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Jonah 1:17-2:10

Conversion: What Happens in the Chrysalis

Up here we have our next painting – for the last two weeks it has been a caterpillar – today we have a painting of a chrysalis – or a cocoon.

We are in the middle of a series on conversion – and going through the stages of metamorphosis as an illustration of this conversion.

We began with Zacchaeus – he experienced a radical conversion when he met Jesus – 180 degree turn – as he left his old way of life and turned completely around – promised to give half of his possessions to the poor – repay 4x the amount he had stolen.

Then last week we read the story of Peter being reinstated by Jesus.  Peter’s conversion led to a new purpose in his life – to feed and care for God’s sheep.

Up to this point, the stories have been about individuals.  But today I want to connect conversion to the church.  So that will be our focus today – how do we as a church go through conversion.  How do we move through the different stages of Metamorphosis to become the community that God has called us to be?  To help answer this question, we will take a look atJonah.

First, a bit of context. 

The story takes place around 200 years after the reign of King David.  The kingdom of Israel has had many ups and downs – this story takes place when Israel was actually prospering.  Israel’s number one enemy, Assyria, was in the middle of a rebuild – they had lost a lot of their military power and had basically left Israel alone for some time now – 

Jonah, a prophet in Israel, is told by God to go the Assyria – to Nineveh, its capital city, and preach against them, because their wickedness has come up before the Lord.

Jonah wants nothing to do with this – Nineveh is a sworn enemy of Israel – why would he go there – 

So Jonah boards a ship and goes in exactly the opposite direction – he heads for Tarshish.

God sends a huge storm – the ship is in danger of going down – the sailors throw all of their cargo overboard – still the storm rages – they cast lots to find out who is responsible – lot falls on Jonah.

They want to know what Jonah had done to make his God so angry – he tells them about his disobedience – then tells them that in order to stop the storm, they have to throw him overboard. – they are afraid to do this but at last comply – as soon as Jonah hits the water, the raging sea grows calm.  The sailors greatly fear the Lord and make vows to him.

Jonah is in trouble – he most certainly will drown – except God sends a large fish - and the fish swallows Jonah – and Jonah is in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.  

Eventually the fish vomits Jonah up on the shore – God sends another word to Jonah – Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give to you.

This time Jonah obeys – goes to Nineveh – preaches a four word sermon (4 words in the original Hebrew) – 40 more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.

There is a nationwide repentance – beginning with the king they all put on sackcloth and ashes and cry out for mercy – God relents – does not destroy Nineveh – the nation is saved.

Jonah is exceedingly angry about this.  “See, I knew you were a gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love – a God who relents from sending calamity.  You might as well kill me right now, I’m so upset with you.” 

And God basically ends by asking Jonah a question:  Should I not have concern for this great city of Nineveh in which there are more than 120 000 people who can’t tell their right hand from their left – and also many animals?

In other words –God cares for all of creation – including the many many people who don’t even know their right hand from their left – God’s intention was to have his nation – Israel – be a light to all nations – this is not just a story about Jonah – this is a parable for all of Israel – a story that reminds Israel of why they were God’s chosen people in the first place – to communicate God’s grace to the nations around them.

As we hear the story today, we need to get beyond Israel – to the church – 

Because the church is also Jonah every time the church forgets her main purpose – to preach the gospel to a world that is bound for destruction.  

So this is a message very much for us today.

My focus today is right in the middle of this story.  Jonah 1:17-2:10. The time Jonah spent in the belly of the fish.  We will call this Jonah’s Chrysalis moment.

Read Jonah 1:17-2:10

Jonah chapter 2 is all about Jonah in the Chrysalis.  The belly of the fish is like a large cocoon.  As Jonah is in there – for three days and three nights, he goes through a transformation.  He moves from disobedience to obedience.  

When Jonah enters the fish, he is near death. He has just gone through a terrible storm.  He’s been thrown into the sea – without the fish, he was dead man.

The whole experience brings Jonah to his knees.  

While in the fish, he prays to the Lord. He quotes Scripture.  He affirms God’s control of all creation.  He realizes how fragile his own life was. He understands that this fish-event was God – from start to finish – “But you Lord my God – brought my life up from the pit – when my life was ebbing away I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.”

It is in the chrysalis that Jonah reaffirms his love for God – it is in the belly of the fish that Jonah renews his vow to obedience - it is in this hidden time that Jonah finally comes to the conclusion: Salvation comes from the Lord.

Although none of us has been swallowed by a huge fish, I do think we can relate to this story of Jonah.  We all have gone through difficult times during which we have been brought to our knees – we know what it is to cry out to God in distress.  We know what it is to so far beyond the end of our ropes that we aren’t sure we can ever survive.

And I think most of us know what it is to be in that Chrysalis of seclusion.  Dark.  Isolated. Alone. Afraid.

We don’t want to be there – but it is so important to go through this stage.  Because it is in the Chrysalis that we finally have the opportunity to learn of the depth of God’s grace for us.

For some reason, we can only learn that the hard way.  Like Jonah. That’s what it takes to bring us to genuine prayer.  That’s what it takes to bring us to break open the Scriptures and voraciously read God’s Word.  It takes time in the Chrysalis to come to the place where we are finally ready to acknowledge that God is the one in charge – and that God not only cares for us – he cares for every living creature on earth.

The chrysalis.  Moving from being caterpillars to beautiful butterflies.

What stage are you in?  That’s a bit of a personal question – one that you might not be able to immediately answer – but where are you at in your Christian walk?   

The egg?  Still waiting to be born – still searching for God?  

The caterpillar?  Plodding along on your faith journey – 

The Chrysalis?  In the process of transformation.  Silent – wrapped up – change is happening but it’s all inside – 

Or a butterfly? Fully developed – moving from flower to flower drinking the nectar and moving the pollen of God’s grace everywhere you go – everywhere you land.

I’m actually borrowing from Gailyn Van Rheenen here – Van Rheenen was a missionary in East Africa for 14 years and is the author of the book Mission:  Biblical Foundations and Contemporary Strategies.  

In his book, he uses the metaphor of metamorphosis – but he does not apply it to the individual Christian – he uses it to talk about the church.  He makes the point that the church needs to be in a processes of metamorphosis.  She needs to move from being a consuming caterpillar to a pollen-carrying butterfly.

I like that, because I want us to move from seeing conversion as simply an individual event to one that happens in community.  We are church together, and we as church must also be in process of conversion and metamorphosis. 

So Van Rheenen says that most churches can be placed in one of three categories.

Caterpillar churches – Chrysalis churches-  and butterfly churches. 

First, Caterpillar churches – Like a caterpillar, these churches are by nature consumers.  Caterpillars consume large amounts of leaves and fruit to grow - they eat and eat and eat, and as they grow they shed various shells to move from larva to pupa.

So it is with Caterpillar churches.  

They are self-absorbed and self-concerned – 

they consume most of their resources for their own personal growth and development.  

Their primary question revolves around meeting the needs of their members and the searchers in their community.  

They affirm the need for local evangelism and foreign missions, but their failure to understand the mission of God has resulted in ministry without rationale.  Evangelism and mission are merely duties to be performed – an obligation to be discharged.  

Members of these churches claim to be Christians but have yet to die to self.

Next we have chrysalis churches.  

Chrysalis churches are in a state of transition, much like a caterpillar in a cocoon.  

The caterpillar reaches this stage by attaching itself to some solid object and covering itself with a cocoon-like shell to protect itself as it undergoes this transformation.  

It stops eating – it becomes almost completely inactive.  It appears that nothing is going on, but inside a great metamorphosis is happening.

That is what happens with churches in the Chrysalis stage.  

The church undergoes a type of conversion on its way to becoming more Christ-like.  

They are questioning their purpose for existing and desiring to become more like God.  

They are undergoing a metamorphosis from self-centred existence to spiritual vitality.  

Their major questions no longer focus on personal felt-needs but on what God desires them to become.  

They realize their weakness – that they are jars of clay – and whatever they do is a demonstration of God’s all-surpassing power.  

They are learning how to pray, help each other in an increasingly non-Christian world, and teach searchers the gospel.

And finally we have butterfly churches. 

These emerge after a time of spiritual reflection to view the world from God’s perspective.  

As it is with butterflies, they not only draw nectar but also spread pollen.  As God’s people acknowledging human weakness, they draw nectar from God through active reading of Scripture, fervent prayer and meditation and from loving fellowship with other Christians.  

Because of these spiritual resources, the body becomes broadcasters of God’s pollen.  

They know that the world is lost without Jesus Christ, and have prepared themselves to carry the saving message of the cross both locally and globally.  

They understand and prioritize the purposes of God in personal life and ministry.  

This is a challenge to the Church of Jesus Christ.  

We can look back in history and notice entire eras when the church was ineffective.  

Every time this happened, it was because the church lost her way.  

She became embroiled in power and politics. She focused on herself and her own felt needs.  She forgot her call to preach the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ and became more interested in only addressing social concerns – or she only focused on preaching the gospel while forgetting to care for her neighbour.  After each of these downs, a period of revival was needed.  A fresh outpouring of the HS.  A Reformation. The Church needed to undergo metamorphosis.

And so do we.  

As a congregation, we need metamorphosis. We need to spend time in the chrysalis to move from being self-absorbed caterpillars to beautiful pollen carrying butterflies.  

We can look at some of the things going on around here and be encouraged by the positive, beautiful ways that this is happening, but we also need to be honest with ourselves and with God about some of the necessary areas of growth.  

We would do well to spend some time in the chrysalis to discern where we need to focus and to be reminded of God’s mission for Faith Community Church.

And we need look no further than this prayer of Jonah to discern what needs to happen in this stage.

Verse 1:  in my distress I called out to the Lord!  

We need to feel the distress, and respond in prayer.  The abject spiritual poverty of this world.  The desperate need of salvation.  The lostness.  Helplessness. Cries for help.  If we can’t feel the desperation, we certainly cannot respond to it.  We need to feel the distress.  That is what will bring urgency to our prayers.  

Verse 3 and verse 6:  You hurled me into the depths – but you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit.  

Jonah acknowledges the control that God has on everything.  He realizes it is God who threw him into the depths - and it was God who raised him up.  

God is the one in control.  When we finally learn this, we will also learn from God how to respond to the needs around us.  Only when we realize that God is the one calling the shots will we come to him to learn what needs to be the mission of the church.  

Verse 9:  I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you.  What I have vowed, I will make good.  I will say, “Salvation belongs to the Lord.”  

Jonah experiences God’s grace.  Out of gratitude, he promises obedience to God.  He knows what it is to be near death – and he knows what it is to be raised from that death. In his thankfulness he is ready to go where God sends.

The connection to the church is an easy one.  We too are a group of people who have experienced God’s grace.  We too are a group of people who have been rescued.  We have every reason to be thankful.  And ready to go where God sends.  Ready to be obedient to what God calls us.  Ready to respond with enthusiasm and joy.  

I think we lose sight of that sometimes. We get tired or lose our focus. We start thinking that the church is here just to serve our needs.  A place to go on Sunday to get that pick-me-up.  We lose some of our zip – our gratitude.  We behave a bit like caterpillars – only feeding ourselves and forgetting that church is actually about much more.

We need to spend time in the Chrysalis. Learning obedience.  Being reminded that God is in charge. Doing the 180 degree turn of repentance, but also recovering a sense of gratitude and purpose for what God has done for us. In prayer.  Reading Scripture.  Discovering once again God’s mission in the world and his call on us as church to be obedient to that mission.

The question for us to ask ourselves this morning is:  What stage are we in? As a church, are we eggs – caterpillars – in the chrysalis – or butterflies?

To me it feels like we have been in transition of late.  Trying to discover who we are as church – part of it is just remembering who we are - but part of it does involve change and renewal and reformation and revival. 

I can look at lots of different programs and events that point to a genuine desire to connect with the community and spread the good news that God so loved the world that he sent his only son to die on the cross for the forgiveness of sins.  

I can point to bible studies that dare to go deeper – that really explore God’s grace in our lives.  

But I am concerned by some recent examples that seem to point to caterpillar tendencies.  Maybe a bit of a lack of shared responsibility.  Low budget numbers.  Difficulty finding people to serve on council.  Lots of blanks on service team sheets.  Are we losing our sense of direction?

I think we need to be reminded that Faith Community Church is here to worship God – and that worship includes working together to respond to the needs around us and in us.  

So as we move through the stages of conversion, we will do well to spend time in the Chyrsalis.   In prayer.  In God’s Word.  In silence.  In Repentance. Ready to emerge as the butterflies that God calls us to be – drinking deeply of the nectar of God’s grace – and spreading his pollen from plant to plant in his Kingdom.  

Let’s pray: