Friday, January 25, 2008

Jonah 1 - Sermon - Theology of Children's Books 3 of 4

Jonah 1
Runaway Bunny

I lived two houses away from a busy road in Royal Oak, MI for the first 8 years of my life. I remember thinking that Lincoln Ave. was one of the busiest roads in the world. It seemed like it took forever to cross it when I would walk to school. In reality though every things seems bigger when you are smaller and then it doesn’t seem as big once you become an adult. This two lane road, in reality, is probably as busy as Liberty Dr. right outside our doors here. It is a busy road but nothing like 85, which is the picture I had in my head as a 7 year old.

I tell you this because when I was about 6 or 7 years old one, our 13 year old neighbor was in charge of watching over my two sisters and I playing in the back yard. My mother had to go inside to tend to my newly born third sister. While she was in there we played on our jungle gym and enjoyed being outside. When my mom came back out she noticed right away my two year old sister Jean was missing. This somehow escaped our 13 year old babysitter. This sent my mom, and our babysitter’s mom (who was inside her house) into a panic. Where was Jean. They searched and searched but they could not find her.

It wasn’t until a neighbor, who lived on the other side of Lincoln, walked my sister back across the road that my mom figured out what happened. It seems that my little sister decided she wanted to run away and so she left our back yard, took a left, and walked across that really busy road and down the sidewalk on the other side. She was going on an adventure. But thanks to the keen eyes of a friendly neighbor, that adventure stopped at about a block and a half away, which was a block and a half too far for my mom. My family still laughs at this story and we point to it as the start of the rebellious streak in my sister. Yet she simply was running away to go on an adventure.

I was watching American Funniest Home Videos the other night and Alycia and I laughed at one of the videos that was in the running to with the $10,000 prize. It was a video of a little boy, probably about 5 or 6, who was pacing back and forth at the end of his driveway. He had a backpack on his back and he was yelling at his mom who was trying to hold the camera still because she was laughing so hard. The little boy was telling his mom that he was going to run away, but he couldn’t run away because he wasn’t allowed to cross the street. He was frustrated because, how could he run away if he couldn’t cross the street. I think that video won the $10,000 prize that night!

Many children, whether they are a bold two year old like my sister or a rule following 6 year old like the boy on the video, all have dreams at one time or another of running away from home. It is this romanced idea in children’s heads that there is a better life outside the walls of their own homes. The life they can have out there in the world is a life of adventure. The life they have at home is one full of rules and toys they are tired of playing with. To their childish minds, life has to be better away from what they know.

On a more serious matter, teenage runaways are a completely different story. For many of them they run away from home because they don’t feel there is any better option. According to the National Runaway Switchboard, an organization that takes calls and helps kids who have run away or are thinking of running away, one in seven kids between the ages of 10 and 18 will run away at some point. And there are 1 million to 3 million runaway and homeless kids living on the streets in the United States. According to, they run away because of big fights with parents or siblings, a new child is born, finical problems in the house, parents separating or an a step-parent’s entry into the house, and one of the most common reasons is abuse. All these reasons equal one main one, life away from home looks more appealing than the one at home.

That is the case for Runaway Bunny. The opening line of this children book is once there was a little bunny who wanted to run away. It gives no underlining reasoning but just states it is a desire of the little bunny. Maybe this is the is where the idea is placed in our children’s heads about running away, never mind throw this book away, just kidding. Actually running away is an ancient and biblical idea. You all helped me act out one of the most well known biblical stories which is centered around someone running away.

We first hear about this prophet Jonah in 2 Kings the 14th chapter. There we learn that he is a prophet who supported the Northern Kingdoms. Jonah was asked by God to go to Nineveh and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me. Nineveh was a city in Assyria just east of the Northern Kingdoms. They were a threat to the Northern Kingdoms and as we know they were not high on Jonah’s list of places he would really like to go. It was common for God’s prophets to speak out against foreign countries but never was one asked to go there and preach. Jonah was determined not to be the first, so he decided to run.

This is a common way of thinking and acting when you disagree with God’s will. There has been a dramatic shift in United Methodist Seminaries over the last three decades. It use to be that 15% of clergy were under the age of 35. Now it is only 5% and in some annual conferences it is down to 3%. This is one of the reasons I decided to go to Duke was that they had the youngest medium age of other United Methodist Seminaries. You see second career ministers are becoming the norm in seminaries around the nation. Those who hear God’s call in their teen years and go through undergrad and then seminary are increasingly becoming the minority out there. I know that Jerry Webb was a second career minister when he came here to Trinity. One of my mentors in the ministry process and the person who told me about God’s call on people’s life was a second career minister just starting out as an associate in the church I grew up in. Second career ministers are common now and some of them will tell their calling story like the story of Jonah.

For some second career ministers they have run away from the idea of being a minister. The idea of doing that did not go over well with their plans for their life. They spent the first part of their lives dodging the idea of ministry and ran to the cooperate world for shelter. But soon God caught up to them and they had no other choice but to finally follow God’s will.

Jonah despised the ‘Wanafights’, I mean Ninevites. He did not like the idea of God’s mercy being offered to them. He did not like the idea of God’s love and grace being bestowed on them and so he ran. This is a common idea we have in today’s world. We think that we can dictate where God’s love is shown and to whom. There is a church in Topeka, Kansas called Westboro Baptist Church. You may not know the church but you know their signs. They are the ones seen all over the nation who go and picket events and call it evangelism. They are planning on picketing Heath Ledger’s funeral because he played a gay cowboy in Brokeback Mountain. They will hold up signs that say, God hates fags and fags are worthy of death. They do this because they think that God’s grace is not shown to people who are who are sympathetic to homosexuals. They think they can dictate who receives God’s grace. But that is a wrong idea because only God can give out God’s grace and God do so to anyone or any nation God wants. God blesses who God wants to bless no matter what we think.

Jonah knew that and so he decided to run. He ran onto a boat and went out to sea. The boat he was on though hit a big storm and the passengers started to get nervous. They were so nervous they knew someone on the boat was the cause of this storm. They cast lots for whose fault it was and it all pointed to the guy asleep inside the boat, Jonah. Jonah told them what he had done and told them if they threw him overboard the seas would be silent. After contemplating and prayer, they threw him over and the storm stopped. Then as the 17th verse of the 1st chapter states, but the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights. The Lord provided a great fish, not a whale, to swallow Jonah. If you run after me, said the little bunny, I will become a fish in a trout stream and I will swim away from you. If you become a fish in a trout stream, said his mother, I will become a fisherman and I will fish you out.

The lesson we learn from the Runaway Bunny and the story of Jonah is that there is no where to hide from God, God always find you. Adam and Eve tried to hide from God after they ate the fruit from the tree but God found them. Moses tried to run away after he murdered the Egyptian but God found him. King David thought he covered his tracks after impregnating Bathsheba by having her husband, Uriah, killed but God caught up to him through the Prophet Nathan. Paul Craig, who is now the associate minister at Matthews United Methodist church, use to run Nursing Homes until God finally caught up to him and he became a minister. No matter where we run God always catches up to us. Or should I say we finally catch up with God.

The Jackie Boles Bible Study has been studying Adam Hamilton’s Christian Family Tree. It has been a wonderful study and each week we look into another Christian denomination. We do so not to poke holes in the way they worship but to look for areas we can learn from them and enrich the way we worship in our denomination. Last week we studied Lutheranism. Martin Luther, the person this denomination was named after, started what is called the Reformation. He was tired of how the Catholics were doing church and wrote 95 theses about how they could improve things. This started a wildfire and a new branch of Christianity was born, Protestantism. We as United Methodists are considered to be a Protestant denomination. One of the fundamental differences between the Catholic and Orthodox denominations and those that are Protestant is the idea of the priesthood of all believers.

Martin Luther believed that all believers, not just clergy but ALL believers were called by God to do ministry. In some sort or in some form, God had a plan for all of them. This is something we wholeheartedly believe in. God has a plan for each and every one of you, the question is are you doing it. Some of you may not know what God’s plan is, but that is okay we can work on finding that out. Some of you though know what God is asking you to do but you are trying to ignore it and run from it. Well let’s stop doing that shall we because you cannot run away from God. God’s will always wins out.

In a blog I was reading on Martin Luther King Day, the author, Jonathan Marlow was reflecting on the amazing work King did on this earth. He was a person who did not run away from God’s calling in his life. In the author’s post he reflected that he use to pray to God to make him more like Martin Luther King but this year he realized that was the wrong prayer. When he gets to heaven God will not ask him why he wasn’t more like Martin Luther King but rather why wasn’t he more like Jonathan Marlow.

God has created us all with a special purpose, we learned that with the first children’s book I read a couple weeks ago. God has a will for your life, a direction he would like you to go, but are you willing. Are you willing to go out on a limb and trust God knows what God is doing? The truth is it does matter where we run. You can turn yourself into a boat and sail across the seas but God will find you. You can make yourself into a flower in the garden but God will find you. You can join the circus but God will find you.

In the end of the story, little bunny says, shucks I might just as well stay where I am and be your little bunny. We might as well stop running and do what God asks us to. God will always find you, no matter where you think you are hiding. He is willing to be a fisherman, a mountain climber, a gardener, a tree, the wind, a tightrope walker, or a mother to find you. He would even send a big fish to swallow you and spit you out three days later. Let’s stop running and do what God asks, don’t wait for the fish!

And all of God’s people said…AMEN.


Theresa Coleman said...

Runaway Bunny / Jonah ...

Wow. That is indeed inspired.

I may steal it.


Unknown said...

Help yourself!

John said...

Runaway Bunny. That would make a perfect children's sermon. Why didn't I think about that!