The Mark of Jonah – Br. Mark Brown

Jonah 3:1-4:11/Psalm 67/Luke 11:29-32

We continue this evening with “Seers and Sages: Preaching the Prophets.”  For this second installment I will be presumptuous and try a little prophecy of my own.  I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do have the Times and the Globe and The Economist and online news sources. And the Bible: I’d like to do this with specific reference to Jonah–a minor prophet with a major message.

I’ll begin with what I understand prophecy to be.  Prophecy can be looking ahead, into the future, and saying what we see.  Or, it can be critique of the status quo.  Or it can be both together.  Jonah is the second type: a critique of the status quo. Isaiah, for example, is a much larger book and is both.  It looks into God’s future and it critiques the status quo.

Jonah is a fable–a satire laced with humor and exaggeration. Animals wearing sackcloth, a pouting prophet, and so on.  A city three days journey across. The prophetic voice in the book is not Jonah, but the anonymous author behind this very entertaining story.

The story ridicules a pouting prophet angry enough to die when God extends his love and mercy to the Ninevites.  Nineveh, in Assyria, in enemy territory. This satire is a sharp critique of the notion that any one people have a monopoly on God’s love and mercy.  You think God is on our side?  Yes, but God loves our enemies too. Even their animals.  We have a unique relationship with God, but our God is everyone’s God.  And our God’s love and mercy know no bounds, no boundaries—no tribal or ethnic or national boundaries.

A minor prophet; a major message.  A small book.  A large vision.  A God whose love and concern are without bounds or national boundaries.  With this ancient Hebrew vision as a reference point, I will try my hand at prophecy.

Here’s what I see: dinosaurs.  Dinosaurs everywhere.  A little story…

I was in a busy fast food place a few weeks ago, one of those places where off to the side there is a large play room for kids, one section filled with foam balls for jumping around in.  You could hear the squeals through the double glazing.  I sat at the opposite side of the place and had a coffee and watched a large television behind the counter.  MTV!  Music video with beautiful young people singing and dancing—a current of vibrant sexuality running through the music and the choreography.

The dancers were not quite as exposed as we sometimes see—the girls were a little more ample than JLo, Janet and Britney.  And the choreography was more belly dancing than Broadway. The music was rock; the words were Arabic.  This was Jerusalem: Arab East Jerusalem.  Muslim Arab East Jerusalem.  A not very Islamic scene.

I asked some Arabs about all this.  There is increasingly wide access to mass media and IT in this very traditional culture–and a growing sense that things will never be the same.

A growing sense of cultural shift, cultural fluidity, cultural fusion.  The kind of cultural fluidity and fusion that we Americans take for granted—since we are a nation of immigrants. But this was Jerusalem, the Middle East, where, until now, ethnic and cultural identities have been very carefully guarded.

This cultural fusion, this cultural fluidity is, of course, happening in countless ways all around the world.  We call it globalization. This is the emerging global reality: we’re all becoming citizens of Cyberlandia.  The world is now at our fingertips.  Thank you Google, thank you Yahoo, thank you YouTube. Thank you satellite transmission of media world-wide.  IT and mass media are two streams that have converged into a powerful wave that is quickly changing life on this planet.  They have created a dinosaur.

The dinosaur is isolation: isolation of one culture from another is becoming extinct.  Isolation itself is becoming extinct.  And there are profound implications: some comforting, some unsettling.  The end of isolation presents both opportunities and challenges.

I came across a phrase in a music review the other day: “the construction of identity”. A pianist was explaining that musicians now have the opportunity to construct their identity.  Music from virtually every place and time is now recorded and available.  A would-be musician has to survey the wide panorama of the world’s musical experience, and, from all the options, construct his or her own artistic identity.

This is the future, as I see it (looking beyond the carnage of this century): the construction of identity. As more and more generations live into the new global reality, personal identity will be increasingly something we construct for ourselves rather than something we passively receive from our forebears.  How we define ourselves as human beings will become increasingly self-selected.  And fluid—our descendants will be increasingly aware of the wide range of options.  Our descendants will sit lightly to their national and ethnic heritage and construct their own identities based on personal choice.

Which is already happening. We Americans, and the West generally, already do this. Even before IT and mass media. Because of our pluralistic society we are aware of many options, and, so, we can choose. Many of us here have constructed our identities: we’ve extricated ourselves from our cultural or ethnic roots and constructed new identities. We’ve invented and re-invented our selves. This is now going global.

Isolation itself is a dinosaur; isolation itself is becoming extinct.  Identities that depend on isolation will go the way of the dinosaurs.  Tribal and ethnic identities, national identities, religious identities that depend on isolation or segregation for survival will go the way of the dinosaurs.  Some kind of global, international culture will eventually emerge—a few hundred years from now?

We have a lot of carnage to get through first.  The rabid fundamentalisms we’ve been seeing may very well be fueled by the fear of loss of cultural identity. We depend a lot on cultural identity to get our bearings in the world.

Dinosaurs were magnificent creatures in their day, and so are some of our ethnicities, our nationalities, some of our religions.  The sad part of this inevitable process will be the disappearance of some very beautiful cultural identities. There are many beautiful dinosaurs in the world today.

He said: Behold, I make all things new.  A new heaven and a new earth.

Our humanity itself is under deconstruction and reconstruction.  Our sense of personal identity, our sense of who we are in the world, is under deconstruction and reconstruction.  As the effects of global mass media and IT continue to reshape our world, even our sense of personal identity will change.  Who we are will not be limited by our place of birth or genetic material. Our descendants will sit lightly to their ethnic and national roots.  Eventually, I think this will lead to less bloodshed.

Our descendants will increasingly invent and reinvent themselves—constructing, deconstructing and reconstructing themselves. As some of us have done and are doing.  There is tremendous freedom in this.  There is even now growing freedom to create authentic identity for ourselves without the need to deny the identity of others.  In a few hundred years we may actually be able to live and let live.

The freedom to construct our own identities, to deconstruct and reconstruct, makes us co-creators with God. It is a way of participating in the creative work of the Divine Spirit.  The Spirit of God that hovers over the chaos of our own times.  The Spirit of God that makes all things new.

Biblical prophecy often envisions some kind of ultimate triumph.  What will triumph?  The Hebrew prophet’s vision of a God whose love and mercy know no bounds, no boundaries, will triumph.  This is the vision our descendants will take into the future they create.  A vision of a God whose love and mercy permeates every atom of this magnificent creation.  .

This vision will triumph over all others. This boundless love, this boundary-less love, this love which holds all people and all things in embrace.  Our grandchildren and great grandchildren and our great-great grandchildren?  God will be with them, as God has been with us.  God with us, Emmanuel. Even as the human enterprise transforms itself into a life we can only begin to imagine.

O come, O come Emmanuel.  Come, Word of God, come creator Spirit and renew the face of the earth.

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  1. Ruth West on June 10, 2015 at 12:55

    Br. Mark, your prophetic vision is beyond my imagination, since I can only handle a small flip cell phone! I know the future will be as you describe. I am comforted by the fact that the God of mercy, grace and love will continue in the midst of it all. I pray that my descendants will know Him.

  2. anders on June 10, 2015 at 11:32

    Thanks for hitting a cord with me. I see our church threatened by a quickly changing world where it struggles to go beyond the message “Dinosaurs welcome here”. I know Christianity as a religion of boundless love for everyone, but as an immigrant kid I found it hard to fit comfortably within its established frameworks and traditions. After being shunned by my evangelical church of origin, I now find poems of the Sufi mystic Rumi more congruent to Jesus’ teachings than the Apostle Paul, whose teachings left me internally numb. I am grateful for a church which is willing to put up with my unconventional ways. Yet I also question how it can reach out with God’s boundary-less love to others who are looking for more than dinosaurs in neat pews on Sunday mornings and may not be articulate in expessing this.

    • Margo on June 11, 2015 at 12:35

      I think what you are talking about is the insprationof the Holy Sprit. It is alive and well in both the teaching of Jesus and the poerty of Rumi.
      it is alive in anything that is life giving and enhances our perception of the goodness and Godfliness of others in our relationship to them. margo

  3. Margo on June 10, 2015 at 08:49

    Br. Mark, Lovely vision, if course our cupidity has not destroyed the world and it is not going up in flames created by the over abundance of CO2 in the atmosphere.! Perhaps even then too, we will sing Alleluia Alleluia! Faith demands if I knew tomorrow was the end of the world today I would plant a tree. Margo

  4. John David Spangler on June 10, 2015 at 08:25

    Dear Brother Mark, Once again, I thank you for your insights. This time the thanks is for deepening my understanding of “Behold, I make all things new. A new heaven and a new earth.”. Your sermon does, however, leave me with one question, really a requst for more of your prophesying. I was always taught that a concomitant obligation accompanied a right. This being the case, I ask that you will prophesy about “responsibility”, the concomitant of “freedom”. Thank you! Peace! David

  5. Michael on June 10, 2015 at 08:19

    Your idea of construction our own identity is playing out before our eyes. Our job will be to determine how we live in a world with less boundaries and more choice. I take comfort in knowing as our world continues to change, God remains steady. Whether the culture accept that notion has nothing to do with our acceptance of the idea. Thank God!

  6. John Barrow on June 10, 2015 at 06:09

    I greatly appreciate your explication of Jonah, one of my favorite books. Also your reminder of the permeation and persistence of God’s love and mercy through time.

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