In Beirut, Paris, Syria, Yemen, Iraq……World in a Mess: Where Do I Run?

Jonah 1:1-17
The Lord spoke his word to Jonah son of Amittai: “Get up, go to the great city of Nineveh, and preach against it, because I see the evil things they do.”
But Jonah got up to run away from the Lord by going to Tarshish. He went to the city of Joppa, where he found a ship that was going to the city of Tarshish. Jonah paid for the trip and went aboard, planning to go to Tarshish to run away from the Lord.
But the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, which made the sea so stormy that the ship was in danger of breaking apart. The sailors were afraid, and each man cried to his own god. They began throwing the cargo from the ship into the sea to make the ship lighter.
But Jonah had gone down far inside the ship to lie down, and he fell fast asleep. The captain of the ship came and said, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray to your god! Maybe your god will pay attention to us, and we won’t die!”
Then the men said to each other, “Let’s throw lots to see who caused these troubles to happen to us.”
When they threw lots, the lot showed that the trouble had happened because of Jonah. Then they said to him, “Tell us, who caused our trouble? What is your job? Where do you come from? What is your country? Who are your people?”
Then Jonah said to them, “I am a Hebrew. I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.”
The men were very afraid, and they asked Jonah, “What terrible thing did you do?” (They knew he was running away from the Lord because he had told them.)
Since the wind and the waves of the sea were becoming much stronger, they said to him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?”
Jonah said to them, “Pick me up, and throw me into the sea, and then it will calm down. I know it is my fault that this great storm has come on you.”
Instead, the men tried to row the ship back to the land, but they could not, because the sea was becoming more stormy.
So the men cried to the Lord, “Lord, please don’t let us die because of this man’s life; please don’t think we are guilty of killing an innocent person. Lord, you have caused all this to happen; you wanted it this way.” So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea became calm. Then they began to fear the Lord very much; they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made promises to him.
The Lord caused a big fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.
Message
Every tragedy reminds us “What a mess this world is.” The human evil manifested at Beirut in Lebanon, Paris in France, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Sudan, Russia show us the ugly side of what humans are capable of doing in the name of God and religion. We have senseless people in U.S. who want only Christian refugees to be allowed in U.S. We have a section of people who want Sharia to be implemented in U.K. We have tribal clans who wish to eliminate their rival. We have people losing lives for no fault of theirs, but just that one section believes the truth of their belief to be supreme and want all else to be shut and closed and eliminated. Everywhere we see fear, anxiety and paranoia. What a terrible, terrible world we live in, is our ruling thought. One question that bothers us all is the same. “If there is God, why do such things happen?” This question disturbs those who believe in God and confirms the belief of those who don’t. I am reminded of John the Baptist who was languishing in the prison of Herod, where he sets a question for Jesus through his disciples “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matt 11:3). Seeing that Jesus was doing nothing spectacular and also that John continues to remain in prison makes John doubt. He feels, Jesus is not Messiah enough for the messed up world he lived in. Such times we also feel, God is not God enough. The ways of God just does not work. We are tired of listening to, God is love, love your neighbours, love your enemies. Rubbish! We are fooled.
Let us now go to the text in front of us. The story of Jonah resonates in our lives. It is a call of God to go to Nineveh, to engage with messed up people. People, who are useless, wicked and evil. Jonah is too good to waste his life on such losers. So what does he do? He goes the opposite direction, where he runs away from God to a place called Tarshish. Now Tarshish is a wonderful and idyllic place with great port and wonderful people. It is like the Vegas, where the world can be damned and we can just have fun. But the journey to Tarshish is very stormy. And what does he do? He sleeps through? Jonah has chosen that the best way to avoid the mess and storm of the world is to sleep through it or to escape in the opposite direction that God is leading. This is exactly what I feel like doing. Just to escape to a place that John Lennon talks about in his wonderful song ‘Imagine’. By the way I have been listening to this song and it is the most shared and performed song.
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people Living life in peace…
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
We really wish that world be at peace. But there is no escape route. We cannot just imagine it. We have to engage with it. We cannot run or hide. We have to get into the mess. The Jonah in us has emerged. But let me introduce to you a person who is in contradistinction to Jonah. His name is Dietrich Bonheoffer. He lived in a time in Germany when all the Christians biblically justified the elimination of Jews and supported the Nazi vision. Along with Karl Barth and the Confessing Church, he challenged the Nazi regime and also criticized the Lutheran Scholars who were party to such madness in the name of religion. His friends saw that there was danger to his life and therefore seemed it best that he is transported to The United States of America. But after the long journey on ship, when he reached America, Bonheoffer was deeply disturbed. He felt he had run away from his calling. He asked his well wishers who risked their life to get him to America, to send him back to Germany. His well wishers thought it was insane. But Bonheoffer would not budge. And he sailed back to Germany. He engaged and challenged the Nazi regime through his sermons and students in seminary. The inevitable happened. He was arrested and was taken to Flossenberg Concentration Camp. He was ready to pay for his conviction. He was executed, hours before the Americans liberated the Concentration camp at the end of World War II in 1945. We could ask, what did he achieve? He lost his life. What good does that do? When and how, religion was bent to suit the oppressor, Bonheoffer through his life and death reminds us that discipleship is not about going where we wish to go and say it is God’s will. But it is abandoning, where we wish to go and to be led by God. I am sure this is what Jesus meant when he called Peter after resurrection in John 21:18 . I tell you the truth, when you were younger; you tied your own belt and went where you wanted. But when you are old, you will put out your hands and someone else will tie you and take you where you don’t want to go.”
I was very overjoyed to know about the initiative of “The Game Changer Project: The Mar Thoma Youth Ministry of Mumbai” which is led by a dynamic Youth Chaplain Rev. Mathews George. On 14th November 2015, they organized an event called “Dumpyard Dare” in association with Navodaya Movement, an initiative of the Mar Thoma Church, Mumbai Diocese, which is led by the enterprising Rev. Mathew Philip. There are many aspects to Navodaya and one particular concentration is their work among the ragpicker colony in Kalyan and Bhivandi. Along with our church members we visited it as a part of our Edavaka Mission trip. Navodaya has a day care centre in the heart of the Dumpyard Colony and ensures that the children go to school nearby. It is a very powerful movement. Now the Dumpyard is not an easy place. Mind you, there is not one single NGO working there. The stench and the filth absolutely overwhelm us. It is said that when Rev. Mathew Philip Achen went for the first survey, he fainted. But that was his resolve that helped him, that something has to be done. Now the Dumpyard Dare focused on exposing the Youths to something they would never like to engage with or never wish to go. But as 40 youths entered into the world of stench, filth and ugliness, they realized, this is how the people and the children live there. It sure opened new vistas in their lives. A moment where the message of Christmas came early, where we celebrate that God did not abandon this world, but engaged with it, made himself lowly to be a human, lived with us, became a victim, suffered, died and was resurrected. This world is sure a mess. But we are called to engage with it, to embrace the brokenness, to heal the wounds. We sure want to go the other way, but we should not.

“The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything”

Rev Merin Mathew
Bethel Mar Thoma Church
Kolar Road, Bhopal
To Know More about Navodaya Movement call Rev Mathew Philip- 9930914409
The Game Changer Project – Mar Thoma Youth Ministry of Mumbai: Rev Mathews George– 9769391772beirut

Dear God, I Am Angry- Yours Truly, Jonah

Text: Jonah 4: 1-11

 

But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant[a] and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

 

Message:

 

One of the top selling video game applications created for Apple’s Iphone is called “Pocket God.” Listen to the description given on Itunes: “What kind of god would you be? Benevolent or vengeful? Play Pocket God and discover the answer within yourself. On a remote island, you are the all-powerful god that rules over the primitive islanders. You can bring new life, and then take it away just as quickly.”[1] Well the option is to be either benevolent god or to be the vengeful god. The benevolent act included giving the islanders a fishing rod. However, there are a plethora of things you can do as a vengeful God including “throwing islanders into volcanoes, using islanders as shark bait, bowling for islanders with a large rock, or creating earthquakes to destroy the islanders’ villages.”

 

Wow, isn’t it interesting that there is a game where you can be your own god? Actually that’s how most people live anyway isn’t it? You can create God in your own image and live as you please. It is also interesting that the developers figure that the only roles people would want to play is the one of a vengeful god.*(From the blog of Robin Koshy) So If Jonah was around he would have loved to play this game than face a God who is graceful. Even we become like Jonah when we make blanket statements like “Even God will not forgive him/her.” Well what exactly is the problem with Jonah? I was fascinated to this little book in the Old Testament thanks to my Old Testament Professor at the Seminary, Rev Dr M.C. Thomas. Honestly I would have loved it if the book would have ended at Chapter 3 where Jonah preaches, the people of Nineveh repent, God changes his mind. The sermon of Jonah is so powerful that it saved an entire city. But we have the chapter 4 and this racist, zealous prophet has a problem with God. God was angry with the Ninevites and so he sent Jonah. But when God’s anger ended Jonah becomes angry with God. Really? For what? Listen to the prayer from vs 2-3. “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” Well he thanked God for delivering him from the belly of the Whale. And now he wants to die because God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in Love. Jonah here represents the mentality of privatizing grace. God has been graceful with him and he is thankful for that. But in the days of Jonah, Assyria was the enemy of the Israelites (Judah to be more accurate). So the utter destruction of Nineveh was the dream and aspiration of an Israelite. His hate was what defined him. So when God called him to preach to Nineveh, he feared “what if” the people repented and God changed his mind. So he ran to Tarshish. Jonah is like the elder son in the Parable of the “Lost Son” who has grievance with the Father for accepting the wayward younger brother.

 

I see Jonah at work in me a lot of times. Like Jonah, I too am judgmental. Like Jonah I too wish I can accommodate God in the boxes of my thoughts. Like Jonah I too wish that God hates those I hate. Rev Fr Jerry Kurian so beautifully sums up that Jonah is the story of people who think they are good. Jonah is also the story of a preacher where the people listening to his sermons change, but Jonah like many of us does not change. (There is a research that states teachers and preachers are the most rigid people who refuse to change.) I feel the Sacrament of Confession is to counter the Jonah in us. The more we confess our sins, the more we are open to the grace of God. The sacrament of Confession exposes us to the scandal called the “Grace of God”. In Public Confession, God does not assure a private forgiveness, but he also assures forgiveness to those we cannot stand the sight of.

 

I remember Rev Dr K A Abraham narrating an incident to us in the class of theology. There was a man in a church who had serious problems with the parish priests and therefore refused to receive the Holy Communion from the priest. He wrote to the then Metropolitan of the Mar Thoma Church Most Rev Dr Juhanon Mar Thoma. “Dear Thirumeni, Our parish Priest is not a man of Grace. He is a very flawed man. Therefore I refuse to receive Holy Communion from his hand. I request you to come to our church so that finally I can receive Holy Communion after 7 months from a very worthy person like you.” Metropolitan replied, “I am pleased to know that such a holy person is part of my Church. But I feel unworthy to give you the Holy Communion. Please see to it that when you come to Thiruvalla you see me so that I can receive Holy Communion from you.”

 

According to the Lectionary, the Church is observing the 3 days lent (21st – 23rd Jan) that depicts Jonah being in the belly of the Whale for 3 days. The life of Jonah challenges us to overcome our self-righteousness. Let us stop creating God in our own image. Amen. 

 

 

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati

 

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