Next Sunday (Sept. 24) I will have the opportunity to preach at church. This is something I have done before, although not very often. As a seminary student working toward being a pastor, these are opportunities that I really look forward to. Preaching a sermon is like exploring an undiscovered territory. There is so much to learn, try, and experience.
The first lesson for 16 Pentecost A is the end of the book of Jonah (3:10-4:11). Since I’m planning on spending some time there, here are some of my first thoughts on this well-known story:
Jonah is a whiny brat. His behavior reminds me of my children when they are at their most unpleasant.
Do I think that there was a real person named Jonah who was swallowed by a fish for 3 days? No. This story is more of a prophetic parable. Besides, it doesn’t matter if it really happened or not, because the story contains truth.
Everyone knows that Jonah fled from God’s plan. But the truth behind Jonah’s 180° turn is less obvious: he hated the Assyrians. His prejudice against them ran deep. Jonah’s preference would be for the whole city of Nineveh to be damned. And it makes sense. Assyria had invaded and defeated Israel.
Jonah fled from God’s plan because he knew that God was too gracious. Jonah knew God’s love was bigger than Israel and he didn’t want Nineveh to know it.
I love how the book ends, “and also many animals?” Whereas Jonah’s prejudice against Assyria won’t even allow him to acknowledge they are worthy to receive God’s mercy, God’s concern is so profound that it reaches past the Assyrians all the way down to the animals. It’s that deep.
The lesson picks up with God changing God’s mind. It reminds me of another time when God changed God’s mind. Moses was receiving the 10 commandments on the mountain and the people were at the bottom making idols. God, insulted by the idolatry, tears down the mountain after them, ready to teach them a lesson. But Moses stops God, and intercedes for Israel. And it says that God changed God’s mind. Maybe Jonah had that merciful episode in mind when he decided to go the other way?
Every time the church gathers together for worship it does God’s story. God’s story is that epic narrative that we can see unfolding throughout the Bible. When we step back and look at the big picture that the total Bible paints we can see a three-part story unfold. The three parts are creation, incarnation, and re-creation. Every time we gather for worship at Faith we do God’s story.
The story of God begins at the story of creation. God, existing as a Triune community, created human beings to participate in the community of God. Unfortunately the idyllic community didn’t last forever and corruption and evil entered the picture. But God sets in motion the plan to redeem and fix everything that went wrong. Out of the desolation of the desert the line of Abraham is established to begin the process of bringing back the peace once found in the Garden. God kick-starts the plan of redemption.
The incarnation of God is witnessed in the person of Jesus. Jesus was God’s response after centuries of being nothing more to us than what we thought God should be: angry, insecure, and the vengeance-seeking tyrant we would be if we were God. In Jesus, God’s loving desire to really be known overflowed the heavens and was made manifest among us. Jesus’ humble mission was to become the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. God comes to us and accomplishes for us what we cannot do ourselves: salvation.
Re-creation is what the Holy Spirit brings about through the work of Jesus. Re-creation is the work of salvation healing all the broken areas of our lives. Re-creation is the new life we find as people born of water and the Spirit. Re-creation is the Jesus-garment that we put on when we become new creatures. Re-creation is the power of God to redeem everyone and everything. Re-creation is a new heaven and a new earth, where sorrows find their end and Jesus is the only light we need. Re-creation is the Garden restored.
The story of God is the story that our worship does. How? Every time we lift our corporate prayers we acknowledge God as the Creator of every good and perfect gift. Every time we invoke the name of the Holy Trinity we recognize that God was before creation came to be. When we bring our gifts and offerings to God we realize that as the Creator, everything is already God’s. That is how our worship remembers creation. Every time the Word of God is read and the Gospel of peace is proclaimed we hear Jesus. Every time the bread and wine are shared at the Table God’s love is experienced anew in the community of his Body. That is how our worship remembers and experiences incarnation. Every time we prepare for the meal and hear the words “until he comes again” we anticipate the feast to come. When we share the peace we experience the reconciliation that comes from being new creatures. Every time we celebrate at the baptismal font we are connected with the death and resurrection of Jesus that brings us new life. That is how our worship experiences and anticipates re-creation. When you step through the doors on Sunday remember that we are doing God’s story!