Well, I’m glad that’s over. Believe it or not, I’m talking about the Packers and their football season. Now don’t get up and walk out just yet. Hear me out. I and my house are Packer fans; I even allowed my husband to buy a share of the Packers this Christmas. But what I’m going to say, the points I am going to make require a bit of distance from the loss of last week, but just not too much. And to top it all off, it will actually fit with our bible readings for today, our Word of God for today.
Ok, here goes. Now all of you who may happen to not be Packers fans, whether you favor some other football team, or maybe no football or any sport at all, think of something that really matters, something that has say sides, and in this day and age we have no shortage of sides to take—political (Democrat vs Republican), Walker or Recall supporter, fan of big business or occupy movement, rich vs poor, ELCA Lutheran/ and the others, internet hackers, United States vs other country, free-market vs regulated capitalism, urban vs suburban, conservative vs progressive fundamentalists, oh my this list could go on and on. You get the point. Ok so getting back to the Packers as I said earlier I cheer the team on and even shout my words of advice, but one thing that gets me about this sport is all the taunting and excessive celebrating going on. Yes, the players should perform well, that’s what they get paid to do, but do they need to get all up in the other teams and other fans face about it. Of course, I’m not talking about the Lambeau leap. But, I’ve had it with booing and taunting and the like. Whatever happened to good sportsmanship—where the two opposing teams shake hands at the beginning or the end of a game? After all its just a game, maybe one with fortunes and futures, but it’s a game.
But really I think it’s much more serious than just poor sportsmanship. There’s something seriously wrong when we demean others, when we taunt them, paint them as worthless and the enemy something to just be conquered, an obstacle in our political or economic agenda.
Of course you’ve heard me say it before, there is nothing new under the sun, and the scripture story about the prophet Jonah is a perfect example. Sunday school and artwork loves to focus on Jonah in the belly of the whale or fish, as if Jonah were this great example of faith, when it’s exactly the opposite. Now I’m not going to spend a lot of time getting into it, but Jonah gets thrown overboard and swallowed up by the great big sea monster not because he’s so good, but because the opposite is true. Jonah is running away from God, and you want to know why. It’s because God wants Jonah to go to Nineveh. Jonah hates the Ninevites—the Assyirians.
Now we could try and excuse Jonah’s bad behavior by imagining that Jonah had a bad experience in Ninevah or met some mean Assyrians. But really this is a case of outright prejudice, racism, fear, envy. Simply put, the Assyrians are the foreigners, big and powerful bully country on the block, the enemy. If that’s all that was going on here there wouldn’t be a problem. Jonah as God’s prophet could march over there yell at them, shake his fist, do some chanting and singing about God smiting the Ninevites. However, and I have to give Jonah a bit of credit, he knows—he believes– that God is merciful and loving. Put that all together and you get Jonah a very reluctant prophet eventually making it to Nineveh, and this is where we get the words of our short first reading.
The missing verses 6 – 9 tell of how even the powerful and mighty king repented turned away from sin and directed to have everyone even the animals put on sack cloth (that’s a way of showing how sorry they are, and turning towards God). Then we learn that God changes God’s mind and doesn’t destroy Ninevah.
But the story really isn’t just about Ninevah; it’s also about Jonah. So what do you think Jonah does, what happens to him when he realizes God isn’t going to send hellfire and brimstone and smite those evil nasty Assyrians? Do you think he jumps up and down and shouts glory hallelujah, God is great, giving thanks that God is merciful and slow to anger, full of loving kindness. Not exactly. Jonah gets mad, mad at God, and says something like, “See I told you; I knew this would happen”. Jonah gets all angry, mad, depressed, and pouts. You see Jonah is not a man of the Bible we should model ourselves after. He’s one of those bad examples. And the story really isn’t just about Ninevah or him, but about our God, and the God who loves all of us on both or on all sides of the political, racial, economic, geographic, jersey divides.
I meant team jersey and not the state or the tv show. Now of course those examples may seem pretty trite when you really think about it, but they are excellent examples or symptoms of what is wrong with our world today. This world values being right more than righteous; we want to have it our way all the time, we want to win at all costs. We, even Christians, are allowing our fear and anger to rule our hearts, minds, words, and deeds. I don’t know about you, but it sure doesn’t seem like Jesus called the disciples to go and trounce the enemy, take names, and kick some –you know where that’s headed, and it’s definitely not in the gospel direction. This week we heard as Jesus calls Peter and other disciples, and last week we talked about Jesus’ call for us young and old, rich and poor, all of us to follow him as disciples. Well today we see what that looks like, and folks it isn’t just showing up for worship (going to church) every once-in-awhile or even every Sunday for that matter. That’s a start.
Jesus calls us be the church, that radical embodiement of God’s love each and every day. You can’t check your faith at the door of the office, the car, the school, polling both, your homepage or facebook. It’s not just a box you check on your profile. It’s who you are all the time. And take it from Jonah it isn’t easy because at the heart of it, it means that the person or group of people that annoy you, that get under your skin, that get your goat, that you mildly or wildly dislike—let’s quit mincing and hiding behind words here. The person or folks you hate, being a disciple is all about loving them just as God does.
So when you came in this morning you received a piece of paper. This is not a test, it’s there for you to use if you wish. Personally, I find I can remember things better and become real when I hold them in my hand. Well I invite you to write this, that or the other person’s name on that top line. Remember while this is homework, you don’t have to turn it in, so you don’t write your name, just theirs—can be an individual or a group of people., take that paper with you (it’s not for me or anyone else but you and God to see) and I want you to really think about and pray, try and spend real time in prayer with that person. I said it exactly the way I meant it. This isn’t the type of prayer where we say, “O by the way God I have this enemy, so why don’t you God change so and so, so that they think, act, better”.
Don’t get me wrong it would be awesome if all those folks out there treating others like garbage would change, turn from their ways. But, as Jesus told all his disciples including us we need to attend to our own sin too. As a follower of Christ we are to love our enemy, and that means carry them around with us in our hearts, listen, be open to them, to see the image of God within them, not to dismiss and demean them. Now I gave you a simple way to remind you to do that every day, and a place where you can write down any thoughts, feelings, etc. and so forth, and you can be honest. Jonah was so honest he asked God to strike him down dead he was so mad. But perhaps as you jot down some things you may notice a change not necessarily in the name on your sheet, but in your own heart. My door, cell phone, or email is always open if you need or want to share anything with me as your pastor. So, just remember this one thing: if God can change God’s mind, I’m pretty sure that we can change ours. Amen.