Saturday, March 03, 2007

Jonah, reluctant missionary

Preaching on Jonah tomorrow, and trying to think about 50 different things at once. Random thoughts.

1. God is the missionary
Not exactly a new insight. The book of Jonah is a reminder that God is not a tribal deity, but the creator of everything, and he has the same bearing of mercy towards those horrible Ninevites as He does towards his chosen people. God's people always need to be reminded that God is a missionary, that the reason He has blessed us is so that we can share the blessing, not hoard it.

2. This is difficult for a settled church to hear.
I spent the day in a local village, with our Diocesan missioner and people from 5 local churches. In conversation, it became clear that people knew their thinking needed to change from 'here we are, come to us', to 'God loves everyone, and we must go to them'. A settled church with buildings, by-laws, service rotas and brass to polish will always absorb a certain amount of energy on self-maintenance before it thinks about directing its energies outwards. It takes a massive change of mind to put mission first and shape everything else around that.

3. The devil can put us off mission by getting us to read the Daily Mail
God's heart in Jonah is compassion - even for rebellious Jonah, as well as for the pagan sailors and the wicked Ninevites. All get a second chance, God's desire for all of them is to change direction and go the right way. But Jonah tries his best to blow it. Why? Because he reads the Daily Mail and doesn't like the Ninevites. They're different. They're The Enemy. They are What's Wrong With Society Today.
In our scapegoating culture, we can be unaware of how much resentment and hatred gets built in our hearts towards people who God loves. Young people, old people, single mums, gays, gypsies, immigrants, traditionalists, radicals, lefties, conservatives, you name it, we all have a label for people who aren't like us, and some vague but passionately believed reason for giving them less respect and compassion than anyone else. God isn't like this. He only chooses people as special so that they can tell others - from Abraham onwards, being the 'holy' people means being chosen to bless all the nations.

4. We need to be awake to the 'kairos' moment.
Probably the main thing I'll say tomorrow about Jonah is that it is about repentance. Everyone in Jonah faces a 'kairos' moment, an opportune moment, a chance to change direction. God gives everyone a chance. There's a helpful diagram in the Passionate Life book by Breen & Kallestad, picturing repentance as a circle - observe & reflect (repent), decide and act (believe), and as something we can apply to any decision, not just ones to do with God.

5. We can be wrong.
Jonah claims to be a 'Hebrew, I worship the Lord the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land' (1 v9, which, incidentally, rules out God creating Yeovil because it seems to rain nearly all the time here). He's a worshipper, a good churchgoing guy. But he has none of God's heart for the world, he hasn't thought through the creed he parrots every week that God is the creator of everything, and when God speaks to him he does the opposite.
I recognise a lot of myself in Jonah. I don't do what God tells me. I am in danger of getting dulled by the words and songs I use every week to just what being a worshipper is all about. As a missioner I say all the right stuff about who God is but I know I'm nowhere near thinking or acting it through. And I'm not sure whether I love people, or just enjoy their company and occasionally wonder if they could be added to the church, or (if they're in the church) help with one of my pet projects. I probably wouldn't be this honest if I wasn't writing late on a Saturday.

6. The Psalms are not just nice words
Jonahs' experience is a living Psalm 139. You know the one. Cue pictures of fluffy dogs or sunlit mountains 'if I settle on the farthest side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me'. Jonah doesn't want Gods hand to guide him. He wants, the fool, to go to a place where God isn't, to get away from all this prophet stuff so he can have a quiet life with his prejudices. But God is going to guide him anyway. Try reading Psalm 139 as Jonah on the boat, surveying the storm, knowing that he's tried to flee from God and failed, and even if he throws himself into the sea and dies, God will pursue him to the bottom of the ocean.

7. Learn from your pets.
The fish is more obedient than Jonah. Jonahs is told to go to Nineveh, and runs away. The fish, meanwhile, is spoken to by God, and immediately vomits Jonah onto the shore. I once did a reasearch degree on Matthew Fox, who had all sorts of bizarre ideas, one of which was that his spiritual director was his dog. But he did have a point - from pets, as from children, we learn a lot about how best to live life: obey the Master, enjoy yourself, give and recieve love without inhibition, exercise regularly etc. If you're struggling with reading the Bible at the moment, put it down and watch your pet for 10 minutes. If you don't have a pet, find a picture of an animal.

8. Just do it.
If God tells you to do something, you have a choice.
a) do it straightaway
b) do the opposite straightaway, in which case you'll end up doing what God wanted you to do in the first place, but covered in whale vomit.

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