Run away and hide
Holy Trinity Church, Huddersfield, 4th August 2019
Jonah chapter 1
A new month in church, a new sermon series and new service time. Instead of two separate morning services at 9 and 10.45 we had a joint service at 10am. This week we were worshipping using a traditional form, including music.
A new sermon series was on the book of Jonah, the prophet who ran away from God, aiming to go to Tarshish which is now in southern Spain but got eaten by a large fish on the way. I can’t blame the fleeing to Tarshish, it is a beautiful part of the world. We have holidayed there a few times (see my photo above) and will be fleeing to Tarshish again later this year although we will be going by plane in order to avoid large fish. You cannot be too careful.
Jonah the prodigal prophet
Prodigal, means being extravagant to excess, even reckless with your money and possessions; how this relates to Jonah will be revealed later in the series. This was the first of the cliff hangers of the sermon. The story of Jonah is a rollicking adventure story, but also an enigma. Some have offered different suggestions as to what it means.:
Is it an allegory? Probably not. There is no record in Jewish writing at this time of allegory of this length.
Is it a parable? Again this is improbable. There is no introductory passage and no explanation of what the story means.
How about the book of Jonah being history? Jesus spoke of it as history. What happened seems strange, but if we ask, ‘what is God able to do?’ is this beyond possibility? Jonah is mentioned in the Old Testament, 2 Kings 7:25 mentions Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath Hepher, a village near Nazareth. it seemed that he had a position as court prophet to King Jeroboam II, and had prophesied military success, which had happened.
On to the book itself. It starts with God telling Jonah to go to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, Israel’s enemy.
Jonah was not frightened he might fail, he was frightened that he might be successful. If people got the idea that their prophet had aided their enemy his cushy palace job would end. So he got away as far as possible, Tarshish, modern Spain.
But God is in Tarshish as well, (I can testify to that from my Spanish holidays.) You can’t get away from God. God was pursuing Jonah. Even for those on the run from God, there is no hiding place. Love never gives up. You cannot hide from God’s love. This was the only bit of the sermon that surprised me, I had never
In the boat to Tarshish, there was a storm at an unseasonably time of year. Jonah was roused to pray to his God – all knees on deck. God was perusing his prophet,
Jonah was appalled that all were in danger due to his stubbornness. We cannot disobey God without affecting others, usually detrimentally, or obey God without affecting others. Jonah confessed to running from God, but the sailors were reluctant to do what Jonah said and jettison him until all else failed. When they did the sea went calm. in the Gospel reading, Jesus calmed the sea and his disciples asked, “Who is this that wind and waves obey him.” The fish swallowed Jonah, he deserved it. The story could have ended here, with the message that God cannot be messed with. But it is not, see next week for part two when Jonah goes in the other direction, towards Nineveh. That was the second sermon cliff hanger of the day.