Sermon for January 21, 2018: “The Unfair God”

Sermon for September 21, 2018: “The Unfair God”

Reading: Jonah 1-4

 

Sooner or later, all of us will have to come to the realization that God is unfair.

And there’s nothing we can do about it.

Why do I say God is unfair?

One word: Jonah.

I love the story of Jonah.

Jonah is not a happy go-lucky guy.

In fact, throughout the whole story,

Jonah comes off as a jerk.

 

And yet God chooses HIM to be a prophet.

Think about that for a moment.

This jerk.

This negative person

Is chosen BY GOD for a very important task.

#Unfair

 

God tells Jonah go to Nineveh and “cry out” (1:1) against the city.

To “cry out” was to give a warning, and share a prophecy.

And so Jonah does what any self-respecting jerk does:

He says, “Nope.”

And then he runs away.

And instead of heading in THIS direction (point east) toward Nineveh, Jonah turns THIS direction (point west).

He tries to escape from God’s call.

Why does Jonah go through all this trouble?

 

Because Jonah hates Nineveh.

At the time Jonah was written, Nineveh was the capital of Assyria and was regarded as the seat of the greatest enemy of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

And because Nineveh was the enemy, Jonah will not go and preach to the people he hates.

He boards a ship heading to Spain, which is in the opposite direction of Nineveh.

At this point in the story, God interrupts Jonah’s travel plans.

God brings a storm onto the boat,

the sailors are going out of their minds,

and Jonah jumps out of the boat to save the boat.

And then a giant fish that swallows Jonah.

 

And when you find yourself in the belly of a fish,

you have a lot of time to re-evaluate your life.

 

And Jonah re-evaluates God’s command.

So when God comes calling a second time, (where our Bible lesson today begins)

Jonah finally goes to Nineveh.

 

But the problem is Jonah is still a jerk.

He thinks he is going to outsmart God.

He tries to get cute.

Think of your favorite crime show,

And you get the scene where the cops confront a witness who did not give the whole truth.

And the witness says, “You did not ask me SPECIFICALLY about that detail.”

 

Jonah does the same thing.

When he arrives in Nineveh, Jonah gives the least amount of effort to “preach” to Nineveh.

Nineveh was a big city, from end to end it was a three day walk, but Jonah only goes about a day not even halfway into the city.

And then he gives the shortest sermon in the Bible.

“Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”

And then he leaves.

An 8-word sermon.

Eight words.

In Hebrew, it’s a 5-word sermon!

50 characters for those of you who use Twitter.

 

Jonah doesn’t even use the word “repent.”

He doesn’t even mention God.

 

Then he goes to watch Nineveh be destroyed.

 

But Jonah’s worst fears are realized, Nineveh repents.

And God changes his mind about destroying the city.

 

This is why I love this story.

While prophets like Moses and Jeremiah become angry because their listeners ignore their words,

Jonah becomes angry because the people of Nineveh HEARD his words!

In a very twisted way,

Jonah’s faith in a loving God is realized.

Jonah KNEW this would happen!

Jonah knew that God would save the city.

Because Jonah knew that God was…above everything else…a God who was slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

A God who would even show grace towards Nineveh.

And even with this faith in God’s good works, Jonah is still angry at God for showing grace to that horrible city Nineveh.

He is angry because he knew God was going to show some unfair grace.

And we get a great ending to the story:

Jonah: “Why do you care?”

God: “Why should I NOT care?”

And that is a great response by God.

Why should God NOT care about the people in Nineveh?

And that is how the book ends.

The book ends with a question… a cliffhanger.

We never get Jonah’s response.

The matter is left completely open-ended…

which may be the purpose.

 

Because this story gives us pause and it makes us realize God’s love for all people.

Even the ones we hate.

Earlier in the book God even speaks of the people of Nineveh as His children, just as God speaks of the Israelites in other passages of the scriptures.

 

And for Jonah…and us…that is unfair.

But we have to realize who we are dealing with.

And a good place to realize just who it is we believe in can be found in your bulletin.

It’s called the Creed.

The first sentence.

We believe in God, Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

Let me say that one part again “Creator of heaven and earth.”

We get an example of the Creating God in Jonah.

The wind, the sea, the fish, the worm, and the weed are part of God’s way to get Jonah’s attention.

To get Jonah to realize:

God made it.

God decides what to with it.

So it is GOD alone decides to whom He will give mercy.

And for us that is SO hard to accept.

And I would say that for us,

For those who have been hurt.

For those of us who have been wounded and scarred,

To think that God could show the same grace to our transgressors is almost unbearable.

 

To the point that we, like Jonah,

would rather die than forgive,

cling to hate rather than embrace love and mercy.

 

But this goes back to my original point.

 

God’s grace is unfair.

And that is NOT open to debate.

Think about the parable

Where God, the landowner gives the same wage to the people who have worked only an hour as the ones who have worked nearly 12 hours.

Those who worked hard all day think it is unjust that those who have hardly worked receive the same pay.

But if we really believe what we profess through the Creed, then we have to believe that God is free to do what God wishes with what is God’s own.

 

And today when it comes to the times in our lives when we want to go all “Jonah” on our enemies,

I want you to remember the first commandment.

You shall have no other Gods before me.

God does not ask us if He can save us.

He also does not ask us if He can save the people we hate.

God just does it.

And the moment we think we can complain,

or tell God how things are,

we are suddenly taking our word, our power, over His.

And that is wrong.

 

Let me throw this out to you:

The same complaint we may have about God giving grace to someone we don’t like,

that same complaint someone might be saying about YOU!

At this very moment.

Think of the people YOU have wronged and hurt and scarred.

Do you think THEY have forgotten?

And do you think THEY should be your final judge and jury and executioner?

 

To God all life is precious.

That includes me,

You,

Us,

But it also includes:

THEM

THOSE PEOPLE

 

 

We should praise God for all He has done and DOES:

For us.

For others.

And we should rejoice that God is always looking to change the lives, to save the lives, of those around us.

My prayer is that you do that today.

 

Sooner or later, all of us will have to come to the realization that God is unfair.

God does not give us what we truly deserve.

And there’s nothing we can do about it.

Except be grateful that it’s true.

Amen.

 

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