Its Not Just A Whale 1-21-18

In this sermon, I story tell the book of Jonah. He goes to great lengths to avoid bearing the message of God, but God goes to even greater lengths to make sure the message is received.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/its-not-just-a-whale-1-21-18

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and Peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

I know what you’re thinking…we haven’t heard the scripture yet. How can we start the sermon if we haven’t heard the lesson? Well today I’m doing things a little differently.  As you look in your bulletins at the various lessons, you see that we are featuring Jonah today.

Now think about Jonah for just a second…what do we know about him? What event do we instantly associate with him?  Probably a whale or a big fish right? But that’s only part of the story…and not only that, but the odd part about today’s featured lesson is that it jumps into this short story mid-way through…and it sorta makes zero sense without the rest of the story…so today we’re gonna hear the story…and we’ll get to the reading out of chapter 3 in a bit. (pause)

Now as with any story the best place to start is in the beginning…and so a bit of background on Jonah. We don’t know much about the guy…other than this short book in the midst of the Old Testament among several other readings known as the minor-prophets…all we know is a side note in the book of 2 Kings that tells us Jonah was active in the Northern Kingdom of Israel during the reign of a guy named Jereboam the Second…who ruled Israel from roughly the year 780-750 BC. Now if we look back in our history books, we can see that during this time, Israel’s neighbor to the North East was this rapidly expanding kingdom called Assyria…a kingdom which would continue to grow in power and territory…eventually becoming an all-out empire,  and in the year 722 BC would invade and conquer the northern kingdom and haul a lot of people off into exile. That hadn’t happened yet…but needless to say tensions between these two kingdoms were high…and the Assyrians, who’s capital was this big city named Nineveh by the way…they weren’t overly popular with the Israelites at the time that Jonah was busy as a prophet.

That’s the background as we move into the story…the actual Old Testament Book…of Jonah. (pause) Now I can’t help but think that Jonah is borderline comedy…there is some seriously crazy stuff that goes on here.

And we begin as the word of the Lord comes to Jonah…Go at once to Nineveh…remember that name…and cry out against it…for their wickedness is known to me and my wrath will come upon it. (pause) Jonah’s got his mission…but think about it…what’s gonna happen if he goes into the capital of this rival nation…and starts spouting off that his god is going to overthrow it…stands to reason that things aren’t gonna well for him…so rather than follow God’s calling, Jonah decides he’ll run away…he’ll hide from God…How do you suppose that’s gonna work out for him?

Regardless…Jonah hops a ship and sails off into the sunset…he’s so confident that he’s evaded God’s calling that he falls asleep in the cargo hold when God decides to get everyone’s attention by sending a wicked storm upon the ship.  Everyone’s freaking out…thinking “Yah we’re gonna die.” And all these random heathens start praying to their own gods for deliverance and then decide “hey, let’s throw some dice to see who’s responsible.” Low and behold, they figure out it’s the random Israelite sawing logs below deck and they wake him up…he sees the storm and instantly agrees. Yah guys, totally my fault…you’ll all die unless you toss me overboard. And they don’t want to but in the end they do…and instantly the seas go calm and they sail off leaving Jonah to sink down into the deep.

Now maybe Jonah’s being self-sacrificial here…wanting to save the lives of the gentile sailors…but I don’t think so…I think that Jonah knows that God’s trying to get his attention to send him back to Nineveh and Jonah figures “if drown out here in the middle of the ocean, I can’t go to Nineveh can I?” But…as we know…God’s got other plans.

And as Jonah sinks down into the deep, up comes this ginormous fish and promptly swallows him up. Now maybe the fish was just hungry and got more than he bargained for…or maybe this was simply God’s miraculous intervention…but suddenly Jonah finds himself in the belly of the fish. I can’t imagine that was pleasant…but it beats being dead…and God gives him 3 days to sit and think about things…I’d call this the ultimate time-out…and finally Jonah repents and cries out to the Lord…and sure enough…God whispers in the ear of the fish…and the fish promptly barfs Jonah out on the shore.

Now here’s where we actually catch up with the assigned reading. The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, ‘Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.’ 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. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

All it took was a divinely inspired storm and a 3 day vacation inside a fish stomach to finally get Jonah to listen up…well that and the Lord calling him again…but off he goes…into the belly of the beast…metaphorically speaking this time around…and he begins to proclaim the word of God AGAINST the city…no call to repentance…only the coming destruction…did you notice that…Jonah preaches a 1 sentence sermon. 40 days and the city will be overthrown.

AND…IT…WORKS. Everyone in the city…from the least to the greatest starts to repent…they call a fast…they sit in ashes…they put on sackcloth…they even include their livestock…and I don’t know about you but I’ve often wondered…just what does a repentant cow sound like?  (Pause…then forelorned) Moo…

Even the king of the city…who keep in mind is also the emperor of the entire Assyrian Empire by this point…even he gets in on the repentance act…and they all turn from their evil ways in the site of the Lord…now there’s a cool Hebrew word for this…this turning from the evil path we are on back to the good way or journey or path that God has intended…the word is T’SHOOVAH…which you just have to say enthusiastically…TSHOOVAH!!! I dunno, it sorta sounds like a party…and maybe it should…because scripture tells us that when one sinner repents there is a celebration in heaven…and it seems that this is the case this time around as well.

This evil nation…this kingdom of gentile pagans…they repent…and God sees it…and as we hear…When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he has said he would bring upon them…and he did not do it.

Good news right? But you know what…the story isn’t done yet. And Jonah, well he’s still hanging around…now you’d think that given the circumstances…given the message and the mission that God had laid upon him…Jonah would see this miracle of repentance and he would join in the TSHOOVAH party too right? (pause) But instead…Jonah get’s cranky…like “old-man-you kids get off my lawn” cranky…and he starts complaining at God.

I knew it…I said this from the beginning…I knew that you would relent…I knew that you are gracious and merciful…slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love…ready to relent from punishing. (pause) Side note…if you’re going to complain to God…I can’t help but think that highlighting God’s graciousness as your complaint is pretty solid…

But anyway…Jonah is so ticked off that God has shown mercy to the Ninevites that he wishes to be dead…I am not making this up…and God pushes back “Is it right for you to be angry?” And apparently Jonah still thinks so and he stomps out of the city and up on nearby hillside to pout and see what will ultimately happen.

He sits there for a few days sulking, while the city is NOT destroyed…cuz remember they all repented, even the cows…and while he’s there, God decides to give Jonah a little bit of an object lesson…and God makes a vine grow up over Jonah to give some shade for a day…and Jonah appreciates that vine…he thinks its pretty sweet….but then overnight God brings some sort of a worm that eats the base of the vine and it withers up and dies…and Jonah loses his shade…and he asks again that he might die…

And God says Is it right that you are angry about this vine…this vine that you did not plant…that you did not tend…and Jonah says yes…and God poses the final question. Should I not be concerned about this great city in which there are more than 120,000 people who do not know their right hand from their left…and also many animals….don’t forget the repentant cows. (pause)

This is how Jonah ends…right here…quite abruptly.  The city has been saved…God’s mercy has been shown on repentant sinners…but the one given the task to carry this message to them…well he’s mad and we don’t know what becomes of him.  Does he repent of his prejudice and judgment against those that he perceives to be his enemy…against those that he believes to be unworthy of God’s grace and mercy? We don’t know.

Its an odd story…but think about it. God’s mercy is offered to the enemies of his chosen people…and not only that but God flat out says that he cares about the lives of the individuals in that city…because to God all life is precious…not just this group or that group…not just this person or that person…but all people are precious…

And word of God’s love and mercy WILL be heard…it WILL be shared…even if God has to throw the messenger down a whale’s throat to ultimately get them moving in the right direction.

And the good news of this Word of God…this word of Mercy and Grace…is that if the Ninevites can receive it, then so can you. This is the gospel, that through Christ, God has named and claimed you…God has shown this same mercy upon you…and its already done.

But if we also think back to the gospel for today…we see that when Jesus encounters the disciples…and he invites them to come along behind…to follow me…to become followers of Christ…he doesn’t just tell them a good story and leave it at that…he invites them to get to work…and guess what…the same invitation applies to all of us.

And so as we consider the odd ball story of Jonah, I’ll leave you with something to think about.  Where is your Ninevah? Who are your Ninevites?  Who is God asking you….repeatedly…to carry a Word to? Where is God asking you to go?  Who is it, like Jonah, that you might judge as unworthy to hear this word or receive God’s mercy?

Who is Nineveh?  Amen

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