A couple of weeks ago in worship we pondered where Tarshish, to which Jonah attempted to flee from God’s call, was for each of us. I suggested that at one time for my bicycle, Ruth Ann, and I, it was a lake north of Minneapolis in Minnesota. And just as that trip reminded me what it was like to be lost, be found, and high-tail it home, perhaps it’s true for each of us in different ways.
Then last week we considered widows from Zerephath and Nain, out-of-the-way and off-the-beaten-path places to which God sent presence and care through Elijah and Jesus to widows, who, by all accounts, really didn’t mean much in the historical and social context in which they lived. Yet there was the presence of God, the power of a prophet and a redeemer, and there was saving grace to those labeled “unimportant”.
Topeka, Kansas, capital city, site of our state government and the highs and lows of what it is to be a citizen of the world in this place and this time. It was also the site of the Great Plains Annual Conference last week – a gathering of United Methodists from Kansas and Nebraska following on the heels of the quadrennial General Conference that sets the course, the infrastructure, and in this instance, reflects the deep angst and division that exists in our chapter of history for our denomination.
Tarshish, Nineveh, Zerephath, Nain, and Topeka. Perhaps the question for all of these – Jonah in the first two, Elijah and the widow and Jesus and the widow in the 2nd two, and Great Plains clergy and lay folk in Topeka for Annual Conference in the last – perhaps the question for all is whether the folks involved were running away from or running toward something of faith in each place. And that probably depends on whom you ask. Jonah’s response to fulfilling God’s call is a small temper tantrum as God refuses to despise the people Jonah despises. Elijah and the widow, though she’s not part of the “chosen” are fed; and Jesus, though he becomes ritually unclean in the touching of the dead, and the widow celebrate new life, and . . . Great Plains United Methodists lived what it is to be in roundtable discussions around controversial issues, what it is to be in floor debate around a “re-encouragement” to decision-makers to find a different way than trial for a clergy colleague, and are appointed and sent forth another year to serve.
This call to serve happens in the midst of the deep realities of joy and pain, whole-heartedness and heartache, and loving and living with right-headed decisions and wrong-headed decisions at levels where sometimes people seem less important than who wins and who loses and on whose side you stand. And a phone alerts a new email and the news that a member is diagnosed with an acute form of cancer and a reminder that the first question is not about winners and losers and on whose side you stand – the first question is how God loves God’s beloved children in the deep and sacred moments of life and death and life beyond death and how it is we walk beside all of God’s children in all of these moments. That’s it. How it is we walk with love and respect beside ALL of God’s beloved children in all of life’s moments.
We don’t get to know the “rest of the story” for Jonah, or the widows of Zerephath and Nain, or so far, even of this denomination called United Methodist. Maybe God invites us to write the rest of the story together. Are we running away from or toward God’s call to walk with all God’s beloved children? Is it about winning and losing and on whose side we stand? Is it about seeing – even with the eyes of Christ – seeing one another as beloved, as brave, as enough? God says the choice is ours . . .