The book of Jonah is a powerful, difficult, and demanding book, more relevant than ever: for it shows a man walking into the epicentre of globalisation and military violence, unarmed, to preach the end of the age. Christians often think they should feel warm, fuzzy, loving thoughts towards the other; but, like Jesus, Jonah shows us that love means placing our very bodies among those we fear, hate, or simply don’t understand. Whether this means the extreme of walking into Mosul, the modern-day Ninevah, and preaching God’s word; or whether it means crossing the barriers of religion, age, class, or cultural, gender, or sexual identity in relationship, this radical enemy-love lies at the heart of the gospel – and it is terrifying.
We had no formal sermon this week; instead, we immersed ourselves in the book of Jonah. Fifteen children enacted the first three-and-a-bit chapters over four acts, with sound effects, musical interludes, and times of group reflection. You might like to read Jonah and then think about some of the questions we wrestled with together:
Optional Musical Prelude: Ninevah by David Benjamin Blower (available here)
Read: Jonah 1:1-3
What are some modern parallels to Ninevah? Does God’s command seem reasonable to you? What about Jonah’s response?
Read: Jonah 1:4-Jonah 3 (DBB’s rendition of Jonah’s prayer, The Belly of Hell, replete with bowel noises, is superb. Available here)
Who gets a second chance? Who repents? What might this tell us about God’s relationship with humanity? How do you feel about God’s act of repentance and forgiveness?
Read Jonah 4:1-4
What makes Jonah so angry? Yet who does Jonah remind you of? (Hint: Who else sleeps through a storm? Goes in person to those who are hated, feared, or just plain different? Enters a violent city unarmed? Turns people towards God? Descends into darkness for three days, then emerges into life?) What do these parallels suggest?
Optional Musical Postlude: His Gracious Hand by DBB (available here) while pondering the following question from the song:
To what ends do you believe you are delivered by His gracious hand? (i.e. What is your calling? And what is the cost?)
Go now, engaging with God in everything that you do. Keep your heart open, and tell God everything. For God is a “gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and quick to turn away from evil.” So hold nothing back, not even your rage: for God can take it, and will listen.
And may God’s presence be revealed to you in the darkest depths of your life; may Christ Jesus be your model and your guide, and may the Holy Spirit grant you the foolishness and courage you need to minister without reservation—even unto your enemies. For this is the outrageous story of Jonah; and in this is the hope of the world.
Sisters and brothers, the service of worship never ends: it must be lived. We go in peace to love and serve the Lord, in the name of Christ, Amen.
Prepared by Alison Sampson for Sanctuary, 21 January 2018 (B13), extending the lectionary reading. David Benjamin Blower’s radiophonic production of The Book of Jonah is absolutely superb. Buy it for less than the price of a cafe lunch! This is the only thing I have advertised in eighteen months here … it must be good.