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This Week's Sermon !

January 25 -- 2015 -

Jonah 3: 1-10
Psalm 62
Mark 1: 14-20

The Reluctant Prophet

It was the fall of 1985 and the Mount Allison Mounties had lost a football game to the St. Francis X-Men. There were a large number of Mount A graduates in the second and third year classes at Atlantic School of Theology where I was a student. One St F X grad in first year dared to gloat over the defeat of Mount Aís football team and implied that hers was a better university. That implication was the last straw! The Mount Allison grads vowed to get even, because our honour and our schoolís honour had been damaged. We knew that her class would be out of the residence for a several hourts-long class on Monday evening and we hatched a plan which went off without a hitch.

We took this female students room apart and transported as much of it as we could quickly and easily carry to the menís washroom on the floor. Then we laid out a toilet paper trail that led her from the back entrance closest to the classroom where she was, had been, up the three flights of stairs to ďnew roomĒ. Please know that, other than wasting some toothpaste and toiled paper, and a great deal of time, nothing was damaged. Mount A had still lost the game, but the Mount A grads felt better! Such is the nature of alumni loyalty when said alums are still in their 20s! Imagine now, a doctor telling someone that he or she has a serious and irreversible condition caused, by that patientís lifestyle. In a last ditch attempt to regain her health that patient decides to lose weight, exercise more, quit smoking, quit drinking and eat tons of broccoli. Six months later, tests prove that the condition has miraculously disappeared. The patient rejoices, but the doctor, instead of sharing her joy goes off the deep end because his patient deserved to be sick because of her lifestyle choices. I hope I never meet a doctor like that, but in a way, Jonah was that kind of prophet.

Preachers and prophets are supposed to be happy when the people listen and change their ways. Right? Well, Jonah wasnít! You see, he didnít like the people of Nineveh; hated them, in fact. It was more than alumni loyalty or professional honour.

Israel and Nineveh were sworn enemies with a long history of real conflict. There were good reasons for these feelings. Think of Canada and Germany in 1942 - in the midst of a war! Jonah hated these people so much that when God told him to preach destruction he actually wanted them to be destroyed. At first hearing you would think he would enjoy preaching that message, you would think he would be overjoyed to do so, BUT he also knew the nature of his God. He knew that if he preached the message and they took it seriously and repented just in case it might to some good that God would forgive them and not rain fire upon their city. He knew this. So he waned the people of Nineveh to perish in their ignorance.

Hereís the short version- Jonah catches the next ship going in the other direction and tries his best to get as far away as possible, as fast as possible. Then, God sends a fierce storm and the sailors find out what Jonah has done and in order to save their lives imperiled by his actions they toss him overboard at his request. He is swallowed by a big fish (it was never a whale) and three days later the fish spits him out on dry land and he goes and does what he should have done in the beginning. The people repent. God forgives. Jonah sulks and Goo cannot figure him out. Thatís the short version! The writer of the book of Jonah is a master story teller and his point is clear.

This story uses exaggeration and fanciful elements to make its point. How silly is it that a man could be rescued by a big fish; that would have to be some fish! I also need to be clear; the fish really has nothing to do with the message, but they did not have rescue helicopters and Coast Guard ships back then so that is how Jonah was rescued, He also needed time to think. Itís a story with a point; we have to take it at face value!

More about the exaggeration in the story. Jonah is like a teenager being asked to do a hated chore! Note how many days it took him to preach the message! NO ancient city was as big as it is described in the story - three days journey! Oh, how he hated the task.

This story was written to shock the people into realizing something very important about their God. The people hearing this story for the first time could relate to Jonah. They understood him when they heard that he went in the other direction! They had been there! They WERE there!

Martin NiemŲller, a German minister imprisoned by Hitler for eight years, once said, ďIt took me a long time to learn that God is not the enemy of my enemies; heís not even the enemy of his own enemies.Ē

The people of this day assumed that God was on their side, which meant that God was NOT on any one elseís side! Most certainly God hated the people of this enemy city as much as they did.

The story of Jonah challenges them with another truth; that God loves the people of the enemy city too!

Can God be on the side of those we donít like? Can God be above the taking of sides so that God is with all people - both the rich and the poor; both the wise and the foolish? The resounding answer in this passage is that God reserves the freedom to do what is right and to bless those God chooses to bless.

Perhaps we treat Godís love and favour like a Zero Sum Game. We treat Godís love like it was a package of EIGHT, and thatís eight, not twelve, white chocolate chip macadamia nut cookies. If I share my cookies with someone I will have fewer cookies for myself; its that simple. If they were just plain olí chocolate chip cookies and they came in packages of 12 I could afford to be much more generous but no, its like the special ones, I have to be careful, very careful; I cant afford to be generous.

The book of Jonah tells us that Godís math is different and God loving another does not lessen the love God has for someone else.

When we love someone, when God loves someone, it means that there is a desire for the good for that person. Attitude changes action; its that simple,

How would we look at the events reported on the news or the choices we make in politics if we knew we have been called to act on this love, this desire, for the good for all people, not just the people of this region of Nova Scotia, or Canada.

As a Canadian who cannot remember the age before medicare, for example, I cannot understand the objections to universal health care I hear on American news channels. I see it as a ďno brainerĒ.

The question for us as Christians, is how do we act in ways of love, in ways that benefit the whole of humanity, the whole of creation God loves? Benefiting one at the expense of other is unacceptable, period.

We as Canadians are a very blessed people. Are we blessed so that we can keep all of it for ourselves, or are we blessed in order that we can be a blessing to others?

Jonah was so right and so righteous he was WRONG. Donít run the other way. Preach and live the message. God wants the best for everyone.

END OF STORY

1995- 2015 The Rev. Beth W. Johnston.





For some good stuff go to:
journeywithjesus.net-a weekly webzine for the global church
journeywithjesus.net

The United Church has a great online bookstore and here is the link. If you live in Canada they will even send you a book display for your event and people who dont get to see that many books at once can have a ball!


Links to My Other Pages at this Site

  • Sermon Ideas 4U Sermon Archive Site!
  • My Main Page
  • The Kings United Pastoral Charge
  • Who is Beth Johnston
  • An Anniversary/Memorial Service Sermon
  • A Sermon for a "Covenanting Service"
  • Sermon on Teenage Suicide
  • Story Page (Called 'Q')
  • Various Links to Other Pages I Like
  • A Teaching Communion Service