Thursday, March 19, 2009

Jonah 2; Lent 4; March 18, 2009; Jonah, the Survivor Series by Dr. Reed Lessing;

Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying, “I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me. Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.’ The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God. When my life was fainting away, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the Lord!” And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land. (Jonah 2, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

It’s a bit extreme don’t ya think? I mean Jonah praying inside of the fish. Sure he ran from God. Sure he was reluctant to do what God wanted, but now look. Jonah prays. Well of course he prays. He’s been swallowed by a fish! Now don’t be getting the idea that this is some make believe story about when we are suppose to pray. All those years ago, the Bible tells us this is actually what happened. How did he survive? How did he breathe? How is that he didn’t digest? Well, I don’t have answers for that, but I do know that when Jonah ran from God, God sent a fish, a great big fish, and Jonah was in there, in trouble and he prayed. Now there is something you can understand; Jonah praying from the depth of his trouble. All the time up to here he’s been running away. He can’t get any further from God. God has caught him captive to capture his attention. And He has it. Jonah prays.

You and I pray like that don’t we? When things are going well and we are running our own lives, when the cash flow is good, when work is working well, when the church isn’t fighting, when we can shop for all the toys we want, God is out of the picture. We are actually more comfortable with God that way. When he’s at arms length or more He’s safe. Remember when Moses was on the mountain and he wanted to see God. God said, No! If you see me you’ll die. Moses insisted. God pushed Moses into a cave and covered it with his hand and Moses was able to see God’s “backside” just the glow of His glory. Moses glowed for weeks. He had to cover his face because just the glow was terrifying for the people of Israel. A close God isn’t safe. A close God has demands. A close God has to be dealt with. When God is close He sees the stuff I do. He knows the stuff I think. When God is close He wants to be in control. Better to keep God away than to get singed. And we do get singed. Wherever God is He brings the law with him. You shall not covet. You shall not kill. You shall not bear false witness. You can’t avoid the problem you have with these laws when God is near. It’s the same reaction you get when you tell people that something they are involved in is sinful. That kind of talk can get you killed.

“The bible says, Judge not lest ye be judged.”

Even people who don’t know anything else about the bible know this passage. And they say it in the “King’s English” for added authority. What they mean is that you can’t tell them that anything they choose to do is wrong. They use the passage to push you away, to push God’s judgment against them away. To get God out of the picture. It is a natural reaction to God.

We do it, too. We want, what we want, when we want it. God’s presence in our lives shows us our sinful nature. He makes our sin stand out. The mirror of God’s law shows us our sin.

And sometimes God lets us dig our own grave. That’s what Jonah did. He went down to the sea. He went down into the bottom of the boat. He went down into the water. He went down in to the belly of the fish. He went down into the deepest part of the sea. All to get away from God. Then at his lowest point. Jonah prays.

Has that ever happened to you? God leaves you on your own. God shows you your sin and you ignore Him. He lets it have its way with your live. Chaos follows. Trouble comes. Life breaks down. Happiness fleas. You find your self in the belly of the fish led there by your behavior. Life gets hard, impossible… then you pray.

One tribe of Native Americans had a unique practice for training young braves. On the night of a boy’s thirteenth birthday, he was placed in a dense forest to spend the entire night alone. Until then he had never been away from the security of his family and tribe. But on this night he was blindfolded and taken miles away. When he took off the blindfold, he was in the middle of thick woods. By himself. All night long. Every time a twig snapped, he probably visualized a wild animal ready to pounce. Every time an animal howled, he imagined a wolf leaping out of the darkness. Every time the wind blew, he wondered what more sinister sound it masked. No doubt it was a terrifying night for many. After what seemed like an eternity, the first rays of sunlight entered the interior of the forest. Looking around, the boy saw flowers, trees, and the outline of the path. Then, to his utter astonishment, he beheld the figure of a man standing just a few feet away, armed with a bow and arrow. It was the boy’s father. He had been there all night long.

Jonah wanted God out. But in his deep distress, when he was a lost and condemned creature, when he was helpless, he turned to God for help. But he wasn’t alone. God was with him all along. He guided and directed all the events that brought Jonah to prayer. Jonah prays. God hadn’t abandoned him. The fish spit him out on the shore.

Jonah’s story, our story, is also God’s story in Jesus. Jonah faced God’s judgment and so did Our Savior. Jesus’ life seemed to spiral out of control. He told people that He was God come near. Repent for the kingdom of God is near. People replied as they always do, “Judge not lest ye be judged!” That kind of talk got Jesus killed. He ate with outsiders. He forgave sins. He healed and preached his way right to the cross. God’s judgment came down on Jesus. In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed. When Jesus was hung on the cross, he prayed. Now here’s the thing. Jesus was left alone. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me!” It’s a psalm, a prayer. God, the Father, turned away from Jesus. His judgment came down in full. Everything that happened to Jesus was directed by Him. And in his hour of greatest need, when he faced the full judgment of God, Jesus was left alone. The horror of it might just be too much to contemplate. That is our judgment. We push God out of our lives and He should just leave us to it. We should be hanging on the cross there with Jesus crying out for God to save us. And God should turn away and forsake us completely. And he does that to Jesus. Alone, afraid and suffering he dies. It is the punishment of total separation from God. It is what our sin deserves, but Jesus takes it for us. Jesus was spit out of death. He rose again from death. He was forsaken by God and then reclaimed. Jesus lives. Three days in the fish made Jonah a new man. Three days in the grave by Jesus makes you a new man, a new woman. Just as Jesus suffered for you He rises from the dead for you, too.

You are not alone in your suffering. Sometimes God allows you to go down, down, down, your own way until you find yourself alone and afraid. But God never leaves you. He left Jesus alone on the cross instead. That punishment was already poured out on Jesus. Forever alive, Jesus is now with you always. Like the Indian father in the woods. Jesus watches over you. When you are in trouble, and think you are alone, when you have lost everything else, you are forced to turn to God. When you are in the belly of a great big fish… you pray. And God is with you, there in the middle of your suffering. He promises life, when all you can see is death. Even if your trouble ends that way, you have a way through it. God will cause death to spit you out. Jesus life is your life. Your trouble isn’t the last Word, but Jesus is. That’s how you survive the belly of the great big fish. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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