This morning I was preaching in Altavista. Until I arrived in the USA on Friday I thought Altavista was just a search engine. But, it isn’t – it’s a real place in Virginia.
We (our wonderful hosts, Bishop Neff Powell and his wife Dorothy) drove an hour and a half to get there and everyone in the church was warm, friendly and very welcoming. They even understood my non-Queen’s English English. But, going there teased my imagination at the level of searching for links that might be rather fanciful. So, before we head off to the next service in Roanoke (preaching again) here are some tenuous connections arising from preaching on Jonah in Altavista:
1. Jonah was searching for a way to escape the call of God – something I and other Christians have worked on with great diligence.
2. God doesn’t give up on us when we run away – even if he knows we are racist bigots who haven’t quite ‘got’ God’s character.
3. God links together grace and generosity with the search of ordinary people (the Ninevites) for the freedom of a new start – even when God’s ‘chosen one’ thinks his own righteousness is all that matters.
4. Jonah’s search for justice against the Ninevites hits up against God’s longing for justice for the Ninevites.
5. Being sicked up from a big fish onto a beach might represent a big hint, but it doesn’t automatically mean that you then get the point. Prejudice and self-righteousness go deep.
There’s plenty more, but that’s for starters.
Anyway, over lunch with some wonderful people one man told us some great stories from his reading of World War Two history. The funniest was about the reunion of combatant paratroopers forty years after D-Day. These ageing old guys were invited to re-enact their original parachute drop into France. Hours after they had all been dropped and identified by family members and the local Gendarmes, one was still missing. Eventually they found him propped in a bar, smashed out of his skull. When they asked what he was playing at, he answered: “You told us to do what we did when we parachuted into France. So I did. I made my way to the pub and got smashed.”
I bet that’s what Jonah wished he could have done in Nineveh. At least it would have spared him having to see people discover that God loved them after all and wanted their lives and society to reflect that.