4th Sunday after Pentecost
July 7, 2019
“See Jonah Pray”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our Good Shepherd Jesus. Today I would like to continue my series on Jonah – “Jonah in July.” Today as we consider Jonah 2, we will “See Jonah Pray.”
My dear friends,
For those who missed last week, WHERE WERE YOU?! Nah…just kidding; no worries. Let’s bring you up to speed on Jonah. The 8th century BC prophet Jonah was called by God to go to the capital city of Israel’s enemy Assyria. Jonah had NO interest whatsoever in going to Nineveh, and so he chartered a ship and sailed towards Tarshish which is the geographical opposite direction of Nineveh. While enroute, a great storm came up and threatened the ship and the souls on board. After casting lots, the lot fell on Jonah who admitted the storm was his fault because he was running from God; Jonah had passed on God’s call. In response, the sailors hurled Jonah overboard into the sea where a large fish swallowed him up and that was the last time we saw Jonah. Chapter 1 is all about seeing Jonah pass on God’s call. Today we see Jonah pray from inside the fish.
Jonah too found himself in unfamiliar and scary surroundings, a place dark and stinky, and that is putting it mildly! In Jonah chapter 1 (“See Jonah Pass”) Jonah had run away from his problem and, in essence, run away from God. He doesn’t want to go to Nineveh as God had called him to do, he didn’t want this for his life, and now his shoes are starting to smell like fish guts. That’s not gonna come out anytime soon; those sandals are ruined! Jonah’s got bigger problems than wrecked footwear. He doesn’t know what will happen or what to do and its causing anxiety.
In a sense I feel as if I’m preaching to the choir. You know what that feels like, don’t you? You’ve got financial concerns, you’ve got relationship issues, for those of you blessed with children, you’ve got parenting issues – “small kids, small problems. Big kids, big problems!” You’ve got health issues. It’s the one great constant I deal with in 16 years of ministry: in lives stained by sin, everyone’s got something they deal with. Look left to right and around you. See those people? See those empty spots where people normally are? EVERYONE you see..and don’t see…are dealing with something.
But here’s the thing…as you deal with the “somethings” of your life, you’re not alone. Like the father watching over his son in the darkest night, you’re not alone in your times of crisis…the dark and stinky times of your life. Jonah was not alone in the belly of the great big fish. The LORD was with him through his word in the book of Psalms.
Jonah’s prayer, which is a model prayer of faith and hope, is a prayer that cites the Psalms 11 times in 8 verses! When Jonah prays about his distress (2:2), it is a reference to Psalms 18 and 120. When Jonah prays about waters closing over him (2:2) it is a reference to Psalm 69. When Jonah prays about his life being brought up from the pit (2:6), it is a reference to Psalm 30. When Jonah was at his lowest point physically – inside that great fish – he found himself at his highest point spiritually…in prayer! Jonah did not pray for deliverance from the fish. Jonah did not pray to God “make this stop; make this go away.” Jonah knew he deserved death, not deliverance. However, deliverance is exactly what Jonah got. Here’s another great constant that I find true – God’s intervention into our lives is found in the most unusual ways and unexpected places; God comes to us and works through people we never expected!
Additionally, Jonah’s experience foreshadows the story of Jesus. Just as Jonah faces the judgment of God, so did Jesus on the cross. Just as Jonah experienced separation from the LORD, so did Jesus. And just as Jonah prayed from the Psalms, so did Jesus. In Matthew 27:46, from the cross, Jesus “cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and that cry is wording from Psalm 22. Even as Jesus is bleeding and dying to pay humanity’s price for sin – not for anything He had done but for every dark, stinky, and sinful thing you’ve done – even as He approached death, Jesus is still praying and praying from the Psalms no less!
How strong is your prayer life these days? Is your default prayer always “Lord, make this happen or stop that from happening”? Do you find it hard to pray the Psalms because you’re not even sure how to find Psalms in the Bible let alone what they say? Is your faith weak because it’s getting a steady diet of TV and chaos with a side order of anxiety? When you are feeling spiritually weak, turn to God and His Means of Grace – Word and Sacraments. Get your faith back on track by being in the Word, taking part in Bible study, being faithful in worship, and learning to let God’s will be done in your life rather than always trying to impose your will instead.
Friends, when you are in the dark and stinky belly of the great big fish, you are not alone. God’s word in the Psalms is with you. And God’s Word made flesh, Jesus, is always with you too. It is His divine love and grace and peace and forgiveness and connection in prayer that enables us to survive in the belly of the great big fish that we call this life! And note how chapter 2 ended. The great fish barfs (word of judgment) Jonah out onto dry land and just imagine his appearance: bleached white by stomach acids, skin all wrinkly, smells terrible, fish entrails and seaweed in his hair. Jonah is wrecked! And what’s Jonah next move? Come back next week and find out.