Friends, we are honored this morning to have a very special guest join us to tell an incredible story. I’m pleased to introduce to you: Jonah. [duck behind the pulpit to quickly don Jonah’s hat and cloak, and re-emerge in character.]
[as Jonah:] Good morning. What a pleasure it is for you to have me here. Indeed, I do have a story to tell; a story that happened to me a long, long, long time ago….
It started, I suppose, when the LORD, you know – God – spoke to me, as he did sometimes. This particular time, he wanted me to go to Nineveh and preach against them for him, because as everyone knows, they are jerks. Well, I didn’t want to. Let them be jerks! Why would my god want anything to do with them?! So I ran the other way – away from Nineveh. I went down to a port and got on a boat headed toward Tarshish, to get away from the voice of the LORD.
Well, after we’d been undersail only a short while, I went belowdecks to take a nap. I was awoken later by the captain shaking me. “Wake up! Come help!,” he bellowed, and as I did, I realized we were being tossed frightfully about. I rushed to the main deck to see the howling storm with huge waves crashing over the deck of our ship. Each of the men was desperately throwing cargo overboard to lighten the ship, and when they saw me they angrily shouted at me to pray to my god as they had each prayed to theirs – some god, they thought, must have been angry with us. Was there a god who might show some mercy and spare us from drowning?!
In fact, I must admit, I told them that I worshipped the LORD and that I was fleeing from his command, and they feared the LORD in all his power for the storm he had brought about. And they shouted at me, “Why! Why have you angered your god so?!”
The sea was getting rougher and angrier, and when they asked me what could be done — what would appease the LORD my god, I shouted back, “Just throw me into the sea! It is my fault that this storm has come. Throw me overboard and the seas will calm.” At first, they tried to row back to land, but the storm grew wilder and fiercer, and in their weakness against my god they prayed for mercy as they took me and threw me into the thrashing, crashing sea of the LORD so angry with me.
And as I began to sink down… suddenly I saw… a great, huge wide open mouth of a great, huge fish coming toward me, when… chomp! It’s mouth was around me and… gulp! I slid down its dark, slippery throat… into… splurch! it’s stomach!
And there I was… in the warm, slimy, soggy, smelly! belly of that great big fish. What did I do? I prayed, yes, to the LORD my god. I prayed a beautiful and true prayer from my heart and from my soul. I prayed that – yes – I had turned away from the LORD, but that I would again obey and worship him. When I was sinking I remembered the LORD, who answered my prayer and spared my life.
You know… I was in that fish’s belly for three days… and three nights. It was gross. But I was alive. The LORD had saved me. And then… you know what happened? “Bleaugch…gack-cough” [make wretching sounds] That fish puked me up! What a crazy, gross, amazing experience that was! … and I landed – splat – on dry land!
Now my story’s not over. You see, my LORD is nothing if not persistent. I hadn’t even washed all the fish-gut-putrid-stink off me before he spoke to me again(!) to go to Nineveh and preach against the Ninevites! Well I still didn’t really want to. I still didn’t like them, but, “Okay,” I said to the LORD. “Alright already. I’ll do it.” I went there and I warned them about the LORD’s wrath. And you know what?! They all – even the animals – even their King! – immediately repented and fasted and gave up their violence and evil ways. Just like that! The whole city! It was incredible! And the LORD spared them! Can you believe it?! Done deal. Sheesh!
[Shaking head in disbelief…] You know, I love the LORD my god, I really, really do. But I just don’t get it. I just don’t understand him, I really don’t….
And that’s really it. That’s my story. Thank you for listening.
To prepare, you’ll need a simple costume, such as a ratty old blanket or heavy cloth and a simple hat or headpiece that can evoke the ancient middle east, or a simple lifestyle. Hide these in the pulpit.
To familiarize yourself with the story, you can read the Book of Jonah online here: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jonah%201&version=NIV
This searchable site has the Bible in a variety of translations. Comparing translations can give you a more nuanced read of the text.