Title: “The Jonah in Us”
Preacher: Rev. Phill Tague is the Senior Pastor of The Ransom Church, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Here are a few things that stood out from Tague’s sermon we think every preacher can learn from:
Artistic Archaeology—“Jonah’s name means ‘Peaceful son of truth,’ which works well until you have to deliver a message that’s not all that peaceful.” Tague offers language studies, shows maps, does detailed interpretive work, illuminates cultural history, all for the purpose of “digging” into the text. Sometimes these moments in sermons can feel frivolous–as if a child wants to impress you with the quality of their homework–but each of Tague’s elements here carry the freight of the sermon’s purpose, as they are artistically weaved into tapestries of meaning and application that serve the congregation.
Humanizing the Bible—“We all have a little Jonah in us.If you only believe God will only ever ask you to do things that fit within your life, when he calls you to do something you don’t want to do, you’ll pull a Jonah—you’ll run away! You’ll say, ’That couldn’t be God; at least not the way I understand him.” Because we are so far removed from the biblical context, we often flatten biblical characters into caricatures. We come into this story knowing Jonah is an archetype of disobedience, but not knowing how his fear of Assyria—and even his possible family history of abuse at their hands—would lead him to begrudge God’s grace toward the Ninevites. By exposing us to some of the forces behind Jonah’s behavior, Tague leaves the listener with a better-rounded view of Jonah as a person, and greater understanding of the obstacles of obedience in their own lives.
Effective use of humor—“To finish off their victims, the Assyrians would make them listen to country music; no, I’m kidding, even Assyrians have limits on cruelty.” Tague both shares his personal preferences here, and lightens an otherwise morbid description of Assyrian cruelty. This enabled a good transition toward a deeper exploration of Jonah’s motives, while not leaving the congregation too deeply in the depressing details to keep listening.
Great questions—“What does God have to allow to get your attention?” “What has God asked you to do that you still haven’t done?” These questions conclude the sermon, as a reminder that the response to God’s revelation can be started within the church building, but must continue into everyday life. Tague’s ability to craft short, memorable questions serves his congregation by helping them know how to translate this message into conversations they’ll need to have with their mentors, friends, and small groups.
Rev. Ethan Linder is the Pastor of Hospitality, Collegians, and Young Adults at College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana, and the Contributing Editor at The Wesleyan Church’s Education and Clergy Development.