There have been many studies recently that have suggested that even though our society has never been more connected, more able to communicate across town and around the world we nevertheless experience great struggles with loneliness. Though we can text message at the drop of a hat or send a friend request via Facebook, there are many who remain isolated and alone in our society. I believe there is a deep longing for community, for fellowship that seems to be just beyond the reach of so many in our world. We have been taught to value our autonomy our individuality to the point that we have distanced ourselves from finding any identity in a community, add to that the fact that communities have failed or even hurt us in the past and we are reluctant to trust them again. And so even though we are all so interconnected we do a good job of keeping everyone at arm’s length.
To feel alone in this world is no small thing, it grates against our very nature, and is felt in every aspect of our lives. Remember how our Creator had declared, “It is not good that man should be alone.” Now of course there are many types of loneliness. You don’t have to be alone to be lonely. How many in our midst struggle with depression and so feel separated from their own friends and family, unable to laugh with them and to be comforted by them? How many are faced with struggles and hardships that though they walk right next to us they are a million miles away, consumed with worry filled thoughts and angst? How many of us have been hurt by those who were supposed to love us that now we intentionally hold firm to our thoughts and desires not daring to really share ourselves with anyone else?
As I read the story of Jonah and considered again his call and journey I was struck by something I hadn’t noticed or really thought about before, I was struck by how alone Jonah was. The Word of the Lord comes to this wayward prophet and he immediately flees; he heads off alone, he is alone in the inner part of the ship when the storm rises, he is alone in his worship life “I fear the Lord, the God of heaven,” not “we fear” and he is most certainly alone for three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish.
Now I know the way that we usually hear this text is to hear it as some sort of warning to not resist the call of God. And this is certainly a main theme. I mean Jonah is called by God and does his best to flee from the presence of the Lord. Of course he doesn’t get very far, in his attempt to go to Tarshish he is stopped by a massive storm and the only way out is to cast Jonah over the side. Once in the water God appoints a great fish to swallow him up and as it turns out, to take him back in the direction he had fled. If we read on we find that the fish vomits Jonah up on the land and God asks nicely again for him to go to Nineveh and this time Jonah thinks better of it and goes as God directs him. He’s not happy about, he’s not thrilled to preach to the Ninevites but he goes. In the end he is a reluctant preacher who resents the mercy God shows to others. Jonah doesn’t end up being some sort of hero in our text, but he is the one who speak God’s Word to a community of broken and sinful people – and that Word brings repentance and repentance, mercy. It is the Word that is the triumphant hero of our text.
It is the Word of God itself that became flesh and dwelt among us. The Word took each and every one of your sins upon itself; he embraced your failures and shortcomings, he endured true loneliness to save you from it. As the creation itself rises up to crucify the Creative Word even the Father turns against him as he cries out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It is he who bears the mark of Jonah not captured in the belly of a fish but entombed in the earth for three days. But the Word would not cease, it would not stop, it would accomplish that for which it was sent. So the grave could not hold the Word, he rises victorious and in his victory he speaks his gifts into your ears.
It is this Word of God that will not let loneliness define us. It is the Word that drives Jonah into the life of the Ninevites, the Word would not allow him to be alone for the Word needed to be preached; there were ears that needed to hear the Word, so there needed to be a mouth to speak them. The Word brings them together even if it has to go through the belly of a fish to do it. The Word of God creates and demands a community, it needs to be spoken and heard, it needs to be proclaimed and embraced. And yet this ought to come as no shock to any of you, for the Word had reached your ears, the Word has been spoken to you and washed over your heads, the Word has been joined to bread and wine and placed in your mouths.
It is a reckless thing, this Word. It forgave the wickedness of Nineveh; it has forgiven you all your sins today. And now it rests in you so that you might forgive others. In forgiveness then we are bound together, in forgiveness we go forth into this world. Let us speak what we have heard, let us proclaim the mercies of God.