Desperate Times, Desperate Measures

Sermon Text – 02.10.2019
[Jonah 2:1-4, 7-10]
          In the darkest moments of our life we are given a simple choice. No matter what road we travelled, what things we have done, what regrets we spoke – there is always one option before us. Turn to God, or turn away from God. It’s as simple as that. Have you ever just wanted to run away? From a person, from a problem, from a relationship, from a situation – you just can’t deal with it and you just need to get away. And the more you try to run away, the more the problems seem to follow, seem to surround you? Have you ever had so much pressure in your life, so much stress that you physically collapsed? Overwhelmed at every level and in every way to a point where it manifests physically. It happens in little ways in all of our lives– like changing the way you drive when you’re running late or being a little bit more rude than you normally are when you’re upset or angry about something. Or in big ways like storming off in a huff, using words and violence and anger in ways you can’t take back. But did you know – it doesn’t have to be that way? Did you know that our bodies are not designed for stress?
Stanley Jones, a brilliant Methodist theologian, once said, (and I’m paraphrasing), “We are created for faith, not fear. Fear is not our native land, not our natural state – faith is. We are built such that worry and anxiety are sand in the machinery of life – while faith is like oil. I live better by faith and confidence than by fear or doubt or anxiety. When I’m stressed, or worried – my whole being gasps for breath – this is not my natural air. But when I have faith and confidence – I breathe freely. Doctors might be confused, but I am not. We know that worriers die sooner than non-worriers. And I think the reasons is, the truth is, we are inwardly constructed in every nerve and tissue, brain cell and soul; we are built for faith and not for fear. God made us that way. To live by worry is to live against reality.”          Today is part two of the Jonah Files, where we will continue our story of Jonah and the Whale. Simply put, today we are talking about darkness and light – how to make God a priority in our lives and not simply a last resort. Today I want to realize that desperate measures come from desperate times and there is a way we can avoid both.

          So we get started in our text for this morning, where it says, [read 2b-3]. Now, we have to remember that according to this story – Jonah is right now, in the belly of a whale. Take a second real quick, close your eyes – I want you to visualize Jonah in the belly of the whale. For some reason, when we depict this in movies or cartoons there’s a lot of room in the belly of the whale. Do you remember Pinocchio? It’s like a big cave with a nice little island surrounded by calm water. But if this really happened, we should understand that Jonah was probably smashed in there on all sides. You’ll notice the scripture doesn’t say “he got on his knees to pray.” It probably looked more like a babe in the womb than a man on his knees. Pressed, crushed, surrounded in the depths – and I think that visual is key. Whether we believe this story is historical or not – there is a parallel for our life here and now in the modern world. Sometimes life hurls us into the depths, with currents swirling around us, waves and breakers swept over me. It’s the very definition of overwhelmed, that moment when we feel as though we have lost control. Things are spinning away from us, the ground is disappearing from beneath our feet. And the description continues [read 5-6a]. Now, obviously we come from different backgrounds, we have dealt with different struggles – but I think it’s a common core for all humans to shudder at the thought of losing control, watching things slip away from us in a bad way. Verse 7, [read 7a]. I love that word “ebbing.” When you hear that, what does it make you think of? I always think of a shoreline, maybe a sand castle. The tide ebbing, slowly drawing farther away, slipping away from us. We can bring this right into the here and now. In the literal, I have to imagine Jonah is suffocating in to death in that whale – life ebbing away. But in our lives in Marquette county in the modern world – we have all felt this at one point or another. When life is slipping away from us, we are losing control, maybe a part of us is dying. Read [7b].

    Back up just a bit to verse 4 and we find, [read it]. You see, when things are going wrong and things are falling apart. We start to feel like God has left us behind. Like he doesn’t care about us, or worse, like he’s mad at us and is punishing us in some way. I think this is a very loud cry out there in the world. We look at the darkness and we join our voice with Jonah’s and ask God, “Have I been banished from your sight? Are you even listening anymore?” But Jonah continues and says, “Yet I will look again toward your holy temple.” What could he mean by that? Obviously, he can’t literally look towards a holy temple, he’s inside a whale, so what does he mean? The Holy Temple at all times in Jewish history was a symbol of hope, a promise of coming glory and redemption and victory over their oppression. So what he’s saying is, “I look to the promise of a better future.” Yes, there are moments when we are pressed, and crushed and surrounded and in the depths – but always there is a promise of future glory. Redemption. God has given us this promise in Jesus.
      In the darkest moments of our life we are given a simple choice. We can turn to God, or turn away from God. Verse 8 tells us, [read it]. There’re two key phrases I want to point out here. First, “worthless idols.” The things God considers worthless, doesn’t feel worthless in this world. In fact, the world tells us again and again how important or valuable all these things are, desperate to push us towards them. There are the “worthless idols” the world would have you substitute for a relationship with your creator. They’re not bad things – they are just not worth as much as the eternal rewards from God. Second, “turn away from God’s love.” A lot of people hear that phrase and they think this means that we have to do something to hurt God, or anger God to turn away from God. But the truth is, I think the most common turning away from God is simply putting him on the back burner. We turn away from God by making other things more important. Here’s an example – I don’t know how these keep coming to me. Imagine you have a child, and you love that child, and you tell them, “You are important to me, and I love you.” But you spend all your time at work, or out with friends, or even just watching TV, or out at camp. You never spend any time with the child. Now, you didn’t do anything wrong, you didn’t hurt the child, or offend the child in any way. You don’t turn away from the child, but you also didn’t make them a priority – and I guarantee they would feel hurt. In our lives, ignoring God, forgetting God, putting him forever on the back-burner of your priorities – that’s just like turning away from God. In the moments of darkness in our life, we have a choice. Turn to God or turn from God.


       The good news this morning, I actually discovered it by accident, is that God surrounds us. See, in the Psalms there are phrases like “surrounded by enemies” but if you go looking you’ll also find a lot of verses that say things like Psalm 5:12, “Surely Lord, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor.”  Or Psalm 32:7 “you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.” And a bunch more like that. Darkness can surround us in moments, but God always surrounds us. We might ignore him, put him on the backburner, even reject his existence, but God is always there for us. God surrounds us. No matter what happens in life, no matter what happened in our past, what mountains we have to climb in our future. No matter what kind of hole we have dug for ourselves – God surrounds us. His redemption, God’s forgiveness is always available. God surrounds us. We are so afraid so often, shrouded in darkness and overwhelmed in life. But God surrounds us. Do you know what the most common commandment in the bible is? Do not be afraid. No matter what trouble you are facing – Do not be afraid, God surrounds us.
    And yet, some of you still aren’t convinced – are you? Because it doesn’t always feel that way, does it? Sure, maybe technically God is all around us all the time – but how can that be possible when I feel so alone in the midst of the screaming pain of life. So often when things go wrong, it seems like darkness is all around us. In life, it can seem like we’re surrounded by darkness a lot more than light. It seems like darkness is all over the place, overwhelming, everywhere. But even buried deep in the sea in the belly of a big fish we hear the reassurance, Do not be afraid, God surrounds us.
      I keep using this metaphor of light and dark to speak about the good and bad things in life, and there’s one more level to the metaphor. Light is more powerful than darkness. Always. In fact, darkness is not a real thing. Darkness is only the absence of light. You cannot create darkness, you can only remove light. Imagine you’re in a room with no light, but you’ve got a flashlight. How easy is it to destroy the darkness? It’s as simple as waving the flashlight around. Do you see what I’m trying to say – darkness fills voids, and so it seems like it’s everywhere, but it’s not really. An empty room might seem impenetrable, murky with depth. But the truth is you can destroy every ounce of darkness with the flip of a switch. Light will always overcome darkness. Honestly darkness can’t even fight back – because it’s not a real thing. It is only the absence of light. Light is a real thing. God is a real thing, and God surrounds us.  

          So when we are in the darkness – whatever that looks like in your life, we have a choice. We can turn to God, or we can turn away from God. We can turn to the worthless idols, the efforts and distractions of this world, or we can turn to the real thing. Jonah, chapter 2 verse 2, [read it]. God surrounds us, all the time and everywhere – so call on God. When we are pressed, and crushed and life seems to be ebbing away – turn on the light, call on God. When it’s not your fault, and the world is unfair, and you are the victim and everything seems to be happening to you – turn on the light, call on God. When it is your fault, you caused the problem, and you’re dealing with the consequences of your actions – turn on the light, call on God. And you know what –why do we always insist on waiting until we are in distress to call on God? Turn on the light, call on God – right now, don’t wait for bad things to bring God close in your life. Jonah says, in my distress I called to the Lord – well, why did you wait that long? He says, “From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help.”  Well, why didn’t you call for help sooner? For three days he’s stuck in the belly of whale, no distractions, no other possibility but to cry out to God. How often in our life are we going to exhaust every other option before we will turn to the only true source of light? Desperate times call for desperate measures – but why wait? Don’t let God be a desperate measure, reserved only as a last resort in your life. Don’t avoid the light until you are being crushed by darkness. Walk in the light right now. Turn on the light, call on God. Walk with God every single day and the darkness doesn’t stand a chance. Turn on the light, call on God – not because you have no other choices, but first, before everything else – turn to God.

     Verse 9 tells us, [read it]. God delivers us, surrounds us – and for that we are grateful. A not just a little grateful, but with SHOUTS of grateful praise. There it is again, shouting with grateful praise. I mean it’s literally the greatest news you’ve ever heard in your entire life – Salvation comes from the Lord!! And we treat it like a last resort, like it’s no big deal. The almighty and all-powerful creator of the entire universe not only gives a rat’s behind about what you do in life, but cares so much that He provides a path out of the pit a light in the darkness, and we treat it like it’s no big deal. Jonah said, “what I have vowed, I will make good.” What I have vowed, I will make good. We give our lives over to Jesus, we promise to follow the example he gave, and the teachings he taught. So the first part of our application is to turn on the light, call on God, but the second part is to make good on your vow. If you’re a Christian here this morning – live according to the teachings of Jesus, follow the example he gave us. Most importantly Love God, and love your neighbor. So ask yourself – how have you loved God with your life? Have you made him a priority in your schedule? With devotions, tithes, coming to church, prayers – anything? Have you loved your neighbor? And remember, neighbor doesn’t just mean your buddies – how have you reached across the aisle and loved your enemies? What can you point to as an example of you making good on your vow? Or are you like Jonah, waiting until the worst possible moment, when you’re all squished in the belly of a whale to say, “Oh, maybe now I should make some time for God.” Make good on your vow, and don’t treat God like a desperate measure reserved only for desperate times.

          And so I’ll leave you with this. May you remember that God surrounds us – all the time, whether we feel it or not. May you turn on the light, call on God every single day. And finally, may you make good on your vow of loving God and loving your neighbor. Amen.                                  

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