Saturday, January 24, 2015
Of course Jonah's success can only be measured if we all agree about what the job of a prophet is in the first place. This is my definition: Biblical prophets were people called by God to deliver a message of warning to others. Almost always grounded in love, their messages warn people and communities that the path they currently on will only lead to their doom.
But there are many who define a prophet as being people who predict the future after divine revelation. They see prophets as people who can tell us what will happen 100 years, 1000 years, 10,000 years from now; like that 16th century French astrologer, Nostradamus. I don't know about you, but there is a whole generation of us out there who watched the old documentary about Nostradamus called The Man Who Saw Tomorrow; and we're still spooked by his visions.
Released in 1981, it is narrated by the great Orson Welles with flare and drama. He convinces us with his spooky voice that Nostradamus was able to predict the French Revolution, Napoleon, the rise of the Nazis and the assassination of President Kennedy. But the scariest stuff came at the end of the movie, when Orson Welles tells us what will happen next: earthquakes in California, wars in the Middle East, Sen, Ted Kennedy becomes president in 1984.
What was not covered in the movie was this very obscure section of Nostradamus' writings that no one could ever understand... but only now in 2015 is it beginning to make some sense. Maybe he did predict the future... about football:
As the cold winds blow in the land of colby and cheddar;
a great cry can be heard across the eons;
a cry of woe... a cry of pain.
The men of gold and green lie in tatters,
consumed by the seahawk flock in the most horrific manner.
But even as a river of northern tears flows into the mighty lake;
along the sandy southern shores a light dawns.
No longer comforted by their neighbor's disgrace,
their hope of glory begins to take form.
A fox dismounts from his mountain horse with vision and strength.
A fox shall lead the grizzles out of hibernation upon a field of soldiers.
A new era shall begin!
Flat pigskins and pouting commanders shall never stop them.
So God sends Jonah to the people of Nineveh with a prophesy. Why? Because even though they are not Hebrew, God loves them. Why? Because God is love and it is his desire that all his creation be reconciled with the truth.
Jonah seeks to run away from his calling. A foolish task. There's this whole deal about a whale which makes for some awfully cool and enduring images. But the core of what we learn from Jonah is that God is faithful and people can amaze you. The people of Nineveh actually listen to the prophet. They repent and put on the sack cloth. They even dress their animals in it. With complete sincerity they wanted to repent and repent they did. "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 (Jonah 3:10)."
Wow. Usually the response to prophets is "why don't you take a long walk off a short pier." Yes, Jonah even did that, but he still was successful.
I wanna let you in on a little secret: God still is calling prophets. Yes he is. And no, it's not the folks who warned you about Y2K or 2012. God is still calling prophets to be engaged in the Word and seek the narrow path of Jesus Christ. God still is calling prophets to proclaim good news, while also pointing out the truth in love that the way we are living is killing us.
What are the prophets telling you? Forget about predicting the future. The Chicago Bears are fine. There will be another president someday. There will be war in the Middle East and earthquakes in California. Those are not the messages God is trying to deliver to us. Instead the prophets in your life are those who challenge you to take stock in your priorities. It's time to a line your lower story with God's upper story: the Kingdom of God breaking in.
How are you using your time?
What does your checkbook register say about you?
Which of the world's lies about happiness is draining the life right out of you?
When will you trade in empty pleasure for abundant joy?
Put the sackcloth away... That's not what's needed. But do make a change and do it with the support of your friends right here. Pray. Worship. Meditate. Give, Serve, Celebrate. The path of Christ comes into focus when we open our eyes and plug into the spiritually reality that always surrounds us.
Let's get off this train of lies... of doom... of shallow selfishness... and hop on board the way of Jesus Christ. Listen to the Lord and to the prophets God has called to help you see that abundant life is your baptismal birthright just waiting for you to embrace.