Waves of Mercy

Scripture Focus: Jonah 1.4-6
4 Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. 5 All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.
But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. 6 The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.”

Matthew 8.24-26
24 Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”
26 He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.

Reflection: Waves of Mercy
By Erin Newton

Jonah is the story of the “scandal of God’s mercy” (William Brown). As a prophet during the reign of Jeroboam II, Jonah was sent to Nineveh to preach repentance. The Assyrian kingdom was notorious for their warfare and ruthless tactics. Ancient depictions from statues and reliefs show actions that would be considered war crimes today. It is no wonder Jonah wished for their judgment rather than their repentance.

On his path to avoid bringing peace to his enemy, Jonah finds himself aboard a ship tossed about by the chaotic sea. Turbulent waters are referenced on a number of occasions to highlight the presence of unrestrained chaos, threatening uncertainty, and the frailty of humanity. God let loose the waves around Jonah’s boat and the people were terrified. Jonah is fast asleep, oblivious to the threats and pleas of the crew around him. When he is woken up, they beg him to join in praying to any deity who will save them from their peril.

The mercy of God is shown in the calming of the storm once Jonah is thrown into the sea. The prophet, a unique chosen person by God, should have been the blessed recipient of God’s grace. Instead, he is swallowed by a fish entering into days of darkness (perhaps even death). The sailors, on the other hand, experience the immediate relief of chaos.

Another man was found sleeping in a boat during a violent storm at sea. When Jesus’ disciples were filled with terror at the possibility of their boat capsizing and drowning at sea, they made similar pleas as we see in Jonah 1. With a word, the waves are restrained and the waters are stilled. Jesus is not thrown overboard but would soon enter into days of darkness and death. This “sign of Jonah” would bring salvation to the enemies of God.

While the book of Jonah highlights the reluctance of a prophet to bring good news to a people he considered unworthy, the larger message is the scope of God’s mercy. It is a story about how we all wish to see vengeance and justice in our time. Yet, if we read the story with eyes focused only on humanity, we miss the far more important truth about God. He loves those we find repulsive. Those we label “unfit” for mercy are the exact people he calms the sea to save.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
The Lord is near to those who call upon him, to all who call upon him faithfully. — Psalm 145.19

Today’s Readings
Jonah 1 (Listen – 2:29)
John 13 (Listen – 5:06)

Read more about The Sign of Jonah and The Cross
Jonah’s emotional path is like a photo negative of Christ’s.

Read more about Prayer for Older Brothers
God, your mercy is a mystery to me.
I see the sins of others and I am scandalized.
How could such a one be accepted?

The Sword Versus The Cross

Scripture Focus: Genesis 8.11
11 When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth.

Matthew 8.11-12
11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Reflection: The Sword Versus The Cross
By John Tillman

I am writing this devotional after the horror of watching the storming of the United States Capitol building during a joint session of Congress to certify the 2020 presidential election results. At this moment, lawmakers have returned to work, but much is uncertain, both for the politicians involved, the future of the nation, and for Christianity.

Some of the violent invaders waved the Confederate battle flag and some carried flags proclaiming “Jesus Saves.” Clearly, their true belief is that violence, rather than Jesus, saves. Unfortunately, rather than save, the violence cost four people their lives in the confrontation with police.

We don’t do “hot takes” at The Park Forum. Besides, by Friday, when this post will run, who knows what might have happened or been revealed… But we find comfort in today’s scriptures. Regardless of the events of any day or week or year, it is to the scriptures that we turn.

We find that violence will be cleansed from the earth. In saving Noah and his family, God was saving us. In eliminating the violent line of Cain, God was justly punishing horrendous evil and violence. Those who cling to violence are choosing to line up and follow in Cain’s footsteps.

It is true that “Jesus Saves.” But there will be those who refuse to be saved by Jesus. They might wave a “Jesus” flag, but they want to be saved by other, less demanding things. Many want to be saved by the sword. But those who live by the sword will die by it. (Matthew 26.52) We, however, who choose to die by the cross are made alive by it. (Galatians 2.20; 5.24; 6.14)

We enter the feast of the Kingdom with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (Matthew 8.11) Though these men’s names are revered as patriarchs, it should comfort us to know that they are each spectacular sinners as well.

All who come via the cross, come through Noah’s flood as well and are cleansed from violence and all other sin. When we hold out our hand to the creator, upon it will light the dove of the Holy Spirit, with an olive twig of peace. 

Some have been like brash, foolish Peter, swinging away with a sword of vengeance—we must put it away. We have been sifted, tricked, by Satan. The only way back is to repent and take up the cross instead of the sword.

May we reaffirm our commitment to living as God’s people of peace.
May we reject the call of joining in violence.
May our words reflect that.
May our actions reflect that.
Amen.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me out of all my terror. — Psalm 34.4

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 8 (Listen – 3:06) 
Matthew 8 (Listen – 4:09)

This Weekend’s Readings
Genesis 9 (Listen – 3:50) Matthew 9 (Listen – 4:56)
Genesis 10 (Listen – 3:29) Matthew 10 (Listen – 5:07)

Read more about Of Pride and The Sword
God does not rejoice in the death of any person, much less any nation, but he rejoices to see justice done to oppressors and the proud humbled.

Read more about Hearing the Groans of the Prisoners
Physical salvation is always top of mind for the persecuted and God’s wrath only sounds harsh to those who have rarely suffered.

Cultivation Requires Planning

Matthew 8.1
When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him.

Reflection: Cultivation Requires Planning
By John Tillman

“As the park is to the city, so the Word is to life.”

These words have communicated the vision of The Park Forum since the very beginning of our ministry, drawing inspiration from Central Park in New York City. The park’s natural-seeming environment is an engineering marvel of the 19th century, and nearly every bucolic hill, meadow, treeline, and body of water are the result of artistic, and purposeful design.

Frederick Law Olmsted, and Calvert Vaux’s winning concept prevailed over 32 other submissions. The design represented a microcosm of New York State, with the southern section showcasing more formal features, evoking the city and its suburbs, and the northern parts reflecting the more rural upstate regions.

The park’s website describes in detail the enormous amount of labor that went into achieving those plans, describing it as one of New York’s largest public works projects:

“After blasting out rocky ridges with more gunpowder than was later fired at the Battle of Gettysburg, workers moved nearly 3 million cubic yards of soil and planted more than 270,000 trees and shrubs.”

No park or garden is “natural.” Even the garden of Eden was planted by the Lord after the creation of the plants and animals. God, desiring to walk with humanity in relationship, knelt in the earth and planted a garden. We, in our pursuit of a deepening walk of faith, need to follow his example of supernatural cultivation.

Our faith depends on God. But for a mustard seed faith to grow, it must be cultivated. For a fig tree to bear fruit, it must be cared for. For a branch that is connected to the vine to be “even more fruitful” it must be pruned. What you harvest in your spiritual life, depends not just on what you sow, but how you care for it.

Cultivation may yield a harvest of beautiful sights, such as trees, fields, and flowers. It may yield a harvest of nutritious food, such as grains, vegetables, or fruit. In either case, it begins with planning before planting.

Do you have a plan to cultivate your spiritual growth?

The Park Forum is a tool that can help you, and those you share it with, follow a plan to plant and cultivate God’s Word in the midst of daily life. Invite someone to walk through God’s Word with you, experiencing spiritual rhythms that will bring a harvest of faith.

Prayer: The Greeting
Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty, God reveals himself in glory. — Psalm 50:2

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 8 (Listen – 3:06)
Matthew 8 (Listen – 4:09)

Additional Reading
Read More about Light for the Next Step
Walking daily in this Word, meditating on it, breathing it in and out, making it a part of our thoughts and our prayers, charges an inner light of the Holy Spirit that we can trust to give us the next step.

Read More about Meditation in Spiritual Rhythm :: Throwback Thursday
Begin with reading or hearing. Go on with meditation; end in prayer…Reading without meditation is unfruitful; meditation without reading is hurtful; to meditate and to read without prayer upon both, is without blessing.

How far will you travel in God’s Word this year?
On January 1st we restarted our two year Bible reading plan in Genesis and the Gospel of Matthew. Join us on the journey. We read the Old Testament over two years and the New Testament and Psalms each year.

Read with us at a sustainable pace. Subscribe and invite friends to join you using this link.

Where will a journey through the Bible take your faith in the coming year? Jesus calls each of us, saying, “Follow me.”