Yesterday, we kicked off a series that I am looking forward to sharing more about: Storm Stories. We’ll enter the Bible’s most famous storm stories as stand with storm survivors.
We are shaped deeply by storms. We talk about them as we share our story.
Storms are scary, but we should learn from them, too.
Yesterday we examined Jonah’s storm. I suggested that Jonah’s storm was that Jonah was serving a God that was doing things Jonah would rather God not do.
Jonah is written for us to see a staggering truth: Jonah is God’s prophet, but he is deeply flawed. The people that Jonah encounters (swearing sailors on the sea and kings of wicked cities) are more faithful than Jonah. Outsiders are more insider than Jonah appears to be.
The irony of Jonah is this: Jonah was a messenger to Nineveh, but Nineveh ended up being a messenger to Jonah.
This reality is common in the Jewish and Christian traditions. As a wisdom tradition, Christianity suggests that we can know the right answers and still miss the point. One punchline of the Old Testament is that the Jewish people were God’s special people in order to appeal to the rest of the families of earth of follow God. At times, however, the Jews struggled with ethnocentricity, or believing that they were privileged as God’s unique people instead of serving the world. At the heart of Jesus’ ministry was to welcome the outsider and outcast, to retrieve this lost vocation of Israel.
Indeed, in 3 main narrative points of Christianity, a stranger is a key character:
At Jesus’ birth, Magi (strangers from the East) are more eager to pay homage to the savior born in Israel. The religious teachers knew where the Messiah would be born, but showed no interest in joining the Magi to go honor him. Outsiders (with overwhelming devotion and underdeveloped theology, by the way) were more faithful than those who were expected to be.
At the Crucifixion, as Jesus is being sneered and mocked by Jewish insiders, a Roman Centurion confessed that Jesus was a righteous person.
At Pentecost, when the Spirit was poured out upon the Church, a nameless, faceless crowd confessed that the early church was praising God in a plethora of languages, bearing witness to the scope and shape of where the message of Jesus would go. As a reminder, this event came after the disciples asked Jesus if he was going to restore Israel’s unique hope. Jesus seemed to respond, “you need to think outside of that box.” Isn’t interesting how Acts ends miles away (geographically and metaphorically) from where it begins?
In short, a faith without strangeness is an unChristian one. If we seem to only gather with people who are like us and if our “good news” is only good to people like us, our faith isn’t big enough.
So, may we embrace the stranger, who just might be the messenger of God to us.