Sunday, June 24, 2012

Reflection on Jonah

“Hey, good morning!” After a few comments about the flood damage last week, Brad said, “I thought it would be appropriate today to preach about Noah.” Which got laughs from the congregation. He did, however, decide to talk about Jonah, whose story is also water related.

Darlene helped us transition into worship with a sensitive and melodic tune. Brad then read Psalm 133 .
The worship singing itself was led by Brad with accompaniment by Darlene. 

The Scripture reading was from Jonah 2 in prepation for the message.

Reflection on Jonah 

One of the problems we have with the book of Jonah, a lot of people think they know the story. But they don’t. At the beginning of the story the Word of God comes to Jonah to tell the people of Nineveh that God’s judgment is coming. Jonah goes the opposite direction. When he is thrown overboard the Lord appoints a great fish to swallow Jonah. (Pastor Shannon made a big show of testing us on this, lest we think it was a whale when Scripture specifically calls it a great fish.) Three days and three nights he was in the belly of that fish. The fish had been commissioned by God to pick up Jonah, as if God spoke and the fish obeyed.

Because of the nature of this story, since I have been a kid, it seems like a hard to believe kind of story. Brad took this further. "I am glad you’re here and if we have trouble with this, that’s O.K."

Brad brought to our minds how a number of years ago a man had survived being inside a whale for three days, as if this we need proofs like that to assure us that the Bible is true. "The point of the book is not about what kind or whether a giant fish that can swallow man for three days. The point is, it would take a miracle for this to happen. And is God capable of miracles" We know the answer to this.

Brad noted how one of the key words in this book was the word great. Jonah is instructed to go to a great city, he flees and there is a great storm, great fish, etc. God does great things.

In contrast, the key word associated with Jonah, is down. He went down to Joppa, down into the sea, down into the belly of a great fish. Down to to the very bottom where Jonah is finally constrained and can do nothing now on his own, except pray.

The sea was a place of great fear for the Israelites, a place of death. Hence Jonah begins his prayer, "From the depths of the grave I called for help…” and in another translation we read, "From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help."

This is a strange story, a man praying from inside the guts of a fish. He had been told to go to Nineveh but instead went to Joppa. He didn’t pray about where to go… didn't pray about getting on the ship.

Why did Jonah begin to pray? He had nothing else to do. He had hit rock bottom.

Why do we have a hard time praying? It may be we have so many other things to do… we’re too distracted. Jonah was brought down and he had nothing left. Jonah had had his own plans, but they all resulted in disasters.

So we reach the point of it. This story is all about hitting bottom. There, he discovers God. Hitting bottom was the best thing that ever happened to him.

Has anyone else been in over your head like Jonah was over his head? If yes, pray. God is never more than a prayer away. Even when we hit bottom and have nowhere else to go, God comes to us.

Jonah was rescued on the third day. Third days are pretty big in Bible stories. On the third day the fish vomited Jonah onto the beach.

All stories fit in two categories… tragedy or comedy. In tragedy joy loses, life loses, hope loses. In comedy hope wins.

This story is full of interesting elements. Pagan sailors come to the prophet and ask him to pray. Jonah is asleep in a boat in a storm while everyone else is in a panic? Sound familiar? Maybe this will trigger your memory. Jonah was from a town called Gath Nappur, not far from Nazareth.

Here's yet another clue. Jonah’s name means dove. When Jesus went down into the water at baptism, what did people see? A dove.

And when Jesus was confronted by the Jewish leaders as regards His being the Messiah, He told them they would receive no sign except "the sign of Jonah."

The early church met in the catacombs, underground tombs because of persecution. The first art inspired by Jesus, therefore, was not in cathedrals, it was in the catacombs. And the artwork most found in these catacombs was the story of Jonah.

The real message of Jonah is that death has no sting, the grave cannot hold us.

We were told the story of an alcoholic lawyer who went down and down, who ended up in rehab, and found his life again. Jesus says, “If you will let me, I will meet you at the cross. And I will be there to meet you at the tomb.”

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As a closing hymn we sang My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less.

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