Scripture: Jonah 1-5, 10
We live in a culture populated by fear, jealousy, greed, prejudices, and hate. Our politicians campaign hoping these emotions will serve their purposes. Many have a jealousy of those with wealth. In that jealousy it isn’t considered what it took for those to obtain the wealth, but instead it is assumed that something unjust occurred to gain what we all want. In some, perhaps many of the cases this is true, but like everything it is not the whole story. Men like Gates, Jobs, and Buffet all had a vision for products, they had greater vision then other and often purchased patents from people because they had greater vision than the inventors. In hindsight we feel that they cheated these people whose ideas make companies millions of dollars when only purchased for much less. Although wealth and success seems unobtainable in today’s world, we live in a culture where ideas, progress, risk, and challenges are sought. Those willing to pay the price, to rise to the occasion are rewarded.
Jonah is a man living in an odd time in Hebrew history. He is an Israelite, from the area we know as Galilee. He’s a person through whom God speaks. He receives a message to go to Nineveh and tell them they are doomed. This is good news for Jonah. Nineveh is the capital city to their greatest enemy. Their destruction is, in his mind something to look forward to. The words used in this sense are the same words of warning given to Sodom prior to the rains of fire. The destruction in that case was due to their sinfulness. Sodom was a culture fully engaged in sensual pleasures. Their lives and lifestyles revolved around fulfilling their lusts. Nineveh is similar. They too lived in a culture of lust, blood lust. Their armies were feared not only because they were well manned and equipped, but also because they took pleasure in killing. The more gruesome the better they felt about themselves. We could discuss just how gruesome they were but it would give us nightmares, we can just say the lord Dracula was a saint compared to these men.
Jonah was excited about the impending destruction but not to thrilled with the God of Israel getting involved in this way. We may ask why. When we consider the overturning of Sodom we know that their destruction was total. Even to this day archaeologists aren’t sure were this once great city was. They have some ideas but the city was never rebuilt. This type of destruction should be ideal for an entire culture entertained by murder.
Jonah had a problem in two areas: the first why me, and the second was that he knew God. We live in a culture in era of time defined by lusts. The enemies of our nation says that we are corrupting the world because of our lusts, lusts of greed and sensuality. Many in our culture look at them as being bloodthirsty tyrants bent on killing anyone not willing to conform to their ideals. Both see the other as the source of the impending doom of humanity.
If you have watched vegitales or have a basic understanding of this story you know Jonah tried to opt out of his calling. He ran the opposite direction only to find himself in the belly of a fish contemplating where his life went wrong. He had a passion for God. One that would rival any of us. He was regarded as a leader, a prophet of God. He traveled where ever God led him, and yet he exhibited just a bit of free will and he ended up siting in darkness with the aroma of partially digested seafood wafting around. We all choose things in our lives, we all have passions and convictions. We have prejudices and boundaries we refuse to cross. I can identify with Jonah I know exactly what he feels. I would venture to say God was calling me to ministry early in my life. I read scripture daily in grade school. And over the course of my life I have read it completely several times. I was raised to pray, to worship, to tithe ten percent of all I earned. Yet I was not perfect. I strayed from the paths of God. I love knowledge I pursued and still pursue it like a dog after game. I was caught up in the view that science could prove and disprove everything. As a result God seemed to slip from my view. My quest was science and my passion was the emerging technology of genetically enhancing crops. Was God still a part of my life, yes I still faithfully attended worship, still tithed, I still refused to work on Sunday, but I questioned areas of scripture. Things like loving your enemy, do not commit adultery, and blessed are the poor sounded ridiculous to me because academics provided other paths. My quest for knowledge out weighed my desire for God which slowly caused my life to slip into sinfulness. I lived a life of justifying my actions. On the outside most regarded me as weighty in spirit, yet in reality I was empty and running. Jonah ran and found himself in a fish, I ran and found myself facing the reality that 99% prevention still leaves a 1% chance.
Does God cause things to happen if we reject his ways? This is the question of the ages. Theologians have debated this for all ages to this day. The disciples of Christ even asked it often. The reality is we all face consequences for our actions. Jonah faced a storm and a fish for rejecting God, he says this because without these he would not have turned around. God uses circumstance to teach and guide us. Jonah learned a lesson he truly repented and traveled into the land of darkness to enlighten them.
The city of Nineveh is actually only around 8 miles long and one or two wide but like Kansas city it had a metropolitan area surrounding it. It had several suburbs that eventually grew into one continuous system of cities. There is discussion surrounding just what scripture means when it says that it was three days walk to cross the city. Some believe that it would take three days to visit all the various centers making the metro., while others believe that the distance was a straight three days walk. Either way it is a large area. it was located on the eastern shores of the Tigris river and the culture emerged from the same civilization from which Abraham, the father of the Hebrew people, was called from. They were the first of the great conquering empires, originating in the cradle of civilization. This was the center of the world at that time. This one man, Jonah, was going to this blood thirst superpower to tell them to turn to God. It was a one man quest to convert New York city.
He was filled with fear over the enormity of the task, the violence of the culture, and the message. He had no problem with God snuffing them out, he hated them just like we grew up to hate the Soviet Union. But he knew God. He knew that God ultimately is a God of grace, a God of justice, a God who does not wish for one person to be left unredeemed. Jonah knew that these hated people just might turn to God and their violence against Israel may go unpunished because some may come to faith.
Jonah was a reluctant, hesitant, prejudiced, and truthful prophet. God can use pretty much anyone. The truth if spoken honestly will turn many. these people were on a collision course with destruction. They had everything yet they were throwing it all away to satisfy unwholesome desires. Every nation around them were uniting against them because of their brutality. If enough people unite against one opponent it will eventually fall. Eventually it did fall. But only after God provided an opportunity for their redemption. God provided an opportunity for them to repent and turn toward him. The time was ripe, the entire city was engulf in revival at the words delivered from Jonah.
The world needs God. They need people to go out and present the Gospel. The problem is the world is hesitant to religion. I was hesitant. Other things in life are grabbing for our time and attention. Balance is off. Our world is hesitant to God not necessarily because they are opposed to God but they feel if they pursue God their world and life will spiral out of control. God does totally overturn our lives. He is a jealous God. Meaning he does not like it when other things are overshadowing His place. If life is a Balance, God is the central point holding everything together, the pivot point. As our stresses piles up we should be sure to adjust them around Him or eventually everything will fall. sometimes we must pull God closer to the stress so we can bear it up, like lifting a great weight with a lever.
The truth is without God our lives will unravel. I have found in my own life many things would break down around me. No matter how educated, no matter how good or bad my job or family life is without God it is worthless. With God though the are reasons, and purposes. With God my income becomes a tool of encouragement, instead of a burden or idol. With God my family is a gift and pleasure instead of a responsibility. My passions are greater, and are filled not with selfish greed but community enrichment. The pursuit of peace isn’t just an idea but a real goal with God. God brings balance and reality. The lives we once knew do unravel. It falls away and is replaced with something new something greater.
God gave Jonah a vision to turn the vilest people to Him. He wasn’t thrilled with the idea yet an entire nation was redeemed to God. This has happened countless times. The Romans turned to God, the Celts, the vikings. In each cases it was the unlikely people who turned the hearts. Who will proclaim the gospel in our world? Our city, nation, and world need God we need balance. Our central city is falling apart, we keep moving from the center leaving many in areas without hope or or means. When people lose hope they begin to live by fear. They seek safety in gangs because there is nothing else for them, no family or community. We see the news and are glad we don’t have to worry. We move and shop elsewhere so we don’t have to deal with it. All the while we are just like Jonah running from the people God gives us to minister to because we would rather opt out. It is easy to say this, it is a different story to live it. It is difficult to live in Nineveh. yet I feel that God is calling us to bring balance to our city. To go into areas to proclaim the truth, areas that may not be glamorous but will bring hope. Jonah turned Nineveh to God. What could Quakers do for Kansas City, Lee’s summit, Johnson county, and Independence. What would happen if we were excited to serve, to invest in areas other groups leave behind. What if we lived our lives following Jesus’s example and taking the gospel not to those who have already heard but to those whose lives need a new source of hope.
As we enter into this time of open worship ask yourselves if running or pursuing? Are we willing to trust God with our lives to bring balance in our world, And are we willing to go where he calls.