” His call to discipleship, to follow him and his ways, is a call to immediate action. Just as Jonah’s message was emphatic and urgent (within 40 days), Jesus’ message is also emphatic and urgent. Participate in the kingdom life now—don’t wait! This is the heart we are to express toward each and every person in our lives—now is the time of salvation! The kingdom of God has come in Christ and will be established in its fullness when he comes in glory to set up the new heavens and new earth. One precious blessing we will experience then will be life with each and every person with which we have had the privilege of sharing this good news today. What a great reason to get busy sharing the good news right now!
Dear Lord, thank you for your forgiveness of our refusal to share the good news with others. Thank you for resisting and working against our prejudices, our hatred, and our condemnation of others. Grant us the grace to receive your correction, to accept your heart of love and grace toward all people, and to embrace the urgency of sharing the good news of Jesus. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
“Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’ As He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. Going on a little farther, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets. Immediately He called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went away to follow Him.” Mark 1:14-20 NASB
See also Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:9–12.
By Linda Rex
October 6, 2019, Proper 22—My daughter has a furry cat friend named Ramen who has a sparkling personality and an inquisitive nature. Whenever she gets stuck in a place she cannot escape from, such as a pet carrier or a room, she is very vocal about her desire for more freedom to explore. Sometimes it is necessary to limit her ability to move around, even though doing so means we will be treated to a long-winded meowing session.
There are times when I act like Ramen. Situations or relational necessities limit my freedom to do things the way I prefer. People, and even God, don’t handle things the way I think they need to be handled. I get stuck in a place I’d rather not be and it is so easy to let everyone in my life know my frustration, anger, and anxiety.
How hard it is to wait on God! It seems that we pray for this or that and the only thing we get in return is a long wait. Sometimes a very, very long wait. Waiting is not our strong point, especially those of us who are caught up in this fast-paced, techno-driven society. So instead of patiently waiting, we fret. We moan and complain. We throw up our hands in frustration and disappointment and take matters into our own hands. And that’s when things go wrong.
It’s hard to get our mind around the idea that we have a loving, generous, compassionate Dad who is looking out for our best interests. It is really hard to see this, much less believe it, when everything tangible and visible in our lives is in chaos or falling apart. When our expectations are not being met, when we cannot control the outcome of what is happening, then we start our meowing, thinking that the more noise we make, the better the outcome will be. And when that doesn’t work, we take over, doing our best to fix the situation ourselves.
In Luke 17:5-10, Jesus told his disciples that if they had the faith of a mustard seed, they could tell a mulberry tree to be moved and planted in the ocean and it would happen. Then he said that when a master has a slave come in from working in the field, that slave tends to the master’s needs not the master to the slave’s needs. No matter what the slave may have done that day, in spite of all his good effort, his worth or value is not in his performance—he has only done what was expected of him.
It seems that even the smallest amount of faith will accomplish great things. The problem is that we depend upon our own faith, not on Christ and his perfect faith in his Abba. There is no doubt in Jesus’ mind that his Father is good, compassionate and gracious. He is convinced that whatever is needful and good for us, his Abba will do. So, he trusts him implicitly. Our faith, in comparison, is often even smaller than mustard seed in size. We need Jesus to give us his perfect trust in his heavenly Father.
We can do all we want to in order to gain our Abba’s approval and acceptance. But if we are working the “do good so God will bless me” angle, we are going to be sorely disappointed. Whatever we do as God’s children is merely what is expected of us—we cannot coerce God into changing his mind by our human efforts, nor by our incessant demands on him. What God does or does not do has its basis in his nature, which is love.
Don’t get me wrong—God listens. He hears. He feels our pain and understands our struggles. In Jesus, he shares all the difficulties of our human existence. By the Spirit, he is present in every situation and circumstance. His heart is moved with compassion for us when we are in pain or in dire straits. He wants to help us, deliver us, and restore us.
But God is not a robot or a machine. The minute we approach our difficulties from the point of view “if I do this, then he has to do that”, of cause and effect, then we are caught up in magical thinking. We are turning God into an idol, forgetting that Abba is a divine Person, with his own will, preferences, thoughts and plans which are far above what our feeble human minds can grasp. God is free to do what is loving, gracious, and just. That just might mean he says no or it may mean we have to wait or be stuck in a difficult situation for an extended period of time.
Waiting on God is difficult. But when we surrender to the waiting, seeking silence in God’s presence rather than meowing at him for hours on end, we find that God all of a sudden becomes very present in the situation by the Spirit. As we slow down and wait silently on God, even taking time for silence in our prayers to Abba, we begin to realize the loving presence of Abba in the midst of our struggle.
Sometimes we don’t have an answer to the difficulty because we have never been silent long enough to hear what God is saying to us. Like our little kitty who just keeps meowing, we drown out the tender loving voice of the Spirit telling us all will be well and the solution is coming. Instead of being angry about the limitations we are facing, we could be grateful for God’s presence and care in the midst of them, and be reassured that God is presently at work in the situation bringing about his purposes and plans. Silent waiting brings our hearts and minds into resonance with God’s heart and mind, calming us and giving us peace.
Waiting in the silence with Jesus means trusting Abba to do the most loving, gracious and just thing in the situation that he can possibly do. It means having the faith to believe that God loves us and wants our best in every circumstance. And if we struggle with trust, we turn to Jesus, and draw upon his perfect trust in his Father.
I’m thinking this would be a good day to stop the noise and to be silent with God. What is it that we’ve been waiting for him to do? What things in our lives are limiting us and preventing us from being free to follow God’s lead into a new place? Perhaps it is time to stop the meowing and just sit silently with the One who already has the solution in motion and find out what he has in mind, surrendering ourselves to his wishes.
Dearest Abba, forgive us for being so noisy about not getting our way and not being able to make things go the way we want them to go. Grant us the grace to sit in silence with you, to be open and receptive to your Spirit, and obedient to the words of life you give us. Enable us to rest each day in your serenity and peace, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, / Because of the man who carries out wicked schemes. Cease from anger and forsake wrath; / Do not fret; it leads only to evildoing.” Psalm 37:7-8 NASB
“The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, / To the person who seeks Him. / It is good that he awaits silently / For the salvation of the Lord.” Lamentations 3:25-26 NASB