Jonah, Jonah, Jonah. You try so hard to be right but you’re focused in all the wrong places and all the wrong things. You want what you want but you’d complain with your mouth full if God gave you a sandwich.
Okay, something to keep in mind this morning as we talk about Jonah. You hear this a lot, at least you hear it from me a lot. We are saved by grace through faith. The reason I say it and teach it a lot is because I’ve run into too many groups of people who have been around Lutheran stuff all their life and weren’t sure how to articulate this idea and even more troubling, weren’t sure God’s grace and forgiveness applied to them. Being saved by grace through our faith is the cornerstone of Lutheran theology, the cornerstone of how Martin Luther viewed our relationship with God.
It may be the cornerstone of what we believe but it’s a challenge for many of us. We hear, and actually like, the idea that we’re saved by grace through our faith. But even so, we also like to earn what we get. We do good things so therefore we deserve to receive good things. We teach our kids to do stuff by giving them rewards for meeting our expectations. This continues through school into the adult world where we exist in the corporate milieu looking for praises and raises. Good things beget good things.
Therefore, it only makes sense that we want to obey the rules so that we can get the good stuff. Like getting into heaven because we’re afraid of hell. We want our works to be righteous so that God loves us and flings open the gates of heaven when we arrive. The alternative is going to hell and nobody really looks forward to that.
So what’s all this got to do with Jonah? Well, Jonah is the perfect example of what we look and sound like when we get try to ignore God and when we let our emotions guide our thoughts and actions. I mean, think about what Jonah is doing for a second. He starts off on a seriously wrong foot. 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.” This would seem pretty straightforward. God wants Jonah to speak out in the city of Nineveh against wickendess 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. This isn’t just a small side trip to the next county. This is a seriously long and dangerous voyage. To get out of doing what God wants Jonah to do.
All he had to do was make the quick jump up to Nineveh but OH NO, Jonah heads to Tarshish. A long ways away. Just to get out of dealing with God and doing what God asks. Jonah doesn’t want to go to the city of Nineveh and speak out the wickedness of the city. Not because he is worried about his reception in Nineveh, a worthy concern given how most people react to being called out on their wickedeness, but because Nineveh is an enemy and he doesn’t want to do anything to save them!
His hard hearted refusal to follow God’s lead in saving a people bent on self destruction works out really well for him. Jonah, like most of us oftentimes, wants to sit in judgment on an enemy, on a people he hates. So he runs away. Then he gets swallowed up by a fish. Then he gets hacked up by the fish on the beach. Then he finally does what God wants.
It would have been so much easier to do what God wants from the beginning. Jonah finally does but then is angry about the outcome. He goes to Nineveh and does what God has been asking from the beginning of the story. And guess what? Nineveh listens and repents. Jonah should have been joyous about Nineveh repenting and being saved but his response? 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.
God treated Nineveh with grace rather than punishment. And Jonah is angry about it. Nice one Jonah though you hit a little too close to home with your attitude.
There’s a couple of things that are too close to home not to mention. It has been an election season like none other for most of us. We’ve seen too much disagreement and vitriol from various factions, warring and spreading untruths about one another. The eighth commandment and speaking well about one another has been trashed. All because we want to be righteous instead of gracious. I’ve seen soapboxes built higher and higher as so called prophets scream louder and louder. All because we want to be Jonah instead of who God calls us to be.
I’ll be honest and say I’m not looking forward to this Tuesday, November 8, 2016. But know this much. Whether we like Tuesday or not, Wednesday is coming and we’ll still all be children of God, loved by God and forgiven by God. Jonah ran away from this truth but God still won out. On Wednesday, November 9, be part of the healing not part of continuing the division that is tearing apart friendships and families. Pray for the candidates. All of the candidates. Even the ones you don’t like. Perhaps especially the ones you don’t like.
The other thing, and related to but far more important than our election, is to remember the faith of those who have gone before us, entering the church Triumphant. When you are pondering the deep questions of life, give some thought to the hope that those who have died this past year had in their faith, however imperfect their faith may have seemed at times. Give some thought to the promise of resurrection that we have as we are joined with Christ’s death and resurrection in our baptism.
In spite of all that seems hard and appears scary, remember the one who has claimed you, calls you, and stands with you, now and forever. Let it be well with your soul. Not because of what you have done but because of what God has done, is doing, and continues to do in your life. Let it be well with your soul.