"Replace or Repair?"#88-34
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on April 25, 2021
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2021 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Jonah 2
When something of yours breaks, what are you more likely to do? Replace or repair? Probably depends on how you were raised. Did your family throw things out when they broke, or did they fix what they had? Probably depends on the object, right? What's the object? How expensive is it? How difficult is it to repair? What job does it do for you? What function does it perform? How much do you care about this object? Why do you care about it? If you care about it mainly because of the function it performs, you don't really care about the object, you care about the job it does for you.
For example, consider this ceramic mug that I'm holding. It does a good job of holding my hot beverage in the morning, my coffee or my tea, but if the handle on the side were to break off, it wouldn't do its job so well, anymore. And since ceramic mugs are cheap and easily replaced, I'd probably just get another one. But let's say your mug has sentimental value, it's special to you because somebody gave it to you as a gift, or maybe you made it yourself in a pottery class. In that case, you value the mug itself, not just the job that it does for you. You value how it came to be yours; you value its story, and it's become a part of your story, so you don't want to throw it away. You don't want to replace it. So you go ahead and get out the superglue and glue that handled back in place where it belongs.
Last week on this program, we started listening to the Old Testament book of Jonah. Jonah was a man called by God to be a prophet, a spokesperson for God. But when we meet Jonah in the book, he's a defective, broken, malfunctioning prophet. As Phillip Cary wrote, "Jonah does everything wrong, almost everything. Yet through him, the Lord, the God of Israel does everything right." Jonah is a ridiculous excuse for a prophet. He's a holy man who's a hot mess, and we're just like him. Why Jesus of Nazareth would ever want to identify with Jonah, why He would compare Himself to Jonah is a profound mystery. A mystery profound as Jesus' love is for the rest of us. Sometimes Jonah's story is told as a morality tale, as an example of how not to be. And he can be that, but more importantly, he's a description of how we are, you, me, all of us, ever since we started running from God back in the garden. Even those of us who call ourselves Christian, even we are a hot mess. We aren't performing to the specifications that our Maker has in mind for us, not yet anyways. And the power of Jonah's story, both for Christians and for those who do not yet know Christ, the power of his story is how it shows us that the God who created us, loves us, and values us none the less, even though we're broken, defective, malfunctioning, and quite often, ridiculous, God chooses not to throw us out. Listen to how it goes for Jonah.
Now the Word of the Lord came to Jonah, the son of Amittai, saying, "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, because their evil has come up before Me." But Jonah arose and fled to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship bound for Tarshish, and after he paid the price, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.
But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break apart. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own God, and they threw the cargo overboard to lighten the ship. But Jonah had gone down into the depths of the ship where he fell into a deep sleep. The captain came and said to him, "How can you sleep? Get up! Call on your God! Maybe your God will give us a thought and we will not perish." The sailors said to one another, "Come on, let's cast lots and find out who is responsible for this evil that has come to us." And they cast lots and the lot fell to Jonah. And they said to him, "Tell us, please, who's responsible for this evil that has come to us? What do you do? Where do you come from? What's your country? From what people are you?" And Jonah answered, "I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven who made the sea and the land." At this, the sailors were afraid with a great fear because they knew that he was running from the Lord. He had already told them so. So they said to him, "Tell us what we should do you to make the sea calm down for us." Because the sea was getting even more and more tempestuous. And so Jonah said, "Pick me up and throw me into the sea, because I know that it is on my account that this great storm has come upon you."
Instead, the sailors did their best to row the ship back to land, but they could not because the sea grew even wilder than before. And so the sailors cried out to the Lord, "O Lord, please do not let us die because of this man's life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, because You are the Lord and You do just as You please." So they lifted Jonah up and they hurled him into the sea. And the raging sea grew calm and the sailors worshiped the Lord with a great worship, and they offered sacrifices to the Lord and they vowed vows to Him. And then the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah up. And Jonah was inside the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.
And from within the belly of the fish, Jonah prayed to the Lord, his God saying, "In my distress, I call to the Lord and He answered me. From the depths of the grave, I called for help and You listened to my cry. You hurled me into the deep, into the very heart of the sea. An ocean current surrounded me; all Your breakers and waves swept over me. I said, 'I have been driven from Your sight.' But I will look again toward Your holy temple. The waters around me came up to my neck; the deep engulfed me; the seaweed was wrapped around my head to the depths of the mountains. I sank down, the earth beneath barred me in forever, but You brought my life up from the pit, O Lord, my God. When my life was ebbing away, Lord, I remembered You, my prayer rose to You, to Your holy temple. Those who cling to worthless idols abandon the One who loves them, but I, with a song of thanksgiving, will offer sacrifice to You. What I have vowed, I will make good. Salvation belongs to the Lord."
And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah out onto dry land. And the Word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time saying, "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out to it the message that I am about to give you." So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the Word of the Lord.
"I never knew that God delighted in me, my friend Wayne explained. He said, "After everything I'd done, I figured that God's sort of accepted me, begrudgingly, but not really. And that Jesus was there on the cross, crying tears of blood because I was such a disappointment. I felt defective and ashamed."
Like me, Wayne was raised in a religious home, good parents, good schools. And though no one actually taught him that he could get love by achieving, somehow that's what he came to believe. And he achieved, Eagle Scout, salutatorian from his high school class, full-ride scholarship to college, and medical school after that. But in secret, he was nursing a self-destructive thought life and addictive behaviors, things he couldn't keep hidden for long. He was living a divided life: one person in public and another in private. And he kept these two lives as far apart as possible, as far as heaven from earth, as far as Jerusalem from Nineveh. And I could relate to him when he said that his reputation was the source of his worth. And it wasn't until after his reputation had been destroyed, that he came to see that this had been a lie all along.
In the book of Jonah, the title character is a ridiculous excuse for a prophet. And it's only been in the last 300 years that a significant number of people who read the book of Jonah have come to see it as a fable, a fiction, a fish story. And it came to be this way as people in Western Europe and North America developed a new belief system that automatically assumed that supernatural events were impossible—events like Jesus rising from the dead after three days or Jonah living inside the belly of a fish for three days. But before this time, for the first 2,000 or so years, most people who read the book of Jonah, Jews and Christians, believed that it actually happened, and that Jonah was the author—that he lived this story and he wrote about it for us.
Now notice that seeing Jonah as the author of this story does more than simply propagate a supernatural worldview. Because if we believe Jonah is the author, it changes the way we read the book. It changes the impact of the book, the emotional and spiritual impact of the book. Because if Jonah wrote this book, he did it knowing full well that he was going to destroy his reputation. Before this little book hit the newsstands in Israel, Jonah, the son of Amittai, had a good reputation. His name is recorded favorably in the Old Testament book of 2 Kings 14:25. Jonah was known around town as a standup guy: faithful, loyal servant of the Lord, truthful, courageous, everything that a prophet ought to be. People thought admirable thoughts when they heard the name Jonah, but now, what do people think of the prophet Jonah? He's the guy that ran away from God and got swallowed by a fish, and that's only the first half.
It's going to get much worse, because Jonah has been living a divided life, one person in public and another in private. Privately, he's been nursing self-destructive attitudes, racism, arrogance, ungratefulness, self-righteousness, and it's all going to come out in the next two chapters, you listen.
But here's the thing, Jonah could have kept all of this secret, no one back home would have to know. So why do you do this to yourself, Jonah? Why do you tell this story with you as the fool? Why destroy your reputation? In the mysteries of God, Jonah felt compelled to put it all out there for you, for me, as we are tempted to believe that our reputations and achievements are what gives us worth, as you are tempted to believe that your source of value is in what other people think of you or in what you think of yourself.
If you value something or someone, not ultimately for their function, you value them regardless of their performance, then you're not going to throw them away if they become broken or defective, you won't replace them. And what's more, you might not even try to repair them if that repair is a cover-up. That's the goal of some methods of repair, right? To cover up the cracks, to pretend like they never happened. But if you value that object and its story, you might decide not to cover up the cracks
Take for example, the Japanese art of kintsukuroi. It's a word that means to repair with gold. With this method, the artist restores the broken pieces of the ceramic, not with invisible superglue, but with a bright gold lacquer that holds the pieces together, not in a way that hides the cracks, but highlights them, showcasing the skill and the grace of the one who repaired it. And in this way, God loves the world that He sent His Son Jesus to restore us. God doesn't wait for us to fix ourselves. God doesn't need us to function according to specification before He delights in us. God delights in us; God delights in you because that's just the kind of God He is. Because He delights in you, God wants you to function as He designed you, because He delights in you, He wants you to build a good reputation with your neighbors, to be known as someone who is truthful and faithful, forgiving and kind. But your reputation isn't the source of your worth—God is. And He will be that for you, even if your reputation is destroyed. God, because He's a loving Father, because He gave you His Son, because He gives you His Spirit, gives you worth, and He values your story, cracks and all.
Like Jonah, in time, my friend Wayne learned this. When it hit the newsstands that Wayne had been sentenced to prison, his reputation was destroyed. When he was in prison, Wayne met a Christian man, and they read the Bible together and talked together, prayed together, and listened to God's Word together. And during this time, it was as though Wayne heard God saying to him, "You're confused about who you are and why you matter. And it's okay that you're confused because I'm not confused about you. I created you. I'm for you. I love you." Wayne said that God gave him this vision of him as a three-year-old child and God as a loving Father, holding him in His arms with a great big smile on His face, and tossing him up in the air and catching him. God delights in me.
Now, 15 years after being released from prison, Wayne is the director for clinical programs at a Christ-centered treatment facility that helps others recover from addictions. Addictions to drugs, alcohol, sex, pornography, gambling, destructive dependencies of all kinds. And whenever he thinks it might help someone, Wayne shares his story openly, like Jonah. And he said I could share it with you so that you would know however badly you struggle, God's not going to throw you away. He gave His Son for you. He loves you. And I am sure of this, that He who began this good work in you, will bring it to completion in the day of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Reflections for April 25, 2021
Title: Replace or Repair?
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. For FREE online resources, archived audio, our mobile app, and more, go to lutheranhour.org. And now back to our Speaker, Dr. Michael Zeigler.
Mike Zeigler: I'm visiting again with my teacher, Dr. Bob Kolb, one of the world's leading scholars on Reformation history and teaching, and especially the writings of Martin Luther. Welcome back to the program, Dr. Kolb.
Robert Kolb: Thank you very much for having me, Michael.
Mike Zeigler: This last week we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the, now, it looks like Diet of Worms, but that's not how we say it, right? How do we say it?
Robert Kolb: The Diet of Worms. But as a kid, I actually thought, "Why would they feed him worms?"
Mike Zeigler: It was a form of medieval torture, I suppose. A few years after the meeting at Worms, Luther writes this commentary or lectures on the book of Jonah, which he turned into a commentary. And we've been listening to the book of Jonah on this program. Now the church had long recognized the prophet Jonah as one of the saints of God's people. And Luther speaks to this in his commentary, but Luther also wants us to see that Jonah's also a sinner. And he says in the commentary that, "The saints had flesh and blood just as we do. And so no matter how holy they were, they still sometimes lapsed in very disgraceful ways, just as Jonah, who though exercised in his faith still is not able to submit himself joyfully to God's will." Why is that important for Christians today to remember that in this mortal life, we're always going to be saints and sinners at the same time?
Robert Kolb: I suppose, because we experience maybe not quite as radically, but we experience what Jonah experienced. God says, "I'd like to have you do this." And I say, "Not on your life"
Mike Zeigler: No, going to run the other way.
Robert Kolb: Yes. And so I often experience disagreeing with God and saying, "Not today." Or, "Those people!?" And so what you have in Jonah is an altogether too accurate picture of a little bit of all of us or maybe a lot of all of us.
Michael Zeigler: Certainly.
Robert Kolb: And Luther had experienced that, too. And he continually experienced not really doubting God, but just not being able to fully have the peace that he knew God was giving him. And he saw that then as a kind of running away. And so he lived this life of repentance. And in that life of repentance, he recognized that there is this struggle that Paul talks about in Romans 7, between the Law of God and the law of sin. And that's a struggle that does not stop in this life, and so it's very important that we recognize that and take seriously the fact that we are sinning sometimes, and we don't need to cover that. We need to uncover it before our Lord, at least, and say, "Kill it, God. Get it out of my life," and go on from there as a sanctified child of God.
Michael Zeigler: That trust again, that doesn't need to be defensive.
Robert Kolb: Right, yeah. It's open to God, and that means it can be open to the neighbor.
Mike Zeigler: Right. There's even a place in the commentary where Luther wonders out loud, "How can such evil and the love of God exist in one person?" Jonah is mad because God wants to save these people. And it goes back to what you were saying about this mystery of sin and evil that continues in our hearts even as we are children of God.
Robert Kolb: He was good enough to be a sent as a prophet; he must've had a pretty good reputation with God, as well as with other people. But this was an assignment he didn't think was right.
Mike Zeigler: Yeah, so Luther reminds us all that Christians, we're still sinners, just like Jonah is still a sinner. However, he says he doesn't want us to be okay with that. We shouldn't come to peace with that, so to speak. Also he says in the commentary on Jonah that, "There is this battle within the saints and there is no truce in this war." Why is that important that there be no truce in this battle?
Robert Kolb: I suppose because Satan's at us, nagging at us, our own sinful inclinations and desires never go completely away. There are always temptations there to forget about what God has said to us, both in what He wants us to do and also in who He thinks we are. We need to be fighting against both the devil's invasion of our faith realm and his invasion of our love realm, if we can talk in that kind of language. He's always tempting us to, again, to be defensive, to try and get for me, to turn ourselves into ourselves and away from both praising God and taking care of other people. Those kinds of attacks do not go away, and when we succumb to them, then we have lost ground. And so God wants us always to be fighting and to be returning. And I suppose that's why the kind of savoring of the Scriptures and turning the words over that we talked about last week—that is a part of the way we combat then the temptation to look away from God to try and block our hearing of God and to just take care of ourselves.
Mike Zeigler: And so a truce would mean potentially that we stopped listening to what God says about us, and that's why there can't be this truce. We have to keep those defenses up because the devil wants us to believe something different about ourselves: that we are under God's wrath, that God hates us, that God doesn't care for us anymore.
Robert Kolb: Or I think in our day and age that God just has gone off on vacation—
Mike Zeigler: He's indifferent.
Robert Kolb: —and doesn't play a role in our lives. And we may think, "Well, I'm pretty secure in God's mercy. I don't have to worry." And it's precisely at that moment that we do have to worry because the world is getting into our way of thinking or our own desires are saying, "We're more important than anything or anyone else." And so those satanic attacks are always coming at us.
Mike Zeigler: And the way we fight this war is again, go back to where God wants us to find Him in the Scriptures, in Jesus Christ.
Robert Kolb: And in His promise, His promise of life forever with Him, guarantees that we are the person that He wants us to be. Sometimes we don't live like it, and that's when we have to be called to repentance and receive again the wonderful gift of the Gospel.
Mike Zeigler: And that's what makes Jonah such a wonderful book. As you said, there's a little or a lot of all of us in him. Thank you for joining us.
Robert Kolb: It was a pleasure.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"O Sons and Daughters of the King" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)