If God were to appear to you in a dream and tell you to travel to New York and walk through the center of Manhattan pronouncing God’s judgment and impending destruction of that city, how would you respond? I suspect many of us would wake up and think, wow, that was a really strange dream and perhaps share it with friends for a laugh over a coffee or lunch break. If we felt particularly disturbed by the dream, we might call our therapist or spiritual director to help process the feelings and emotions the dream conjured. Somehow I suspect most if not all of us would eventually shrug it off and forget about it. But what if this dream were to reoccur persistently?
In this evening’s Old Testament lesson we hear a portion of a comical story about Jonah who receives this very message from God. This short book is only four chapters long start to finish and the introduction to Jonah in the New Oxford Annotated Bible states that he is never even called a prophet in the text.[i] To add insult to injury, the book of Jonah is more about God’s dealings with the ‘prophet’ himself than with the recipients of Jonah’s message, therefore making Jonah the ‘circus clown’ of all the prophets. His day starts out by getting a daunting assignment from God: go to Nineveh, the capitol city of the hated and oppressive Assyrian Empire, and pronounce God’s judgment on them. I don’t think there is a single one of us who blame Jonah for his response. Jonah runs away and we shake our heads at him intuiting that this is only going to get worse.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” Verse 11 of Psalm 51, one of the great penitential Psalms of the Bible. The immediate concern of the Psalmist is being cleansed of sin. But the idea of a “clean heart” and “renewed spirit” has a wider resonance.
I have a question for you about lobsters, something very familiar (and delightful!) to many of us here on the eastern seaboard. How can a lobster weighing one pound grow into a lobster weighing three pounds, even ten pounds or more when the lobster has such a hard shell? How can lobsters grow when they seem not only protected but also confined by their hard shell?