Rev. Katherine Todd
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
For God alone my soul waits in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my deliverance and my honor;
my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.
Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us
Those of low estate are but a breath,
those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up;
they are together lighter than a breath.
Put no confidence in extortion,
and set no vain hopes on robbery;
if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.
Once God has spoken;
twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord.
For you repay to all
according to their work.
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
As our nation has been reeling in the events of this presidential transition of power, our scripture from Jonah speaks more poignantly than ever.
Who are THOSE PEOPLE to you?
Who are the ones you prefer avoid, as Jonah preferred avoid Ninevah?
Who are those you struggle to understand?
Native American wisdom teaches us that all creation is family. We are all related. We are one family.
Jesus Christ earnestly prayed, just before his death, that we might be one as Christ is one with the Father. THIS is how folks will know we are Christ’s disciples:
Are we, as a nation, unified?
Do we claim and love one another,
As Christ has claimed and loved us…while instructing us to sin no more?
We seem sooner bent on surgically removing one another from among the living; removing folks from power; removing folks the body of Christ; removing others from this our own family of relations, kin as we are alike made by the hands of God…
Do we not?
And when I say “we” I do not refer to you, individually. I refer to us all, collectively.
For as individual as we want to believe we are, we are truly ALL CONNECTED, as so we are made to be. “No man is an island” as John Donne famously wrote. In fact, if we were each to be islands of autonomy, there’d be no story of Adam needing Eve, Moses wouldn’t have needed the help of Aaron, and you could chuck most of the New Testament Epistles – which spend a great deal of time addressing our interpersonal relationships.
It is this well-meaning but misguided individualism that has kept us so far from truth, time after time.
In self-defense, time after time, we claim not be to racists.
In self-defense, time after time, we claim not to be coercive or partial.
And yet, this defensive posture has blinded us all. Has it not?
For in our eagerness to justify and excuse ourselves, we fail to see the larger arc of history, of the systems set up to protect some and not others, of the economic incentives and opportunities we have benefited from while others have been denied, simply because of the color of their skin…
And this is our house. It matters not who nailed the board or shuttered the windows. We live in this house, our nation. It’s history is our reality. We are responsible.
If we view confession as merely an individual, spiritual sport, we miss far too much. We miss the big picture. We miss the opportunity to pray with and for one another and the whole. The WHOLE. We confess together because we affect one another. We confess together because we need one another. We confess together because we have sinned together. And our sins can be anything from action to inaction, from speaking to remaining silent. We affect one another. We struggle with these things collectively. And so we confess together.
And this business of unity is not the responsibility of THOSE PEOPLE.
It is not merely the responsibility of our elected leaders.
It is not torn down only by those on the edges, in the extremes.
WE are responsible for unity.
ALL of us.
For as I have learned from our native brother, Edgar Villanueva, a healing circle is not complete until everyone is present.
Have you heard that in some native tribes, when a member does something bad, they are brought into the circle, and for two days strait, everyone in the village aloud every speaks good things about that person. Two whole days. Wow.
They were reminding that one who they are,
what they’d done.
Edgar writes of a native mentor who told him the story of packing up to leave a community center for the night, when the elder at a table of youth said, “The problem was not the white man coming to America.”
The mentor was struck by this and quickly set down her things. She had to. This elder had been alive through so much atrocity. How could HE say the problem wasn’t the white man coming to America? Then the elder went on to say, “the problem was, they forgot their lessons.”
They forgot their lessons.
Not demonizing those who had demonized him.
Not returning terror for terror.
Not returning pain for violence.
This elder remembered that we are all one family,
We are all related.
And he called attention to action, rather than person.
It wasn’t that the white men shouldn’t have come or shouldn’t exist.
It was WHAT THEY DID that mattered.
And what they did betrayed that they did not remember that we are all one family,
All made by the hands of one God.
We can learn from these, our black and brown brothers and sisters. They have endured things that so many of us of lighter skin have been sheltered from.
This elder was living the unity Christ prayed for his disciples.
Will we turn toward THOSE PEOPLE – as Jonah turned toward the people of Ninevah – speaking truth in love?
Will we go where we do not wish to go – as Christ went faithfully to the cross, after asking God that that cup might pass from him?
I am not proposing that we go and intentionally make martyrs of ourselves.
Rather, I am proposing, that we listen for God, as Samuel listened when God spoke to him in the early morning of his temple rest.
And when we hear God’s still small voice, instructing us where to go,
May we respond, not as Jonah did the first time – fleeing as fast as loose as we can in the other direction till he found himself in the belly of a whale with no other options but…well, God –
But rather as Jonah did the second time – obeying the Word of the Lord,
And watching as God redeems even those we have formerly despised.
No one is too far from God’s reach.
And so it is that no one should be too far from ours.
For we are Christ’s body on earth,
Christ’s hands for serving,
Christ’s heart for loving,
Christ’s mind for teaching,
Christ’s arms for embracing.
Leslie Weatherhead, England (1883-1975)
O suffering Christ, lay your hand in healing power upon those who feel they can bear no more, until their hearts are hushed and quieted, knowing that round about them and underneath them are the Everlasting Arms.
Miriam Therese Winter
Life, spilling over the hills of our grief and filling the wells in our souls and our senses, come, lift us up into lighthearted laughter, so all the weight of our awareness does not overwhelm us. Life of Our World, be life – in and through us, now and forever.
May you face life without illusion, but with gratitude.
Though you have known tragedy, may you nonetheless cherish laughter.
May you have an ever clearer sense of what is important and what is not.
May your encounters with evil heighten your appreciation of what is good.
May you learn to meet death in a way that leads you to celebrate life.