8th Sunday after Pentecost (B)
July 19, 2015
“See Jonah Pray”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon this morning is Jonah chapter 2. Today I would like to continue my series on Jonah: See Jonah Pass, See Jonah Pray, See Jonah Preach, See Jonah Pout. 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. 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. Chapter 1 is all about seeing Jonah pass on God’s call. Today we see Jonah pray from inside the fish.
As we begin let me tell you of a tribe of Native Americans who had a unique practice for training young braves. On the night of a boy’s thirteenth birthday, he was placed in a dense forest to spend the entire night alone. Until then he had never been away from the security of his family and tribe. But on this night he was blindfolded and taken miles away. When he took off the blindfold, he was in the middle of thick woods. By himself. All night long. Every time a twig snapped, he probably visualized a wild animal ready to pounce. Every time an animal howled, he imagined a wolf leaping out of the darkness. Every time the wind blew, he wondered what more sinister sound it masked. No doubt it was a terrifying night for many. After what seemed like an eternity, the first rays of sunlight entered the interior of the forest. Looking around, the boy saw flowers, trees, and the outline of the path. Then, to his utter astonishment, he beheld the figure of a man standing just a few feet away, armed with a bow and arrow. It was the boy’s father. He had been there all night long.
Jonah too found himself in unfamiliar and scary surroundings, 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. God would have none of that. While a wicked storm battered the ship that Jonah and the sailors were on, in resignation Jonah told the sailors to hurl him into the sea. Jonah’s under a lot of pressure here! He doesn’t want to go to Nineveh as God had called him to do, he had enough to worry about on the boat, and now his shoes are starting to smell like fish guts! Can’t a guy get a break!
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 a lot on your own plates: 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 ministry: in lives stained by sin, everyone’s got something they deal with. Look left to right and around you. See those people? EVERYONE is dealing with something.
But here’s the thing…you’re not alone. Like the father watching over his son in the darkest night, you’re not alone in your times of crisis. But you’re also not alone literally. 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 by the way of penitence, faith, and hope, is a prayer that cites the Psalms 11 times! When Jonah prays about his distress (2:2), it is a reference to Psalm 18:6 and 120:1. When Jonah prays about waters closing over him (2:2) it is a reference to Psalm 69:2. When Jonah prays about his life being brought up from the pit (2:6), it is a reference to Psalm 30:3. 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 deserved death, not deliverance. However, deliverance is exactly what Jonah got. Here’s another great constant that I find true – God’s intervention is found in the most unusual ways and unexpected places!
Additionally, Jonah’s experience foreshadows the story of Jesus Christ. 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 22:1. Even as Jesus is bleeding and dying to pay humanity’s price for sin – not for anything He had done but for every sinful thing you’ve done – He 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. Jonah spent 3 days and nights inside that fish, which is also a foreshadowing of Jesus. Can’t we also learn to accept some times of discomfort and smell through faithful, powerful prayer?
Friends, when you are in the 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!