One of the things Pastor Karl and I talked about in our last podcast (which are posted on our website) is about the humanness of many of the Old Testament stories. The stories in the Old Testament (and the people in them) experience real human emotions that are raw and very real. The story of Jonah fits very well into that theme. It does not follow the stereotypical prophet who listens to what God directions and then follow those directions no matter the cost. Jonah takes a much more winding and complicated route to say the least.
The story of Jonah starts at a sprint when we learn that God immediately has plans for him. God wants Jonah to go and tell the people of Nineveh that they are wicked. That does not sound like a very enviable task for Jonah. And Jonah seems to realize this task does not sound like much fun and instead of heading towards Nineveh, Jonah jumps on a ship to Tarshish (which is in the exact opposite direction from Nineveh) to try and flee his duties. God sends a great storm that threatens to sink the ship with Jonah and the crew aboard. Somehow in the midst of this mighty storm raging around him, Jonah is able to find some sleep below deck. Meanwhile, the people aboard the ship are freaking out and trying to figure out how to stop this storm that is raging on the sea, so go below to wake Jonah and tell him that he needs to go and pray to his God, so that they will not sink. Jonah shows a lack of confidence and is pretty sure the storm because he is running away from God and his duties. Upon hearing this the crew, continues to freak out, and wonder what they should do to calm the storm and appease God. Jonah, ever helpful, tells the crew to throw him overboard and the sea will become calm. The men aboard the ship must have thought this Jonah guy was ok because they tried to get back to shore, but they quickly realized this was not going to happen. So, they prayed to God that they would not be held accountable for poor Jonah and pitched him overboard. When this happens the sea becomes calm and a large fish swallows Jonah.
This story of Jonah is probably one many of us are familiar with. And even if we are not familiar with the actual story, I would imagine we have experienced some of the same things Jonah is in this story. What it comes down to more than anything is that Jonah does not have confidence. He does not have confidence in either himself or God. Jonah does not have confidence to deliver a difficult message to the people of Nineveh, so he turns and runs in the opposite direction. Jonah does not have a lot of confidence in God either. Jonah does not trust that God will help him deliver the message to the people of Nineveh or that God will protect him when he does deliver this difficult message. Jonah definitely seems to be short on confidence in this text.
Since I was the oldest child among my four siblings, I always had to look like I had confidence in what I was doing even if I had no idea what was going on. The oldest child ends of being the guinea pig for many things. Those of you who are the oldest know what I am talking about. This was taken to a different level growing up on a farm. When I was about 9 years old my dad came to me and said, “Thadd, you have driven the tractor in the fields, it’s time you drive it on the road.” To add another wrench to the plans, I would have a hay wagon hooked on back of the tractor. So not only would I be freaking out about the fact that I am driving a tractor on the road, I would have a hay wagon attached. I had butterflies in my stomach that I can still very vividly remember. I could not believe that my dad trusted me to drive the tractor a few miles down the road to the hay field to drop off the wagon. He seemed to have so much confidence in me that he drove off ahead to get to work in the field. So, after I got finally stopped hyperventilating I drove the tractor onto the road. I was doing fine and for a couple of seconds I thought that I got worked up about nothing. I made it the three miles down the road and then I went to turn into the field. As I did this, I realized that I had gone a little past the road where I wanted to turn, but I was too afraid to back up. So I thought, well I think I can still make it. To say the least I was wrong. I ended up going into and through the ditch across the gravel drive into the field and just missed a telephone poll before coming to a rest in the field. I had my Jonah moment right then and there. I decided to get as far away from the situation as possible and walk the three miles back home. What little confidence I had in myself was shattered and I was sure that my dad would think the same thing and my days driving the tractor were finished almost before they began at age 9.
My dad ended up catching up with me less than a mile down the road after he saw the tractor and hay wagon in the field by itself stalled in the field. I was pretty sure that I would never be able to drive the tractor again (and to tell you the truth that would have been fine by me…at least on that day). I was pretty sure that my dad had lost complete confidence in my ability to drive the tractor. But the very next day my dad had me back in the driver’s seat once again. His confidence in me never changed.
Now I’m not saying my dad is always this close to God. Surely you would question this if you came unexpected to our house, as my friends often did, and find him watching t.v in his underwear, as he was likely to do. However, this one he nailed. He had confidence in me, he encouraged me when my confidence waned, he trust me with a big task, his confidence in me was unwavering. This is who God is. God’s confidence in Jonah never changes either. Even though Jonah is afraid of his duties as a prophet. There were plenty of other prophets in the Old Testament, who listened to God and delivered difficult messages. Surely, God can find someone who will listen and deliver the message. But, God does not waver even though Jonah appears to want nothing to do with him. God knew that Jonah was the right person for the job. God knew Jonah would be able to deliver the message. God had given Jonah the gift of preaching. God does not say, well I guess Jonah decided not to listen; I will get another prophet to preach to the people in Nineveh (one that will listen to me from the get go).
There are times in our lives when we fail to use the gifts that God has given us. There are times when we decide that we just do not want to share. Maybe it is because we are worn out and we just need a break or because we don’t have confidence that our gift is important enough to share, or maybe we are afraid of sharing that gift because it puts us in a difficult spot like it did for Jonah. Whatever the reason, our lives, the people around us, and the greater community is a lesser place when fail to share the gifts that we are given.
Even when we waver in our confidence, God does not waver in confidence for us. Even when we go in the exact opposite direction from the place that God is calling us, God does not abandon us. Even when we crash the tractor, or hide from God, or try to avoid using the gifts we are given in baptism, God does not lose confidence in us.
Because of the confidence that God has in each one of us, there is a responsibility that goes along with it. A responsibility that we use the gifts that God has given each of us in our baptism. There are people in our congregation who are excited about starting new ministries or getting involved in ministries. However, they might lack the confidence to get started. However, we know that they will be able to confidently go forward sharing the gifts God has given them. God had confidence in Jonah’s ability to deliver a difficult message to the people of Nineveh. God has confidence in our ability to enhance the life of this community and bring light to a darkened world. So may we go out into the world with confidence in our God given gifts. Amen.