Jonah – Look Up and Realize Where You Are
I have never owned sheep. I have been around cows a lot, and I am told they are a lot smarter than sheep. Sheep are quite dumb, and they are prone to get separated from the herd and getting lost.
A sheep will keep its head down, nibbling and wandering, nibbling, and roaming, never looking up, moving from good grass to good grass, until eventually it looks up and discovers it’s all alone. It has walked entirely away from all the others and hasn’t a clue where it is.
Unless the sheep owner goes looking for the unprotected, disillusioned sheep, and provides it with the protection it needs, it might not survive.
The Bible uses the image of a lost sheep to describe people who have gone their way, separating themselves from God’s standards and plan.
Lost sheep are compared to people who have kept their minds and hearts focused on things they think are right, but instead have led them far away from God. In the process, they become disillusioned.
Sometimes it’s easier to look back and see some of our mistakes, times where we’ve been lost, disillusioned, where we kept our heads down too long, where we couldn’t see the forest for the trees, and ended up in a place that years later we can say, “That was the wrong place to be. We wandered from our values and God.” However, at the time, it might have seemed right.
After the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, fear gripped our country.
Anyone of Japanese descent was declared to be a danger to the military. President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized the deportation and incarceration of more than 110,000 Japanese who lived on the Pacific coast; 62% were American citizens. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internment_of_Japanese_Americans
Years later, it was determined that our country had its head down on this issue. We wandered from our values of freedom and justice for all.
A commission that studied the issue in the 1980’s determined that the government’s actions were based on “racial prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internment_of_Japanese_Americans
When the movie “Selma” played in theaters across the country during the 50th anniversary of the March from Montgomery to Selma, we were reminded of the days our nation kept its head down on the issues of equal rights for African Americans.
We failed to look up and see people of color as equals. They were not allowed to vote and were not afforded the same rights and privileges as whites in this country.
Fear and uncertainty plagued the hearts of whites, afraid of change, afraid to lose power, afraid to lose control, but also unable to see people of color through the eyes of God. That’s still true for many today.
Some whites were marching with Martin Luther King, Jr., on that famous march on March 31, 1965.
Most were young college students, idealists, and dreamers. They had a broader view of God’s kingdom and a more comprehensive view of the future, which meant they had to walk to Montgomery with their heads up.
They were not lost, although most other whites thought they were. They had joined their black brothers and sisters in the wilderness, at least symbolically, on their walk to a more promising future.
Today, Muslim Americans, Hispanics, and in some places, Jews are once again the targets of racial bias. Of course, painful reminders of our history of mistreatment of African Americans have surfaced in cities across our country, resulting in protests, some peaceful, some not, amid calls for justice.
Our views of people groups are formed by our families, the media, social media, and fear.
With the radicalization of Islam in many Middle Eastern countries, which makes the West and anything Western a target of hatred and destruction, we remain on edge. The images of 9/11/ and a long list of terrorist targets since then do not go away.
We are jaded by every breach of trust that occurs when one of our soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan is shot by a traitor dressed in his country’s service uniform.
When my son was in Afghanistan training Afghan soldiers, I listened to his own stories of caution as he did his job faithfully, but cautiously.
So, our fears make it easier for us to lump all Muslims or other races into a single group, thinking they all believe the same thing and that they are all bad and should not be loved by any of us.
In the 1950’s movie, “Broken Arrow,” Jimmy Stewart plays the role of Tom Jeffords, who helps open up the west by learning the Apaches’ ways and language. In one of the early scenes, he comes across a 14-year-old Apache boy who is near death.
At first, the Apache boy tries to kill Tom, but Tom wrestles the knife away from him and shows him compassion. He eventually wins his trust and helps him until his health returns.
When the boy is strong enough, he tells Tom that he must return to his people because he can hear his mother crying for him.
Tom says to himself, “It was the first time I ever thought of an Indian mother crying for her child in the same way our mothers would cry for us.”
Before that time, Tom had never met an Apache or known one. It wasn’t until he developed a relationship with the Apaches that he came to understand and respect them.
In the movie, he helps broker a deal between the Apaches and the Calvary that protected their land and helped open up the West.
Why is all this talk about other races necessary?
Because the Book of Jonah is about a Jewish man who had to realize that his God loved the Ninevites.
Jonah looked at the Ninevites the way most Americans looked at the Native Americans in the 1700s and 1800s and the way whites look at blacks during the
Slave Trade and the way Americans looked at Japanese Americans in the 1940s.
Jonah didn’t have a bit of use for the Ninevites. They were all no good as far as he was concerned, and when God told Jonah to go to the great city of Nineveh and announce judgment against the city because he had seen how wicked the people were, Jonah declined.
If you hate a group of people like Jonah hated the Ninevites, why wouldn’t you jump at an opportunity like this? Preaching a damnation sermon to your enemies should have been a dream sermon for a prophet.
He should have been on the first boat out of the port headed to Nineveh.
So, the reader is confused to learn that Jonah does not want any part of this mission.
He gets in a boat bound for Tarshish. That’s going in the opposite direction of Nineveh. What’s going on here?
While he’s sleeping in the boat, a storm develops that the crew believes will capsize the boat. They wake Jonah up. The superstitious sailors believed the gods had been angered. They draw lots to find out who has angered a god. The lot fell on Jonah.
Coincidence or providence?
They began to question him.
Jonah confesses that he was running away from the God who made the heavens, the sea, and the land. But Jonah is in no mood for repentance. He’s willing to die rather than call out to his God.
He told them to throw him into the sea, and the storm would stop, but they didn’t want to be responsible for Jonah’s death, and they tried to row the boat back to the land.
However, the storm raged even harder, so they prayed to Jonah’s God for forgiveness, tossed him into the sea, and when they did, the storm stopped, causing the sailors to be awestruck by the power of God.
Imagine that. Jonah became a missionary to the sailors without even wanting to or trying. Jonah was a disobedient prophet, but a prophet, nonetheless. The sailors returned to port changed people.
The second chapter records a prayer from the strangest place on earth, the belly of a great fish.
As Jonah sank into the sea, a giant fish swallowed Jonah, from inside the mouth of the fish, Jonah found an air pocket to survive.
“In my distress I called to the Lord,
and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,
and you listened to my cry.
3 You hurled me into the depths,
into the very heart of the seas,
and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers
swept over me.
4 I said, ‘I have been banished
from your sight;
yet I will look again
toward your holy temple.’
5 The engulfing waters threatened me,
the deep surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.
6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you, Lord my God,
brought my life up from the pit.
7 “When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.
8 “Those who cling to worthless idols
turn away from God’s love for them.
9 But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.'”
10 And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.
So, it appears that with his life in the balance, Jonah tries to bargain with God. He tells God that he will say that “Salvation comes from the Lord.”
It’s not exactly a repentant prayer, but it’s close.
Chapter two ends with God’s unconventional taxi service complete as the great fish spits Jonah out onto the beach.
Jonah decides he’d better preach the sermon God wanted him to preach. So, he preached one of those sermons you’ve been hoping that I will preach — at least in length. It had a total of eight words, only five in the Hebrew.
“Forty days from now, Nineveh will be destroyed!” Jonah 3:4.
Then Jonah climbed up a hill and waited for God to blast them with his power of fire and brimstone. Except, nothing happened.
Instead, the people of Nineveh responded to his sermon. They repented, and God spared the city.
“The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth” (Jonah 3:5).
Sackcloth was a sign of mourning and a sign to God that they were sorry for their sinful ways. They even put sackcloth on their animals.
That ought to have made Jonah lift his hands to God and say, “Hallelujah.”
We ought to be the same way. We ought to say, “Hallelujah,” when God sends us new families, new converts, and new people to worship and serve the Lord.
But new people bring new ideas and changes. New people want to break into our already established groups. It gets uncomfortable when we must tell them, “Well, that’s not how we do it around here.”
New people threaten political alignments and seem a little too excited about church. New people don’t stay in their lane; we must ask new people not to get too excited about doing ministry.
But the biggest problem with all these new converts is that they were not Jewish. Jonah never wanted them to be coverted and discover God’s grace at all.
We discover this in chapter four.
Imagine if we had an influx of new people in our church that were not like us in one way or another. Would there be a “Hallelujah,” or would there be a “We can’t have this”?
What did Jonah say?
“Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. 3 Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen” (4:2-3).
These are the words of a disillusioned man.
But we cannot read Jonah with integrity if we do not look in the mirror and ask if there isn’t some Jonah in all of us.
We know that we worship and serve a God of unconditional love. We worship and serve a God who loves people of all nations, people groups, and religions. But sometimes our attitude is, “Yeah, but I don’t have to.”
There is nothing in Jesus’ call to be His disciple that gives us that option.
Once we were in preschool chapel and the verse for the day was Psalm 145:8. “The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and rich in love.”
It had been paraphrased for the children to read, “The Lord is kind to everyone.”
So, after asking the children to repeat the verse a couple of times, I asked, “So is the Lord kind to Pastor Michael?” They all said, “Yes.”
I asked, “Is the Lord kind to you?” They all said, “Yes.”
Then I asked, “Is the Lord kind to mean people?” They all said, “Yes.”
But then one little girl said, “Except to witches.”
That little girl spoke a lot of truth because all of us seem to have our exceptions regarding who the Lord will extend his lovingkindness.
Who is on your list?
Who is it that you think God does not extend his kindness? Therefore, you are exempt from extending them your. If you can answer that question, you have discovered your Nineveh.
Sometimes we think, “Surely, God will not extend His kindness to those people, or to that person, so neither will I.”
Jonah didn’t want to go to the Ninevites precisely because he was afraid that God might extend his kindness to them, and he didn’t want them to have an opportunity to repent.
What if you were on someone’s list? What if you were among a group of people others believed were not to be befriended, loved, trusted, included, but only excluded, feared, ostracized, and never told about Jesus?
Look up. Look up this morning and see the cross.
See the cross and realize that Jesus died for all people. Look up and realize that our love should extend to all people, to every person.
Whenever you feel a tinge of prejudice welling up in your soul, remember that Jesus died for that person.
There are a lot of people in this world that we don’t have to like but we must still remember that God loves them. And because God loves them, that should have some bearing on how we treat them and act toward them.
There are times that people cannot even love those within their own church. How are they going to love those outside their church?
How will others ever know that God loves them unless we or someone shares that love with them?
“And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:15 NIV)
This morning, during this time of commitment, look up, and realize where you are. Try to identify someone or some group that you are not willing to befriend or share any kindness to and ask God to soften your heart. Will you go to anyone that
God sends you?
Will you go to Nineveh or run to Tarshish?