A Great Big Fish and a Resurrection
Jonah 1:17-2:10; Luke 11:29-32 (NRSV)
Sunday, September 1st, 2013; First Presbyterian Church Vancouver, WA
By: Nick Silvey, Ruling Elder & Inquirer
For the last four weeks our Pastor Rev. Dr. Josh Rowley has preached on the Minor Prophet, Zephinaiah. This Sunday is Jonah and a passage from Luke. Our pastor is at Fort Stevens this weekend with our church wide retreat. This would be the Sunday that we would normally have communion but since I am not a teaching elder, I cannot officiate communion. For those of you who don’t know me, I am Nick Silvey. I am an inquirer in to becoming an ordained teaching elder (e.g. Pastor). Also I am a ruling elder here at this church and I am the Chair of the Worship Ministry. I am currently a senior at Washington State University Vancouver majoring in psychology. In this sermon I will intersperse the biblical texts with my sermon as Josh has been doing.
17 But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. 2 Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, 2 saying, “I called to the Lord out of my distress,
and he answered me;out of the belly of Sheol [the underworld] I cried,
and you heard my voice.
When we are in the darkness, God will answer our prayer. God hears our voice and prayer no matter what state we are in. God is a God of deliverance and salvation as we can tell from Jesus. When we are in the depths of the earth God still hears our voice. So if you are living in hell literally in your life or metaphorically, God hears you. Sheol, in the Hebrew Scriptures is the afterworld where all went before the concept of heaven and hell was created by Christian theologians. Back in the day we all went to the same place. But the Sheol that is in this passage is probably a Sheol that is metaphorical, meaning, in this life right now. So Jonah called out of his hell inside the fish and God heard his prayer. God hears you wherever you are! Some say hell is the separation for God but I feel due to God constantly pursuing us, like with Jonah, we are never fully separated from him. God is not a distant God as some think; rather in Jonah God is fully present throughout the book and always instructing or pursing Jonah. One of the views of God, according to a Baylor University study that Josh cited in his sermon series on Zephaniah, said that one of the views of God is distant. I would add to that Baylor study, in regards to Jonah, is that he is always present, just like I said a few seconds ago.
A form of this constant presence and pursuing is called, according to Wesleyan theology, Prevenient Grace. According to the United Methodist Church website Prevenient Grace is: Wesley understood grace as God’s active presence in our lives. This presence is not dependent on human actions or human response. It is a gift—a gift that is always available, but that can be refused. God’s grace stirs up within us a desire to know God and empowers us to respond to God’s invitation to be in relationship with God. God’s grace enables us to discern differences between good and evil and makes it possible for us to choose good….God takes the initiative in relating to humanity. We do not have to beg and plead for God’s love and grace. God actively seeks us!
3 You cast me into the deep,
into the heart of the seas,
and the flood surrounded me;
all your waves and your billows
passed over me.
4 Then I said, ‘I am driven away
from your sight;
how[b] shall I look again
upon your holy temple?’
5 The waters closed in over me;
the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped around my head
6 at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land
whose bars closed upon me forever;
yet you brought up my life from the Pit,
God brings us to life from the pit. According to The Jewish Study Bible notes on verse 6: “Sheol, the Pit, or the netherworld. It is the utter bottom of the world (in this case the depths of the sea) and also the land of the dead.” “…the underworld or abode of the dead. In the [Jewish] Bible, all deceased descended to Sheol; there is no concept of a separate heaven and hell.” Furthermore, “Throughout the book of Psalms, ‘Sheol’ and ‘death’ are metaphors for profound distress.” So when Jonah says “yet you brought up my life from the Pit” he is showing that God brought him out of profound distress. Further, in verse two, “I called to the Lord out of my distress, and he answered me;out of the belly of Sheol [the underworld] I cried, and you heard my voice. So God saved Jonah from his utter distress, his Sheol. God is a God of deliverance and salvation. Whatever hell you’re in right now, God has the power to lift you out of it, all you need to do is call out to God in prayer and in time God will answer that prayer. God brings us to life in the saving work of Christ. In that saving work, we are brought to a new life that is free from sin when we acknowledge our belief in Christ. In Baptism, also, we are brought out to new life, we are brought out from the Pit. According to the UMC website, “Salvation is not a static, one-time event in our lives. It is the ongoing experience of God’s gracious presence transforming us into whom God intends us to be. John Wesley described this dimension of God’s grace as sanctification, or holiness. God’s sanctifying grace–we grow and mature in our ability to live as Jesus lived. As we pray, study the Scriptures, fast, worship, and share in fellowship with other Christians, we deepen our knowledge of and love for God. As we respond with compassion to human need and work for justice in our communities, we strengthen our capacity to love neighbor. Our inner thoughts and motives, as well as our outer actions and behavior, are aligned with God’s will and testify to our union with God.”
O Lord my God.
7 As my life was ebbing away,
I remembered the Lord;
and my prayer came to you,
into your holy temple.
8 Those who worship vain idols
forsake their true loyalty.
9 But I with the voice of thanksgiving
will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay. Deliverance belongs to the Lord!” 10 Then the Lord spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon the dry land.
Luke 11:29-32: The Sign of Jonah
29 When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation. 31 The queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here! 32 The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!
The three days and three nights in the belly of a big fish “became a symbol for the resurrection because early Christians saw a symbolic parallel between this phrase and Jesus’ death, three days in the tomb, and resurrection”.  So that is why this passage in Luke is called the Sign of Jonah. “The sign of Jonah is capable of more than one interpretation. For example (1) Just as Jonah became a sign to Nineveh by means of his divine rescue, so also will Jesus become a sign to his generation by his. In fact, according to Acts, Jesus’ identity and mission are vindicated by his resurrection and ascension. [The second example is] Just as Jonah proclaimed repentance in anticipation of judgment, so also does Jesus.” I agree with both of those statements. I feel the use of Jonah in Luke and elsewhere in the New Testament, is about both a sign to a generation and about proclamation of repentance in anticipation of judgment. Jesus and Jonah both proclaimed repentance in anticipation of judgment. So, that is why the passage about the big fish and this passage in Luke are connected. Furthermore, a good number of the prophets also do the same. So both the Jonah passage and this Lukean passage are both calling us to repentance. Repentance is about turning away from evil and looking to God. It is about a psychological and behavioral change. In order to turn away from evil you need to change the way you think and the way you act. This is what Jesus is proclaiming to his followers and this is what Jonah was proclaiming to the Ninevites.
Also this is what God is still proclaiming. Every worship service at the start, we have a time of confession where we confess our sin before God and neighbor. This is all about repentance. Repentance is an ongoing process and the confession of sin during worship is one way to help us realize that. We are all always in need of repentance. Also before taking communion we have to repent of our wrongdoings so we can participate gracefully in the sacrament together. If someone is not right with another, than they need to correct the wrong in order to take communion. So indeed, we need to repent before taking communion. Repentance, most of the time, leads to forgiveness and salvation. Repentance is God’s way of bringing about cognitive change in human beings. Also this is God’s way of teaching us to be better humans. In the psychology world, we call the Cognitve-Behavorial Therapy which is all about changing faulty cognitions (thinking) and changing your behavior. So also, God is interested in that as well. As I said, he proclaims this through Jonah and Jesus.
Back to the proclaiming of repentance in anticipation of judgment. We have been talking about judgment as it is seen in Zephaniah for the last 4 weeks with Josh. In Jonah and Jesus there is a different type of judgment. I do not think that statement from a reference not in the New Interpreters Study Bible is talking about the left-behind type judgment. Rather, the judgment that I think it is talking about is God helping humans become aware of their sin through means of proclamation of repentance, of changing our behavior. Some have thought that this judgment might be hell, the lake of fire of the book of revelation, 1000 year reign of Christ and so forth. I feel God makes known our need of repentance many times using various prophets and even sending his son down on earth to die on a cross to make that known. God is always pursuing everyone even if they do not acknowledge him. So the proclamation of repentance in anticipation of judgment throughout the bible is about God reiterating the need to repent and turn away from evil, changing your behavior or there will be consequences. If there is indeed a hell that we go to when we die, this may be the judgment that the Bible is talking about or it could be something totally different. The topic of God’s judgment is all over network television and the internet due to conservative groups using turn and burn language.
However, I do not think God is talking about turn or burn. Rather, out of his love for us, he is trying to bring us closer to him through our acknowledgement of sin, using repentance. I feel that the human conscience that is developed during childhood and adulthood is one way God has instilled in us of an ethical system. That ethical system in the brain is the prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain controls decision making and brings to awareness when you have sinned and it helps you change your behavior. But not everyone is capable of doing that alone. So also God calls us to be in the presence of himself in order to fully change. I don’t think anyone will truly know what God’s judgment is until we experience it ourselves in the afterlife or if the world ends. So this proclamation is all about us acknowledging our need to repent of wrongdoing to God and to correct the wrongs we have done to others. If this doesn’t happen that judgment might be the regret that we feel when we do something wrong – that knot that is in your stomach.
To summarize, God is a God of deliverance, one who answers prayer, lifts you from darkness (the pit, Sheol), and of repentance and grace. God wants us to follow him, so he calls us to repentance in anticipation of judgment. God is a God who pursues you no matter what. Just like in the book of Jonah, God will pursue you even if you do not follow his commandments or follow him. God will pursue you in many ways. God seeks a relationship with every human being. God will pursue you through your conscience, through other human beings (prophets), he will pursue you through nature (although storms are not judgment), and so forth. The Bible is rife with different instances of God pursuing humans and humans not accepting the call from him. This can be seen throughout the Major and Minor prophets and in the New Testament in places. The reluctance to accept the call of God is pretty prevalent in the Hebrew Scriptures. This can be seen from Abraham all the way to the last minor prophet. At first Moses was reluctant to accept the call from God, but eventually he accepted it. Same with Jonah. We all are guilty of this as well; even pastors are guilty of this. But each time we come together in this community, in this worship service, we are acknowledging God’s call on our lives to follow him–and reminded of our call as well.
 www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/33304.pdf; American Piety in the 21st Century: New Insights to the Depth and Complexity of Religion in the US
 (Berlin 2004; p.2139)
 (Harrelson 2003; p.836)
 The New Interpreters Study Bible reference note called Special Note on page 1299
 NISB page 1877 reference note on 11:29-30