On Sunday morning at First Pres we continued in our spring sermon series entitled Commissioned: The Reluctant Missionary. As we watched the prophet Jonah in action it was easy to relate.
Jonah had a problem with the mission God gave to him. He had a motivational problem in that he wasn’t really interested in helping the pagan people of Nineveh; people who were a different race, different nationality and different religion from himself. So Jonah fled. We read in Jonah chapter one that he went down to the port of Joppa and hopped on a boat headed as far West as possible.
But in an ironic twist, on the boat Jonah finds himself surrounded by exactly the sort of people he doesn’t care about! He ends up in a boat with a bunch of pagan sailors. People who are different from him, people who don’t serve the Lord, people who are a different race, different religion, different nationality.
And there is an interesting contrast between the sailors and Jonah when a storm arises at seas. The pagan sailors all work hard to save the ship, but Jonah does not help, he goes down into the hold of the ship and goes to sleep. And while Jonah is engrossed in his own problems, the pagan sailors are straining at the oars for the common good.
The pagan sailors are spiritually sensitive; they have a sense that what is happening is not some random event but that there is a spiritual layer behind the storm. Jonah, on the other hand, isn’t listening to God or looking for any greater meaning in these events. The sailors use the religious and technological resources they have to try to save the boat. While they do not know the Lord, these pagan men are people of virtue. Jonah is not demonstrating virtue, but self-absorption.
If you missed the sermon on Sunday and our study of how God used these pagan sailors to change Jonah’s heart, you can listen to it here.
Jonah is such a relatable character in this story because he begins in a similar emotional place to where we often live.
Jonah is unaware of the needs that exist around him and Jonah is so concerned with his own problems that he is disengaged from using his faith to help others.
My prayer for us this spring is that God will wake us up in the same way the ship’s captain awakened Jonah. The world is asking the church, “Are you going to use your faith to help us?” May God give us eyes to see our neighbors in need of help and the courage to build relationships with them that work together for the common good.