Sermon Script: Jonah 4:1-3; 1John 5:1-6
Sermon Purpose: “Grace and compassion for everyone – not just those like us.”
Sermon Title: Love Everyone = Righteousness
I think we have all kinds of reasons not to like somebody. Sometimes we just really want to see God sock it to someone. Sometimes we want to see God’s judgment and wrath roll down like mighty waters on the people we don’t like. I think we get angry when people who have done awful things seem to get off too easily. We want more judgment on “those” people because after all, we don’t like “those” people. Jonah did not like the people of Nineveh. Jonah became angry when God spared the people of Nineveh. I think if I were angry God spared someone I hated God’s question, “Do you do well to be angry?” would probably only make me even more angry. So we are going to talk about being angry this morning. We are going to talk about being angry when God spares those we think need to be punished. This morning’s message is about offering grace and compassion for everyone – even to people we don’t like.
You may recall from a couple of weeks ago Jonah did not like the people of Nineveh, that great capitol city of Assyria. God told Jonah to go to Nineveh to tell them to repent from their sinning or else God was going to destroy the city. Jonah wanted God to destroy Nineveh and all of Assyria with it, but God wanted Jonah to deliver God’s message. Jonah ran the other way. Jonah got on a boat at Joppa and tried to sail to Tarshish. A storm threatened to sink the boat so the sailors on the ship threw Jonah into the sea. A big fish swallowed Jonah whole and spent the next three days swimming Jonah back toward Israel. Jonah did not want to go.
Jonah hated the Assyrians. Their reputation for being brutal, blood thirsty killers was well known. There was a long list of cities and whole peoples the Assyrians had destroyed. Assyrian military tactics were brutal and their faith was an abomination to God. God describes them as a people, “who do not know their right from their left” (Jonah 4:11). You would think Jonah was justified in being angry with these people. You would think God would want these people destroyed as well. You would think God would want this idolatrous people wiped off the face of the earth.1 Why should God give the Assyrians a fair chance to repent? I don’t know why God gave the Assyrians a chance to change their ways. But giving the Assyrians a fair chance is exactly what God did. After three days of Jonah preaching repent or be destroyed the king and all of the city of Nineveh covered themselves with sack cloth and ashes; they fasted, and cried out to God in an attempt to save themselves from God’s wrath. “God saw what they did, how they turned away from their evil way.” Then, “God relented from the disaster that he said he would do to them, and he did not do it” (Jonah 3:10). God did not destroy the Assyrians. God did not even destroy the people of Nineveh. This is exactly what Jonah was afraid was going to happen. Jonah was angry.
The more I consider Jonah’s anger over Nineveh’s salvation the more curious I am about Jonah’s relationship with God and other people. How righteous was Jonah? The Biblical understanding of righteousness is being in right relationship with God and with everyone around us – even those we hate.2 After looking at the book of Jonah can we say Jonah followed the Biblical mandate for righteousness? Then I think if a prophet of God can struggle with living out the Biblical definition of righteousness is it any wonder we struggle to meet this definition? I’m not making excuses. It is so easy to turn on the news and see the reporting of riots around the world in the face of police brutality. We cannot seem to go a week without a report of Muslim extremists visiting harm and destruction on their neighbors. Then we take what we see in the news and allow it to become prejudice at home. How many times have we caught ourselves giving a dirty look, or having an ugly thought about a woman wearing a head scarf? How many times have we allowed old prejudices about African Americans, or Hispanics, or even Native Americans to change the way treat people who are different from us? Does thinking and acting this way reflect God’s righteousness? What message does carrying hatred in our heart have for those who are lost and seeking answers? Church, when you encounter Christians who are pouty and angry, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? Thinking I don’t want to be around angry pouty Christians is an all too common, and perhaps an all too human thought. What should be the Christian response be to spending time with people we don’t like?
1John 5:1-2 says, “1Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. 2By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.” Church, if we are going to learn to love one another, even when we don’t get a long which commandments do you think we should follow first? (pause) In Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus says the greatest commandment is to, “[…] love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the Prophets.” The question for us is what does it mean to love those who are born of Christ? What does it mean to love those who are born again? If we are going to start by following the commandments then we have to start by loving God. What does loving God look like? Do we need to go out and buy cards and flowers for God? Should we buy God chocolate? No? God is not here in the same way God was here in Jesus walked the earth. If we are really serious about obeying the commandments then we have to show our love for God by loving God’s people – even the ones we don’t like. Loving God’s people is not a mamby pamby kind of love. Loving God’s people is not about letting people walk all over us. Loving God’s people is about loving the smell of sheep.
When I was in seminary I had a professor, Dr. Gray. Dr. Gray asked us on the first day of class, “Do you love the smell of sheep?” He didn’t ask us if we like the smell of sheep? Dr. Gray asked us if we love the smell of sheep. There isn’t often much to like about the smell of sheep. They sweat. They are often dirty because they don’t shed hair like a dog or cat. Imagine not washing your hair for six months and how nasty and smelly your hair would become? That’s pretty close to the smell of sheep. There isn’t much to like, but you can learn to love the smell of sheep just the same. Do you know how we can learn to love the smell of sheep? We learn the same way a shepherd learns. We care for the sheep. We make sure they are fed on green pastures, and led them beside still waters. When a sheep is lost we go look for it. When the sheep is found we rejoice. When the sheep grow older and can no longer watch out for pray the shepherd sends the sheep dog to fight off the wolves and to bring the sheep home again. Sisters and brothers who are the sheep? Who are the sheep in our lives?
We are the sheep. We are the stubborn and the stiff necked. We often bite and butt heads with each other. By our inability to conquer the sin in our lives we are often covered in the stink of anger, bitterness, and unrepentance. We are the ones who grow unable to see the wolves lurking at our door. We are the ones in need of saving. However, unlike sheep we can love and look out for one another. We can choose to care for, to build up, and to ask to be held accountable for always, always growing to become more like Jesus Christ. That’s what it means to be a child of God; to love others in an effort to love God. The better job we do of learning to love others – even those who make us uncomfortable, aggravated and out right angry the better job we do of learning to love God. This is what it means to follow the commandments. It means we need to do a better job of learning what it means to love Jesus Christ.
In the name of Jesus Christ – Amen.
1 That’s what you get for thinking. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” Proverbs 3:5.
2 Righteousness is first used in Genesis 15:6 when Abraham believes & trusts God. “And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Right relationship with the Lord is defined in Deuteronomy 6:5 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Right relationship with people is defined in Leviticus 19:18 “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” ESV