Saturday, September 08, 2007

Journeying with Jonah

Family Baptism Service (and me going back to leave!) – 9.9.07
Jonah 3

Reading and thinking through the story of Jonah again for this morning, I remembered a service I was involved in a good number of years ago that was also based around Jonah and his encounters with God.

That service was back at the church I originally came from and it was the 20’s group’s turn to lead the Family Service. (20’s group was not surprisingly a church group for people in their twenties who met together to socialise as well as share in things of faith together, like prayer and Bible study).
I can remember the planning meeting when we were deciding what to do and I remember that a sketch, as well as readings, prayers and songs were going to be involved. And I refused point blank to do any of the things that involved standing up in front of the congregation, let alone reading or saying anything! I was quite happy to spend hours creating a load of giant signs that accompanied Jonah through the sketch, and I was eventually persuaded to actually stand and hold them up – though I still refused to utter a word and managed to hold the signs right in front of my face so I couldn’t be seen.

And somehow God has brought me on a rather exciting journey from thinking about Jonah that day, to thinking about Jonah on this day – and quite a lot’s changed in between! Because that’s what God does when we decide to welcome him into our journey through life (I don’t mean he turns us all into vicars!) but he comes alongside and shows us what we’re capable of – and more to the point, what he’s capable of!

Today the families of N, N and N are inviting God to come and be a part of their journeys through life as they’re baptised into God’s family a bit later in the service; and their parents and godparents will promise to help and encourage them on the way.

And it’s not just me – moving from ---- to ---- ; and these children – beginning their journey through baptism; who are journeying today – we all are – some perhaps walking confidently and familiarly with God, some stumbling a bit on the way but held by him all the same and others yet to welcome him alongside them.

And if we look at good old Jonah this morning we see another rather messy, but somehow reassuring journey with God…

We heard one part of the story read to us, but let’s just go back to the beginning and see what had happened before that…

Volunteer to be God (hold sign: “Go to Nineveh”)
Volunteer to be Jonah (hold signs: “No Lord!” and “Yes Lord!”)
One more volunteer (hold pictures of map, ship and fish)

(That’s one good use for all the used packing boxes anyway!)

One day God spoke to Jonah and said, Go to Nineveh. God had seen the wickedness of the people there and wanted to send Jonah to speak out against it.

But Jonah wasn’t very enthusiastic… No Lord! And he ran away in the opposite direction (map: Jonah… Nineveh)

Jonah found a ship sailing to Tarshish – the other way – so he paid his fare and went aboard. (ship).

But the Lord sent a great wind on the sea and there was a fierce storm (rock the ship). Everyone on the ship was very frightened, though not Jonah who had gone below deck and was fast asleep.
Soon the captain came to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call out to your God to help us!”

The sailors asked Jonah who he was and where he’d come from, so Jonah told them, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.”
And Jonah told them that he was running away from the Lord.

By now the sea was getting rougher and rougher and they asked Jonah what they should do to make the sea calm down…

So Jonah told them to throw him into the sea! They didn’t want to do that, but they cried out to God and then took Jonah and threw him overboard!

And the sea grew calm. (ship)

But Jonah didn’t die when he went overboard, as the sailors feared, because God provided a great fish that swallowed Jonah. (fish)

Jonah prayed and prayed to God from inside that fish and after three days it coughed Jonah up onto dry land.

And then God spoke to Jonah again, Go to Nineveh and this time Jonah obeyed God and said Yes Lord!

So off he went, and when he got there he spoke out against their wicked ways, as God had told him. And the people of Nineveh, even the king, listened to God and turned away from their old ways.

And when God saw this he had compassion on them and didn’t overturn their city.

Now you’d think Jonah would have been quite pleased to see the result of the message he’d brought from God, to see all those people turn from evil and turn towards God – but no!

Jonah wasn’t as compassionate as God – he didn’t like the people of Nineveh and he would have preferred to see them receive God’s judgement rather than his compassion. So Jonah went off and sulked outside the city in the blazing sun.

Even though Jonah was being a stroppy little prophet, God caused a shady vine to grow up over him. That pleased Jonah – he was quite happy for God to be good to him, but not happy for him to show mercy to the Ninevites. So when God allowed the vine to die, Jonah started complaining again…
God wanted Jonah to realise that he loved to show mercy and compassion to all people and not just the people of Israel and though wickedness would bring judgement, repentence would lead to God responding in mercy and compassion.

That’s the God we’re here to worship today; that’s the God we journey through life with who later made himself known through his son Jesus. That’s the God who is patient with us, just as he was patient with Jonah – waiting to hear our ‘Yes Lord’ and wanting us to understand that his compassion and mercy is available for everyone and not just the people we like or want to receive it!

And so today, think about your own journey.
Which part of Jonah’s story most reflected where you are… are you saying ‘No Lord!’ or ‘Yes Lord!’? Is it time to say yes again, and follow where he leads you – knowing that though life can be full of challenges and full of sorrows as well as joys – God is full of compassion and mercy and can be trusted.

That’s one of the things Jonah learnt, and that’s one of the things that I will hold onto as I continue my own exciting, daunting, rewarding and challenging journey with God.

Let’s pray:

Lord, you said to Jonah “Go to Nineveh”;
what are you saying to each of us this morning?
Whatever the question for our own journey with you,
may we, like Jonah, grow in our trust of you
and come to answer with that “Yes Lord!”
And help us Lord to delight when we see your
compassion and mercy evident in the world.



At September 08, 2007 2:46 pm, Blogger revabi said...

What a wonderful sermon, tying his journey to yours, those getting baptize and those of your congregation. Hope it goes well, and well with your move, may it be Ninevah and God going with you, but forget about ending up in the belly of the whale.

You gave me a good title for a sermon series etc, Messy Christianity. Thanks.

At September 08, 2007 8:29 pm, Blogger Iris said...

I really like this, too, Chelley. Very personal and relevant. Good job!

At September 09, 2007 4:28 pm, Anonymous swifty said...

Thanks, as a 40 year old former 20s group member that bought back lots of memories. Hope you had a good day and the service went well. Lots of luv.

At September 10, 2007 10:42 am, Anonymous chelley said...

revabi and iris: thanks for your comments and encouragement - much appreciated!

swifty: haha, aren't we getting old!! Who'd have thought bck then that I'd be the one who ended up ordained!
It seemed to go well thanks, and the leaving lunch was lovely. xx

At September 10, 2007 10:46 am, Blogger Chelley said...

Wouldn't it be nice if I could edit my comment and stick the 'a' in 'back'!! Ho hum!


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