Summary: New Year's Day 1989: Jonah, running from his responsibility, fell asleep. It might have been the sleep of a rationalized conscience; or depression. But a greater than Jonah is here, Christ, who can heal both conscience and soul.
It's not easy to stay out of the storms, no matter what escape you plan. It's just not easy to keep from getting rained on and buffeted around when the storm is coming, no matter what means you use to take shelter.
This week, on the afternoon of the sudden squall, I had gone home to attend to my wife after her surgery, and needed to run up to the drugstore to fill a prescription. Well, I got involved in first one thing and then another, kind of delayed running my little errand, and then I said to her, "It looks like we're going to have a heavy rain out there; let me go and get this done right now." Well, you can guess what happened: got in the car, drove to the pharmacy, found a parking space, and splash! Torrents broke loose, and all I could do was to sit there in the car for ten or fifteen minutes until it blew over. No matter what you try to do, it seems, you cannot avoid the storm. Leave early, leave late, hurry, slow down … it makes no difference. You will be touched in one way or another by the storm.
But I do want you to know who is caught upon his prayers by now! At the same time, during that same storm, Adrian and Deborah Arnold were driving along Fenton Street, past Montgomery College, heading toward Silver Spring. You saw in the newspaper about the wall that fell down? Guess who was right there? Guess whose car got hit and whose tire was cut? Right!! Now do you see my point? No matter where you are or what you do or how you try to escape, when the storm comes, it will touch you. You cannot really escape the storms.
At the beginning of the year, especially on New Year's Day, you may not feel like getting out of bed. I am not only referring to the nasty habit of staying up too late and lubricating the midnight hour too much; I am also thinking that you may not have wanted to get out of bed and face the storms that a new year will bring with it. Why, did you see those summaries of the past year the news stations did? Did you catch a glimpse of all the stuff that 1988 brought with it? Plane crashes, bombs, sex scandals, a murder on the average each day in this city ... what a storm! What a stormy, fractious, unpleasant year we've had! And it may very well be that you'd rather not even get out of bed to face another year like the last one. You'd just as soon sleep it off, go into hibernation; you'd just as soon get cozy and warm someplace and let the rest of the world go by.
But remember what I told you, remember what we agreed a moment ago: that no matter what you try to do, you will be touched in one way or another by the storm. And so when the storms come it will do very little good to hide or to sleep through; in one way or another you will have to meet the storms.
His mission was clear, but unpleasant. He knew what it was he was supposed to do. There was no mistaking that. He had no identity crisis, he was not caught up in indecision; he knew exactly what his mission and his destiny were. The problem is that he wanted nothing to do with that. He rejected everything he knew he ought to do. Summoned by his God to travel eastward to the great city of Nineveh, capital of the Assyrian Empire, and there to proclaim God's message, Jonah heard, but Jonah also rejected. Jonah understood that the living God had commissioned him, him, of all people, to penetrate the core of the enemy's home and there to announce that their wickedness was an offense to God. Jonah knew full well what he was called to do and to say, but Jonah couldn't face it. There would be a storm of anger; there would be a torrent of protest, and he just didn't want to deal with it.
And so when the morning came, Jonah packed his bags and instead of striking out toward the east and Nineveh, Jonah put the sun at his back and made for the port of Joppa, there to catch a ship going somewhere, anywhere, as far away as it would go. Jonah hoped to escape his duty, he hoped to run from his responsibility, and, though you and I think it's quaint and naive, Jonah seems to have felt that if he could sail far enough west, then he could also run from God himself.