God is Everywhere: The Book of Jonah

jonahlovejusticeDelivered at Ames UCC
on November 13, 2016
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

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I don’t generally like to assume how people are feeling or what they are thinking. It isn’t fair and it can be dangerous. Plus, my personality and my training tell me to do otherwise. I like to assume the best about people and so I want to understand who they are and why they are and how they got there.

I doesn’t mean I respect where everyone ends up. I have no patience or respect for those who publicly pronounce their hatred of others, for those who organize whole institutions around the destruction of those who are not Christian, or of people of color, women, or queer.

Neither does Ames UCC. This is a church that has always stood on the side of people who have been hated for those reasons. We do not all do so from the same political party, but we agree nonetheless.

So I will take the risk in assuming that if you are here today, if you have chosen to a come to a place like this, you have experienced some kind of grief, if not actual fear, since Tuesday night.

Fear of the voters who chanted “Jew S. A.! Jew S. A.!,” fear of the voters who laughed at or dismissed a man who treats women’s bodies as objects for his own pleasure, fear of the voters whose children approached other Black kids in Ames to ask if they knew they would be slaves again soon, fear of the voters in Boone who keyed “die fag #trump” into the cars of two women, fear that those voters’ voices will not only grow stronger and more emboldened, but also translate into law that will reduce protection and rights.

In other words, even though I know we are not homogenous in our formal party affiliations at Ames UCC, I know that we are united in our condemnation of such behavior.

Yesterday I was at a meeting with Barbara F., Terry P., Allen T., Janet B., Neal F., and Jan F. and other leaders in AMOS. If this is your first time at Ames UCC, AMOS stands for A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy and it is an alliance of over 30 churches and agencies that collaborate to address real issues in our communities, with real and good effect. The goal of the meeting was to talk about our post-election work.

Before lunch lead organizer Liz Hall talked to us about anger. She defined anger as a product of loss and existing on a continuum. On one end is paralyzing depression and on the other is impotent rage. Our goal, she said, is to get to the middle, to a cold anger. A cold anger is a fire that burns perpetually but does not eat us up. Cold anger is the fuel of production rather than destruction.

Our Biblical prophets had a cold anger. Not all, but the biggies like Amos and Jeremiah and Jesus. They had a cold anger that let them keep pressing the case for God no matter what.

Jonah did not. Jonah had denial and avoidance. When God told him where to go, Jonah ran in the opposite direction. It took a near drowning and being barfed up by a fish to get on track. When he did as God asked and it worked, what was his reaction? Was he thrilled by the king’s change of heart? Did he start to think he’s pretty good at the whole prophet thing and so was grateful to God? Not at all. Jonah left the town and commenced to having an epic tantrum. He was so impotent with rage that he just wanted to die.

But Jonah’s story isn’t just about his anger. As my rabbi taught me, it’s a satire. It’ a comedy. For example, Jonah’s name means “Dove, Son of Faithfulness.” Ha! Then look at all of the exaggerations: Jonah not only slept in the boat in the storm—he snores; when Jonah got eaten by a fish he took another snooze; not only do the people, but all of the animals of Ninevah put on sack cloth and fast; then a worm kills a whole plant.

So when all of Ninevah repents and converts, Jonah the Avoidant becomes the only successful prophet in all of scripture!

The book of Jonah is poking fun at the role of the prophet, the losers we have looked to for so long. In doing so, it lifts up both the capacity for even the crummiest people to change and the enormity of God’s will to love.

Last week I said that regardless of the outcome of this election our work as people of faith remains the same: caring for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger, and setting the table for friends and enemies alike.

The first three may feel a whole lot easier than the last right now. That is OK. We can be Jonahs for awhile.

God gave Jonah a lot of chances because God doesn’t expect perfection. Instead, God helps us see that we don’t really need prophets: Any of us have the capacity for leadership. With God, all of us can nurture a cold anger, the kind that will help us ensure that women, people of color, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, people with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQIA community do not lose any of the rights or respect that have been so hard won. And through AMOS we have a means to ensure that.

Jonah thought he could run from God, but none of us can. God is as ubiquitous as the scent of sandalwood on the children I just anointed in this room. So is the potential for justice and power of love through God.



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