Sermon Epiphany 3, 2024
Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah. “Arise , go to Nineveh, that great city and tell them that they are bad, and they need to change and become good.”
Now prophets are people who come so close to God, and God comes so close to them, that they know what God is telling them to do. Then they go do it.
Jonah turned and went the other way. He found a ship going to Tarshish in Spain. It was as far from Nineveh as you could go.
Suddenly a great storm broke out.
The sailors were afraid, so each one prayed to his own god. They threw everything they were carrying into the ocean to make the ship light, so they could float.
Now, a prophet is someone who helps people discover what is best to do.
They went to look for Jonah. Do you know where he was? He was asleep in the bottom of the boat. The captain found him and commanded him to call on his God to save them.
All Jonah did was climb up onto the deck of the boat.
Now people were afraid. The decided to cast lots to see whom God was angry at. They wanted to throw that person overboard to get rid of him.
Now a prophet is someone who can speak for the One True God, but Jonah still did not speak. The sailors asked him who he was. He told them he worshiped God, the One who made the sea and the dry land. Then the sailors were afraid. They knew that he was trying to flee from God.
The sea grew even more troubled, so Jonah said, “Throw me in, and the storm will stop.” So, they threw him in . All was suddenly quiet. The sea was calm.
Now a prophet is someone who brings people close to God by what he or she says and does. Jonah said nothing; but when the sea grew calm the sailors all fell down and worshiped the true God.
Now a prophet is someone who is close to God, and a false prophet is very far from God. When Jonah was thrown into the water, he was neither close to nor far from God. He was sinking.
As he sank, a great fish swam up and swallowed him.
Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days and three nights. Jonah began to pray, and the fish began to feel very strange. It grew sicker and sicker.
Finally, it swam to the shore and vomited out Jonah onto the dry land.
Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time. “Arise, go to Nineveh, the that great city, and tell the people there that they are bad and that they need to change and become good.”
This time Jonah went to Nineveh. He cried out to they people of Nineveh that they were bad, and that God commanded them to be good. God said that they would all be destroyed if they did not.
Now a prophet is someone who is overjoyed when people who are bad become good.
The people of Nineveh listened to God’s call, and they turned and became good. All went about wearing sackcloth and ashes to show how sorry they were. Even the king and queen were sorry and became good. The creatures in the field were sorry too, and they also became good.
God did not destroy that great city.
This made Jonah angry. He wanted God to destroy the city. These people were not even the People of God! He went outside the city and sat on a hill and sulked. He wanted to get his way. God said, “Why are you angry?”
God caused a plant to grow and give Jonah shade as he sat on the hill in the sun. Then one night, God sent a worm to attack the plant. It withered away and died. When the sun rose, a sultry east wind came, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. He grew angry about the death of the plant.
“Why are you angry about the plant?” God asked. Jonah said, “I am angry – angry enough to die!’ He thought he still might get his way.
God said, “You pity the plant, but you did nothing for it. You did not cause it to grow. You did not care for it. Should I not pity Nineveh, that great city where there are more than 120,000 people, and all their cattle and sheep?
Jonah is sometimes known as the reluctant prophet. No kidding! This story would have been heard as hilariously funny by his early audience.
God calls Jonah to leave the northern kingdom of Israel and go to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, the archenemy of Israel. God tells Jonah to extend an opportunity for repentance and forgiveness to the people of Nineveh. The people of Israel considered the Assyrians terrorists. Sending Jonah into Ninevah to get the people to change their ways would be like Bernie Sanders going to a Trump rally and converting everyone into Socialists.
Jonah does not want the Assyrians to be forgiven!
Oh, but God is always, always ready, and willing to forgive us. That’s what Jonah didn’t get. That’s what we don’t get often when we want to see our enemies punished. Jonah was a crummy prophet, but he teaches us a great deal about God.
The story of Jonah compares the heart of the prophet against the heart of God. God’s heart proves itself wide and expansive and the prophet’s heart small and unforgiving.
So what do we learn from this lesson? God forgives and forgives. Even us. Even terrorists. God forgives.
God will find us at our times of need, even in the belly of a whale. God is with us. God is with us always. Amen.