Standing on the Shores of Ninevah

Standing on the Shores of Ninevah

August 29, 2021

Jonah stands on the shore still covered in fish mucus. He’s just been vomited out.

He tried to run from God by hopping a ship and going in the opposite direction of his call. But God has a funny way of showing up when we least want God to. We can’t deny a call. We’ll see it everywhere. It won’t let us go. How do we know it’s a call? It’s impossible.[1]

Jonah was called to preach to Nineveh. This is impossible for Jonah for Nineveh is the worst city in the world. Nineveh is the capital of Assyria who had sacked the northern kingdom of Judah. Wiped out a whole swath of God’s people. Now God wanted Jonah to go there?! NO, thank you!

But then there was a storm. And Jonah got thrown overboard and found himself in the belly of a big fish. He had a lot of time to think in there. He sings the song recorded in  today’s scripture reading right before he’s vomited out on the shore.

Can you imagine, just for a moment: being isolated in a space. Unable to go out. Nothing on your calendar, everything canceled. If you do go out, you might die. Everything outside of your isolation is suspect. Can you imagine such a scenario? Maybe the pandemic lockdown last year?

Imagine then emerging from that isolation into the bright light of day. I think you’d need a minute to get your bearings. Understand your surroundings. Check in on your environment.

God does that to us, often. We get into our routine. There’s power in routine. Yet we also run the risk of taking things, people, co-workers, pets, and loved ones, for granted. We can live at a shallow level, allowing others be stereotypes instead of people. We might not go deep with them because of our assumptions about what they are like.

Jonah is on the shore. Covered in seaweed, smelling like the guts of the whale and he’s disoriented. It reminds me of a story. A big shot businessman went on a duck-hunting trip in Ireland. He shot a duck but it fell on the other side of the fence. That field was Farmer Sheamus’ who was leaning up against a post as the businessman started to clamber over the fence.

“That’s my field. You’re trespassing,” said Farmer Sheamus.

“That’s my duck! And I’m a big city businessman. I’ll buy this farm and force you and your family right off your land,” said the businessman.

“I bet you could, but that’s not how we do things around here. Here we do the three-kick rule,” said Farmer Sheamus.

“The three-kick rule?” asked the baffled businessman.

“Oh yeah. I kick you three times and then you kick me three times and whoever gives up first gets their way. If you want your duck, we do the three-kick rule,” says Sheamus.

The businessman is twice the size of Sheamus. Sheamus is just a wiry ol’ farmer. So he agrees.

The first kick brings the businessman to his knees. The second kick takes the air from him and puts him on his back. The third kick, the man’s vision blurs and blackens around the edges. It takes a few minutes, but the businessman stands back up and says, “Okay, my turn.”

“I give up,” says Farmer Sheamus. “Go get your duck.”[2]

The Holy can cut through us. There’s a dimension of God that disrupts us. That disruption can show us how dumb our goals really are, just like the businessman and his duck. I would like to think the businessman was kinder to strangers from that point on. I would hope that through his meeting with Farmer Sheamus, he saw the error of his ways. For it is in the divine disruptions that we find healing. It is the disruption that interrupts and breaks us out of our habits. Only then do we realize how stupid our routine was. How ignorant our prejudice was. How we were missing the beauty all around us. Missing God’s spirit at work in our lives as we just went through the motions.

Divine Disruptions are moments where we realize the distance between what we think and what really is. Divine Disruptions are never illness, cancer, willing harm. Our God is love, not smiting; “For I know the plans I have for you declares the lord, Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you home and a future.”[3]

God disrupted Jonah and said, “Go here, Jonah!” Jonah runs the other way because Jonah doesn’t like those people or that city or the call. He knew and believed all the stereotypes about Nineveh. God disrupts, that and Jonah sings in the belly of a fish. He comes out of isolation. He’s about to fulfill his call. He will become the most successful prophet in the whole bible. The whole city will repent and change its ways! But Jonah isn’t there yet. He’s still getting his bearings, standing on that shore. Just like us. We’ve been through something. A disruption. We’re trying to get our bearings but the punches keep coming. It’s a disorienting time. We’ve been vomited out by COVID-19 only to meet DELTA waiting for us on the shores.

We could hide from the stresses and cover stuff up. Hide our emotions. Or take them out on one another and yell at authorities or school boards or pastors or mail carriers. But God is disrupting us. There’s something more going on. A holy plot is afoot to give us new horizons and better goals.

Just take a look around. Have you been to the Square before? When was the last time you’ve seen it. Not in the take-it-for granted way… but when was the last time you LOOKED at the Square. That tree. That building. This little feature of the gazebo. When was the last time you looked at and truly considered your neighbor?

We’ve been through a disruption. We’re still not through it. There will be more. Not just the big stuff, the headline-making stuff. But in obituaries and people moving and things changing. The major and minor disruptions. Can we see them as not disruptions but as invitations? Invitations to not take people and events and our lives for granted. This is the only August 29, 2021, there will ever be. And we’ve chosen to be here. So let’s be here, and nowhere else.

May we find God present here. Among and within us. Consider the beauty of this time and place. Use it to get your bearings. Take it all in.

Jonah does just that. And he heads to Nineveh, and the people he’s sure God hates change their ways. They respond to his message. God spares them. And Jonah is mad at them. It was his belief that Ninevites were bad, evil, awful people. It was orthodoxy. Orthodoxy comes from Ortho a Greek work meaning right or correct and doxy meaning knowledge or belief. Put together orthodoxy means “right belief.”

Author Peter Rollins points out, “Orthodoxy as right belief will cost us little; indeed, it will allow us to sit back with our Pharisaic doctrines, guarding the ‘truth’ with the purity of our interpretations. But orthodoxy, as believing in the right way, as bringing love to the world around us and within us … that will cost us everything.”[4]

God will disrupt our lives until we learn to love and see the world as God sees it. To love as God loves. A love that is not about our way of thinking but our love that costs us everything and we find that we still have an abundance more to give. May we welcome such moments. May we be changed by such moments. May God continue to disrupt us until we face what needs facing and heal what needs healing and learn what needs learning.

For God has never abandoned us. Not for a second. With us the whole time. Even when we thought we were alone. Lori Ciulla Glover shared this story on Facebook.

Every month a young man named Martin’s parents took a trip to see Grandma and came home on the same train the next day. One day the child said to his parents: “I’m already grown up. Can I go to my grandma’s alone?”

After a brief discussion, his parents accepted. They stood with him as he waited for the train to exit. They said goodbye to their son and gave him some last-minute advice through the window. Martin repeated to them: “I know. I’ve been told this more than a thousand times.”

As the train was about to leave, his father murmured in his ear: “Son if you feel bad or insecure, this is for you!” And he put something in his pocket.

Now Martin was alone, sitting on the train as he had wanted, without his parents for the first time.

He was admiring the landscape out the window. Around him some strangers pushed themselves in. They made a lot of noise. They got in and out of the train car. The conductor made some comments about him being alone. One person looked at him with eyes of sadness.

Martin was feeling more uneasy with every minute that passed. And now he was scared. He felt cornered and alone. He put his head down, and with tears in his eyes, he remembered his dad had put something in his pocket. Trembling, he searched for what his father had given him. Upon finding the piece of paper he read it:

“Son, I’m in the last train car!”

And so it is with God. God lets us go to make our own decisions, lets us try new things. But God is never far from us. God will disrupt us. Allow us to try and fail and to learn from the failures. So when you feel your life is fainting away, call on the Lord. God’s just right behind you. With the voice of thanksgiving, sacrifice whatever is keeping you from God and say “Salvation belongs to the Lord!” Amen.

Works Cited

[1] See August 22, 2021 sermon:

[2] I first heard this story from Peter Rollins on the Rob Bell tour in Cleveland in 2018.

[3] Jeremiah 29:11

[4][4] How (Not) to Speak of God: Marks of the Emerging Church

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *