The Sign of Jonah

Sermon at the Licencing of Andrew Tyler as the Director of the S Marylebone Healing & Counselling Centre

Sickness not a punishment for sin
Jonah was sent to the great city of Nineveh to call it to repentance and to bring it healing from sin. We have it on the authority of the Lord himself that sickness is not a punishment for sin. Remember the man born blind, and the crowds asked him “who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” And Jesus replied that he was blind not because of his sin, nor the sin of his parents but in order that the glory of God might be revealed in him.
S Marylebone Parish Church
Called to reveal the glory of the Lord
All of us, in sickness and in health, are called to be those in whom of the glory of the Lord is revealed. For that glory to be revealed in Jonah, he had to be cured of his disinclination to do the will of God, of his fear, and as we know, also of his self-righteousness. We all know the story. Jonah tried to run away from God’s call to bring the message of repentance to Nineveh. But after the storm and the adventure of the whale he did go and he did preach. And he was the one person upset by the success of his preaching. The Lord decided not to destroy the city after all; but Jonah thought He should have done and went to sulk in the shade of a large plant.

The Preacher must learn his own lesson
The Lord struck the plant and killed it, so that Jonah moaned even more about being out in the hot sun. The Lord admonished him that he cared more about the plant which gave him its comfort, then he did about great city full of people. In other words, Jonah was still focused on himself. The preacher had to learn his own lesson, and at last come fully into the presence of God from whom he had been running the whole time.

Turn to the Lord who heals
The root of the word repentance in the new Testament, metanoia, means “to turn”, and just as Jonah when he ran away had to turn round and go where the Lord commanded, and just as the Ninevites had to turn to new ways and just as Jonah had to turn even more to God as he learned from the voice of his own preaching, so we in this Lenten season are called to turn to the Lord, the source of our healing.

Three Days in the belly of the whale
Healing, true healing, is not about body or mind, nor even particularly about spirit, but it is about our orientation to God. We may be sick at heart, disturbed in mind, frail in the flesh, weak in soul, but if we are turned towards God, who is the source of life and well-being, there is true healing.
Just as the Lord was three days in the tomb, so Jonah was three days in the belly of the whale, and the sign of Jonah is that we must die to the expectations hopes and aspirations of this world, as St Paul said, be crucified to these things, and rise again to a new life. The one who would be the Sign of Jonah is the one who has had so much stripped away, and who comes not full of strength and confidence, but as it were a man struggling up the beach covered in whale vomit.

And so, Father, as you come to join us and to bring the message which God has laid upon you, the news of the call to repentance through which lies profound health and healing, we look to you to be the sign of Jonah. You come with wide experience of chaplaincy, with a foundation in parochial ministry, and a deep knowledge of medicine. You are married to a doctor, and you bring the skills which are needed here for many different kinds of need of healing.

Fr Andrew Tyler

Not good advice, but good news
You are to bring the same message of repentance: turn to God The message which you bring, and the support which you offer is a gift from God, precious necessary and helpful. You do not bring good advice, which leaves a burden on the one receiving it, but you bring good news which lifts burdens and is a cause of joy. You are to be one who, like all those called to preach, like Jonah, learns from the message on your own lips and whose own repentance, metanoia, is helped by those to whom you bring the word.

Bring the presence of Jesus
And you are above all to bring through your sacramental priestly ministry the presence of Jesus Christ amongst us in bread and wine. As a Priest of the New Covenant you do not bring simply words and messages about the Lord, you bring the presence of the Lord himself.

The limits of medicine and the illimitable love of God
This, of course, is what makes our healing centre so different. Any place of human medicine is ultimately a place of failure, for all our human medicine must eventually falter in the face of the inevitable decline into mortality which is us the consequence of Adam’s sin. Of course we use all the tools of medical science, the God-given ability that we have to mitigate the entropy in this world, and we must rejoice in the gift of life and reject the embrace of death which the world proposes as an escape from the reality of suffering. That is a false way based not on the hope of the gospel but in despair. True healing must reject that way and steadfastly teach its error. For we do not despair at the ultimate failure of medicine because of the ultimate gift which we are given in Jesus Christ.
For in Jesus Christ death is undone, and a sure hope replaces despair even in the face of suffering. After three days He rose again; after three days in fish Jonah was spewed up on the beach. The sign of Jonah is a living man, a type of the life which is given us in Jesus Christ and which you, as a priest new covenant, minister to us.

The Sign of Jonah
You are the sign of Jonah. So preach to us, call us to repent, learn from your own preaching, and bring to us the gift of life and healing Christ.


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