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About the episode

Obedience – the four letter word of the bible. Sometimes we’ve got to do what God is inviting us to do out of simple obedience and offer that as worship! The bible gives us an example of disobedience in Jonah. He wanted to give God some advice!

In this episode, Melissa and Bishop Wright have a conversation about the story of Jonah and obedience to God. They discuss the notion that our lives of faith come with a cost, as symbolized by the cross, while also celebrating the redemptive embrace of God’s unending mercy. Listen in for the full conversation.

Before listening, read For Faith.

Transcript

Melissa Rau: 0:30

T Welcome to Four People with Bishop Rob Wright. I’m Melissa Rao and this is a conversation inspired by Four Faith, a weekly devotion sent out every Friday. You can find a link to this week’s devotion and a link to subscribe in the episode’s description. How’s it going, bishop?

Bishop Wright: 0:55

Yes, ma’am, good to be with you.

Melissa Rau: 0:58

You called this week’s devotion Direction based off of Jonah Chapter Three, versus one through five and 10.

Bishop Wright: 1:05

Yeah.

Melissa Rau: 1:06

And you know, it’s really about Jonah in the whale and I have a confession. Maybe I’ve, maybe I’ve admitted to this before. Jonah is my absolute least favorite prophet, because I call him least favorite least favorite, because I he’s such a whiny cry baby and yet. And yet, here’s the thing, right, like I think sometimes the things that make us the most uncomfortable are the things that really hit close to home.

Bishop Wright: 1:31

Yeah, man.

Melissa Rau: 1:32

Right.

Bishop Wright: 1:34

Yeah, Jonah is us.

Melissa Rau: 1:35

Jonah is us.

Bishop Wright: 1:37

Yeah, he is, he’s us.

Melissa Rau: 1:38

So what you got today?

Bishop Wright: 1:39

Well, look, if you know, this is a story that, from our Sunday school days, those of us who are raised in the church are raised in some sort of, you know, in the universe of the church. You know there’s a big old whale that that swallows up a guy and this guy ends up in the whale because he doesn’t want to do what God says. God gives him a direction and God gives him a message, and he would rather pass and he doesn’t want to give the message of redemption and repentance to people that he wants to see perish. So he puts himself in God’s seat and that’s how he ends up in the belly of the whale. Now, that’s the shortest possible version, right? And? And some people want to get into the literal notion of this and all that sort of stuff. I don’t know if I care so much about the literal notion of this. I love. What I love about this is that it’s a paradigm. It’s a beautiful paradigm, that that God loves us enough to give us directions for our own lives, and then God gives us also direction and a message to share with people, and and and we don’t get to decide. You know who the people will be, who are worthy of the message. Right, you know this. This message is God’s message, and when we say I will, with God’s help, when we say God, you are the author of all creation and you are the center of my life, then what we’re doing is putting ourselves under the Lordship of God. And so if we live under the Lordship of God, then we’ve been entrusted with something and and and we submit ourselves to that. We don’t like to talk about that. In modern Western Christianity, we think that God is basically our spiritual rabbit’s foot, or or or. God is someone that you know I’m somehow on par with. But you know, the essence of Scripture is that God is who is like God. You know, the Bible asks who is like God. I’m not, and so perhaps God knows better than we do. In the matters of marriage, in the matters of child rearing, in the matters of money, in the matters of what it means to be whole and healthy and to live in abundant life, perhaps God knows better. And so Jonah, like us, forgets that, and the forgetting of that doesn’t have punishment, necessarily, but it certainly has consequences. Well, I want to talk about that.

Melissa Rau: 4:16

I want to talk about the consequences because, you know, sometimes last week last week, we celebrated the life and the witness of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, and one of the big words in his I Have a Dream speech is dignity, and that’s also that also appears in our own baptismal promises. Yes, it does. And this last week on church you know, before recording this is when I renewed my baptismal promise during our recognition of the Feast of the Epiphany, and I was struck by that because of what you said earlier is worthiness, and I feel like Jonah he deemed Nineveh as unworthy of God’s message of hope and salvation. Yes, that’s right and we knew that, because we don’t treat people with dignity and the dignity and respect that they, I believe, is their birthright. And I say that because I don’t always believe it. Right, I know it, or maybe I believe it or I don’t know it. I don’t know, but it’s hard. But here’s the thing you talk about punishment or whatever. I think, if people had a choice, that they wouldn’t choose hell. And yet was that not what Jonah experienced in the belly of the whale?

Bishop Wright: 5:30

Right, that’s right.

Melissa Rau: 5:32

You know, like don’t we all just put ourselves in time out sometimes and choose to sit in our own wallowing and our I don’t know Bishop?

Bishop Wright: 5:43

Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, I like where you’re going. Look, I think we want God to join us in the grudges that we maintain. And so Jonah had a beef with the Ninevites and he was nurturing a grudge with them, and perhaps even for good reason. But I think we do a life with God a real disservice if we think that God is joining us in our grudges. Right, so God doesn’t give a flip about your grudge, right? God’s got a bigger plan, and that plan is the reconciliation of all people to God. Right, to God’s love and mercy and grace. And so what we learn in Jonah is a really profound lesson. That’s not the Sunday school tale at all. It’s a grown man, grown woman lesson. And that is we’ve got to grow up to the place where we want as much grace for others as we want for ourselves. And Jonah wanted more grace for himself than he wanted for other people, and God was trying to equally distribute grace. God was trying to give people an opportunity to repent and turn from their wicked ways and move back towards God, and Jonah was going to encumber God’s grace, and God can’t have that right. And so thanks be to God that we don’t end up in the belly of a whale when we frustrate grace. Thank God that we don’t, but we may end up in a small place and a dark place, something like the belly of a whale. So I think that it’s paradigmatically. This story is a gift to us, because we end up in stuck places in our own spiritual development, our own emotional growth, if we don’t broaden and deepen I mean, this is what we’re talking about here is the life of God? Is an upward stretch? Right, it’s an inward reach and it’s an outward push. It’s always those three movements. And so Jonah had that. He had an upward reach. He may have even had an inward stretch, but he refused God to do the outward push, and that was to extend God’s message, take God’s directions and walk in the way that God has invited him to walk and go to the people who are in most need of repentance. And he refused. And it takes God several paragraphs to get Jonah’s attention.

Melissa Rau: 8:12

Okay, so we’re going to be right back after a short break, but I have a burning question. Welcome back, Bishop. You know I’ve been thinking about Jonah and I’ve been thinking about the invitation that God gave Jonah to go and share God’s message of hope and salvation, and all that stuff. I don’t know that. It was just about a message, though, and I feel like I got to give some credit where credit is due. I feel like Jonah knew a little bit more and it wasn’t just about going to a people and sharing God’s message. I think Jonah intuited that in order to do that work, he’d have to get his hands dirty and he’d have to be in relationship with people. Yeah, he needed a mic.

Bishop Wright: 9:18

I like it. Yeah, sure, why not? I mean it wasn’t. I mean it is the message it is. To go among people is to be shoulder to shoulder with people, right, and so I think you’re right. I think Jonah was thinking about himself and that he didn’t want to dirty his hands, you know, and being in relationship with people that he didn’t want. It’s easier to live a distance, it’s easier to stonewall, but it has a cost. It has a cost for us, personally, right, because it takes a lot of energy to maintain grudges, a lot of energy, and it’s a corrosive energy, right. That ends up, you know, closing us in, walling us in.

Melissa Rau: 10:00

But I feel like Jonah knew of the Ninevites but didn’t actually know any Ninevite.

Bishop Wright: 10:05

It’s hard to say. I mean, you know we don’t get a sense of that detail from the text. What Dr King would say to you is is that I see you’re using your sanctified imagination in this story.

Melissa Rau: 10:17

Come on, let’s imagine. That right.

Bishop Wright: 10:19

I think it’s fine. I think it’s fine to do that.

Melissa Rau: 10:21

It’s brass tacks Like what are we to do about this? Like what is, what is that Bishop? What are we to do? How are we to learn and take the lesson and apply it and integrate it into our lives?

Bishop Wright: 10:35

Well, I think here’s here’s the last line of this meditation this week, right? So if we’re going to be in partnership with God, you know, sometimes that’s going to be easy. Some days that’s going to be easy, some things that God is going to ask us to do, they’re going to be easy. But on other days we’re going to have to just rely on simple obedience, and that is not what we want to talk about, certainly not these days. I mean, we think that that is somehow primitive notion, obedience. I like to call obedience the four letter word of the Bible, right, we don’t want to talk about that, but I mean, that is a thing you know. So sometimes we’ve got to do what God is inviting us to do out of simple obedience, right? And and and offer that as worship. So worship is simply the idea of God. You are worthy of everything. You are either even worthy of me putting my smallness aside and doing this work that you’ve invited me to do. Look, it costs us something, and it should cost us something every day, or, you know, every Sunday for some of us, we walk into a church and in the church, at the center of that church, is the symbol of this organization, right. So there’s truth in advertising. There’s a guy on on a cross who’s being lynched. That’s the centerpiece of this organization. So right off the bat, we’re letting people know that there’s a cost to this way of life, and when we give short shrift to this notion, we don’t do. We don’t do people any any any good or any benefit, and we certainly are rounding off the edges of who God is. The good news of that cross is is that there’s life through that cross. Right that what was meant for, you know, shame and torture. God has decided to make life out of it, and so that’s the good news of the thing. So if you and I can humble ourselves there’s another phrase we don’t like to use in the church we don’t like to humble ourselves and actually make God first then we can move with God through some things that we would rather not do, to see what God has for us on the other side of that. Look as well as Jonah, knowing Jonah’s self, perhaps what Jonah also is convicted about, which I love in this story, is Jonah knows God is merciful. He knows that about God, right, and so he just doesn’t. He wants to tell God where God should show God’s mercy. Right, he wants to. Hey, god, you know I can hear Jonah trying to give God advice. You know, hey God, ruler of all the world, you know, the author of everything that there ever was, and is and will be. I’ve got some advice for you, right.

Melissa Rau: 13:18

Jonah is saying to God God bless your heart, yeah.

Bishop Wright: 13:22

God bless your heart. Let me look. It seems like you’re a little bit off the rails here, brother. Let me. Let me tell you some stuff. You know I’ve got some ideas about who you should refuse mercy to, right. I mean, when you think about it it’s ludicrous, but we do it too.

Melissa Rau: 13:37

Yeah.

Bishop Wright: 13:38

We don’t want mercy for our spouses, our ex-spouses, if we’re divorced. We don’t want mercy for those we disagree with viscerally, politically. We don’t want mercy for people who have offended us, legitimately offended us. We don’t want mercy. We want mercy for ourselves and we want to say, hey, God, you be on my side. It’s like we’re fourth grade kids. You know, God, be my friend, but not their friend. And to that scripture says again and again and again grow up.

Melissa Rau: 14:10

Grow up. Grow up.

Bishop Wright: 14:11

So, Bishop.

Melissa Rau: 14:12

Let’s fast forward, though, to the end of the book, shall we, maybe? Maybe that’s kind of why I don’t love the book of Jonah, because it’s a tragedy. I think it’s. It’s well. No, it’s, it’s, it’s a victory. For some, it’s a tragedy for Jonah, because I’m not sure how it ends, but to me, the ending is very unfulfilled, unfulfilling.

Bishop Wright: 14:37

Say more.

Melissa Rau: 14:37

Jonah is still wallowing in his own self-pity, in his own misery, and that’s where I feel like that’s hell, Like that’s hell. That’s hell for Jonah. So I’m curious if you had the opportunity to rewrite the book or the ending of Jonah.

Bishop Wright: 14:55

Yeah.

Melissa Rau: 14:56

Would you and how?

Bishop Wright: 14:58

Well, I don’t know if I would. I don’t know if I would. I like those 66 books. I think I want to leave them. I think the ancients want us to know something. I think they want us to know that there is a hell in our mind, in our heart, when we can’t join God in God’s graciousness. I think they want us to know that, and not as punishment, again, but as a cautionary tale. I think they want us to know that there is life restricted and life constrained, and life small and life dark. If we don’t crawl out of these holes that we’ve made for ourselves, you know we don’t follow God out of these holes that perhaps we legitimately fell into, but now we can’t stay in. So God has always this arm, this strong arm, reaching down to us, inviting us upward, and in the upward, the upward invitation is always to grow in love. Here’s the other thing I like about the ending of Jonah, and that it says to us this is not about your ego, this is not. God is saying to Jonah the work is more important than your ego. And God is saying in this story I am God, the way I want to be God, and I will show mercy to whom I want to show mercy to, and that’s the program. So join me in my purposes and enjoy the splendor of that, enjoy the majesty and the benefit of all of that. Come join me in partnership, or here’s God being gracious to us, or go your way and see how it works out. I mean, you can’t have your cake and eat it too, right? I mean either we want to join God and God’s program and say, god, you’re first. You know what’s that old joke? If God is in the passenger seat, you’re in the wrong damn seat, right? It’s more like God, take the wheel right. So, god, here’s the wheel, here’s the keys. I just want to be a passenger in where you’re going. That’s what the thing is supposed to be. And so sometimes we get trapped in prisons of our own ego, in the belly of our own ego. We can’t join God and God’s partnership, gracious partnership, and we end up in our own hell. And look, let me just say I’m not being cute here. I understand that what we’re talking about is an evolution of faith, an evolution of obedience, an evolution of worship. But who would I be if I tried to sell you something that wasn’t accurate to scripture Right? So that is the scriptural formula Join God now, be obedient to God now and enjoy the benefit of that. It is countercognitive. It is true especially to our culture today which says, you know, puts an eye in front of everything iPhone, ipad, you know, it’s all about me first, right? Well, newsflash, it’s not. And we’re finding this out again and again and again. And Jonah dramatically finds out that it’s not about him, that he is invited to join God in God’s message, in direction, or he’s invited to go his own way, but God is going to have mercy on whom God wants to have mercy. And that is the full stop of the story.

Melissa Rau: 18:16

Well, I feel like the story of Jonah has now been redeemed. Thank you, Bishop, I’ll embrace that more. I’m grateful to you and the conversation and listeners. We’re grateful to you for listening and tuning in to For People. You can follow us on Instagram and Facebook at Bishop Rob Wright. Please subscribe. Leave a review. Don’t end up in the belly of a whale.

Bishop Wright: 18:36

That’s right. Don’t do it.

Melissa Rau: 18:37

And we’ll be back with you next week.