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Sit and Think
The Reverend Krystal Leedy
July 22, 2018
Continuing our sermon series on the Easter Vigil texts, we once again enter into a great big story of faith, the story of Jonah.
These texts thus far have lent themselves to large social issues, and perhaps it’s been that the news has been so quickly flitting from issue to issue that it seems like the burden is upon this pulpit to comment. After all, Jesus did not shirk from social issues of his day, and this next generation of folks is very concerned about how Christianity will play a huge role in society. It’s difficult not to talk about the large systemic things.
And today’s text could easily lend itself to the same. Jonah is headed to Ninevah, via the other direction, but eventually gets to Ninevah, and the whole town repents of their evils ways. We could talk about what we also need to repent of as a city, as a nation, as people who live on this planet and what turning to God would look like. But the Easter Vigil text does not plant us with the Ninevites. Instead, the text plunks us into the exposition of a character named Jonah who has more than a few flaws, especially for a prophet. So with this in mind, let us hear the word of God from
The Book of Jonah, the first chapter
Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, ‘Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.’ But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.
But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and such a mighty storm came upon the sea that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried to his god. They threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten it for them. Jonah, meanwhile, had gone down into the hold of the ship and had lain down, and was fast asleep. The captain came and said to him, ‘What are you doing sound asleep? Get up, call on your god! Perhaps the god will spare us a thought so that we do not perish.’
The sailors said to one another, ‘Come, let us cast lots, so that we may know on whose account this calamity has come upon us.’ So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, ‘Tell us why this calamity has come upon us. What is your occupation? Where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?’ ‘I am a Hebrew,’ he replied. ‘I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.’ Then the men were even more afraid, and said to him, ‘What is this that you have done!’ For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them so.
Then they said to him, ‘What shall we do to you, that the sea may quieten down for us?’ For the sea was growing more and more tempestuous. He said to them, ‘Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quieten down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you.’ Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to bring the ship back to land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more stormy against them. Then they cried out to the Lord, ‘Please, O Lord, we pray, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life. Do not make us guilty of innocent blood; for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.’ So they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the Lord even more, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.
But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.
Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish,
The word of the Lord,
Thanks be to God.
I took a class last month called “Anxious to Teach About It,” taught by Rev. Dr. Carolyn Helsel, who was also here for the racial justice series we had last spring. I took this course reluctantly, only because we had already spent so much time talking about racial issues here at UPC, and I felt like I was focusing too much on one social issue, when there are so many others to focus on. I participated quickly in class and was really pushing for solutions, as if those where readily available. I feel like UPC is at the point where we are asking the question, “We know that white supremacy exists and we want to destroy it. How do we do that?” Pushing forward, I kept asking for these solutions because I like so many of you, do not want to be paralyzed by the ways in which white supremacy has invaded our thoughts and thereby our words and thereby our actions.
In addition to this class, I also attended Mo-Ranch Youth Celebration, where Bruce Reyes-Chow, former moderator of the PCUSA was also talking about racism. He put up a child’s drawing that was obviously derogatory toward people from Asia, as though we could put all people from Asia in one drawing. He then admitted that the artist of the drawing was himself. As a boy, Bruce had already ingrained the messages of racism into his mind, and they came out through his pen.
He talked about what paralleled the words of Carolyn. We must take care of ourselves when trying to combat social issues. Just saying “I’m not racist” is not enough. And continually being confronted by these social issues and allowing them to affect us and for us to affect them comes at a cost. We can lose ourselves in the world of social issues. All of us. Even those who take direct attacks each day. I say often that being able to step away from these issues is a privilege. And at the same time, that stepping away, the act of self-care for all people is a necessity.
Self-care is something we may hear a bit about. It’s usually talked about in the form of a glass of wine and a bubble bath or time at a spa, or for me, I get target-marketed to buy planners, as if this were an act of self-care.In our culture, working all the time is some sort of badge of honor. I have seen so many articles that have been marketed to me about self-care that inevitably show a woman with her hair a mess and her house a mess and with a super-exasperated look on her face while her kids run around with only diapers on. It’s amazing because these ads and articles about self-care are exactly what I need, except they promote the very stereotypes that I am trying to not let influence my mind.Plus, I really don’t need another planner, and I don’t know if that is the only act of self-care that I need to engage in.
But, we all need self-care because it feels like we’ve just been thrown from a boat. It feels like we are swimming in nebulous waters. I feel like I flick through the news and think to myself, “What fresh hell awaits me today?” We are in open water, just wondering what is going to attack us.
We are in open water, and even if the sea is not raging on the surface, there are still things lurking underneath. I wonder how long Jonah was treading water, how long he was in the sea. How long it took him to watch the boat leave. It was clear skies as soon as he fell into the water, but for how long until the anxiety set in about what was under the water? The fear of what would be next still lurking below.
And I suppose when the whale or big fish or Loch Ness monster came and swallowed up Jonah, it felt truly as though he was going to die. This was it. This was the thing that was mean to kill him, to punish him from running from God. This was the almighty knock out. This was truly rock bottom.
But we are not in that story. We are in a story that has all of the markings of a purposeful hyperbole, an allegory, a parable. We are in a story that is working on us at a much deeper level than could a man really be swallowed by a whale and survive for three days?
The amazing part of this story is not that Jonah somehow repented and was then released from bondage. The amazing part of this story is God’s faithful and creative response to Jonah, who deserved very little. The amazing part of this story is grace.
Grace in the form of a cavernous belly that could hold a parasite of a man.
My daughter enjoys this television show on Netflix called Sarah and Duck. It’s a BBC show, and I feel like I have memorized most episodes. And I’ve noticed that things in Sarah and Duck, probably because of its British sensibilities, are not blown out of proportion. The plots are simple, but they know that they are simple. But I’ve also noticed that when it seems like Sarah and Duck are at a dead end. When they cannot solve a problem, they don’t do a dance or sing a song or magically come up with an answer out of thin air. They literally sit and think. They sometime talk while they are doing this, but for a moment, there is this silence on the show where a cartoon girl and a cartoon duck and just sitting and thinking. I mean, this is truly riveting television.
But it amazed me how rarely we do this and how badly I want my daughter to take the time in a really anxious situation to sit and think. Because I think that starts bordering on self-care.
The whale swallowing Jonah was an act of God caring about Jonah enough to not let him drown, and it was also forcing him into a moment where he had to ponder what he was doing with his life. He took time to reflect, and he also took time to pray.
I don’t think it should take a rock-bottom situation for us to take the time to actually engage in spiritual disciplines. I know sometimes it does. It did for Jonah, it has for me. But how much more peaceful people would we be if we stepped into the belly of the whale sometimes?
Self-care and spiritual disciplines look different for everyone, and people are fed in various ways. In other words, my whale belly is not going to look like your whale belly. But finding those things that allow God to break through the noise is life-giving, even if it looks like an escape.
For people who are victims of oppressive systems, and by the way, that includes everyone because racist systems also end up hurting the people that they seem to benefit, evenyone needs self-care. The privileged get calloused. The historically marginalized groups continue to get trampled. No one benefits form these systems.
But when we take the time to pray, to sing, to listen, to be still in order to be moved – it is amazing what that will do for the prophetic voice.
I know you’re busy. I am too. That’s why you and I take time each Sunday to be here. To pray and sing and listen and be still in order to be moved. And Christianity is about more than Sunday.
The session made a covenant with one another, and one of the things that we agreed to take time for Sabbath every day. Now I pushed back hard on this point. I don’t like signing things that I don’t feel like I can accomplish. And it still sits up there, haunting me every session meeting with its white letters on a blue background. Finding rest every day is not easy, but I am not even sure what it looks like when I do find it. I’m always questioning, was this enough rest? Is this how long I should have stayed in a restful state? Was it enough? Did I satisfy the session requirement? Does Netflix count?
And I remember the words of the book of order which echo the words of Christ about prayer:We don’t often think of the Book of Order as riveting reading, but even though it spends a great deal of time talking about our communal life together, the Book of Order also comments of what personal daily devotion looks like. “We respond to God’s grace through the gift of prayer. The Christian life is one of constant prayer, as the challenge of everyday discipleship requires daily disciplines of faith. Prayer is a way of opening ourselves to God, who desires communication and communion with us. Prayer may take a variety of forms, such as: conscious conversation with God; attentive and expectant silence; meditation on Scripture; the use of service books, devotional aids, and visual arts; and singing, dancing, labor, or physical exercise. The Church’s pattern of daily prayer (W-5.0202) may be adopted as an individual practice of faith. Prayer may also be expressed in action, through public witness and protest, deeds of compassion, and other forms of disciplined service. Prayer is meant to be a gracious gift from God, not a task or obligation. It is an opportunity to draw inspiration and strength from one’s relationship with God in Jesus Christ. It is a way of continually seeking the gifts and guidance of the Holy Spirit for daily living. Prayer is a practice to cultivate throughout one’s life, and one that will bear much fruit.”
That whale was a gift. It was saving grace. The call to discipline, the call to rest, the call to self-care is not a curse. It is a gift. And you can absolutely leave it on the Table. But in these waters of oppressive systems, of the 24-hour news cycle that rolls over us like waves in the ocean, I think we should probably take those momentsin a whale belly.
This week I invite you each day to be still in order to be moved. I don’t know what accomplishing this goal is going to look like nor do I know what the benefit will be. But I know that we are going so fast and we don’t stop to just sit and think, to get out of our heads long enough to listen to God.
And if we believe in a God who will do anything for God’s children, even swallow up a man into a whale in order to save him, then we have to believe that God will find ways to remind us of who we are and how much God cares for us, before we get back to work.
In the name of that creative God who took a rest on the seventh day too, Amen.