Homily By Rev. Martha Tolen for 3rd Sunday in Ordinary time January 25, 2015

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, church events, homily, inspirational, politics, religion, scripture, Spirit by Fr Joe R on January 24, 2015

“The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
File that away for a few minutes. But first, it’s time for a pop
quiz. Here are the rules: I ask 3 questions.
If you know the answers, I give you a blessing and sit down. If you
don’t, you’re stuck with me for 8 minutes. No help from Fr. Joe. OK?

After the Ninevites repent, there is a final scene with 3 characters –
God, Jonah, and the third character is? Why does that character die?
Why did I start with that quote from Jesus?

Our first reading today was 6 verses from the Book of Jonah; the only
time the Sunday Lectionary uses it. Let’s take a moment to get a
little historical background. Nineveh was a huge city, the capital of
the Empire of Assyria, the arch-enemy of Israel. The Assyrian king
wanted to conquer the world. He trained his soldiers as fierce and
brutal killers; they slaughtered and burned everyone and everything
everywhere they went. They were feared & hated. God decided to
destroy Nineveh, but gave them one last chance.

You know how the story goes. Jonah was chosen by God to go to Nineveh
and tell them to change their evil ways. Naturally he was afraid, so
instead of going to Nineveh, he got on the first boat that was going
the other way. But God sent a huge storm and the boat was sinking.
Jonah admits to the sailors that he’s running away from God, and the
storm is his fault. The sailors reluctantly decide the only way to
stop the storm and save the ship is to throw him overboard. But God
did not let Jonah drown. He sent a whale, and the whale spews Jonah
up on the shore at Nineveh. The story seems very silly.

Jonah started walking in Nineveh, calling out, “Only Forty days and
Nineveh will be destroyed.” And to his surprise, the very first day,
the King told all the people, “Pray to God, stop the violence, and
change your ways.” Man and beast were to wear sackcloth! (Seriously,
A cow in sackcloth?) Because of their repentance, God didn’t destroy
the city.

But Jonah was SO angry with God. This is where it is no longer a
children’s story. Jonah wanted the city destroyed and the Assyrian
people to die; Jonah really hated the Assyrians for the terrible
things they had done. Jonah sat in a hut; he was angry enough to die
himself. So God grew a plant, the 3rd character in this last scene,
which gave shade to Jonah that day, making him safe and comfortable.
Then next day the plant died, leaving Jonah suffering in the heat, and
Jonah was again very angry with God, this time for the plant dying.
The plant is an object lesson for Jonah, its dying is how God shows
Jonah the value of the Ninevites.

God told Jonah, “So you’re concerned over a single plant, when you
didn’t even put the seed in the ground? Then how do you think I feel
about a whole city of people dying? Don’t you think I should show
pity to 120,000 people I created, who have repented and decided to
live in peace?”

Jonah, you see, has been acting like America, I mean, Biblical Israel.
He has been lacking in sympathy, selfish, and intolerant. Like many
of the Israelites of his day, he was narrow minded and vindictive. He
ran away, unfaithful to God, like all those times the Israelites
reverted to worship of pagan idols (and the stuff in the stores).
Meanwhile, God reveals his salvation, with his amazing mercy and
profound grace for ALL people.

This is a very hard lesson, this loving people who are your enemy,
loving people who have hurt you. God’s love is to be shared with
people who are not very lovable. God can be trusted to change things
that you don’t think can be changed. God loves and values all people,
and wants them to live in peace.

It is also about the nature of the forgiveness of God. The Ninevites
who were forgiven were clearly sinners; they had done evil things.
But when God came to them, they listened, and repented. Forgiveness
works deep inside us, in the very cells of our being. Forgiveness
only fails to change us when we refuse it. Sadly, we can become
“comfortable” with our sins, adding to our burden. God may forgive
us, but we grab the guilt back, and hold it close. The guilt stops us
from moving on. That is why Paul preaches freedom; he tells us that
we have been released, we have died to what bound us, and we serve in
the new spirit. Read chapters 5-8 of Romans. God empties the garbage
bins of our lives, if we allow it. I tell you in 8 minutes what it
has taken me 40 years to learn. Each year I give more of my old, worn
out guilt and shame to God, and become amazed at how much lighter life
becomes, how joy increases, and easy the yoke is with Jesus.

That leaves us with the last question. “The Kingdom of God is at
hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Why did I start with that?
Well, if you understand what Jesus is saying, it’s all you really
need to know. What we need has already been given to us; the Kingdom
is here, now. What must we do? Repent, allow God to forgive us,
welcome the indwelling of the Spirit, and believe that God’s love and
mercy is available and waiting for our response; and our response is
belief, belief that grows deeper and deeper each day.


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