By Pastor Krista Givens
October 1, 2017
I grew up in South Claremont, near Vista del Valle Elementary School and one of the great things about growing up there at that time, was the collection of neighborhood kids on our block. We had summertime block parties, epic street football games and long days until the sunset of outdoor games like kick-the-can. But my favorite childhood game was hide and seek. On our block we’d wait until it got dark and then set up a perimeter – between the Ross house and the Tippings house – and then we’d hide. I was never very good at it, because I would get spooked by the darkness and “out” myself.
One of the reasons I think Hide and Seek is so fun, is that we as a species obsessed with hiding, seeking, trying to flee from sight, being discovered, treasure hunts, archeology, looking for and finding something or someone who is lost. And so our scripture from Psalm 139 is striking: God knows us inside and out, our ways and our thoughts. God formed our “Inward parts” and intricately wove us together. And because God knows us so well, there is no place we can go to hide from God:
7Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
8If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, (the ancient Hebrew word for Hell,) you are there.
9If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
Wherever we try to hide from God, God will find us. God knows us and will never let us be lost.
On this Sunday, we celebrate Communion with our church family in Walnut, but also with fellow Christians all ver the world. We gather as the body of Christ around the table to share in this one holy meal as we realize again that we are brothers and sisters in God’s human family.
It is a day to remember that wherever we go – through hell or high waters, through desperate times and in times of joy – God is with us. Our lives may not be easy: we may be called to stand against powerful forces; we may be called to kneel when others say “stand;” we may be called into action when others say “not you;” we may be challenged to love when all others say “hate;” we may be called on to be the hands and feet of Christ when others proclaim,”look out for number one.”
But wherever we go, whatever we are called upon to do or say, God is with us.
In our scripture today, we look at a man who had a very understandable human reaction to being asked to do something risky, something he did not want to do.
Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, 2‘Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.’ 3But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.
Now we skip a bit of the story here… do you remember what happens? He ends up on a boat and the seas roar… and the others on the boats begin praying to their gods and the storm doesn’t stop. So they insist Jonah pray to his God.. and when they find out that he is running away from the instructions of his God, they throw him into the sea… where he is swallowed by a big fish. And in the belly of the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord for deliverance and the fish vomited him up!
The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, 2‘Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.’ 3So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord.
God’s instruction “to go to Nineveh, the great city” is not an easy task – Jonah had good reason to run away – Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, and Assyria was the enemy of Israel and Judah. Assyria was a brutal occupying force that destroyed Israel and held Judah captive for a hundred years! So, Jonah is called by God to go into enemy territory and to announce God’s judgment.(1) And he finally does, but rather lamely:
Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. 4Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ 5And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.
Jonah’s story is one that shows the human (and flawed) reaction to God – God asks him to do something really difficult – for the good of the kingdom, for the good of the people, for the good of the world, and Jonah runs away! It’s too much for him. He doesn’t want that kind of responsibility; he doesn’t want ANY part of it! Instead of heading northeast to Nineveh, he sails west, and even when God sends a storm to disrupt their journey, he is all too willing to be cast overboard and drown rather than follow God’s call. (2)
Jonah sees the truth of God, hears the voice of God, and runs the other way. But he is not finished – or maybe God is not finished with him! He encounters people with other belief-structures on the boat, witnesses their prayers to their own gods, and THEY believe in the power of Jonah’s God, perhaps more than Jonah does himself. Maybe Jonah needed the time with other faiths to see the truth of his own; maybe Jonah needed some time in the belly of the fish to think and ponder and pray to understand what God was asking of him. Maybe Jonah needed to run away in order for him to understand that God will not give up on us….
Maybe Jonah needed to TRY to escape to realize, as the Psalmist said in Psalm 139,
“If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.”
No matter where we go, God is there.
If we go to Hawaii or if we stay in Walnut, God is there.
If we Paint and draw, or if we read, God is there.
When bad things happen, like we have a nightmare, God is there.
When good things happen, like we get to go to Disneyland, God is there.
Whether we are Cousin Kathy, Elvis Presley or Wonder Woman, or if we are just us, God is with us. (3)
God is in Nigeria, in India, in small villages and in big cities, in the earthquake-debris of Mexico, in the skyscrapers of Los Angeles, among the people struggling to survive in Puerto Rico, among the people celebrating life in Walnut. As we gather at our table, let us remember those in our human family who are in need today, and let us pledge to be present with them as our God is present with us all.
- Howard Wallace, http://hwallace.unitingchurch.org.au/WebOTcomments/EpiphanyB/Epiphany3.html
- Written in conjunction with the children of Walnut UMC during the Children’ Time on October 1, 2017.