So Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh. Who can blame him? He has probably heard of their great wickedness and woe-betide the prophet of doom. Why would he go and proclaim an unpopular message–“Repent or else destruction” ?
He did the only thing that anybody with a sense of self-preservation would do. He boarded a ship to get away. Surely God would understand. No loving God would send his own child into hostile territory. And why do they need salvation anyway?–it’s time their wickedness find them out. Let them perish. It is only just.
And what did he do on board? He went to sleep. I do that too–when the going gets tough, I sleep. Cover yourself with the blanket of “let’s pretend that everything is OK.” While he found the audacity to sleep, the storm was brewing overhead. God brought the biggest object lesson there was to teach our dear friend.
I can go on and on about the story. Maybe boring for those who have heard it countless times. Suffice to say, the fish taught Jonah a grand lesson on a slimy scale. As the acid-crusted prophet proclaimed the story of repentance, the city actually acted Covered with sackcloth–men and animals alike–the whole city mourned. Forgiveness found.
So how did our youth pastor bring this Old Testament experience to life for us? He invited us to search our lives for areas that needed repentance. Silence. In the darkness as candles on stands glowed with encouragement, one by one unravelled themselves from the comforts of our seats and walked the long aisle to the folds of burlap in front. Cut yourself a piece of burlap–a token of repentance–a covenant of promise to God about the change we want to make.
Our object lesson may not be a whale or the howling storm but a tiny piece of burlap. Our very own sackcloth of change. Perhaps a bridge to gap, a relationship to mend, a lending hand to someone long ignored by self-indulgence, an attitude adjustment, a letting go of the world at large, a contentment to grow, a love to nurture. We all have our own agendas.
A little piece of burlap–a grim reminder of the change that can take place.