Worship in Place | Jonah | January 24


The video above includes the full service, except for the time for sharing.

Permission to podcast/stream the music in this service obtained through One License with license A-727859

Order of Worship | Jonah series



Land Acknowledgement

We acknowledge we are gathering on land where Miami, Osage, Shawnee, and other Indigenous peoples have lived and labored, fought, and loved. We continue to work and pray for justice and conciliation.      

Call to Worship

Peace Candle

HWB 1 | What is this place | Martin Family

Children’s Time 

World Fellowship Sunday – Greetings from the Netherlands: Pastors Jannie Nijwening and Kok Klever; Greetings from Aremenai, Colombia 

Offering/Dedication Prayer  https://www.columbusmennonite.org/donateget-involved/donate

VT 685 | O Lord, hear my prayer | Martin Family

Scripture | Jonah 2

Sermon | Prayers from lockdown    *Manuscript below*

    HWB 353 | Lord, listen to your children praying | Jenny Campagna, Jacqui and Ryan Hoke, Phil Hart

Silent Reflection

HWB 367 | For the healing of the nations | Martin Family

Sharing of Joys and Concerns 

Pastoral Prayer 

Extinguishing the Peace Candle



Christian Education | 11:00 am


Thanks to everyone who helped lead today’s service

Sermon: Joel Miller         

Worship Leader: Chaska Yoder

Music coordination: Debra and Galen Martin

Children’s Time: Mark Rupp

Peace Candle: Meaghan Torres

Scripture Reading: Laura Steiner

Zoom Host: Elisa Leahy


Sermon Manuscript

The book of Jonah has four chapters.  One of those chapters, chapter 2, a quarter of the book, takes place inside the belly of the big fish.  The entire chapter is a prayer.

The fish had made a sudden appearance in the story.  Jonah was intentionally sailing away from the city of Nineveh, where he had been called by the Lord to go and preach.  But a great storm came over the sea and threatened to break the ship apart.  When Jonah tells his ship mates to throw him overboard to calm to sea, there are no indications Jonah plans on surviving.  For his part, it’s some mix of noble sacrifice and tragic suicide. After all other efforts fail, the crew reluctantly, desperately, pick up Jonah and throw him overboard.  The sea calms, the ship stays intact, and they are saved.  And Jonah is alone in the water without a raft. 

Of all the places to pause and contemplate the peril of the situation, the severity of the threat, the foolishness of trying to escape the Divine call, this would be it.  No ship, no friends, no land, just Jonah and the waters.  It would make an excellent, dramatic extended scene in the film adaptation.  But the story, as we have it, keeps moving without so much as giving a single verse to this lone figure in the vast sea.  Chapter 1 ends this way: “But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”

Three quick notes here:
1. The Bible never calls it a whale, that tradition came later.  It’s a big fish.
2. The Hebrew word for fish is dawg, so if you ever want to have some fun with friends, ask them if they’ve ever heard the story of Jonah getting swallowed by the big dog.
3. Three, it’s inside the big dog, the big fish, that the story pauses.  While we would like to know how one might survive inside the belly of a fish, the story ignores that question and gives us an extended prayer,  a whole chapter’s worth.  Which I guess is one answer to the question How do you survive three days inside a fish?  You pray.

Song: HWB 353
Lord, listen to your children praying
Lord, send your Spirit in this place
Lord, listen to your children praying
Send us love, send us power, send us grace

Surviving within the confines of a suddenly restricted world is a pretty good image for what this past year has been like.  Not a lot of travel options when you’ve been swallowed by a fish. Not a lot of places to go when there’s a lockdown order.  But the confines are also a sanctuary.  Might as well settle in for a while.  Might as well learn how to pray.

A number of years ago Richard Rohr, in a whimsical moment, wrote that perhaps the church should cancel all programming for a year and simply learn how to pray.  It hasn’t been quite as voluntary as he imagined, but here we have been and here we are.

You may remember that very first Sunday of Lent 2020 when we canceled in person worship.  Our service that day was an email, a collection of thoughts and reflections.  It included this prayer/poem from Lynn Ungar, which ended up making its way around the internet.  Ten months after this pandemic has swallowed us whole, here it is again, used with her permission:   

Pandemic  –Lynn Ungar 3/11/20
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.

And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.

How do you pray as if your life depended on it?  You let your body become still.  You listen to your heart, and you begin to reach out with your heart, to touch those things, those shared longings, that eternal mystery, that has always been present, but has become more evident when other things fall away.  You reach our your heart.  You reach out your words.  You reach out your tendrils of compassion.  Is this what it means to pray? 
Jonah addresses his prayer directly his G-d.  Prayer, at its deepest, is a first person expression.  Jonah says:

“I called to the Lord out of my distress…out of the belly of Sheol, (from the depths of this hell) I cried, and you heard my voice.  You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me…the waters closed in over me; the deep surrounded me…yet you brought up my life from the Pit.”

Jonah’s prayer arises from his own experience, but the language is borrowed.  Psalm 18, Psalm 30, Psalm 118, Psalm 42, Psalm 69, Psalm 142.  Phrases and imagery are drawn for the prayer book of his people – spiritual artistry well embedded in the mind and memory of Jonah. 

When you don’t know what to pray, when you can’t compose your own words, you search and find the words of others.  These prayers of the community become your own prayer.  Prayer is a first person expression, but sometimes our I and me and my is a joining of other I’s and me’s.  It becomes a “we” and an “us.”  This, too, is how we survive.

Song: HWB 353
Lord, listen to your children praying
Lord, send your Spirit in this place
Lord, listen to your children praying
Send us love, send us power, send us grace

Prayer, I know, is not something progressive Christians, or those who aren’t sure what to do with the God-concept, necessarily find natural.  Questioning the effectiveness of prayer, addressed to a God who reportedly has the power to lend a helping hand but all too frequently does not – at least not in the way we might hope – this is usually one of the first faith crises people encounter.  And when these more simplistic notions of God fall away, it’s unclear what the role of prayer is.  Or maybe it’s quite clear that it has no role. If we approach prayer as our attempt to say the right things to persuade God to do the right things, a kind of spiritual lobbying effort, we will frequently be disappointed, perhaps turning the blame back on ourselves that we have not prayed correctly, or letting go altogether of any purpose for prayer. 

And, there are good reasons to be suspicious of this prayer of Jonah’s.  He says all the right things, promises his vows and sacrifices, and gets his wish to return to the land of the living.  Or, as the story says rather colorfully, “Then the Lord spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon the dry land.”  But, as we’ll see in the next two chapters, this is no conversion story.  Jonah remains not just reluctant, but seething with anger, shutting himself off to God and others.  Just because you get the words right doesn’t mean the prayer registers at a soul level.  

And when it’s clear that this sanctuary has not been a safe harbor for everyone – plenty of people aren’t making it through the pandemic alive – there is cause to question whether this is indeed a Divine gift, or whether we were just born into the right set of circumstances, swimming in the sea at the right place at the right time to reserve our spot in the belly of the fish, complete with wifi, and front door delivery.  For many of us, our skin color an added coat of armor that keeps us innocent and free.  Breathing freely.  I can breathe.  I can breathe.

My friends.  My people who do not settle for the simplistic or merely conventional.  It seems that there are two ways before us when it comes to prayer.  Either prayer is nothing, a child’s fantasy that we leave behind, as hard as that may be.  Or anything, everything, could be prayer – Every longing, every word, every breath.  The task at hand not so much perfecting our lobbying efforts, but learning to be increasingly attentive to our longings, to our words, to our breath – each an expression of the life within us.  With the “us” including this wide web of relationships in which we’re embedded.  “Us” including the agony and persistent hopes of the ancestors, now ours to hold.  Prayer as an expression of praise, wonder, and gratitude.  Prayer as a participation in the grief and goodness of this world – Reach out your heart.  Prayer which makes a small sanctuary in the chaos, carves out a space for love and justice to grow.

We could think of ourselves as Jonah in the belly of the fish learning to pray.  And we could think of ourselves, and our prayers, as the fish.  Preserving what is good.  Holding space for life.  I, you, we, becoming sanctuary.         

Song: HWB 353
Lord, listen to your children praying
Lord, send your Spirit in this place
Lord, listen to your children praying
Send us love, send us power, send us grace