Adapted from a sermon
Delivered January 22, 2006
Immanuel Presbyterian Church
The Rev. Dianne O'Connell
Jonah 1:1-4, 12, 15, 17; 2:1-10; 3:1-2
Sloshing Around in the Belly of the Whale
Welcome to the Story of Jonah. I didn’t realize until preparing for this sermon that each year the entire Book of Jonah is read on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. The day, I learned, is the climax of ten straight days of introspection and self-growth -- a spiritual exercise which wouldn’t hurt any of us.
On Yom Kippur, the Jewish people express regret for last year’s misdeeds, and express resolution to do better in the coming year. It is more than an individual act of repentance, however; it is also a corporate, community, act of introspection and repentance.
I want to address both this morning: our personal journey with God, and our corporate responsibility for the sins of our community. Maybe we can resolve to do better on both accounts.
The passage from the Gospel of Mark for today was much like the passage from the Gospel of John last week: the story of Jesus calling his disciples to become “fishers of people”. I thought that I covered that pretty well last week. But Jonah is a fish story, too, one which was written some 700 years before Jesus. And it, too, is about listening to God’s will for us and following Him – even if it’s scary, difficult, and maybe contrary to our own hurts, angers, and prejudices at the time.
was Jonah’s problem: the mission that God gave him was one that totally went
against his grain. He was sent to the capital of Assyria,
Jonah dreaded the thought that he might succeed in his mission far more than he dreaded the possibility of failure. He WANTED to fail. He hated the Assyrians. Therefore, he ran away.
When the sailors did as he asked, Jonah thought the waters would wash over him and his troubles would end.
But the story had just begun. True, Jonah found himself in a dark, messy Whale Belly, but he was alive. Sloshing around in the smelly innards of the whale, Jonah recognized what he had never truly been willing to see, God cares for each life at each moment. Jonah was a prophet so an awareness of God was not a novelty. But recognition of the depths of God's mercy, this was new.
the whale’s belly, Jonah repented, returned to God and the best in himself and
vowed to go to
because he repented didn’t mean he was off the hook, so to speak. Five
minutes out of the whale’s belly, God speaks again: “Go to
The message of Jonah's prophecy is one for each one of us. Jonah's journey is one that we all make. We are born with a subconscious realization that we have a mission. We seek escape because our mission is often one we don’t particularly like or think we can accomplish.
A psychological reading of today’s lesson would say that our bodies are like Jonah's ship. We face moments in life in which the fragility of the body is inescapable, as in when we face illness, or confront moments of danger that seem to last an eternity until they are resolved.
The whale represents our ultimate fate: the grave. For some, this almost feels like a welcome refuge. For others, facing death forces us to at last pursue life!
As with Jonah, our recognition of our own vulnerability can force us to finally surrender our desire to control events and to begin at last to accept our mission in life, no matter what it might be. We suffer the events of life and recognize that we ourselves have caused the storms to toss us back and forth. We can move forward to fulfill our purpose, but we are still not free of conflict and anxiety until we finally recognize that every step along the way, we are embraced by Divine compassion.
That’s the message of Jonah’s prayer read to us this morning. “I called to the Lord out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice…Deliverance belongs to the Lord.”
the personal level, it is a good message and an image I draw on often.
The sermon could end here, I told myself, and people would be grateful for its
brevity. But on Yom Kippur, I remembered, the Jews reflected on
their corporate life as well as their personal lives. I began to reflect
on our corporate “Journey to
today is a province in
Afar is located about 30 miles west of Mosul. Its population
consists mostly of Kurds and Turkmens.
This past Wednesday, January 18, 2006:
At least 500
people and more than 50
helicopter crash came nearly a week after a Black Hawk helicopter carrying
crash hits close to home. A memorial service for four members of the Alaska Army National Guard who died in the
crash will be at 4 P.M, next Sunday, Jan. 29, at the
cannot help but wonder if our leaders and we Americans got the message
right: “Go to
of us now agree – we got the instructions wrong. Our leaders for whatever
reason decided that we should play “The Wrath of God” in this incredibly disturbing
and dangerous drama. We went to