Sunday message: The gospel according to whom? (The sign of Jonah part 5)

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 8, 2019


Psalm 11

Matthew 6:25-34

Jonah 3:1-10

Have you ever encountered a real “Scrooge”? I’m speaking about a negative, annoyed, frustrated, demanding, selfish person who cannot stand to see other people happy and enjoying life. You remember that the original Scrooge was a figment of the imagination of Charles Dickens, the great English author. From the imaginative mind of Dickens came “A Christmas Carol” whose main character is one, Ebenezer Scrooge, whom Dickens calls, “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!”

As Dickens tells the story of Scrooge, we see him at various stages of his life: Christmas Past, Christmas Present, Christmas Future. Eventually, old Ebenezer came to his senses and was marvelously converted and became a man of good works.

I believe there were other “Scrooges” long before Dickens’ Scrooge. As I read the story of Jonah, I would label him a “Scrooge.” Yes, I realize he was a prophet of God, but he seems to me to be the ultimate Scrooge. Why? When God told him to take “good news” to Nineveh, he instead hopped in a boat and headed in the opposite direction to Tarshish, which is about as far away from Nineveh as one can get.

A storm came up, and eventually Jonah admitted that he was the cause of the problem. He told the ship’s crew to throw him overboard. Finally, they threw him into the sea where a great fish swallowed Jonah. The prophet cried out to God and the fish vomited him on dry land. God finally got old Scrooge’s attention, and miracle of miracles, there is …

A second time around… As the scene opens, old Jonah is sitting on a Mediterranean beach, probably all shook up by his recent fish encounter. Suddenly the same word from God came to him a second time saying, “Get up; go to Nineveh, that great city; and proclaim to it the message I tell you.”

Jonah carried out his assignment with very little enthusiasm. In his “Scrooginess”  he only went part way into the city. Why was he such a reluctant prophet? One reason was that he was called to preach to a nation other than Israel, and this went against his “religion.” Good Jewish prophets didn’t preach to other nations. There was to be a strict separation from other nations. Also, Jonah believed that other nations were out to destroy Israel.

Not only was he to preach to a people outside of Israel, but the particular city to which he was being sent was Nineveh. It was the capital of Assyria, a nation which in its day had set a standard of dread and terror. There was no way Jonah was going to preach to that gang of cutthroats.

As Jonah sat on the beach, stewing in his own juice, God called him a second time, and he responded as a prophet is expected to respond. So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, that great city.

Jonah went to the city of Nineveh with a message of …

Bad news which became good news… Jonah walked toward the city of Nineveh, called by God a “great city.” He was not a happy prophet. He did not even do what he was told. Jonah stopped short of going across the city of Nineveh. His sermon was not a homiletical masterpiece, for in the Hebrew it consisted of only eight words: “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” Not much of a sermon! It does not take great oratorical ability to deliver that kind of message.

Surprisingly, Jonah’s sermon was successful, and the response of the people was amazing. They accepted the message, believed it, trusted God, called for a fast, and dressed themselves in the clothes of mourning. Jonah was called to preach bad news to his enemies. This was Jonah’s gospel, but Jesus, who is our Gospel, was called to die for his enemies. Jonah was unwilling to go until he was forced to go. Jesus, however, came to do the “will of his father.” Jonah spent three days in the stomach of a great fish because of his disobedience. Jesus spent three days in a tomb of earth and death as an act of obedient love.

Not only did the people of Nineveh repent, but the king also repented and joined his subjects by putting on mourning clothes and sitting in ashes. The king then called for a fast and admonished all of his subjects to turn from their evil and wickedness.

How did God react to all of this? God saw the repentance of Nineveh’s citizens, and God called off the intended destruction. The prophet’s “Bad News” was heard, and the people repented. Destruction was called off, and that was “Good News.” Yes, the “Bad News” of Jonah became the “Good News” of God for Nineveh. In the story of Jonah there is something more that is essential, and it is this …

God is a God who cares… As one example, God cares about the devastation in the Bahamas, and all over the Atlantic Coast, right up to the Maritimes. Through you and me God cares, using PWS&D (Presbyterian World Service and Development). While Jonah acted like a “Scrooge,” God revealed that God is a God who cares. Jonah certainly did not care for the city of Nineveh. Who cares? God does, and God goes to great effort to see that a prophet was sent to the city. The New Testament reveals the extent of God’s caring love in a single verse: “For God so loved the world, that God gave God’s only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). One might go so far as to say that “God so loved Nineveh that God sent Jonah to preach to them.”

It is said that Paul Yonggi Cho pastors what is believed to be the largest church in the world. This Korean pastor has been used by God to impact the world. When his ministry began to receive international acclaim, Cho said to God that he would go anywhere to preach the gospel except Japan. Cho could not forget what the Japanese had done to Korea and her people, as well as members of his own family. Eventually an invitation came for Cho to preach in Japan of all places. He accepted the invitation but with bitterness.

His first speaking assignment was to address a pastors’ conference with a thousand Japanese pastors. When he stood to speak, these words came out of his mouth: “I hate you, I hate you. I hate you.” Cho broke down and wept. His hatred had gotten the best of him.  

One Japanese pastor, then another, until all one thousand stood up. One by one these Japanese walked up to Yonggi Cho, knelt in front of him, and asked forgiveness for what their people had done to Cho and his people. As these pastors humbly sought Cho’s forgiveness, Cho found himself saying to each one, not, “I hate you,” but, “I love you.” The Japanese were Paul Yonggi Cho’s Ninevites. Who are your Ninevites? Who are mine? The late Dr. Martin Luther King is quoted to have said, “Hate can not drive out hate, only love can do that.”

Who really cares? God does! What does the story of Jonah then mean for us as the Church? It asks those of us within the body of Christ to examine our attitudes toward those who are outsiders. This story warns us of a “Scrooge” attitude which conveys the message, “We are on the inside, and you are on the outside, so stay on the outside because we insiders don’t want anything to do with outsiders.” The story of Jonah reminds us that we exist for the sake of the people of our world. Yesterday we had the chance to demonstrate this visibly, right here in our parking-lot.

The story of Jonah ends with a question mark. This “Scrooge” might not have a heart for the people. 1) So here’s the question for you and me: If Jesus came to save the people of Vancouver, Edmonton, Greenfields, London, Tokyo, Sydney, and all people everywhere, what kind of love should we show others if we claim to experience God’s love?  

The gospel of Jonah just doesn’t measure up, but the Gospel of Jesus, now that’s a gospel for all people everywhere. May God continue to equip us here at Dayspring. Let us keep showing the love of God to all those around us.  

1) Source: CSS Publishing Company, Old Testament Sermons for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, by Curtis Lewis 


Copyright 2019 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church

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