A Lenten Reflection on Jonah 1:1-17 "X Marks the Spot"
Preached on Malcolm X’s Death Day Anniversary 2/21/1965 &
Billy Graham's Death Day 2/21/18
I don’t know about you, I’m a person who likes to be comfortable. As soon as I get home, I change into comfy clothes. I can’t wait for warmth to wear sandals every day! In fact, I left sandals in the car before stepping out in these fancy shoes. We want to be comforted through difficulty, especially. Times of grief & violence create a need for comfort. This seems natural to me. Even when we’ve done wrong or wrong has been done to us, we seek comfort.
This is what makes Lent a challenge…we’re called, even encouraged to seek discomfort through penitential acts like fasting from a favorite indulgence, giving more money through extra offerings, developing a more rigorous life of prayer by rising early, or changing our bedtime routine. Even as “Lent” is named for lengthening days of spring, Lent is supposed to stretch us out, create in us lean, clean hearts. In the spiritual stretch, through an uncomfortable inventory of ourselves, through an assessment of our lack of faith…the idea is that we grow. OUCH! I don’t want to grow. Growing involves stretch marks, mood swings and leg cramps. We don’t usually choose growth….it tends to be forced on us more often than we choose it. I’m afraid of what I might discover about myself. I don’t like to feel uncomfortable. When someone tells the truth…it hurts…it’s a challenge to some view or perception I have out of self-protection. In difficult family conversations about the changing health of aging parents, in the observation of hurt between the in-laws and the out-laws, in times of transition from life to death, in the break-up of a relationship, even in times of righteous anger…there’s a lot of discomfort. It feels like the hurt & discomfort is an X that marks the spot.
Lately, the parents of the slain students, the surviving students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are creating a lot of prophetic discomfort. Lori Alhadeff, mother of 14 year old Alyssa, pleads for action. HS Senior from Stoneman Douglas, Emma Gonzalez calls out the truth. There’s pain & discomfort, to say the least in their reactions, in their prophetic calls for action, change. They are “X Marks the Spot” people. Discomfort is all over Jonah. His discomfort causes him to run away from God’s call to prophesy to the Ninevites about their wicked ways. Right after he’s called to tell the truth, he jumps board a ship bound for Tarshish, seeming to free himself from the God who’s chasing him. (Well, that never works…) He seeks comfort in the gift of sleep…he was fast asleep. I wonder, how often is our own sleep or lack of action an escape from difficulty, from discipline? Running away from what’s right… can take all kinds of forms. Could this Lent be a loud, annoying alarm, a storm for us not unlike the wake-up call Jonah received? God is uncomfortable with Jonah (to say the least) God was really mad to the point that God hurls a great wind & a mighty storm at the ship. The sailors dealing with the storm are not only uncomfortable, they get mad. It feels as if their ship will break apart & they seek the one responsible for this big mess. Jonah is at an “X Marks the Spot” moment. Jonah has to tell the truth about himself. Like a buried treasure, the fear which causes him to run is uncovered. Not only is it uncovered, he has to exhume it, exhibit it and motivate his fear into courage to face God’s call to prophesy. X marks the spot of his avoidance, it marks the spot in his gut which prompts him to the right action…he has to ante up, confessing his responsibility. “Pick me up and throw me into the sea…” OUCH!
So when Jesus was asleep in the boat during a raging storm, the disciples’ fear & discomfort cause them to jar Jesus awake and demand, “Do you not care that we are perishing??” They know that somehow Jesus is responsible for their salvation in the midst of that storm. Interesting that when the scribes & Pharisees ask Jesus for a sign in Matthew 12, he mentions the only sign that will be given is the sign of Jonah…”as Jonah was in the belly of a sea monster for 3 days & 3 nights, so will Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for 3 days & 3 nights. “ The fish is an “X Marks the Spot” experience, the sign. Jonah is thrown up on the beach, in the midst of fish vomit & stomach acid to prophesy, to fulfill the call from which he ran. In the midst of the Roman Empire’s favorite method of capital punishment, in the midst of sour wine, a stabbed side, a crucified body, Jesus saves. “X” as in Christos, the Greek letter indicating Jesus, marks the spot. Emerging from the tomb, we, in his name, may therefore be called to uncomfortable resurrection prophesy.
Our College & Career Sunday School Class is going through the Bible, they’re presently in the prophets. They asked me on Sunday, “do prophets exist today?” “What do you think?” I think there are people who profess faith & make us uncomfortable…they pin us to the wall with a mirror, shining the reflection of our own sins of inaction, racism, classism, sexism. Prophets act like the sailors on Jonah’s stowaway ship, rousing us from sleep, prompting us to tell the truth, pulling us by the neck to the deck of the boat & provoking action. Prophets like Emma Gonzalez, Tarana Burke, first to use the phrase “me too.” Prophets like MLK & Malcolm X whose death day is February 21, 1965 . Today we recognize the prophet Billy Graham,now sharing his death day with an "X Marks the Spot Malcolm," calling people toward repentance, an awareness that we need to grow more and more in love with God and God’s people becoming less and less self-centered & self-obsessed. These people are “X Marks the Spot” people, X marks the spot where we need to grow…it is painful. Growth is uncomfortable…however, there is some kind of buried, blessed treasure under there. In fact, Jesus may be under there. So, let this Lent be a holy stretch, marking the spot, giving us the chance to uncover the X in us, the Christ in us that needs to grow.
It is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me…Indeed X Marks the Spot...