On October 23, during the fellowship time after worship someone said my sermon (about the house and heir of David) made him start to think about a question. How do we get past a tribal God?
I have no idea where he got that from my sermon that day. But gee I hope he is there next Sunday. Because Jonah really invites us into that exact question.
The suggested readings (especially if you use the optional piece in square brackets) have us read almost the whole book of Jonah you can read the passages here. All that is missing are the 10 verses that make up chapter 2. So it is a lot of text to read but at the same time it allows us to tell the whole story (something that happens rarely in my experience). How will you break it up? How will you tell the story?
As it happens this Sunday is also the Sunday prior to November 11th, the day when many pause to remember their country’s war dead. Jonah, with its message about God’s love and care for the despised Ninevites (Nineveh-ites? Assyrians?) might tie in well with such a topic.
It is also the Sunday before Election day in the US. I have no wisdom to share on linking Jonah to that event (lest I make some unseemly connection between a certain Presidential candidate and the wicked folk of Nineveh).
I have always felt for Jonah. Called to witness to God in the midst of hell. And that was even before I read the WP commentary which outlines how nonsensical the call must have seemed to him. I suggest it is only slight hyperbole to suggest that it is like asking a mid-20th-century Jew to witness to the guards at Auschwitz. What else could Jonah do but head the exact opposite direction? What would I do? What would you do?
Then he finally (after a little pause in the fish belly) agrees to go to Nineveh and preach. Imagine his horror when his preaching works! The people repent and God shows mercy. I always have this vision of Jonah, after he preaches, sitting up on a hillside ready to savor the vision of the cursed city being destroyed. Only God chooses mercy so Jonah is denied even that sweet pleasure.
Part of me understands why he is a little ticked off.
We follow the one who will say to his friends and followers
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (Matthew 5:43-47)
We understand that God is NOT a tribal God. God is not just our God, God is God, the God of the world (or even Universe).
We may not always like what that suggests. But, like Jonah, we have to learn to live with that reality.
Gord Waldie is an Ordained Minister in the United Church of Canada, currently in Northwestern Alberta. He shares his life with his partner and their four daughters and blogs (periodically) at Following Frodo or shares his “churchy-stuff” at Ministerial Mutterings
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