We read earlier of a man who was called by God to go to the city of Nineveh: Jonah, son of Amittai. He was a prophet who lived 700 years before Jesus – but the story in the book of Jonah is bigger than a historical figure: it is the kind of story that has become a parable that can speak to every generation since then. Invite us to pause with this story and be challenged to grow in our faith:
God tells Jonah to go and preach in Nineveh. And so Jonah was on a mission – to go in the opposite direction to the way God had called him! God said “Go to Nineveh – and Jonah went to Tarshish”.
This is not strange: we human beings often ignore the stuff that God tells us to do. In fact we often do the exact opposite of what our Christian faith teaches us:
Listen to some of the words of Jesus from Luke Chapter 6:
“Do good to those who hate you” And yet if I am insulted – I will return the insult ….preferably with interest!
“Do not judge” – but we fill social media with our judgement of other people: or at the very least we fill our homes with our opinions of other people. And there is more: Jesus tells us to -
Lend your possessions to other people
But our human preference is bitterness, and selfish accumulation, and endless debate about my rights and my freedoms. We are not very different from Jonah who heard God, and then went in the opposite direction.
The amazing thing about the story of Jonah is that God’s love never wavered! God kept track of Jonah, even when he was in the middle of a storm – a storm that he brought on himself. Even when Jonah’s world fell apart and he was overwhelmed by a fish: God never walked away from him.
God would have been justified had he abandoned Jonah: it would have made sense if God had decided to find another messenger instead of Jonah. But at this point we see the truth of our God: God does not repay us as we deserve:
Jesus says this in a number of different ways:
Luke 6: 35 “God is kind to the evil and the ungrateful.”
Luke 6: 36 Your heavenly Father is merciful
Luke 6: 37 You will be forgiven
Luke 6: 38 He will bless you - A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap
This is the beginning point of our gratitude in life: When we discover that God loves us we do not need to hold onto to our bitterness and to our pain and to our anger…. We can unclench our fists and open our hands in gratitude
When we discover that God loves us we do not need to cling so tightly to our possessions, and to our collections of things. We can release our tight grip on our possessions and become gratefully generous. Let me return to the story of Jonah:
There comes a moment when Jonah comes to his senses:
From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God. 2 He said:
“In my distress I called to the LORD,
and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,
and you listened to my cry.
But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the LORD.”
Here is what gratitude looks like: “I will make good”. Grateful praise is expressed in obedient service.
And the best way to express this is to become generously open handed:
I challenge us to pledge sacrificially to the work of God in this church so that we can become a witness to the generosity of God. Let this city learn about the kindness of God in the generosity we show as a church. We can only do this if you as members commit to this: if you, like Jonah, are willing to give generously and regularly to our church.
Please fill in your pledge forms for 2023. This is your moment to say thank you to God.
I challenge us to express our gratitude by being generous to every person that walks through our doors: everyone is welcome: Open Hearts, Open Minds Open Doors. Everyone – adults and kids / physically challenged/ Mentally challenged / straight and gay and transgendered / people caught up in substance abuse / regular people who listen to country music and drive pick ups, and city people who listen to classical music and drive a Toyota Prius…. (and even guys like me who ride a motorcycle and listen to rock music)
Here is your welcome – and if you have been welcomed through the doors and cannot welcome someone else – you were not grateful for your own welcome:
Because this is the house of Jesus: we will be grateful people.