25 January 2009
Bible Readings: See BibleGateway.com.
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Barbara Brown Taylor, in her book, Gospel Medicine, writes,
” In case you have not noticed, Christianity is a religion
in which the sinners have all the advantages.
They can step on your feet fifty times and you are supposed to keep smiling.
They can talk bad about you every time you leave the room
and it is your job to excuse them with no thought of getting even.
The burden is on you, because you have been forgiven yourself,
and God expects you to do unto others as God has done unto you.”
It’s an interesting perspective, isn’t it.
I wonder how it makes you feel.
Are we happy at the idea? Are we grumpy (Jonah style)
Maybe we might like to question the implicit “us and them” in the quote –
why are the “sinners” they and not us?
Jonah is one of the funniest, quirkiest stories in the scripture.
It is a great piece of satire, a great story, composed with wonderful humour
If it were posted on a website, there is no doubt that the intended comments
would includec “LOL” or ROFL or even ROFLcopter
And then the listeners, having recovered from their stitches
are meant to sit back and think WOW!
What’s the biggest part of the story
(at least theologically, as I guess the biggest thing in the story is the fish).
Is it the idea that God would be interested in the Ninevites.
This is God sending a message to the Nazi High Command,
to the Khymer Rouge in charge of the killing fields of Kampuchea
to the most vicious of the Taliban,
and those planning bombings of schools in Gaza
and the message being that no one is beyond God’s arms of grace.
This is the story that says everyone is included.
There was an Afrikaans woman back in the days of apartheid travelling to London
She got to her seat assignment put her right next to a coloured man
She looked at her seat assignment; she saw it was correct.
She asked her seatmate, “I’m sorry, are you in the right seat?”
He smiled and nodded yes.
She turned around to see if there were any other empty seats in the section
but she didn’t see any so she tugged on the sleeve of the flight attendant.
“Excuse me,” she said, “as you can see, I’m sitting next to a coloured man.”
“Yes, ma’am, I can see that.”
“Well,” she said, “this is simply unacceptable. Is there another available seat?”
The flight attendant looked at her strangely and said,
“I’m sorry, ma’am, it’s against our policy to move people unnecessarily.”
“You don’t understand,” said the wealthy woman, “this arrangement will not do.
I have funds in my purse to arrange an alternative.”
The flight attendant said, “You do?”
“Yes, I do. Would you please go up to first class and see if there is an available seat?
I simply cannot sit next to this person.”
The flight attendant shrugged her shoulders, walked up the aisle.
A few minutes later she returned.
She leaned over the European woman, tapped the coloured man, and said,
“I’m sorry, sir, I hate to do this.
I must make a seating change. If you follow me, we have a place for you in first class.”
Or is the big thing in the story that God keeps going with Jonah?
Jonah dodges, ducks weaves. He heads west rather than east.
But the story is also about God’s grace to Jonah.
Why grace? God could have got him thrown overboard and drowned
or abandoned as a useless and disinterested prophet.
But God keeps at him and through fish regurgitation, has him back and active.
And even when Jonah is the least committed preacher on record
God still stays with him.
God is still working with him by the end of the story,
and is seeking to nuture, nourish and forgive him too.
The story of Jonah is about God’s grace to Jonah as much as it is to the Ninevites.
Or is the big thing in the story about the very character of God’s self?
Not just the heart of compassion,
but the story in one tiny half sentence, changes the concept of God.
Immoveable? Mighty? Unchanging?
Don’t believe it.
God changes God’s mind. God repents. God turns.
In its satire, while animals are dressed in repentance clothes
responding to probably the shortest sermon in history (4 words!)
The writer of Jonah is hell bent on blowing apart worldviews, left right and centre.
So maybe the story invites us to consider who are our Ninevites –
individuals or entire groups –
people whom we believe must be away from the reach of God.
The ones whom we think need to be locked away as beyond possibility of rehabilitation
The ones whom we want absolutely and utterly NOTHING to do with.
The story of Jonah says they are in God’s heart too
Maybe the story invites us to consider our roles in God’s grace.
Have we done some running, hiding, ducking weaving.
Have we time we use, or distance, or theology or politics or whatever
to say that we were not really available for THAT, thanks all the same.
Because the story of Jonah says that God doesn’t hold that against us.
Just worth repeating that – God doesn’t hold that against us.
And we are always invited to keep working with God and learning more of God
Or maybe the story invites us to go right back to basics
and allow the image of a hard, fast and unchangeable God to bend, break and fall away
God changes. God is involved. God is responsive.
Maybe it is in that changeability, rather than in a supposed unchangeable nature
that we really see the true character of God.