KiNDRED | The Risk of Reconciliation | George Hinman
This week's sermon study guide is pulled from the UPC 2017 Lent Study: "KiNDRED - The Multi-ethnic Family of God"
THE RISK OF RECONCILIATION ? TRUST
“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.” Psalm 139:7-8
“The amount of effort required to change the way we think about ourselves and adopt a new, common identity is significant but well worth it.... Good things [happen] when we loosen our grip on smaller cultural identities in favor of adopting a common identity as the body of Christ.” Christina Cleveland, Disunity in Christ, page 178
Lord, our very lives are in Your hands. Lead us, as You did Jonah, to that scary place of vulnerability, so that we, too, may discover the depths of Your love and learn to trust in Your call on our lives. Amen.
REFLECT: Discuss last week’s personal challenge.
WATCH: Kindred Video - https://vimeo.com/204615636
READ: Jonah 2:1-10
Last week we learned that, after much listening, consideration, and prayer, the desperate sailors threw Jonah overboard in hopes of calming the sea. In Chapter 1, verse 17, we then discover that “the Lordprovided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.” A great deal is left to the imagination (what must it have been like inside that fish?), but we do know that Jonah prays to the Lord during his time there.
Jonah’s prayer begins with the good news that God has heard Jonah’s cry for help: “In my distress
I called to the Lord, and He answered me.” Jonah’s prayer pulls us into his terror, describing waters engulfing him until he is at “the roots of the mountains” with the earth below the sea threatening to imprison him forever. His head entangled in seaweed, sinking fast and struggling to hold his breath, his life begins to ebb away.
Yet Jonah’s physical submersion brings about a very different transition psychologically and spiritually. What begins as, “I have been banished from your sight” moves to “I will look again toward your holy temple.” He is lost and abandoned in the belly of a big fish but he knows to whom he belongs and in whom he can trust. In that moment, Jonah is immersed in the realization that his life is utterly in God’s hands, and he is helpless to save himself.
In the depths, Jonah “remembers” the Lord of Salvation, the very One whom he earlier acknowledged as the Lord of heaven, sea, and earth. Our gracious Lord hears Jonah’s prayer and brings his “life up from the pit.” What begins as a cry from the abyss of despair becomes a prayer filled with hope and thanksgiving, ending with great resolve: “What I have vowed I will make good” (2:9). The rebellious prophet, newly restored to a place of wonder and thanksgiving, returns to a right relationship with his Maker and thus, answers the Lord’s call: To Nineveh!
Near death, Jonah recognized this fundamental truth: that the very essence of who we are depends on who God is. Jonah realizes the need to turn away from his false identity and that nothing he may have relied on—knowledge, his religious status, or political beliefs—has the capacity to “save” him. Clearly, his false identity had almost cost him his life. Jonah declares that these things are “worthless idols,” (2:8) compared with God’s grace.
Living on our broken planet means we all likely have experience of being like Jonah, cast into the heart of the sea. We use the term, “I am drowning,” to describe circumstances where we are overwhelmed and/or can’t see a way out of our mess. We are helpless to save ourselves from drowning, or from anything else. It is in these moments of settling into the absolute truth of our identity—God is our loving, redeeming Creator—that we are restored to right relationship as sons and daughters who find our purpose in service to God.
This recalibration of our identity is vital to “the ministry of reconciliation” the Lord has given us
(2 Cor 5:18), because following where God calls will, of necessity, lead us to places where vulnerability,
disorientation, and/or fear are part of our experience. Like Jonah, we may wish to resist and “flee to Tarshish,” but in doing so, we miss serving the Lord. We miss the opportunity to become who God created us to be–sons and daughters who are blessed to be a blessing.
When we choose to embark on this great adventure, trusting our Maker to know the needs of His creation and going where God leads, we will have entered the mystery at the heart of God’s design: that when we lose our lives for God’s sake, we find them. We don’t lose anything that truly matters when we ask for the courage to take this risk; instead, we find the riches of God’s plans and purposes for our lives when we trust God with all our hearts.
DISCUSS Choose from some of the questions below:
1. When you think about taking action to remove racial and cultural barriers, what are some of your fears? What do you see as some of the risks? How does our personal and/or collective history hold us back from engaging in this work? Does that history stifle our imagination to see a better future?
2. What steps must be taken, and by whom, if we are to overcome the barriers between peoples? What do we need from God, from the Church, and from each other to do this challenging work?
3. How does Jonah’s sinking into the watery depths correlate to a season or experience in your life? Has God ever used chaos and disorientation to bring you to Himself? What did this process reveal about God and about you?
4. What are some of the worthless idols of this age upon which we base our identities? How do they create division between you and God and between you and others, particularly those of other ethnicities?
5. What response should we have to God’s call to base our identity solely in Him and why does repentance matter to this call? How might responding to that call transform our city/nation/world?
TRUST... Write out a two-part prayer this week. First, write a prayer of confession: put into words the ways you have actively or passively contributed to ethnic divisions, possibly because of your fear of vulnerability and a similar reaction to Jonah’s—fleeing from the thought of facing such things. Next—by faith—write a prayer of thanksgiving for a specific work of ethnic reconciliation that you trust God can and will do through you. This is just between you and God, but if you want to hear words of assurance (that you have been forgiven) and encouragement (that Jesus will empower your intention), consider sharing this prayer with a caring friend.
Gracious God: Your love is so vast, it encompasses everything from the heavens to the depths of the sea. It extends into the evil of Nineveh and the rebellion of Jonah and into the very ends of the earth. To fully illuminate the depth of Your love for the whole world, You sent your only Son to redeem every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, inviting all of us into Your Kingdom family. Help us to trust You as our Maker and Redeemer and to acknowledge that we can only be made whole when we are one with You and with each other. Amen.