Jonah 1:1-17, 3:1-10 (4:1-11) New Revised Standard Version
1 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” 3 But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.
4 But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and such a mighty storm came upon the sea that the ship threatened to break up. 5 Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried to his god. They threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten it for them. Jonah, meanwhile, had gone down into the hold of the ship and had lain down, and was fast asleep. 6 The captain came and said to him, “What are you doing sound asleep? Get up, call on your god! Perhaps the god will spare us a thought so that we do not perish.”
7 The sailors said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, so that we may know on whose account this calamity has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah.
3 The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, 2 “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” 3 So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. 4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.
6 When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7 Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. 8 Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. 9 Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.”
10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
4 But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. 3 And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4 And the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” 5 Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.
6 The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. 7 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”
9 But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” 10 Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”
First of all, here is a link to a really, really, really good sermon on this text: https://melissabanesevier.wordpress.com/2018/01/15/nineveh-that-hole-place/ The author is Melissa Bane Sevier; she wrote this sermon in 2018.
I suggest you read it before you read mine.
We each have a little bit of Jonah in us. We all can think of a time when we resisted doing what was necessary, what was right or kind or moral. As imperfect humans, we are easily tempted to do what is easiest or what appeals to our selfish nature or what makes us accepted by our friends and family.
I was known to be a contrary child. If I was told to do one thing, I naturally did the other. Truth be told, I can’t remember any specific incidents where I was contrary, but I do know that my mother wasn’t the only one who applied that label to me.
That’s part of being a child, though, isn’t it? Discovering the power of “No!” Once toddlers learn the power of that word, they find numerous ways to wield that power. Put away your toys. No! Take your nap. No! Eat your potatoes. No! Hug your grandma. No! Share with your sister. No!
Which Biblical character is better known than Jonah for saying “No!”? Fortunately for toddlers, the consequences do not include being swallowed by a giant fish. (How many baths would that kid need before they smelled normal again?) We know that this is a parable, that Jonah was not literally swallowed by a fish, but something, something tremendous, happened that made him change his mind.
Let us review.
God told Jonah to go to Nineveh to warn the people of the city to repent.
Jonah refused because, in Jonah’s opinion, Nineveh did not deserve God’s grace.
Jonah ran away.
Jonah was forced to rethink his position.
Jonah followed orders, went to undeserving Nineveh and preached.
Contrary to Jonah’s expectations, the people of Nineveh repented.
Nineveh was saved.
Have you ever wanted someone to fail? Didn’t we all want someone to fail when we voted for someone to succeed? Have we ever wanted a sports team to fail? Every game, every match. Have we ever wanted someone to fail on the job or in a relationship? Hard to believe, isn’t it? And yet….
Nineveh is in Assyria. Assyria is the enemy; Assyria has crushed Israel. If Assyria were a candidate, it’s the person you’d never, ever vote for. You don’t want Nineveh/Biden/Trump to win. You don’t want to give Nineveh/Biden/Trump a chance to have any thing good happen to them. You don’t want to give Nineveh/Biden/Trump credit for anything good. You can’t imagine anything good about Nineveh/Biden/Trump. There is no hope for Nineveh/Biden/Trump to change their evil ways. Nineveh/Biden/Trump deserve no mercy.
And yet God had mercy on Nineveh and God will have mercy on Donald Trump and Joe Biden and all the people who voted for them.
We all have our Ninevehs. We all know people or issues or places we can’t abide. The very mention of the person or issue or place provokes rancor in our hearts. So? So, we all need to repent.
We like to throw around the semantical Christian flag of “Love your neighbor” as if it were the easiest thing in the world to love everybody. But it’s hard to love your neighbor when you are afraid of your neighbor, when you see your neighbor as misinformed, as bullheaded, as clueless, as poisoned.
Jesus also said, “Repent.”
From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17)
I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. (Luke 5:32)
Jesus even used Jonah and Nineveh as an example!
The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. (Matthew 12:41)
This election is different. After most elections, haven’t we all settled down and pretty much ignored our elected officials? This election is different.
I want to share with you what I wrote to a friend last night. I had finished watching the speeches, the fireworks, the commentary on television. My heart was troubled, so I wrote:
My friends are celebrating, excited. Me, not so much. There is so much to not celebrate. My friends and family who supported Trump et al certainly are not celebrating. They are stunned, they are grieving. I cannot celebrate in front of them. My heart grieves for them, just as it would have grieved for my Biden-supporting friends if he had lost. I wonder if my Trump friends would have grieved for me or if they would have gloated and thrown Trump’s victory in my face. Never have the reactions to a presidential election been more divided, more polarized, more exaggerated.
So, the only result of this election is sustained division and deep grief. And to my mind this celebration is superficial, in-your-face anti-Trump as much as it is pro-Biden.
Maybe in a week, a month, a year, we’ll learn what we truly have to celebrate. Right now, it seems inappropriate. Right now, the flag wavers are celebrating their own status: being connected to the person with the most votes. I hope in the months to come we have more important things to celebrate, like rights restored, the environment protected, racism and pandemic addressed in ways that build up rather than tear down.
One fear: will the Biden term be like the Weimar Republic—an attempt to repair a nation that failed in the wake of economic and nationalistic odds?
So, while while half of us are celebrating out of a sense of relief as much as victory, how will our Trumpist brothers and sisters recalculate their lives, their emotions, their relationships? How will they adjust to a sea change that goes against what they have been celebrating for the last four years?
I hope we realize that this is not about conservative vs. liberal, Republican vs. Democrat. This is about fear vs. fear. We are divided not by what we believe or support, but by what we fear. I fear for the refugee, for the impoverished, for the powerless; others fear the loss of privilege, the loss of ownership, the loss of independence, the loss of pride.
Perhaps our newly elected Republicans and Democrats will work toward reconciliation; on the other hand, they may seek to strengthen their own positions by playing to the division that helped to elect them. May our prayers for fairness be heard and implemented.
I know you that you expect me to “keep politics out of the pulpit.” Politics is people, how people make decisions, how people decide who thinks like they do, how people choose the people who will elevate their wishes, who will demand what is most prudent for the general population.
Politics is people and Jesus cares only about people. Jesus cares about how and where and why people live. Jesus cares about the well-being of people. Jesus is not some ghostly inspiration that floats in and out. Jesus was incarnated in the form of a human being so that he could experience what we feel, what we fight, what we need. Jesus was physical. Jesus ate food; and he understood the importance of food. The feeding of the five thousand is not just a nice miracle. It shows how clearly Jesus understood the importance of a full belly. Nobody is going to listen if they’re thinking about food. Jesus cared about health—how many people did he heal? Jesus knows we are not at our best when we hurt, when we burn, when we itch.
Jesus wants us to be at our best. Why? He loves us. Additionally, Jesus gave us the task of building his Kingdom. It’s hard to work up to your potential when you are hungry, when you are hurting, when a nagging headache or heartache fills your mind and slows you down.
God vs. Jonah. God wanted to save the people of Nineveh. Jonah wanted the people of Nineveh to be destroyed. Jonah said, No! God said, Yes! After some soul-searching, Jonah repented. Nineveh repented. Nineveh was saved.
I challenge you to name your Nineveh and start walking. Your Nineveh is not the people who tick you off, not the people who appall you, not the people who oppose you. Your Nineveh is in your heart. God knows your heart, we like to say. So, God knows what you must do. Repent. Walk toward your Nineveh, repent of your own impulse to separate yourself from those who think differently, act differently from you. Walk toward your own Nineveh and open your heart to the mercy of God. Amen.