First Baptist Church Laurens
June 2, 2019
A little over a week ago, I was with a group of high school students on the verge of college. While we were together, the students were asked a question. “What are you looking forward to most about college?” As you can imagine, they had all sorts of answers. They were excited about new friends. They looked forward to learning new things. They were eager to embrace college life.
One of the most popular answers, however, which was offered in a variety of ways centered on one word – escape. “I can’t wait to leave home”. “I am looking forward to getting away from my mom and dad”. “I want to leave my small town and go to the big city”.
In some ways, all of these students were excited about one of the truly great aspects of college and life after High School. They were right – graduation and the transition to college, the military or a first job is often at least in part about leaving home, experiencing a new environment, being around a whole different set of people and the chance to experience many aspects of being an adult for the first time.
But on the other hand, the idea that we can really escape where we come from or who we come from or what are lives are to be about is a little naive to say the least.
In one of his books, the famous college professor and Christian speaker Tony Campolo tells a wonderful story about a phone call he got from a good friend one day. Tony lived and taught in Philadelphia and the friend who phoned him lived in Georgia. This old friend was calling to share with Tony that some dear people in his church had moved not only to Philadelphia but also to the area of the city where Tony lived. He wondered if Tony would stop by and introduce himself, meet them and invite them to the church that the Campolos were a part of in the city. Tony was glad to do it and made space one day later that week to stop by their new home. When he arrived, rather than being greeted warmly or invited in, his presence at the door and their demeanor once he explained his connection to their family was one of shock rather than hospitality. “Dear Lord,” the father of the house said. “Is there no escape? How did you find us!?!”
This story I think lands closer to the truth of how life really works. We can move to a new place, surround ourselves with new people and begin new endeavors, but, the idea of really escaping from who are, where we come from and from God’s calling on our lives really isn’t possible.
This lesson, students, is one of the big lessons of the little book of Jonah in the Old Testament.
One of the things that Jonah reminds us of is this – the places we come from, the people we come from and the God who has ownership of our lives are always with us no matter how hard we might try to get away from them. Further, what Jonah learns is that this is a good thing, not a bad thing.
From the start, we learn three things about Jonah in this book. First, he is a follower of God and from a Jewish family. Second, God has something specific he wants Jonah to do in that Jonah is asked to go to Ninevah and share God’s message with the people there. Third, we learn that what Jonah really wants is to run away. The Bible says he tried to go to Tarshish which was like saying that Jonah tried to run to Timbuktu, the Ends of the Earth or the Middle of Nowhere. In other words, Jonah tried to get as far away as he could. He tried to escape.
In fact a large portion of the Jonah story is wrapped up in this attempted escape. Yet, Jonah continually bumps up against the reality that he cannot get away – from who he is, from God or from God’s calling on his life.
And, students, neither can you. By and large, in your families, through your teachers over the years, in this church and in key relationships in your life, you have been taught who you are and who God wants to be in your life. College is not a place to try to get away from this. College is a place to live into this.
Don’t try to escape it. For one it isn’t possible. Who you have been raised to be and who God wants you to be can never be escaped no matter how hard you try. You may try to do all of the wrong things and to make all of the wrong decisions or you may try to resist it but those voices will still be there in your life.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you won’t continue to learn, define who you are or continue to discover your true passions, priorities, and hopes for life. But, it is to say, you will continue to have ongoing calling on you, just as did Jonah to be who you have been raised by your family and created by God to be.
At the same time, it’s not only that it isn’t possible to escape these things but it is also that it isn’t advisable. After all, your best life will not be found in running away but rather in living into these truths for your life.
This is what Jonah learned. Jonah still struggled with God’s calling until the very end. But, he did find, that he could make an amazing difference if he just dived into the foundations of his life rather than fighting against them. After all, when he finally gets around to sharing God’s message with the people of Ninevah as God has asked, amazingly he discovered that the Ninevites listened.
The writer Gordon McDonald tells a story of being invited to his High School track coach’s home for dinner one night. McDonald was 15 years old at the time and he had been running track for a few years at the time. After the meal, the coach took out a notebook that had Gordon’s name on it. Based on the foundation that had been laid, the coach showed Gordon what he projected that Gordon could accomplish by the time he graduated if he simply gave in completely to his abilities. McDonald said it was an amazing, clear sense of direction for his life. His coach was saying, “here is what you have been trained to become, now will you continue the work to live it out and accomplish what you are capable of doing and being?”
Students, your families, your teachers, our church, the positives influences in your life have been laying a foundation that has brought you to this very point. Now is the time not to go away and escape from it. Instead, with God’s help and led by the Holy Spirit, now is the time to go away to live further into who your family, your church and your God will continue to whisper to you that you can be. Amen.