Waynedale United Methodist Church
Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Making Disciples of Jesus for the Transformation of the World!
   

July 12, 2015 Sermon

“Jonah and His Fish Story”
Jonah 1, 2
Ted Jansen  July 12, 2015  Waynedale UMC
 
1.)        Fish stories.  When you hear that word what do you normally think of?  You might think that people are telling you about the “one that got away!”  Or about a fish size that was exaggerated.  You have the idea that you are not 100% of the truth when it comes to fish stories.  
            Kevin and I went to Canada on a fishing trip with another Dad and his son.  We had a great time.  I caught walleye and bass and Kevin caught those and pike.  We had fun and made great memories.  On the last day we were there we fished in a lake we hadn’t been in with these big lures, called suiks.  You would think that a lure these size would have to catch a big fish.  These lures would also get caught in the weeds of the lake and lily pads. 
            Kevin caught a fish, or at least he thought he did, and was dragging his suick through the weeds and his pole was bending hard.  He yelled at me to “get the net, get the net!”  When you catch a big fish you can’t just lift it out of the water you have to net it.  So, when we drug his suick close to the boat we saw that he had caught a pike.  Here it is.  (Show Kevin’s fish).  
            Jonah, on Old Testament prophet, had a fish story.  His story was about the “one that got away,” and “you should have seen how big the fish was!”  Let’s hear part of the story of Jonah this week and then finish it next week.   
 
2.)        Jonah, a prophet, received a word from the Lord to go to Nineveh because the people were wicked.  He was to preach against them and let them know that God was not pleased.  The first response of Jonah when he heard the word from the Lord was to run away, to flee, and to disobey. 
            He got on a ship and headed in the opposite direction from Nineveh to the town of Tarshish.  While on the ship a great storm arose and those on board were scared.  They believed that Jonah’s God was causing the wind and storm.  They asked Jonah what they needed to do to stop the storm, because they believed they were all going to die. 
            Jonah told them to through him into the sea.  At first the men did not do this but rowed harder and harder trying to get back to shore.  The wind and storm were even more relentless in pounding against the ship. 
So the men decided to pick up Jonah and throw him into the sea.  At once the storm stopped and the men on board feared and worshipped the Lord.   They realized that Jonah’s God was indeed the Lord of the sea and sky!     
            As Jonah is holding his breath and believing that this is the end of his life the Lord brought a big fish to swallow up Jonah and save him.  Jonah miraculously survived for three days and nights and prayed while in the fish.  At the end of the second chapter we read that the fish spit Jonah up on dry land.     
            I want to share three insights about God from Jonah’s story in these two chapters. 
 
3.)        *God gives us freedom.  God had a job for Jonah and Jonah decided that he did not want to do it.  It was a choice for Jonah.  We discover in Jonah’s life that when he headed in the opposite direction of God’s plan he had many negative consequences.
God gives us freedom in our lives and when we choose not to follow God’s path we can create negative consequences for our lives.  Sometimes when we make choices that are against God’s plan it affects others as well as ourselves.  It might seem like there is storm and chaos that is swirling around us a lot of the time.    
            One image to consider about going the opposite direction would be if you were driving on a three lane highways.  You see someone driving towards you in the opposite direction coming right at you.  You know that this will cause stress, problems and can be very dangerous. 
            God loves us so much that God gives us freedom and we can go towards God or away from God.  Jonah decided to run away.     
           
4.)        *God listens.  Jonah is in the fish and this is a place where darkness surrounds him.  It smells bad and the sounds of that place are scary.  As we imagine this place we understand from the second chapter that Jonah prays to God.  Jonah recognizes that God has rescued him, saved him from a watery grave.  Jonah is still alive. 
            A key verse that I want to highlight is Jonah 2:2.  “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me.” 
            This verse reminds us that God will answer us and God will listen to us.  We can always call on God.  It doesn’t matter what we have been doing, or where we are, or if we are a mess or very confused.  God will listen to us and answer us. 
            We all need assurance the when we are in the midst of situations that seem terrible, dark and lonely that God is with us.     
 
5.)        *God gives second chances.  God is in the business of giving second chances.  God will forgive us, God will give us renewed hope, God will continue to love us, God will bring healing to us, God will bring His grace to us time and time again. 
            When the fish spit up Jonah on dry land it was God’s second chance for Jonah.  A chance to do what God wanted him to do and to be alive again. 
God’s second chance is the gift of unconditional love.  This love means that love is given to us without any conditions, requirements, or expectations.  We might be far away from God and yet God is giving us His wonderful love.    
            We do need to realize that when Jonah had his second chance he was in a different place in his life.  Second chance are not a chance to get a “do over.”  No, it is a chance to start over from where you are right now.  Jonah’s second chance begin in the water and in the fish, not on dry land.  It began after he had spent three days in the fish.     
            Your second chance begins where life finds you today, not in the past.  
 
6.)        Have you heard the name Billy Graham?  Billy and his wife Ruth had several children.  One son was named Franklin Graham.  Franklin tells in his book, “Rebel with a Cause,” about his younger life when he was running away from God. Franklin was just like Jonah.  He was headed in a direction that was causing problems.  He was smoking, drinking and doing drugs.  He was wanting to break the laws and get away with it.    
            There came a time when Franklin had his “Jonah in the fish” moment and accepted Christ in his heart.  He had a second chance and let God guide his life.    
            Franklin now works as the president of the Billy Graham organization and the Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian aid agency. 
            He is one person that “ran away” from God.  If we are honest there are times in our lives when we have run away, when we were faced with the consequences of our actions and times when God’s amazing grace came to us undeserved. 
 
7.)        God gives you freedom.  Each person here has been created by God with freedom.  We are free to listen and obey, or we can close our ears and run away. 
            God listens to us.  Wherever we are you need to understand that God hears our prayers, or conversations, our pleadings.
            God gives second chances.  You might be in a dark place, a confusing place, a place of chaos and storm, you might be in a place where your actions are causing the people around you to fear for their lives or wonder what is happening.  In that place you need to know that God is ready to give you a second chance.  God loves you and doesn’t want to see you drown in the storm. 
 
8.)        I found a story about second chances that was written by Sean Womack called, “From Low Point to Forgiveness.”  I invite you to listen and think about Jonah and your life. 
I ruptured my Achilles tendon playing basketball just after the past New Year. “Ruptured” is medical-speak for “it snapped in two.” It felt like someone hit me in the leg with a bat. Down I went. Two strangers carried me off the court and laid me on my back. They resumed their pick-up game, and I began what I now know will be a year of recovery. For the past ten weeks, I have worn a boot that keeps my ankle isolated. I walked on crutches for eight weeks.
My work requires me to travel a little bit. Twice I’ve flown to New York, once just after the accident. It was painful and slow getting around the airport and the city on crutches. But something incredible happened. People helped me. Total strangers carried my bags. A woman carried my Starbucks to the gate. And if I saw anyone else on crutches, then we would both stop to talk. We’d share stories about our injuries, talk about what a pain crutches are, ask about rehab and then go our way. Even in a city like New York, where no one stops to talk on the street, people would stop and talk. The crutches were an instant bond.
It dawned on me why, as I sat down to write my second chance story. Crutches are a visible symbol of injury. Crutches broadcast to the world that you are vulnerable. You cannot hide your brokenness when you are hobbling around on them. Everyone sees. Everyone knows. And everyone else who is on them knows exactly what you are going through. It’s a brotherhood of pain and suffering. Some worse than others, but no one is measuring the quality of injuries. You are just sharing your story.
But pain, injury and failure in life doesn’t always require you to walk around on crutches. Many of us are good at hiding and covering it all up. We put on the face. We smile. Say the right things. But sometimes you get dealt a public blow. Sometimes we go down on the court of life with the stands full and everyone knows. Everyone sees. And unlike the game, not everyone applauds when you limp off the field. In those moments, the people supporting you off the field and tending to you on the sidelines are the most beautiful people you will ever know.
In December of 2006, I was fired from my job as a Vice President in the marketing department of the world’s largest company.  It was ugly.  It was painful.  It was high-profile.  And it was a low point in my life.
They don’t call it a firing when they are letting you go though; they call it “choosing to separate.” And separation was the right word. I’d been separated from my wife for three months, separated from my three children, separated from friends, separated from God. Separated.
And there was no one to blame but myself.
Then something incredible happened. My wife forgave me. I remember the phone call. She didn’t say the words, “I forgive you.” She didn’t need to. For months every conversation was tense at best and usually a fight. But this phone call was different.  When I tried to spar, there was no one returning punches. She wasn’t resigned to our status. She hadn’t given up. She had forgiven me. I knew it when I hung up the phone, and it changed everything.
This was the person who I’d harmed the most out of all the people I’ve ever known in my entire life. This was the woman I promised to love faithfully for my entire life. This was the woman who was suffering the worst pain and tragedy of her life at my hands. And she had forgiven me. Without me asking. She’d done the unthinkable. Against the advice of friends. Against the circumstance. Against what even seemed right or just. She forgave.
Maybe there are words that could capture what this was like to experience. But I could write every day for the rest of my life and not be able to express to you what that act of grace did to me. And she did not stop there. She loved me when all hope seemed lost. When every indication pointed toward our marriage and family breaking up, she held on to a hope and a faith that everything could and would turn in the end. And it did.
Her forgiveness was the catalyst for my own heart change. I wish I could tell you it was immediate, but it wasn’t. It took months. It was pain-filled. But it happened. I limped home. And that year of healing and restoration is the most profound and the most beautiful year of my life.
Broken places heal back stronger and rarely ever break in that place again. Every day that I limp around on my healing leg is a reminder that I am fragile and vulnerable. Sharing my story lets others see the crutches, it gives me a chance to hear their story. No one would choose to go through the pain, but no one would deny that’s when you learn the most. 
To experience that kind of radical grace is a gift I cannot repay. I suppose that’s what makes it grace.