Instruments of Salvation

Instruments of Salvation

Pentecost 12 (NL1) John B. Valentine
Jonah 1:1-5; 1:16 – 2:10 August 20, 2023


Good morning, class!

It’s week four of our walk through the some of the instrumental animals in the Bible.

Thus far we’ve looked at:

• The dove on Noah’s Ark ... and considered how we too might be bearers of hope ... and ...

• The scapegoats in Leviticus ... and seen how we too need something or someone to take our brokenness from us and carry it off into the wilderness ... so that the community can be restored ... and last week ...

• Balak and Balaam and the talking donkey ... and recalled how we too me need someone esle to see the things that we can’t ...

And today ... surprise, surprise ... we’re looking at probably the most notorious ... or at least the most oft-portrayed ... animal in the Old Testament ... Jonah’s big fish.

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Now ... before we get going ... I need to warn you ... the starting point for this sermon is a lesson in Israelite biology ... not the flora and fauna of ancient Israel ... but rather how it was that the ancient Israelites understood the flora and the fauna of the world around them.

You see ...

• God’s chosen people ... the Israelites ... with originally shepherds and nomads. (That’s just the way it is when God invites you to form your corporate identity by wandering in the wilderness for two generations.)

So there’s lots of talk in the Bible about shepherds and sheep and goats and the like.

• Then ... after they’d lived in the Promised Land ... and settled into communities and even cities ... they took up farming ... planting orchards and vineyards and fields.

And so there’s lots of talk in the Bible about grain and wine and olives.

• Fish ... on the other hand ... not so much.

Oh ... sure ... occasionally .... up by the Sea of Galilee ... the lake they call “Galilee” actually ... you find some Israelites who’d learned how to fish ... like Peter and James and John did ... but for the most part ... the Israelities wanted nothing to do with fish and with fishing ...

And they especially wanted nothing to do with fishing out in the ocean.

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You know how it is that the Inuit ... those Eskimo folk who live in the far northern reaches of Alaska ... have like 50 words for ‘snow’ ... and relatively fewer words for things related to ... say ... farming??

It’s a reminder that snow was and is a big part of Inuit life ... and farming not so much.

Similarly ... the Israelites had lots of words for God ... and lots of different ways of talking about God ... because God was a big part of their communal identity ...

And lots of words for different kinds of sacrifices ... because Temple worship was a big part of their communal identity ...

But they had none to many words for fish.

In fact ... the Israelites had only three words for fish!

• No ‘salmon' or ‘mackerel' or ‘trout' or ‘shark' or anything to differentiate between different types of fish ...

• Just ‘fish’ ... ‘pregnant fish’ ... and ‘dead fish’!

If you didn’t know better ... you’d think the ancient Israelites had learned the sum total of their pescatarian ... or is it ichthyological??? ... language from Doctor Seuss!

You know ... “One fish, Two fish, Red fish, Blue fish, Black fish, Blue fish, Old fish, New fish.”

Point being ... when the author of the Book of Jonah says ‘Fish’ ... we don’t really know anything about the type of fish is was that was the star of today’s Scripture lesson.

To the Israelite way of thinking:

• a great white shark was call ‘a FISH’ ...
• and a tuna was called ‘a FISH’ ...
• and a cod was called ‘a FISH’ ...
• and a whale and a dolphin and an orca were all ‘FISH’ too.

But that’s okay.

In fact ... that’s more than okay ... because it kind of makes a point.

This fish wasn’t famous because of what it WAS ... but rather because of what it DID.

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What did that big fish DO??

What did the text say?

• “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 ...

• “Then Jonah prayed this beautiful prayer to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish ... and

• “Then the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out onto the dry land.”

Now I don’t want to get too deep into the details about how this fish ... in its own weird way ... protected Jonah and sheltered Jonah and transported Jonah at God’s behest ...

But suffice it to say that this fish ... this apparently really BIG fish ... was appointed by God to do what???

To be an instrument of salvation.

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I kind of like that turn of phrase “An Instrument of Salvation” ....

It’s a reminder that that fish was NOT Jonah’s Savior ... no ... the text makes clear ... salvation was God’s job.

But that fish was an instrument of God’s salvation.

The fish wasn’t asked to do anything ‘contrary to type’ ...

After all ... to the ancient Israelites’ way of thinking ...

• swallowing things up was what big fish just do ... and
• swimming long distances was something big fish just do ... and presumedly ...
• vomiting things up that give you a tummy-ache is something big fish just do as well.

But ... nonetheless ... the fish did what it did ... what fish just do ... and in so doing ... became Jonah’s particular instrument of salvation.

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So ... the other night ... Bethany and I were looking for something to watch on the idiot box and came across something called ‘A Small Light’ on National Geographic ....

It’s a mini-series based on the life and labors of a woman named Miep Gies.

Turns out ... Miep ... as a young woman ... lived in Amsterdam ... and ... in 1933 ... she began working for Otto Frank ... a Jewish businessman who’d moved his family from Germany to the Netherlands to avoid Nazi persecution.

Soon enough ... Miep became an invaluable resource to Otto ... no only helping him with his business ... but also helping to resettle and resituate Mr. Frank’s family ... his wife Edith and his two daughters ... Margot and Anne.

Now some of you already know the rest of this story .... but the Franks’ hopes of finding refuge from the Nazis proved short-lived.

In May of 1940 ... Germany invaded and defeated Holland ... and quickly instituted a whole bunch of anti-Jewish policies ... including a ban on Jews owning businesses.

Then ... in the spring of 1942 ... Otto asked Miep if she would help take care of his family if they had to go into hiding ... to which she said “Of course.”

Then .. In the summer of 1942 .... Otto and his family were forced to go into hiding ... in an apartment they called ‘The Secret Annex’ in Otto’s office building.

Six people risked their lives to protect the Frank family and their secret ... one took care of bread and milk ... two others kept the business going ... and Miep ... for her part ... fetched vegetables and meat on a daily basis.

Anne noted as much in her diary ... writing ... “Miep is just like a pack mule, she fetches and carries so much. Almost every day she manages to get hold of some vegetables for us, brings everything in shopping bags on her bicycle.”

Until finally ... on the morning of Friday, August 4, 1944 ... a Nazi squadron discovered the Secret Annex and its inhabitants ... and hauled them all off to concentration camps in Germany ... where Anne and her sister Margot and her mother all died.

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Obviously ... the Anne Frank story didn’t turn out the way we might have hoped ...

But ... for two years ... Miep Gies and her compatriots were the very instruments of salvation for the Frank family and for four of their dear friends.

Likewise it was Miep who saved Anne Frank’s diaries from destruction and hide them away after the family was captured ...

And it was Miep who gave those diaries back to Otto Frank as the only token of his family upon his return after the war.

And it was Miep who eventually was honored for her heroism by the governments of the Netherlands and Israel and Germany and Austria and the United States ... for her being an instrument of salvation.

But I want you to ponder ... for just a minute ... how it was that Miep responded to all those accolades.

She said: “I don't like being called a hero because no one should ever think you have to be special to help others. Even an ordinary secretary or a housewife or a teenager can turn on a small light in a dark room."



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If you travel to any of the great cathedrals in Europe ... I suspect you’ll be able to find a stained glass window depicting the ‘big fish’ in the Jonah story.

• Some of those images depict that fish as downright ferocious.
• Others as something a bit more benign.
• Still others as something both sympathetic and kindly.
• Some as something large.
• Some as something downright huge.

But almost all of those artists depict the fish as something extraordinary.

But maybe the original point of the Book of Jonah is that this ‘big fish’ in Jonah isn’t that it is something extraordinary ... but rather something that is ORDINARY.

But that ... even in its ordinariness ... it did something extraordinary for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

And maybe the message of this fish is that you needn’t not ever think you have to be special to help others ....

For even an ordinary secretary or a housewife or a teenager ... or an oversized fish ... or even you or me ... can be an instrument of salvation to others ...

And turn on a small light in a dark room.

“Instruments of Salvation was a sermon preached by Pastor John Valentine in conjunction with our worship gathering on August 20, 2023.  It was the fourth installment in our summer sermon series on messages from biblical animals — this being a look at the fish in the Book of the Prophet Jonah.   To access a copy of this week’s worship bulletin, click here: Worship Order.20230820.fold