“Go to Nineveh!”
Prepared by Carl Schaefer
For Church of the Cross
January 24, 2010
(Slide #2) Epiphany in review
(Slide #3) Proposition: Jonah was obsessed!
Reaction: That description doesn’t seem to fit our initial understanding of the biblical story of Jonah. We recall his story and most readily say he was running away from God’s call: “Go to Nineveh!” How is running away an obsession – or more positively stated a passion?
What is an obsession – a compulsive behavior – being driven in a certain direction?
(Slide #4) Take two examples out a book entitled, “The banana Sculpture, the Purple lady, and the all night Swimmer.
1. A Tennessee woman whose passion was purple – dressed in purple, lived in purple house, drove a purple car
2. A person who wanted to eat at each of the McDonalds restaurants across the country,
3. A family who visited each of the major zoos over the course of a summer.
4. A baker at a State Fair who already won 3 ribbons at a State Fair and enters at each Fair across the country
5. One whose aim is to swim across each of the Great Lakes
6. A sports nut that goes to all the Buckeye games, in and out of town, wears face paint, and adorns in buckeyes --- and dresses the kids up in uniforms for all games including a cheerleading outfit for the granddaughter.
Jonah’s passion would drive him in direct disobedience with God and in turn would endanger the entire crew on the ship he boarded to escape, and would redirect his life, at least in the near term, towards three days in a fish.
(Slide #5) What might we call Jonah’s passion? Patriotism?
Jonah seems to know that Nineveh would be the center of power that would crush the Northern Kingdom – the enemy of Israel – that would threaten the very gates of Jerusalem.
But God said, “Go at once – not tomorrow, not next week. You will recall God’s timing interjected into Jonah’s time (our time). If God says “now” – that means something!
(Slide #6) What was God’s Passion? – Grace! God’s mission? – extend His Grace to his creation – and Jonah was the key to God’s offering His mercy, even to the people of Nineveh. He has mercy for all that He created.
Not only does the Jonah story serve as a lesson - that it is dangerous to ignore God’s call, but it also fool hearty to think that we can restrain or limit God’s grace – limit God’s passion. That our knowledge (remember last week’s message) is superior to God’s love.
Both the Jonah story and the parable of the workers in the Vineyard who came to work in the eleventh hour and were paid the same wages as those who were hired first to work the vineyard reminds us that we have no right or place to limit the potential for God’s reforming love and grace. That story brings us to that often puzzling but frequently quoted verse: “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
You’ve been there – reading about how first home buyers are getting a piece of the “stimulus pie” and you just missed eligibility because you bought your home at the top of the market late in 2007, and to make matters worse, your mortgage is now upside down – what, I could have bought the house for 20K less today that what I paid for it and got the stimulus discount as well.
Or, you have another modern day example, the last minute repentance of a hardened criminal facing capital punishment on death row for murdering a child. Your head rejoices, but your heart that has been faithful your entire life, hears the words of Jesus in Luke 23: 43, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” Your heart still struggles with last minute grace?
(Slide #7) The story ends with Jonah still struggling with God’s mercy. He had to be impressed with a city of a thousand simultaneously repenting, but then there was the bush that sprang up and provided shade that a worm eats and the vine withers. And if he isn’t angry enough over the God’s mercy toward Nineveh, now he gets a sunburn on his head and he despairs all the more. So God asks, “Do you have a right to be any about the vine?” You have to sympathize with Jonah, but a little shocked when he answers God and says, “Yes, I am angry enough to die!”
But think of what God had done on just a smaller scale, One voice, one that calls for repentance, and one Sunday the entire City of Lexington repents and finds every soul and the churches transformed – 10,000 people. Wow! We would rejoice? But then, that miracle of repentance and mercy would have had to be our passion for us to appreciate. It was a miracle for Jonah, but his passion was conflicted with the politics of the day.
At least Jonah got the message that life, as well as the standard of God’s love, was not all about him, but about God’s plan for salvation to all who would hear God’s call for repentance. I have believe that the confession of Nineveh was an epiphany for Jonah – a revelation of God’s mercy and grace, and I believe it would have been had it not been for his people who were suffering – the Jews – who were waiting for One to come to give them mercy – freedom from bondage – their passion to be restored as the Chosen of nations. An epiphany in the face of something absurd - God wanting to extend his grace to the non-Jewish world – to the center of the axis of evil in Jonah’s time. Nineveh, after all, and its King, was the most powerful political and military force in the known world in Jonah’s time.
(Slide #8) The message is fresh for us today - We live a world that is not passionate about peace, but like Jonah, is preoccupied with the same impression of the enemy that Jonah had. Our impressions of those who threaten us – whatever the nation or entity, they are not deserving of God’s grace and mercy.
The stakes for us are just as high as they were for Jonah. The importance of Jesus’ coming now makes visible how serious God is about us helping Him, like Jonah, remove the obstacles to God’s grace – including our propensity to hold on to revenge – withhold forgiveness. God wanted grace to be Jonah’s passion, not revenge, and God is just as passionate to have grace be our agenda, our obsession – our passion.
(Slide #9) Epiphany then is all about God’s plan of Grace – the coming of the Prince of Peace, and Jesus’ baptism when God said, “this is my Son…” the most perfect revelation of God’s grace – pointing to His plan …salvation and peace.
In conclusion, are we willing to go to Nineveh? Or are we looking for the next plane out of town - the equivalent of Jonah’s slow boat to -----We must know that God is still in charge, and He has sent His Son to make it clear that His Grace will win – whether we are willing to go to Nineveh or not. Are we --- willing? Are we willing to become as passionate about love and forgiveness as God is passionate to love us with His grace?