Summary: Are we heeding the call of God on our lives?
Jonah 1:1-7, 15-17, 2:10, 3:1-5, 10
By: Rev. Kenneth Sauer, Pastor of Parkview United Methodist Church, Newport News, VA
According to a famous parable: There once was a fishing village on the shore of a great lake stocked full of fish. The fishermen of the village diligently debated and discussed what fishing is, how best to do it, and which equipment to use.
They invested millions in boats and gear and a fishing headquarters, hired a staff, and sent emissaries around the world to search other lakes and rivers for fish.
One day, a little child stood up in their meeting and asked, “You all claim to be great fishermen—how come you’ve never actually caught one?”
They had never even been fishing.
We aren’t the first persons to be reluctant to share our faith with strangers.
The Book of Jonah, one of the oldest books in the Bible, tells the familiar story of a reluctant evangelist.
Rather than heeding God’s call to reach out to the strangers in Nineveh, Jonah fled in the other direction.
Ironically, in his reluctance to be a “fisherman” for God, Jonah became fish bait himself!
To put the story of Jonah into a bit of perspective, we have to understand that the Jewish people were, in many ways, a very prejudice people.
They believed that they were God’s chosen people, and no one else even stood a chance.
It was normal and acceptable practice for the upstanding and pious Jew to have nothing to do with the non-Jew or the Gentile as they are called.
As a matter of fact, any association with a Gentile would cause a good, clean Jew to become unclean!!!
The Jews thought so low of anyone who were not within their bloodline that they actually disdainfully referred to them as “dogs.”
Therefore, for God to call Jonah to preach to the city of Nineveh was a loathsome task at best!!!
Not only were the Ninevites Gentiles, they were also one of the most wicked cities on the planet!
So, the Ninevites were not just dogs, they were really, really bad dogs!!!
How could God call Jonah to preach repentance to these sub-humans?
Jonah had been taught, through human tradition to hate these folks, and this hate was so deep he couldn’t shake it.
So when God calls Jonah to go to
Nineveh, Jonah instead takes a ship--in the opposite direction—to Tarshish (which is Spain) in order to get away from God!
But it’s not so easy to ‘get away from God.’
God sent a storm, and Jonah saw another way to escape God.
Perhaps he might drown.
Then how could he go to Nineveh?
Jonah would rather die than face these dogs of Nineveh!!!
Prejudice sure can run deep, can it not?
It’s a hard thing to shake.
Anyhow, I love what we see in verse 17 of Chapter 1.
Jonah is thrown overboard, he’s ready to die rather than offer these people God’s forgiveness, but…
… “The Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.”
If it weren’t for that fish, Jonah would have drown.
Instead, God provided a means to save Jonah from his self-destruction!!!
God always takes the intuitive when it comes to our salvation.
And although it was dark and lonely and frightening inside that great fish, it provided Jonah with…not only a second chance at life…but Jonah prayed a long prayer to God.
In the darkness of his depression and running from God’s call, Jonah got back in touch with God.
That fish was God’s prevenient grace in action!
Jonah had not been looking for it.
He had not consciously wanted it.
He had certainly not asked for it, but God was there…
…giving Jonah a second chance.
How often has God given you, or me a second chance?
I think that God understood Jonah’s plight quite well.
He understood Jonah’s prejudice and where it had come from.
He knew Jonah was running from His call.
But God continued to love Jonah despite Jonah!
Remember that, when you are feeling low.
Remember that, when you feel like being tossed overboard to die.
God loves you.
God understands you.
God will provide a way for you.
Also, keep God’s grace in mind whenever you might be called to do a task that you don’t feel you are up to doing.
Perhaps this task will bring with it great anxiety.
Perhaps the thought of it will plunge you into fear and depression.
But it’s God’s call.
It’s God’s plan.
And you are very much loved by God!
We must also keep in mind that God very much loves the Ninevites….
…A nation of 120,000 people who, as God puts it in Chapter 4:11, “cannot tell their right hand from their left.”