Jonah 3:1-10

Sunday, November 8, 2020
Intern Michael Poeschl

Jonah 3:1-10

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

If you have ever bought furniture at IKEA you have probably seen the words instructions included.  While some of us may take this as a challenge, and ignore the instructions, I have found that taking the time to read the instructions and following them saved time and energy with much better results. Perhaps there have been times when someone  asked you to do something a specific way, but you felt that you knew a better way to do it?  Instead of following their instructions you attempt to do it your way and you didn’t get the expected results. What if God asked you to do something?  Would you follow his instructions?  When God asks, we can trust that his message needs to be delivered, even if we don’t like the message, or who it is going to.   But sometimes we are not listening, unwilling, or we think we know better than God.

We are told to love one another, but sometimes there are people we choose to hate, whether it be a selfish neighbor, a difficult boss, or even a family member.  These are people we choose to judge, rather than trying to understand them.  Jonah was a reluctant prophet who tried to ignore the instructions given to him by God. Rather than punishing Jonah, God gives him a second chance and he finally delivers the word of the LORD, but not before taking us on an unexpected adventure that reveals the power of God, where what we expect is not what we discover. We also learn that God is looking out for us.  Just saying that we believe in a God of love, whose mercy is greater than his wrath, is incomplete until we follow the instructions to love our enemies.

Jonah is more than a dramatic fish story.  He disobeys God’s command to go to Nineveh and cry out against it.  He tries to run away by getting on a ship to get as far away as he could, only to have God send up a storm to stop him. The crew prayed to their gods without result and questioned Jonah to find out what was going on. Jonah admits to running from God, even suggesting to them to throw him overboard to stop the storm.  The sailors turn to the LORD and pray to be saved and not be guilty of spilling innocent blood.  They throw Jonah overboard and the storm ends. A miracle from God that saves the ship and the sailors, but Jonah’s only direction is down, as he sinks to the bottom of the sea.  Jonah still has a job to do and God sends a large fish that swallows him. Perhaps shocked by what must be the sticky disgusting insides of the fish Jonah remembers God and he prays a Psalm of Thanksgiving that ends,  “Deliverance belongs to the Lord”, which God hears and the large fish spews him on to dry land.

Given another chance will Jonah follow the instructions?  The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.”  Jonah obeys and goes to Nineveh. Echoing the thoughts from a Working Preacher Podcast on this text, “In one of the shortest and most successful prophecies of all time”.  Jonah enters Nineveh and cries out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.”  Jonah must have been terrified to go to Israel’s fiercest enemies and expect to be heard, let alone be left alive.  This seems to be the prophet that we have been expecting, bringing the call for repentance.  Jonah must have been torn to deliver this message, which he avoided the first time.  While his  hatred for his enemies was burning in him, along with his desire for instant justice; he chose to follow the instructions and deliver the message that gave them forty days to repent.

The short message spread like wildfire and the people’s repentance was immediate. Jonah must have been dumbfounded to see the people repent by putting on sackcloths, sitting in ashes, fasting and crying mightily to God for mercy.  Even the Ninevite King put his faith in God saying, “Who Knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.”   God saw what they did and changed his mind and did not overthrow them. Seeing the mercy of God should bring us joy, but Jonah was unhappy and he thought he had a reason why.

Through selfishness and hypocrisy, we think we are in control and we don’t need God. This prevents us from seeing that something greater is going on here.  Jonah tried to run from God, but when he turned to God he was shown mercy. The sailors on the ship going to Tarshish chose to trust God and were shown mercy. The Ninevites immediately believed Jonah’s message from God, and they were shown mercy. God saw what they did and changed his mind from the calamity that he said he would bring on them. Following God’s instructions makes us part of the plan that leads to repentance and mercy.

Jonah teaches us to look beyond ourselves to the other people who we don’t want to see or understand.  Have you ever thought you were doing the right thing, only to find out that it was wrong? Perhaps you’ve ignored instructions that you didn’t understand? In chapter 4 Jonah reveals his reason for his unhappiness,  “O LORD! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country?  That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.”  Jonah knew from the beginning what he was supposed to do, yet he tried to run away and do nothing, but God wouldn’t let him get away, there was something bigger going on.  The abundance of steadfast love and the readiness to relent from punishing is what God does and the reason why Jonah is unable to see what God has planned.  Jonah only sees the Assyrians as enemies, rather than siblings.  When we trust that the Lord sees what we cannot see, we will find mercy.

When we make mistakes we can either live with them or learn from them.  God is not looking for perfect people; rather people who hear the call to spread the message of mercy and forgiveness to everyone, not just to those people who they like.  Taking this message to other people who we disagree with or don’t like is difficult.  Our faith binds us to that mission as we are held with compassion, but that doesn’t mean the journey is not without a struggle.  Jonah is a reluctant prophet who runs away from delivering a message for God, a message of repentance to people he hated.  Jonah doesn’t believe the Ninevites even deserve a warning, anymore than he thinks they will repent.  His obedience to the task is where mercy will be found.

For many of us it is difficult to give up the security of what we think we know to a higher power.  If we think we can run away from God’s mercy, then our thoughts aren’t on the giver.  We are all chosen out of grace and commanded to love our neighbors, seeing them as allies to strengthen each other.  View your neighbors not through your eyes, but through what God sees. Remove judgment and what you think would be best for other people. Choose to accept and acknowledge the things you might not understand.  Challenge yourself to learn more of their story before acting.  God’s plan comes with instructions, to love one another and to show mercy to one another. Trust that God’s plan is at work for you.   AMEN

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