Jonah 1:1-7; 11-17; 2:10-3:1-5

Last September the Schmitt family who own 1715 Fleet-Queens Jewels, LLC, recovered $1 million worth of sunken Spanish coins and jewels in shallow water off Fort Pierce, Florida.

They found 51 gold coins, 40 feet of ornate gold chain, and a single coin called a “Royal” made for Phillip V, the king of Spain, said to be worth a half-million dollars.11831783_938328702900767_5153205535508821522_n

This treasure came from one of 11 ships sailing from Cuba to Spain that all sank in a hurricane in 1715.  Several of the ships have been discovered but there are five more that remain undiscovered with an estimated $400 million worth of treasure still out there.

Anybody want to go looking for lost treasure?

Of course, it takes a lot of money, skill, hard work, and a bit of luck to find treasure like this.

Next time you think about gold I want you to remember that truth is gold.

Where do you find truth? People speak it.  People give you what you pay for.  A spouse keeps the vows he or she makes in a marriage.  A person is sincere in what she says.  A friend is loyal.  A business has integrity in their work.  A child does not lie to her parents.  It’s nice when truth is easy to find.

But sometimes, like gold buried in the sand beneath the ocean, you have to go deeper to find the truth.

We have been taught to hide the truth from others when we think it’s to our advantage.

Do you remember the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden?

They knew the truth about the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  God told them not to eat the fruit from that tree.  However, the serpent caused them to doubt that God had told them the truth.   The serpent told them a lie and said if they ate the fruit, they would be like God.  They believed the serpent and ate the fruit.

Once they realized they had been tricked, they tried to hide from God among the foliage of the Garden.

Have you ever noticed that you don’t have to teach a two-year-old to lie?

“Child, have you been in your birthday cake? I told you, ‘No cake before supper.’”

The child looks at her mama with icing smeared all over her face.  It’s on her shirt and on her fingers.  She looks at her mama and she says, “No. Mam.”

“Where do they learn this behavior?  Well, they watch older brothers and sisters and sometimes they watch adults.

How many of you parents have done this with your child?

“Now tell grandma how much you love the gift,” and the child does what you tell them, even though she hates getting a pair of socks for Christmas.

“Now tell your sister you are sorry,” and he does, even though he’s not sorry at all.  He’d do it again if thought he could get away with it. He might ought to be sorry but he’s made to tell a lie.

But nobody has to teach a child how to lie, just like nobody had to teach Adam and Eve how to hide the truth because the Bible teaches us that Satan is the father of lies and Satan is working to keep the truth submerged.

When we are taught to avoid the truth or hide the truth, it has an effect on our relationship with others and with God.

If we cannot be truthful with others, we cannot be truthful with ourselves.  If we are not truthful with ourselves when we come before God, we are not truthful with God and this keeps us from being in proper fellowship with God.

This morning, you might be able to hide what is in your heart from others.  You might harbor hatred and grudges toward family or people in the community or even in the church.

You might be unwilling to forgive someone or unwilling to reach out in love to people that are different from you.

You might disagree with someone on an issue and have decided that they are now your enemy.

While most people might not see all that’s sitting just below the surface, God sees it.

The good news is that God still loves us.  Even when we are selfish and loving only ourselves, God pursues us.  God does not give up on us.

God did not give up on Jonah even though Jonah did every thing he could to run away from God.

Jonah was a Hebrew.  He was from a group of God’s chosen people.  Unfortunately, they developed an attitude that God chose them to the exclusion of the rest of the people of the world.  Here’s the truth: God chose the Hebrews, also called the Jews, to reach the rest of the people of the world for Him.

Because they were chosen by God, they rationalized that their hatred for other people like the Ninevites was an acceptable position.

The Ninevites were easy to hate.  The Japanese were easy for Christians to hate during the second World War.  Muslims have become a target of hatred for many Christians today.

We might even compare the Ninevites to radicalized Muslims because they were known to be violent people.

So Nineveh was the enemy of Israel.  These people were extremely brutal and cruel.  They were known to skin their captives alive.

The prophet Nahum describes them as lions, tearing and feeding on the nations (Nahum 2:11-13).

So would you want to go to Nineveh?  Knowing this, can you understand Jonah’s feelings?

Jonah’s name means “dove.”  A man with such a peaceful name didn’t want anything to do with a group of violent people.  Not only was he afraid of them, but he hated them.  So when God instructed him to go to Nineveh and preach against that “great city,” he boarded a boat for Tarshish, which was in the opposite direction.  He probably said something like, “My mama didn’t raise no fool.”

But remember, truth is what?  Truth is gold.  As a prophet, Jonah’s job was to reveal truth to the Ninevites.  God was determined to use Jonah to do just that, even if Jonah was reluctant to be used.

When a furious storm arose, the superstitious sailors on the boat believed someone had angered a god and when they drew lots to determine who it was, the lot fell to Jonah.  Call it fate or providence if you want, but that’s what happened.

Jonah confessed to the men on the boat that he had angered his God.  He told them that if they were to pick him up and throw him into the sea, it would become calm.

At first the sailors refused because they didn’t want Jonah’s God holding them responsible for his death, but as the sea grew more violent, they felt they had no choice.  So they prayed a prayer that the Lord would not hold them accountable for their actions and they threw Jonah into the sea.

As Jonah sank into the sea, it became still.

Now we see the truth rising up in this story.  Jonah hated the Ninevites so much that he preferred to die in the ocean rather than go preach to them as God instructed.

The story could have ended right there, but this isn’t like most stories.

God prepared a giant fish to come and swallow him.  There he was inside that fish for three days and three nights.   Long enough for Jonah to do a bit of reflecting and some praying.  Long enough for that great fish to taxi Jonah to Nineveh where he spits him out and he washed up on the beach of those mean, good- for-nothing, stinking, Hebrew-killing Ninevites.

Now, Jonah relented.  He decided to obey God.  He went to the center of Nineveh and delivered a very brief and uninspiring message of truth.  Remember, truth is gold. “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”

Whether this is all he said or whether this is just a summary of his message, I do not know.  Regardless, surprisingly, the people of Nineveh believed his message and they repented of their sins and God did not destroy the city.

The reason Jonah was written is the reveal to us a shocking truth about God.  It is a subplot that runs through the Bible – that God was willing to embrace non-Jewish people, people not included in the covenant of Abraham and include them into the family of God.

These are not people who have done good things.

Now God uses a reluctant prophet who did not want to face the truth that God was a loving God, full of grace, and might have mercy on people he hated.

The book of Jonah was written to show that God’s plan of salvation extends to all the people on the earth, even those we might hate or draw a circle around and say, “God does not love these people.”

The apostle Paul states: God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

The truth is that like WE are not not descendants of Abraham any more than the Ninevites.  The subplot of the Bible is as important us as it was to them, that God has included us in this mercy and grace.

Our problem is that we’ve lived with the story so long that we believe we are entitled to God’s love, that we have become his chosen ones.

Instead, I remind you that like the Nineties, we have been grafted into the family tree.

Because of that, it should give us pause about claiming rights to our heritage and it should cause us to be more inclusive of others as we share God’s love.

Truth is what?  Truth is gold.

What if the Schmitt family knew where to find another one of those ships that was loaded with gold and knew they could get it but just decided to leave it in shallow ocean water? You wouldn’t understand that would you?

God has shown us where the truth is.  It is in Jesus who came to love us and show us how to love others.

So why is it that we so easily settle for Satan’s lies?  Why is it that we our faith often remains so shallow?

Why aren’t we more concerned about whether our neighbor knows Jesus?

There are people all around us who need to know Jesus, who said he is the way, the truth, and the life.

Paul wrote to the Romans, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” Romans 10:14

So not only is God calling Jonah to carry his message to undesirable people, he’s calling us, too.

What undesirable person has God placed in your life that He keeps telling you to love and you keeping saying, “no”?  We don’t have to like people to share God’s love with them.  That’s the truth.  And truth is gold.

Prayer:  If we could see ourselves through your eyes we might discover that you do not always like what you see because our actions are sinful, and yet you love us and seek a relationship with us.  Because we have received and felt your redemptive grace, help us to hold on to that feeling so we can compassionately reach out to others who do not know you or even know that you want to know them.