Last week, I was reading online about a controversial new start-up venture in Brooklyn, called “Bodega.”
Bodega is a vending machine, of sorts, filled with a little bit of everything you might suddenly run out of in your apartment–from Campbell’s Soup to salsa to toilet paper or tums.
You know–the kind of little things that if you actually from Brooklyn you might run out and grab from an actual bodega.
It made me remember the bodega in my neighborhood when I was growing up. It was called Dom’s.
There’s a lot I could say about Dom’s.
But what I am particularly remembering today was a little faded cardboard sign that Dom had on his cash register.
It said, “Hoy no se fia, manana si.”
Hoy no se fia, manana si.
I didn’t know Spanish then. In fact, I still have not gotten to that yet.
So for a long time, I did not know what that meant.
Until one day, I noticed that someone else had written on the sign with a fresh, blue marker.
And what they wrote was this: “In God we trust. All others pay cash.”
Our Scripture this morning is asking the question of what it is to trust in God.
You may not have recognized it right away, but the story comes from the Old Testament account of the prophet Jonah.
It was written likely sometime after 500 BC, but it seems to remember a time at least a century earlier, when the Assyrian Empire, in modern-day Iraq and Iran, was powerful and a very dangerous adversary to the nations of Israel and Judah.
Nineveh was the largest Assyrian city, located on the Tigris River, where the city of Mosul now sits.
And the prophet Jonah was profoundly concerned with the threat of the Assyrians, and felt called to warn the people of Jerusalem that if they did not follow God, the Assyrians might well become the instrument of God’s judgment.
This had happened before.
So you can imagine Jonah’s shock when in the midst of this campaign he hears a new message from God.
God has a mission for him.
God wants him to go, but not out into the streets of Jerusalem.
God wants Jonah to go to Nineveh. To convince them to repent. To save them from the full fury of God’s judgment.
It’s worth noting that Jonah’s best work as a prophet would turn out to be saving the people of Nineveh–which is to say, saving the sworn enemies of his own people.
Jonah sees that coming from the moment he hears God’s message.
The whole thing about the whale–you probably remember that Jonah’s story has a whale in it–the whole thing about the whale is about how Jonah sees God’s mercy coming for the people of Nineveh and tries running the other way.
But to no avail.
In the end, in part thanks to a whale, Jonah convinces the people of Nineveh to repent of their sins, which is something he never achieves with his home audience, back in Jerusalem.
So it’s a strange story, even as stories of Israel’s prophets go…and there are some strange stories when it comes to the prophets.
Jonah takes the whole idea of being a reluctant prophet to a whole new level.
If there’s a lesson to be learned that God is bigger than one people or nation, or that God’s mercy is overflowing and can touch lives even in the most unlikely places and circumstances, well, unfortunately, the prophet Jonah has no interest whatsoever in hearing about any of that.
God seems to have a bigger picture in mind, somehow–and usually prophet stories are about how one person feel called to proclaim that bigger picture to a skeptical audience that’s fallen out of tune with God.
Prophets push us to engage morally in ways we don’t find easy to do, but which prove right in the end.
But on this particular occasion, the prophet has no feel for God’s bigger picture.
And actually, this has a lot to teach us.
Because note this: it’s not that Jonah doesn’t believe in God.
God is very much alive in Jonah’s life.
Yet their relationship is a strange one.
When Moses came into the presence of God, he took off his shoes. He had to go up mountains.
He treats God’s marching orders like a message from his bossy older brother.
Bring your word to Nineveh, God? Really? You can’t make me.
Get me swallowed by a whale and spat out three days later on the shores of…Nineveh? Fine. I’ll say what you tell me. But even you can’t make me mean it.
Make me watch as the people of Nineveh repent and change their ways? Well, God, I hope you’re happy because now you’ve gone and ruined everything.
In the Scripture we’ve heard this morning, we see Jonah’s anger, even misery, at being the human instrument of God’s great love and mercy.
And so again: Jonah knows that God is utterly real, utterly compelling, utterly powerful, and utterly interested in what’s happening in the world.
But what I want to suggest is that, on a deeper level, Jonah doesn’t have that much faith in God.
Actually, the story of Jonah tells us something about faith.
Because faith isn’t just about knowing that there is a God above.
That part is important. It’s really important.
But it’s only a small part of it to think of God as actually “up there” somewhere.
Really, faith is more about trusting in God.
And maybe this is where we aren’t as different from Jonah as we might like to think.
Because how hard would it have been for Jonah to trust in God if God had said, “Jonah, I’m going to send you on a mission to destroy Nineveh–to speak the words that will rain down my justice upon them”?
I suspect Jonah would have liked that just fine and would have found that easy to trust in.
Trusting God when God tells us to rest in our own familiar assumptions is not a particularly hard sell.
But to hear the voice that calls us out to a distant, even hostile place…to go out in pursuit of a goodness that looks strange to us…to act in the name of hope and life…to do that demands genuine trust in the One who calls us.
It demands a profound confidence in the vantage point of a bigger view.
Not everyone gets there.
As that sign from my childhood cautioned us all: “In God we trust. All others pay cash.”
The story of Jonah cautions us that it doesn’t take much for us to become the kind of people who want even God to pay cash, just like everybody else.
Despite that, every day, there are people who hear a voice–the voice of God…who feel the wind of the Spirit moving across the face of the deep in our own hearts…who cringe at the unexpected record scratch of conscience.
Every day, there are people who hear the voice and decide to trust in it, even though they may not want to.
Even though it asks something very hard of them.
Let’s not forget that such trust is all around us, too.
Every person in recovery will tell you that they’re there because they’ve decided to trust that voice….
There are those young people who decide that someone else’s definition of who they are and what they might achieve no longer resonates with the voice they hear inside…and they decide to trust that voice….
There are those arguments we have with the people we love, and those times when we just don’t think that we are wrong…not this time…and yet we slowly recognize that we still feel sorry, that perhaps the issue is bigger than just one particular point or principle…or that, just maybe, something very different is what’s actually at stake…and hard as it is, we decide to trust that voice.
We know the voice.
We may not always like it. But we know it.
And the question we need to ask and to keep asking is what we will do when we hear it.
When that happens, we particularly need to remember: such a moment is the very kind of moment to which the prophet Jonah could not rise.
Yet it is precisely in such moments that Jesus calls us to come, take up our cross, and follow him.
We do not always get it right.
Part of life is learning from our capacity to misplace our trust, and even to feel that God truly wants something for us, only to realize later that we were mistaken, and that the voice we heard was not God’s voice.
Part of growing in spirit may well mean that our trust is deeper, but in some ways harder won.
But in a world that tells us, time and time again, “In God we trust. All others pay cash,” to be faithful is to model a very different kind of trust, and not just in God, but in all others, too.
It may lead us into places that we scarcely wish to go, at least at first.
But it ends, not in frustration and anger, as it did for Jonah, but a sense of joining in the very joy of a world made new at last…a world whose manana has finally arrived.