Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Sunday January 21st, 2024
By Rev. Nicole Lamarche
Welcome again as you are.
I invite you now to take some deeper breaths, letting ourselves arrive a bit more fully, so we can all hear whatever message God has for us today.
And I invite you to join me in this prayer from Psalm 19.
God may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
I have heard this story many times, but I missed what may be the most essential part.
You heard how the story begins, with God telling Jonah to go to a great city and help them find their way. But instead of following the Divine directions, he flees.
He finds another town and a ship where he can flee far away from God. Then God creates a powerful wind and a storm so big that it starts to break up the ship, frightening the sailors so much that they begin to cry out to God for help. The sea is so wild and the waves so turbulent that they started to throw some of their cargo overboard because things are so rocky.
But while all of this is happening, Jonah goes to the hold of the ship so he can hide even further and try to sleep amidst the chaos. And then the captain comes to him, asking what the heck he is doing trying to sleep in a situation like this and he begs Jonah to get God involved so that they won’t die!
Confused, the other sailors aim to figure out what’s going on, so they find Jonah and beg him to tell them what is happening. They grill him with questions about what he does, where he came from, where he lives and who his people are.
And Jonah boldly proclaims that he is a Hebrew and that he worships the one who made the land and the sea…
And the sailors wonder why if you worship him, get him to stop doing this. “What have you done?!” and how can this storm be calmed? Jonah tells the sailors to throw him into the sea because he is to blame for their predicament. And yet, the men keep rowing, trying to bring the ship to the shore. But they couldn’t. Because the storm kept growing in strength, becoming stronger and fiercer and more forceful.
They prayed and cried out to God that they shouldn’t have to die. Then in an act of desperation they decide to throw him into the sea after all. Because they are trying to stop the storm.
Jonah is cast into water and falls into the deep, into the heart of the sea, with waves billowing, rolling high. He falls into the void; he is swallowed by a fish. The world was closing in around him, his life ebbing away and right there in the belly of the fish, he offers a hymn of praise to God.
God then commands the fish to spit Jonah out. And soon after Jonah is barfed back onto the land.
And then this is where the text you already heard begins.
God then speaks to Jonah a second time, not giving up, asking him to go to Ninevah to heal the people and bring them closer to Love. And this time instead of running the other direction, Jonah follows. He goes to Ninevah and inspires the people telling them to turn from their evil ways and from the violence that has come from their hands. And they do. And a cosmic shift occurs. This is the line I missed before. Maybe the most essential part of this old story.
God’s mind is changed.
Did you catch that?
This might be one of the most essential lines in scripture.
For those of us committed to deeper things, to growing closer to Love, to building inner and outer peace: God changed, God’s mind. And so can we!
Some theologians even contend that God’s essence, that how God moves, that what God is, is change.
A most important book on my theological adventure is, The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. I have turned to it again and again. She writes,
“All that you touch
All that you Change
The only lasting truth
I realize that for some, this is perhaps heretical. Because it seems for many, the Christian faith is not about growth or questions or evolving, but rather it is about answers, believing the right things, and then convincing others of their rightness.
One of the pieces of hate mail I have received over my time here was in response to a message I shared about how even Jesus was wrong and changed his mind when he encountered the Syrophoenician woman. The person who sent the note argued that such a theological stance was blasphemous… As if changing one’s mind on its own is a sin or as if being good means never getting it wrong.
But what if the only way to get it right sometimes is to get it wrong? What I mean is that we could stay where we are, stay on the road we are on, stay on the plan we have, but I have learned that sometimes we can’t get to the right thing without seeing firsthand what is wrong or isn’t working.
I believe that much of what troubles us the most, at this point on planet earth, the root of many of our problems come from a failure to evolve.
Instead of modifying or making a new way, when we have new information, different experiences, or other perspectives, it seems that often we are more likely to double down and become more entrenched in our positions.
Poet and Playwright, W.H. Auden who lived through much of the last century wrote, “We would rather be ruined than changed. We would rather die in our dread than climb the cross of the moment and let our illusions die.”
And yet, what if that’s exactly what we need to do- be willing to let our illusions die, our illusions of being right, of knowing it all?
What if we are most like God, closest to the Holy and our highest selves when we let ourselves evolve?
Some of the most challenging, difficult periods over our five years together have been about whether and how we might as a church evolve- about how we might draw the circle wider, about how we might express who we are and what we are about in a language of this time, about how we might evolve how we are showing up together.
And much of this was really hard, terribly hard, in part because not all of us are willing to evolve. As we heard from the poet, one of our human tendencies is to ruin something sometimes instead of being willing to change ourselves.
But what is also true, is that for those of us who were and are willing to hang on, willing to share where we were wrong, willing to ask new questions instead of settling for old answers- we have seen what can come from saying yes when our Greater Love invites us to change ourselves and to create change for the world. We have seen what joy and love and justice can come from being willing to evolve when the Universe calls us to.
Over these five years we have done so many beautiful things, from an updated Open and Affirming Statement, to launching the Guns to Gardens movement in faith communities, to innovating in outreach and worship, to supporting a family from Afghanistan, to planting and growing our garden that feeds CU Students, there are more things than I can list here. One of those things was updating our Vision Statement. It was a huge group effort, led by one of our own now saints Rob Lapp. The opening line is this: Community United Church of Christ is a welcoming community of spiritual seekers, with an ever-evolving progressive view of the Holy, that is actively engaged in building a world with justice for all creation.
I think this is core to who we are and part of what is drawing energy, resources and people to our church. We continue to seek, which means we are always encountering new information and new experiences, greeting new faces, welcoming new ways of understanding the world. And we continue to evolve! Evolving our view and our ways of being together. And I do think maybe we are closest to the Holy and our highest selves when we are willing to embrace change.
Another one of the evolutions we have embarked upon together is embracing our belief that all of us have access to deeper wisdom, and so right now we are going to live into that. Knowing each of us arrives from different places and perspectives, I invite you as you are comfortable, to listen and or share and reflect together for about 2 minutes. How is change a part of your spiritual journey? How can we as a church support one another individually and collectively in ongoing faithful evolutions?
Beloved of God, what if we are most like the Divine, closest to the Holy and our highest selves when we are willing to embrace change? When we let ourselves evolve? When we are willing to be wrong, willing to ask new questions instead of settling for old answers? God changed… And thanks be to the One who created us all, so can we… May it be so. Amen.