Sermon Script: J onah 4:6-11; 1John 3:11-18 (Ascension Sunday)
Sermon Purpose: Let go of things and opinions that keep us from loving God.
Sermon Title: “Growth Requires Sacrifice”

I didn’t like it. I had been to college for five years to earn a Bachelor of Fine Art from the University of Alabama. I had moved 400 miles from my nearest relative. I had made sacrifices; all to discover I did not like it. What I didn’t like was my job. I was working as a product designer for Herff Jones yearbook marketing. I was bored at work. I felt isolated from the other designers. I worked in a windowless cubicle in the middle of a warehouse. For me there wasn’t much to like. But on the other hand I was scared. I was scared to make a change. I had devoted years to figuring out how to make a living at this thing I loved. I had spent another three years working at this profession,  and I was miserable; but change meant a lot of unknowns. What if I couldn’t find another job? How would I support myself? What if another job wouldn’t pay as well? What if the conditions were worse? I was miserable and scared, and just going through the motions. Going through the motions is never enough, and on November 11, 2004 I was discharged from that position. I should have been crushed, but in a way it was a huge relief. This is a part of my story. This is a part of my calling to be a minister, and it was painful. What I learned is sometimes growing for God means letting things go.

In this morning’s passage from Jonah, Jonah is sitting on a hill waiting for God do deliver destruction to Nineveh. Destruction did not come. Instead, God allowed a vine to grow up over Jonah’s head. Jonah had spent three days in the belly of a big fish. The digestive juices in the fish’s belly likely caused damage to Jonah’s skin. The hot sun probably aggravated the condition of Jonah’s skin. Jonah was glad for the plant – the shade was probably a relief from the sun. But then God allowed a worm to come and eat the vine – removing Jonah’s relief from the sun. Jonah became angry again. Jonah was exceedingly glad to receive God’s compassion when the vine provided shade from the sun. However, Jonah was rebelliously angry when God shared God’s grace with the people of Nineveh. Jonah cared more about his comfort than Jonah did for the salvation of Nineveh. Jonah had some things Jonah needed to let go. Jonah needed to let his anger die on the sacrificial altar of God’s love. Jonah needed to let his grudges die. Jonah needed to allow his desire to put his wishes ahead of God’s design to die at the foot of the cross.

C.S. Lewis is famously quoted as saying, “There are two kinds of people. Those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘fine have it your way.”[1] Jonah was one of those who very badly wanted to have it his way. Jonah did not get his own way. When Jonah tried Jonah was thrown over board, swallowed by a big fish, spent three days sloshing around in the digestive juices of the fish’s belly before being spat out on dry land. Then when Jonah wanted the city of Nineveh destroyed he sat on a hill and the sun made him miserable. And still Jonah wanted what he wanted – even when it made him miserable.

After losing my job with Herff Jones I tried unsuccessfully for a year to try to build a freelance career. It turned out I was good at selling some things, but not myself. I found myself working as a courier in Charlotte for about three years, and then I finally had to let it go. I had to let go of this idea I can make a living for myself by doing anything other than what God has created me to do. Now, I still draw pretty well as a hobby, but it’s nothing to make a living at. God has given me other gifts for supporting myself, my family and more importantly for doing the work God has tasked me to do.

The question I would ask the church this morning are what are the ideas, and notions we carry that prevent us from doing what God has asked us to do and created us for? What are those things in the life of the church and in our personal lives that do not line up with God’s design for our lives? (pause) The way to figure that out is to look at our priorities. So here’s what I would like for you to do. Please, take your bulletin, and turn it over. Find some blank space there on the back and grab a pencil out of the pew. Now, draw a line in the middle of that blank space. In the first column answer these questions. What are the things you do for you? It can be what you do for a living. It can be what you do for fun. It can be what gets you in trouble. It can be what makes you feel whole. Just quick in one or two words write that in the first column. Now in the second column answer this question. What has God called and created us to do?

1John 3:16-18 says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

It is easy to say we would like more people in our church. It is easy to say we would like more children and young families in our church. But all too often that wish comes with the expectation the new people coming through that door are going to be like us. If you look around this room there is a whole lot of life experience here. I think it’s fair to say without that amount of life experience aint nobody coming through those doors gonna be like us. Have you ever paused to consider what expectations about the people who might come through that door will have to be sacrificed in order for our church to continue rising for Christ? If families started coming through that door who were totally different from us could we love them just the same? What if they are poor? What if they are really poor living in a tent? What if they smell bad? Can we love them just the same?

When was the last time we talked about the difference between loving the unlovable as Christ loved those we deem unlovable? Did Jesus just talk about loving others? Did Jesus stop at talking about loving those who are different from us? No. Jesus ate with lepers, tax collectors and people generally understood to be sinners. Jesus ate with them. Jesus shared what Jesus knew about God with them. Jesus died for them; which is to say, Jesus died for us. We are the descendents of the lepers, tax collectors and sinners with whom Jesus ate and spent His time on earth. Jesus died so those sinners would not have to stay sinners. Jesus died so we would not have to stay sinners. We are not any better than anyone else. Why should we not reach out to the least and lost in our community? Hear me Church. Christ did not die so we could stop at having fun doing fundraisers? Jesus died so we could move past doing fundraisers to keep our doors open and move out into our community. Christ died so we could let our old prejudices about whom we would like to have sitting in our pews die so our church can rise and grow with Christ. What does it mean to rise and grow with Christ? To rise and grow with Christ means to love the unlovable. To rise and grow with Christ means allowing our old preferences to be sacrificed so God’s love and grace may more easily flow. Please take a moment on this Sabbath to consider what opinions, prejudices, grievances and regrets need to be sacrificed in order to better let God’s love flow – both in our lives and in the life of our church?

In the name of Jesus Christ – Amen.

[1] CS Lewis “The Great Divorce”