Immanuel Lutheran Church

Sermon

Epiphany 3

"Jonah . . . calling Jonah!"

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

January 25, 2015

What do you remember about Jonah? Oh, yes, the giant fish. Headlines: Fish Swallows Man . . details to follow! Why did Jonah end up inside a fish? It all began with that all too human response to God: "I don't wanna!" The Lord told Jonah to preach to the people of Nineveh. Jonah took off in the opposite direction. He wanted nothing to do with Nineveh. Now, you need to remember that they didn't have a very good reputation. They were considered brutal, heartless and sadistically evil. It would be kind of like asking a Jewish prophet to preach repentance in Saudi Arabia. The outcome didn't bode well for Jonah.

The Lord is persistent and eventually gets His way. While in the belly of the great fish, Jonah had time to contemplate. He decided doing the Lord's bidding couldn't be much worse than being slowly digested. With his personal repentance, the Lord caused Jonah to be spit up and out. Here's where we pick up the story.

Jonah 3:1-5, 10. Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, "Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you." So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three days' walk. Then Jonah began to go through the city one day's walk; and he cried out and said, "Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown."Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes. He issued a proclamation and it said, " . . . let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands. Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish."

When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it.

Jonah heard the call of the Lord for a second time. It was the opportunity for a new beginning and second chance. The command to "go" is repeated. You can imagine what a sight Jonah must have been. He was probably bleached out from the digestive acids, pruney looking from the water and stinky. Because the Lord was so persuasive, Jonah obeys and heads off for Nineveh.

God would give Jonah the words to speak reflecting His will and not Jonah's. Although Jonah is the prophet and mouthpiece of God, he does not share the Lord's willingness to forgive. All the while Jonah's mouth is preaching repentance, his mind is screaming, "no, no, don't do it!" While the Lord wants the people of Nineveh to repent and be saved, Jonah hopes they refuse to repent and die in a firestorm of hell fire and brimstone.

Jonah is going to be disappointed. Already on the first day in Nineveh the people had begun both to hear the message of the prophet and repent. They believed God . . . repenting with sackcloth and ashes. Their open repentance is led by the king. In the eyes of the Lord, this was a beautiful thing. In Jonah's eyes it was a miserable sight to behold.

The miracle happens. The hardened sinners of Nineveh repented. Who would have thought it possible? Certainly not Jonah. Verse 10 states God relented. If they had not repented, God would have destroyed them (which is exactly what Jonah wanted to happen).

So, what are we supposed to take away from this story that happened almost three thousand years ago? Isn't this just one of those interesting stories that makes for a good chuckle but has no application to us? What are the chances any of us are going to be swallowed by a giant fish here in Iowa?

This story isn't about the hard lesson Jonah learned while in the belly of the great fish. Although this is often the only thing we remember about Jonah, the lesson for us today remains the same as it was for Jonah: God is concerned for all people, even those we might write off.

We hear that it is next to impossible to convert Muslims to faith in Jesus Christ. Impossible is not a barrier to the Holy Spirit. Mission organizations like POBLO and LIA report that Muslims are responsive to the Gospel. In Berlin there is a Lutheran congregation made up of Iranians who fled the despair of Islamic Iran and found hope in Jesus Christ. This congregation averages more than 300 in Sunday morning worship. Never doubt or underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Lord changes hearts whether in the recesses of history or the current events of today.

Do you sometimes think that some people are unable or unwilling to respond to the Gospel? Leave it in God's hands. You are simply the witness. The Lord has promised that His Word will not return to Him empty. We are often surprised by who does repent and come to faith in Jesus Christ.

Sometimes we think that things look pretty dismal. We hear that as small towns and rural areas shrink congregations also shrivel up and die. There seems to be a desperation among Christians that everything is bleak and hopeless. We often look at the culture and the situation around us through the eyes of Jonah. He saw only danger and defeat. He didn't think any good thing could come from a mission trip to Nineveh.

We wonder if any good thing can happen around here. People don't seem responsive to the Gospel. Church just doesn't hold any meaning for most people. Your average person can name all of the Kardashian sisters but maybe only a couple of the disciples. Most people may think they have a connection to celebrities who have no idea who they are but no connection to God who does know and love them.

That's exactly how it was with the people of Nineveh. They had no connection with God. Nevertheless, the Lord in His mercy reached out to them. Nothing has changed. The Lord continues to reach out to everyone. The question is whether like the people of Nineveh they will repent or will they continue to reject the Lord?

Like Jonah we are simply the messengers. Unlike Jonah, we pray that our hearts are loving and hopeful. Unlike Jonah, we pray that we will rejoice when people repent and come to the Lord. The Lord is His mercy has embraced you in His love in spite of who you are. He continues to encourage, feed and strengthen you in His Word and sacraments. Thanks be to God for His love to us in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


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