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This is the sign

Years ago I lost a contact in a swimming pool.

Something was in my eye after trying to adjust my swim mask and I unintentionally popped that sucker right out into a massive community pool.

The contact lens was tinted blue.

It was our neighborhood pool, a couple of blocks from our home and the contact was a semi-rigid gas permeable—meaning it was a “hard” lens and neither disposable nor cheap.

Panicked I sopped home with two small kids in tow, so discouraged and undone.

When I relayed the story to my husband, he did not show the same dismay I did or become undone at the idea of a couple hundred dollars for a new pair.

“I’ll find it,” he said confidently, matter-of-factly.

I laughed when he asked for my swimming mask and took off in his swim trunks.

Less than half an hour later, he appeared with a wide grin and my lens carefully cradled in his cupped hand.

I was astounded.

I have worn contacts since I was 11 and lost only a few over the years because my eyesight is terrible and they are of great value to me.

I cannot see without them and I do not do well with glasses. They are a necessity and it is for this reason I shy away from water activities of almost any kind. Certainly I enjoy them—trips to the lake, the pool, the beach are all things I look forward to but do not ever feel fully immersed in (pun intended).

As JP and Luke continue the series on Jonah on Sunday mornings my thoughts keep turning to the sea, the wild sea with the great wind hurled upon it by the LORD himself. The all caps LORD hurled the wind when Jonah promptly went the opposite direction that God told him to go.

A short-sighted move no doubt.

Even when I am in a swimming pool, I always feel short-sighted and a slight unease.

Perhaps it is the inherent danger of the water and the fact a life can end there in mere moments. Perhaps it is my struggle with my vision. If I want to fully enjoy the water, I have to remove my contacts for fear of losing them. If I remove them, I can see only what is just in front of me. If I leave them in to preserve my vision, I am constantly making sure I don’t get splashed in the face or dunked under.

Regardless I worry.

I am also known to let wild imaginings get the better of me and as a child in the Jaws era, it always feels like something large is approaching from beneath.

When I imagine Jonah being hurled out of that boat, I wonder did he feel, did he sense the approach of that massive creature? A fish large enough to swallow a grown man whole had to be felt. Yes the great wind had brought upon a mighty tempest and threatened to break a ship, but once Jonah was in the water, the sea ceased to rage.

To be in that stilled water, watching the ship sail onto safety and feel that approach makes me wonder how long Jonah was in the water before the creature enveloped his body.

Most of my tastes run towards what Flannery O’Connor calls the comic and the terrible and the book of Jonah so distinctly walks this line.

Jonah softened while inside the animal and prayed again to God, crying out and admitting that salvation belongs to the LORD.

Then he was vomited—vomited and once again commanded to go to Nineveh.

I picture the kind of sulky obedience I get when a child is in no uncertain terms to clean their room after dishonesty and resistance on the subject. I can almost see Jonah’s slumped shoulders on his final trek into Nineveh to deliver the mere eight word sermon in the center of the city:

On Sunday Luke talked about our emotions and the role they play in our lives. They have value and they have their place, but ours emotions must fall before God’s commands. Where there is certainty, clarity with God’s directives, there is uncertainty, blurred vision when our emotions rule.

Jonah was angry that God would save a wicked, foul, foreign people who could compromise the integrity of God’s plan. Jonah’s vision was distorted by his own skewed view—did he lose his lens in those storm-tossed waters? He could not see all that God was going to do.

God is making all things new and Jonah and his emotions, thankfully, do not have the final say.

I nearly laughed out loud on Sunday morning as I read again Jonah’s prayer immediately following the repentance and salvation of the Ninevites.

It is a comedy of the absurd, the irrational and emotional. The eight word sermon of Jonah’s has rescued 120,000 people who were perishing in sin and Jonah’s prayer is I knew it! I knew you would do this and be gracious and now I just want to die.

That same merciful and gracious and steadfast loving God just simply replies with a kind of modern day and how’s that emotion working out for you?

Like JP said last week, God uses broken and sinful people. He uses any of us, all of us, no matter where we have been.

As I look around our sanctuary, my home, Georgia 400, the grocery store, my street, I think God uses broken and sinful people because that is the only kind of people there are in the world.

It is truly grace upon grace upon grace as we faltering, flailing, disobedient prodigals decide that we know better than that same great, gracious God who is waiting with steadfast love to use us for his purposes.

If this prophet of God is unwilling to go where the God (that he professes to fear) tells him to go, how can I, the weak-willed wife and mom of five, accomplish that which I am being called to do?

A few summers ago I had the words “talitha cumi” tattooed on my wrist.

The story of Jesus taking Jairus’ daughter by the hand and calling her back from the dead with those Aramaic words that mean “little girl arise” brought great comfort to me. Knowing that I too have been called by Jesus back from the dead and that one day He will call me again when this earthly body fades away is my daily reassurance.

As I read the book of Jonah over and again this week I can’t ignore the call from God to Jonah that begins with “arise.”

Though Jonah directly ignores the imperative, God is gracious in His pursuit.

The pagan sailors also command Jonah with the same word arise, asking Jonah to call out to his God. (And those same pagan sailors would also come to call upon the all caps LORD.)

After his attempted flight to Tarshish God again speaks to Jonah, beginning with arise.

Arise, go to Ninevah.

Arise, call out to your God.

Arise, go to Ninevah.

There is no doubt that Jonah’s calling is my very own.

It is the same calling for all of us who believe.

Many a time I have operated in direct disobedience and many times I have been angry and slump shouldered and certain that my way was the better way.

When my only clarity, my only vision has been lost like a contact in the depths of a pool full of emotions, I have not been relinquished. When I have let my emotions rule the moment instead of the commands of God, He has quietly and calmly asked how’s that working out for you?

And in Matthew when the scribe and Pharisees ask Jesus for a sign, he points to this disobedient and prodigal prophet.

“An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.”

This is the sign!

This story, like all of those before and all of those after, like the list of the faithful in Hebrews, will point not to the worthy and faithful person or the disobedient prophet but instead to the gracious God who is merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love relenting from disaster.

For what is impossible for men is most certainly possible with God.

When Jesus went into the earth for three days and nights, victory seemed impossible.

Rescue seemed lost in a wild and raging sea of sin.

Yet, all was not lost.

Death was stilled.

Jesus arose and in that return from the depths, ours was also made possible.

Jonah accomplished his purpose not because he got his head on straight, but because God took him under and then brought him back to life.

God gave him those eight words and God rescued those 120,000 souls.

Let us trust not our own limited vision but that of the God who saves.

“The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.”

Matthew 12:41

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