Sunday, January 25, 2009

not a lot of hope...

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time... —Jonah 3:1

Our celebrant this morning mentioned that her class had studied the book of Jonah for their Bible study last year. Earlier she had been telling them about the minor prophets and the wonderful stories that you always hear in Sunday school, but never think to read the actual text. So to her dismay, they had picked the book of Jonah. Dismay, in particular, because of all the prophets, Jonah is perhaps the best example of one who just doesn't get it. While he converts an entire city, he himself is never converted. He saves them, yet despises his own life.

"There's not a lot of hope in Jonah," she said. But she went on to lay out the theme of today's readings: the call from God... and to look at that theme from our own 21st century lens. 

What do we do about a call from God? 
Jonah was called by God, Simon, Andrew, James and John were called by Jesus, yet unlike the four, who dropped everything and followed Jesus, Jonah tried to escape. Of course he didn't escape, and he finally begrudgingly did what God asked of him.

And it worked. The people of Nineveh repented. God changed his mind about the disaster he was going to bring, and he didn't do it. So... was Jonah proud of himself? Was he happy that his words had brought about such a dramatic conversion of all those people? Not on your life.

He wanted them to be punished. He knew God would be merciful if they groveled and it smacked up against his own bias of who God was and how God should act. "Just kill me now." 

"Conversion is not just about us," our celebrant reminded us. "It's about a people ready to be transformed." 

She related her experience in Washington at the inauguration last week, where she and her children waited in the bitter cold with two million others to essentially watch TV outdoors. Her kids wanted to know why they were standing in the cold just to watch TV, and she explained that it was not what being there was about. 

It was actually about conversion, and the masses assembled there giving witness and approval (or at least acceptance) that we wanted more from ourselves, from our nation, from our lives... than getting rich, being thin and collecting more toys. She said that it feels like we have just been spit out of the belly of the whale. Now we get to decide how we will proceed. 

Will we answer the call with enthusiasm and a willingness to see what God has planned for the future? Or will we be like Jonah... whining and complaining and arguing about everything that doesn't suit our preconceived ideas of how it should work?

"There's not a lot of hope in Jonah," she had said earlier. On the other hand, I find it more than hopeful that God uses even the most cantankerous, ill-tempered and unwilling people to do his work. It means there's hope for me.

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