Midweek Lenten Sermon 1, February 24, 2010

The Sign Of Jonah

A Series Of Special Services for Lent

by Dr. Reed Lessing

 First Week Of Lent: Saved In The Storm

             “For this job,” said the personnel director, “we are looking for a responsible man.”

            “That’s me,” said the applicant. “Everywhere I’ve worked, whenever anything went wrong they said I was responsible.”

            This is Jonah! He is responsible for going down to Joppa, going down into the ship, lying down in the innermost recesses of the vessel, and he is even responsible for the sailors lifting him up and throwing him into the raging sea!

            In spite of this the LORD does not send someone else; he didn’t let Jonah get away with it.  Jonah may have won the battle, but God will win the war.  To do so God sends in the big gun, “the perfect storm.”

            Strangely enough, the LORD employs the wind to bring order out of Jonah’s chaos.  By interrupting Jonah’s plans to flee, God is saving him.  Even the chaotic wind is an agent of God’s saving power.

            This isn’t as unusual as it may sound.  Storms sometimes function as special moments to display Yahweh’s splendor .  Job is contacted by the Lord “out of the stormwind” (Job 38:1).  Elijah hears a mighty wind just before God speaks to him in “a still small voice” (1 Kings 19:11).  Jeremiah speaks of “the storm of Yahweh” breaking the heads of the false prophets (Jeremiah 23:19).  All of these prophets experienced their God in the winds of the storm, as did the disciples on the day of Pentecost.  But not our Jonah.  No … Jonah snores on in his sin . So profound is his slumber that Jonah is cut off not only from the action on deck, but from the action of his God.

             Do you have a Tarshish?  Do you have a place that you know is the exact opposite of the place where God wants you to go?  Eventually, you know, it is going to be found out.  The LORD will send the perfect storm.  It is foolish to run.  The LORD who can calm the troubled waters of your life is the same LORD who can stir them up to a great frenzy.  So when we persist in our disobedience, he gets rougher.  He begins gently, but in the end he sends the tempest. 

            If you are on the run, don’t believe God is going to ignore it.  He is going to work to wake you up to see the consequences of your actions.  A drunken husband snuck up the stairs quietly.  He looked in the bathroom mirror and bandaged the bumps and bruises he’d received in a fight earlier that night.  He then proceeded to climb into bed, smiling at the thought that he’d pulled one over on his wife.  When morning came, he opened his eyes and there stood his wife.  “You were drunk last night weren’t you!”  “No honey.”  “Well, if you weren’t, then who put all the Band-Aids on the bathroom mirror?”

          Running is useless.  Pretending that everything is okay is pointless.  We cannot escape God’s notice.  We cannot go where he is not.  Psalm 139 reminded us of that:  “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”

            God is almighty.  There is nothing he cannot do.  He is all-knowing.  He knows everything.  The LORD is present everywhere.  The sailors seems to understand this!  They, especially when compared to the Lord’s naughty prophet, demonstrate remarkable self-restraint (not something sailors are traditionally credited with!), concern for the safety and welfare of Jonah (when they might have tried to save their own skins!), and reverence toward Jonah’s God (unlike Jonah himself, who is running from God’s presence!).

            As Jonah is “going down” (both literally and figuratively—by the end of the first chapter Jonah is sinking into the briny deep), the sailors are arising in both character and in faith toward God.

      Jonah is becoming a joke.  The sailors and their captain are becoming children of the Lord.

            Three athletes are about to be executed.  One is a soccer player, one is a tennis player, and the third is a tall blond-haired football player.  The guard brings the soccer player forward and the executioner asks if he has any last requests.  He says “No,” and the executioner shouts, “Ready!… Aim!…”  Suddenly the soccer player yells, “EARTHQUAKE!”  Everyone is startled and looks around.  And he escapes.  The guard brings the tennis player forward and the executioner asks if he has any last requests.  He says “No,” and the executioner shouts, “Ready!… Aim!…”  Suddenly the tennis player yells, “TORNADO!”  Everyone is startled and looks around.  And he escapes.  By now the tall, blond-headed football player has it all figured out.  The guard brings him forward and the executioner asks if he has any last requests.  He says “No,” and the executioner shouts, “Ready!…Aim!…” …and the football player yells, “FIRE!”  To all the tall, blond-headed football players in our midst, I apologize.  But the truth is the truth you know: There are times when we have all wanted to escape, and in doing so we do everything wrong.  This is Jonah!

          And then there is Jonah’s God.  When asked about himself, Jonah describes his Lord to the sailors: “I am a Hebrew,” Jonah replied. “I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”  His description is a rich one.  By describing the Lord as the one who made the sea and the dry land, Jonah is conjuring up strong images from the past.  His God is the CREATOR, who brought order to chaos.  But Jonah’s God is also the SAVIOR, who guided Noah’s ark to Ararat and who brought his children safely through the Red Sea on dry land.  Even in the storm (especially in the storm), Jonah was mindful that his God saves those who are in peril on the sea.

            From our Gospel reading we know that Jonah’s description of God fits Jesus as well.  The storm-stiller protects his people in peril on the sea.  More than that, of course, our Savior’s stern command stills the storms of sin and death, forever calming those rough seas and guiding us into heaven’s safe harbor.

            “You’ve got to throw me into the sea,” Jonah told the sailors.  And though they tried to avoid it, that’s what they finally had to do.  Jonah was sacrificed to the waves … and they were stilled.

            Jesus’ sacrifice is similar to that of Jonah’s.  St. Paul writes “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Both sacrifices still the storm.  More than that, both Jonah and Jesus are God’s sacrifices when they come under his judgment, both are raised to new life, and both provide deliverance for others.

            God sends storms to awake us to faith, but then when we cry out to him he calms the storm through his love for us in Jesus.  He is our Savior and through him we survive the storms of life, even those we bring to ourselves!         Did you notice that the sailor’s confession of faith is analogous to that of the disciples ?  Both saw God’s storm-stilling power and were awed by the saving work of their Lord.  This is our confession as well! “The Stiller-Of-Storms is our Savior and Lord!” Amen.


By Dr. Reed Lessing. © 2010 by Creative Communications for the Parish. 800-325-9414. creativecommunications.com.