Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Day 7: See the Signs

"When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, ‘This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation. The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!" 
-Luke 11:29-30, 32

When I was in high school, I had a friend ask me about when I became a Christian.  I couldn’t answer her.  She was looking for a story and I didn’t have one.  She went on to tell me about a moment she had when she was a kid when she was so overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit that she began weeping.  She felt God’s presence in her 7 or 8 year old self and from that point on had no doubts.  For her, this was the moment.  This was the sign from God that she was loved and she was His.

This got me thinking.  I grew up in the Episcopal Church.  I’m a “Cradle Episcopalian.”  I had never before been asked about the moment I became Christian.  As far as I was concerned, I had been a Christian since I was baptized as a baby.  I have been accepted and loved by God for longer than I remember.  It’s not that I doubted her story or found it unbelievable or unnecessary.  In fact, I had almost the opposite reaction.  I thought something was wrong with me.

I began to hear of people who would give testimony, who would tell the story of how they became Christian.  I was jealous.  As a teenager, I didn’t want one more thing that would make me stand out from others, especially other Christians.  Weren’t we all basically the same?  I began hoping and praying for God to send me a sign like he did to my friend.  I knew I didn’t NEED one, but I felt like it was something that was supposed to happen; that it was a normal part of being Christian.  I don’t know what I was looking for exactly, but imagined a “Bruce Almighty-like” need for something.  “Give me a signal!  Send me a sign!”


I have felt this same sort of need at other times in my life as well.  More recently, a little more than a year ago, I was wondering if the next, most faithful step for me was to leave the great life I had built for myself to serve in a different country.  Wouldn’t it have been nice to have a note that said “Yes!  Do it!” hit the ground in front of me?  In my experience, that’s not the way things work.

Luke 11:29 says “When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, ‘This generation is a wicked generation; it seeks for a sign, and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah.”  In verse 32, it continues to say “The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here!”

In case you need a refresher of the Jonah story because the last time you heard the story was in Sunday School 20 years ago or more (or even if you remember it completely,) here are the basics.  God told Jonah to go to Nineveh because the people there were misbehaving.  Jonah didn’t want to (and really who could blame him) so he decided to run away and hide from God.  Well, anyone who has read much of the Bible would have told him that this wasn’t going to work.  God got mad at him (understandably so) and caused a huge storm to come up around the boat on which he was fleeing.  The only way to save the boat and crew was for Jonah to be thrown over by a reluctant group of men, where he was swallowed up by a big fish (or a whale in some translations.)  He stayed there for 3 days and 3 nights before he decided to pray to God and ask for forgiveness.  It worked and God commanded the fish to spit him out.  God told Jonah again to go to Nineveh, which he did this time.  (It’s amazing what 3 days in the belly of a whale will do!)  As soon as Jonah started talking to the people, they believed in God and repented.

So what’s the difference between the generation that Jesus is speaking to in Luke and the people of Nineveh?  Why does he call those he’s speaking to wicked and insist that the people of Nineveh will condemn them at the judgment?  It all has to do with this thing referred to as “the sign of Jonah.”

The story of Jonah in a way mirrors the story of Jesus surrounding Easter, at least in plot line if not setting or scale.  Both were sent to do God’s bidding.  Both were reluctantly given up by men they were close to, though for Jonah this was more in proximity than any emotional attachment.  Both spent 3 days away from humanity; Jonah inside the big fish and Jesus in the tomb.  After the 3 days, both came back to share a message.  

So what’s the difference Jesus is speaking of?

The Ninevites were not seeking a sign.  The sign came to them.  They recognized what they saw and that is what caused them to change.

Not seeking, but instead seeing.

When we stop seeking a sign for a specific need, we open ourselves up to seeing the signs around us.  The signs we see are often more powerful than the ones we seek.  If I had spent too much time seeking the lightning bolt of a sign I prayed for as a teenager, I would have missed the signs of love and community I had at my church and with the mentors I found there.  Imagine how the movie would have been different if Bruce had seen the signs in front of him instead of seeking the one he hoped for.

As we enter the second full week of Lent, I challenge you to forget about what you seek.  Look instead for the signs you can see.

Heidi Galagan is 28 years old and from the Diocese of Wyoming. 
She is currently teaching at DCT Canon Andrea Mwaka Primary School, International in 
Dodoma, Tanzania where she enjoys teaching Standard 1 and Standard 4.

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