Jonah 4:1-11

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 really quite dumb, and they are prone to getting separated from the herd and getting lost.

A sheep will keep its head down, nibbling and wandering, nibbling and wandering, never looking up, moving from good grass to good grass, until eventually it looks up and discovers it’s all alone. It has walked completely away from all the others and hasn’t a clue where it is.

I guess the description of Generation Z as the head down generation does sort of describe all of us to some degree.

Unless the owner of the sheep goes looking for the unprotected, disillusioned sheep, and provides it with the protection it needs, it might not survive.

The Bible uses the imagery of a lost sheep to describe people who have gone their own 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.

Proverbs 14:2 says, “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end, it leads to death.”

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 from 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 decent was declared to be a danger to the military and 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.

Years later it was determined that our country had it’s 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.”

As the movie Selma has played for months in theatres across the country during the 50th year anniversary of the March from Montgomery to Selma, we are reminded of the days our nation kept its head down in 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.

Certainly 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 through the eyes of God.

There were some whites marching with King and the blacks on that famous march on March 31,1965. Most were young college students, idealists, and dreamers. Perhaps they had a broader view of God’s kingdom, a broader view of the future, and that 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 some places Jews are once again the targets of racial bias. Of course, painful reminders of our past history of mistreatment of African American have surfaced in cities across resulting in protests and calls for justice.

Just as in the days of 1941 and in the Jim Crow era, our views of people groups are formed by our families, the media, and now by the Internet, and other forms of social media.

It is also caused by fear.

With the radicalization of Islam in many of the Middle Eastern countries, which makes the 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 the service uniform of his country.

I’ve had a son over there training Afghan soldiers. I’ve listened to his own stories of caution as he did his job faithfully, but cautiously. These are men who had never held a gun in their lives, so any time one of them stepped up on the firing range and actually hit the target with any frequency, the joke among the Marines was that this man was really with Al Qaeda.

So our fears make it easier for us 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 loved by any of us.

This is like taking a statistic like this one and using it against all white males: “70% of mass shootings in America over the past 30 years have been by white males.” Yet there is no great movement among us to isolate white males, to fear them, to create a stereotypes about them, even though this statistic shows that while males are much more likely to kill in large numbers than any other race.

One reason white males are not stereotyped is that all of us know a white male. Many of you are a white male. A white male fathered most of us. Some of you are married to or have been married to a white male. Therefore, as a rule you are not afraid of white males.

However, most of you don’t know a Muslim. One report cites that fewer that half of Americans have ever met a Muslim. (Ibid) So, it becomes easy to stereotype them. It’s easier to believe what we want to about them because we don’t know any.

In the 1950’s movie, “Broken Arrow,” Jimmy Stewart plays the roll of Tom Jeffords who helps open up the west by learning the ways and language of the Apaches. 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 compassion to him. 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 them as a people and grow to 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. It was all about relationships.

In the Bible, Jonah looked at the Ninevites like we looked at that Japanese in the 1940’s, and the blacks in the 1950’s, and many look at the Muslims today.

Jonah didn’t have a bit of use for them. There 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 it because he had seen how wicked the people were, Jonah declined.

Now if you hated a group of people like Jonah hated the Ninevites, why wouldn’t you jump at an opportunity like this? This is your dream sermon. You ought to be on the first boat out of the port headed to Nineveh. This should be one of those messages that you would want to deliver with pleasure.

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 so large develops that the crew believes the boat is going to sink. They wake Jonah up. They believed the gods have been angered and they want to find out whose god has been angered. They drew lots and the lot falls on Jonah.

They began to question him. Jonah confesses to the crew that he was running away from God, the God of who make the heavens, the sea, and the land. 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 back to the land.

However, the storm raged even harder so they prayed to 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.

The second chapter records a prayer from the strangest place on earth. Instead of drowning, Jonah survived inside the mouth of a great fish and there he prays to God before being dumped where else, but on the beach of Nineveh.

Now God has his attention. So he decides he might better preach the sermon God wanted him to preach. So he preached one of those sermons you’ve been hoping I’d preach. It had a total of eight words, really only five in the Hebrew Bible.”
“Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!” Jonah 3:4.

Then John 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 this sermon. They repented and God spared the city.

That ought to make one like Jonah lift up his head and his hands to God and say, “Hallelujah.”

However, in chapter 4 we discover the reason Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh to deliver God’s message.

“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. When we know how God will treat someone but we are determined to treat that person differently because we are focused on our anger, prejudices, fears, and definition of who deserves our love and care, we have become disillusioned. We are prone to wander from the God we love.

We can be Jonah if we choose. We can hate and refuse to entertain the thought of doing anything to change our minds about reaching out to those who are different from us. We can refuse to get to know them in any way.

If you think that’s the easier of two roads, let Jonah’s story remind you that our prejudices have a way of finding us. Let our own American stories bear that out.

Instead, we ought to let the Spirit of God find us and change us. If we don’t look up, we will live a disillusioned life. We will wander among people claiming to be one thing, but our actions will say we are something different.

In preschool chapel last Monday, 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 Justin?” They as 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 kindness.

Who is on your list?

Who is it that you don’t think God extends his kindness? If you can answer that question, you have discovered your Nineveh?

Sometimes we think, “Surely, God will not extend His kindness to those people, so neither will I.”

But surprisingly, that’s not what Jonah thought. Jonah didn’t want to go to the Ninevites precisely because he was afraid that God just might extend his kindness to them, and he didn’t want them to have an opportunity to repent.

Either way, the love of God isn’t in us. That should move US to repentance. For what if God had not extended to us the opportunity to repent.

What if you were 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. Do not be disillusioned today. Look up and realize where you are.

If you have wondered away from God and become disillusioned either through seeing life through a very narrow lens or by wanting God’s mercy to only be extended to certain people, refocus on the meaning of God’s grace for you and for all who seek Him, this morning through the observance of this Lord’s Supper, which is extended to all who call Jesus their Lord and Savior.