A Jonah Experience
On Sundays, our bulletin has a consistent note encouraging attendees to submit follow up questions about the weekly message via the connection cards found in the pews. This week, I received one such question (the first follow-up in several months). It caught me off guard, I almost read it as a prayer request during prayer time (connection cards also are prayer request cards). So the question that we are tackling this week is: “How does the Jonah story relate to me today?”
A disclaimer here is that blog posts are supposed to be very honest, and my honest reaction was to be annoyed by the question. I devoted the last third of the sermon to “relevance” as my notes say. That section began with the lines, “Getting swallowed by a big fish is not so relevant a topic nowadays. But being an imperfect, very human, sometimes overdramatic, human vessel through whom God has chosen to work is quite relevant.” I then went on to reflect on these characteristics in Jonah and turn them into statements that may find an echo in our own experiences. Unfortunately, a third of a 15 minute sermon is only 5 minutes and I apparently did not do a good enough job at illustrating where our “big fish moments” might be in our modern day lives in that 5 minute window. But wouldn’t you know it? God has provided a personal example for me to share as a follow up to Sunday’s sermon!
Sunday was a long and draining day for me. I was “on the clock” for about 12 hours with only a short break for lunch with Kelsie. I then spent most of my day off on Monday arguing with myself, “Don’t think about that, it’s your day off. Don’t take that call, it’s your day off! DON’T ANSWER THAT EMAIL, IT’S YOUR DAY OFF!!!” Before I knew it, it was Tuesday and time to return to the office...and I was not in a good mood. There was one saving grace for me, I had a free Dunkin Donuts beverage through the Dunkin app and I was going to cash it in! There are some days when a hazelnut iced coffee truly feels like the one thing getting me out of bed in the morning.
The morning came, I got ready and was still in an appalling mood. I felt as if I was sinking in the sea of thoughts that every pastor feels in moments of discouragement. “I’m working so hard at this church/pastor thing and feeling like I can never do enough.” “All I want to do is love people and all it feels like I do is disappoint or let them down.” And other fun thoughts. At least there was free coffee! A win, small though it be, was coming my way. I got ready for the day, It was “Bow Tie Tuesday,” so I got dressed in my professorial looking bow tie ensemble: Brown corduroy jacket with patches on the elbows, brown striped bow tie, white dress shirt, and brown pants. I was looking good for the day-I had a meeting with the District Superintendent after lunch, now it was time to get that coffee.
I opened the Dunkin app to place the order so that I could pass in and out of the store with as little human interaction as possible. At least I tried to open the app…“error.” I tried again… “error.” The rage is building. Check the WiFi. A Third attempt… “loading….app timed out.” A grunt of frustration. Tucker the dog is backing away slowly. Several more attempts getting slowly closer to ordering and applying the coupon. Very non pastoral words are spoken. The dog is hiding. The app orders the coffee...finally.
When I arrived at the Dunkin, there was a tremendous line, but on the “to go” shelf was that beautiful medium iced coffee with “Cameron O =)” written on the receipt. Victory. A sip. Heaven on Earth. I arrive at the church, mind reset by the caffeine and prepared to start the day. I entered the church building and thought, “I really should take a few minutes to pray, I need to center.” I turned to the sanctuary and stopped short. “No, there’s too much to do and I’ll just be further behind and thus grumpier if I take the time to pray.” I turned around and headed for the stairs to go to my office and get the day started.
As I approached my office, I pulled out my church keys and quickly dropped them (as I often do). “Oh, it’s
just one of those days,” I muttered while stooping to grab them. On the way back up, my hold on the coffee cup apparently loosened in the transfer of stuff between hands and the very full medium sized cup of Dunkin Iced coffee with the hazelnut swirl began free falling towards the floor. Instinctively, I went to catch the cup of preciousness, and indeed I caught it. The force of my catching motion however blew the top off of the cup, and created a massive crack in the side. Coffee escaped from the cup with a mighty explosion followed by a great gushing from the side. My white dress shirt, brown pants (good thing I wore the brown pants!), and my corduroy jacket with the elbow patches, and much of the hallway were covered. The scent of hazelnut swirl syrup filled the hallway as I stood in shock with coffee still dribbling from the gash in the side of the cup.
Still trying to comprehend the extent of my tragedy, I walked the cup to the nearby bathroom and placed it in the sink. I wandered to the office and procured paper towels and a Swifter for the clean up. The absurdity of the moment was not lost on me. This was a moment I could not ignore, I was forced to stop and address the mess. I even went home to change into another “bow tie Tuesday” outfit. While addressing the moment, I couldn’t help but think of Jonah, God’s grumpiest prophet, and the great lengths that God took to use Jonah and to get him back on the right track. Jonah could ignore and even run the opposite way from his calling, he could not ignore the giant whale that saved him from the sea. Was this my “whale moment?” Meh, not really. I wasn’t running from God’s call. I was showing up for work, despite not feeling it.
I reflected further, and these words came to me, “Have you any right to be upset about the coffee?” Much like Jonah, who was tired and continually cranky after his time of ministry in Nineveh, I was poured out and feeling empty. Jonah was appreciative for a shady vine that God appointed to shade him and restore his energy. I was appreciative of that free coffee to restore my soul. When the insignificant things we loved were taken away, God had a “wake up call” message in store. “If you can care for these little bits of creation that bring a moment of respite, then why should I not care for the people I have sent you to minister to?” “If I can deal with you when you are unpleasant and dramatic and cranky, then why shouldn’t I (and you) forgive those to whom I send you when they act the same way?
We do not get to see how Jonah responds to his wake up call from God, but in my experience, the spilled iced coffee ultimately made my attitude better. It’s almost as if that cold coffee was the shock I needed to escape from the perils of the discouraged mind. Since that moment, this has been one of my most pastorally productive and healthy weeks in recent memory.
So, “How does the story of Jonah relate to me today?” Well, have you ever been cranky? Have you ever been overly dramatic? Have you ever run from what you think God is calling you to do? Have you ever spilled coffee? The same God who has forgiven and used Jonah despite his human characteristics, is able to forgive and is planning to use you as an agent of his grace and love as well. God’s love transforms us and overcomes our faults.
Thank you for reading,
Rev. Cameron Overbey