First UCC – Carlisle 09/29/19
Jonah 1:1-10 God’s comfort zone, not ours
In our lives, it is likely that God will be calling us to do and be involved in certain things around us. And there will often be times when God is calling us that we may feel uncomfortable or uncertain about whether or not we want to follow this divine call. We might be used to our own routine, and want to stay within our own zone of comfort. We need to realize as we are gathered here today a couple of things. One, god is calling to be calling to be active in the world, and to be doing work and living on behalf of God. Two, there will likely be times when this calling by God will lead us beyond our own comfort zone. And in those times, what will we do? Do we keep to our own comfort level, or consider God’s level of comfort?
AS we consider today what our own levels of comfort are, I would like to tell you a quick story. There was this guy, and he was going along life until one day, when he receives a message from God. God tells him to go to this city and tell everyone that they have displeased God. And of course, this guy does the reasonable thing, he runs in the opposite e direction that God tells him to go. He gets into a boat and heads far, far away. But not far enough, because God locates this person, brings about a wind and makes the seas very rough. The crew on the boat is puzzled and frightened by the situation that they are in. They discuss it at length, and they decide to figure out why this is happening.
This guy finally confesses that he is the reason for their problems, and that they should get rid of him. The crew of the boat agrees and throws him overboard. Once he is the water, he is swallowed up by a very big fish, and he is inside of the fish for three days. The fish finally opens its mouth, and this person is able to return to the land.
Once this man is on land again, he decides to follow the call of God this time, and goes to this particular city and tells them all how they have acted wrongly, and god is displeased. He does this for forty days. In response to the words this person, the entire city decides to repent and ask for forgiveness from God. Everyone repents, even the animals. And because of their collective request for forgiveness, the city is spared from the destruction that had been predicted. This man, who had helped call the entire town to accountability, is not happy about this turn of events. Instead he was upset at God for sending him to do it. He felt that these people should have been punished, instead of being granted forgiveness, and in the end he goes off to be sulk about it.
Does this story sound familiar to anyone? Well, for those who may not be familiar with it, it a quick retelling of the story Jonah. Jonah is called by God to travel to the city of Ninevah and warn them of the upcoming judgment upon them by God. Jonah’s first response is to run away. Now, there could be a number of reasons as to why he did not follow the calling of God. But one possibility is that he did not feel comfortable venturing out to do this new and drastic thing. God was asking him to criticize and point out the shortcomings of an entire city. In short, he may have felt that this calling was outside of his comfort zone. So rather than allow himself to leave his comfort zone, and he left the area. He traveled to Tarshish.
Some scholars suggest that this was not actually a town, more an abstract location, a place at the ends of the earth. Jonah was willing to travel to the ends of the earth to get away from God. It took a number of experiences for Jonah to finally venture beyond what he was comfortable with and follow the call of God. And when he finally follows God’s call, the people of Ninevah do repent.
Jonah initially did not want to follow God’s call, nor did he want to step away from his comfort zone. And sometimes, that makes sense. There are times when our own comfort zone looks inviting, looks safe. There are potential risks when we venture beyond what we know. There may be times when it is all right for us to remain within our zones of comfort.
And while there may be situations where staying within what we are comfortable with is okay, this may not always be the way. We need to see that God is not calling us to be the same, stay the same way throughout our lives. Whoever we are, whatever we do, we are called to follow God. This means sometimes we will be faced with experiencing new situations. It may mean that we face times of not knowing the right way. It may even mean additional responsibilities for us.
There could be times when moving beyond our comfort zone means something relatively simple. For instance, if we look at the life of the church, moving beyond ones comfort zone could mean sitting in a new location for worship. It could also mean that we need to initiate a conversation with the people who are sitting around us and yet we do not know who they are, or know their names. There are other places in the life of the church where there are situations of stepping beyond what is comfortable.
Someone could offer to help with some of the work for the church. People could sign up to be a participant of one of the Councils/committees in the church. These are just some examples, but there are certainly more situations where God might be calling us to move beyond what we know.
God is calling us into the life of the church. God calls us so that we might grow and develop as we help further the word of God in what we do and say. And as we grow we may be venturing into the unknown. This was the case with the ministry of Jesus. Jesus continued to challenge and encourage the disciples to experience and learn new things, and step beyond what they were used to. This brought about growth for the disciples
I had an experience about dealing with my own comfort zone about 9 years ago. We were living in Hawaii back that time. Saturday’s tended to be busy days. Rachel, Noah and I do family things, but the day also has other errands, Hawaiian class for me, shopping for food, playing outside for Noah. So it was a full day. And all of these things were accomplished. Anyway, we were just about to sit down and have dinner together when I received a phone call on my cell phone. Although I did not immediately recognize the phone number of the person calling me, I still answered the call.
It was someone from Smith’s Tropical Paradise calling me, to see if I would be willing to help officiate at a wedding (explain Smith’s). My first thought was that they must be scheduling for a future date because they were asking about Saturday. As I asked what Saturday they were talking about, they made it clear that it was for the exact Saturday we were in, that day. I asked this person when the wedding was for, and I was told, right then. The scheduled pastor was unable to make it, and so the family was waiting, along with a photographer, a videographer, a musician at that very moment. So I had to make a decision right at that moment.
Now, I must say, dinner has been a pretty important time for our family. It is the one meal we sit down on a regular basis to share. So, it is a pretty significant time, and not one that I necessarily like to miss. And yet, while dinner with family was important, here was a chance to minister to a couple, the family that had gathered for this wedding. Here was an opportunity to share in a joyous celebration of a marriage between two people who were committed to each other and wanted to get married before God. So, after talking it over with Rachel, I made my decision. I got the necessary items and officiated at a wedding last night.
I look back at my decision and wonder if I made the right choice. What was I listening to, God’s call or my own wishes? Whose comfort zone was ultimately adhered to? You can be sure that I made every effort the following week to spend more time with Rachel and Noah this week, to make up for that missed dinner. And yet, I had a blessed opportunity with that couple. I learned about them, and was able to share in their joy of marriage, as well as guide them to the next part of their journey with each other and with God. So I might have been stretched beyond my normal sense of comfort, but I survived it, learned and grew from it.
We will be encouraged and tempted to step beyond our realm of comfort. We have the chance before us to make decisions, to stay the same, or to learn and grow when God presents us with opportunities. So let us not follow the example of Jonah, and not run away from the call of God. Let us recognize that there will be time when God will be encouraging us to go beyond our normal routine. And may we be willing to do so, strengthening our relationship with God in the choices that we make and the way we live our lives. Amen.