So having a little baby in the house certainly makes you think about the things that we learn as we grow to maturity, whether that is physical skills, language or the way we behave.
Doing things we don’t want to do when asked… – I think most kids learn this, then unlearn it as teenagers and hopefully pick it back up by the age of 30… The vast majority of us work this out… Generally speaking, this is something we need to master to hold down a job, make it through the education system or be a productive member of society. It wouldn’t end well if the police wanted me to pull over for a random breath test… and I decided I would rather not interrupt the current song I have playing and just kept driving… I’m not sure my excuse would be that compelling when I was finally pulled over… Learning to do things we don’t want to do when asked is a part of life… (Hopefully)
Being happy for the good fortune of others… So we have visited a number of friends since having Eve and a few of them have small kids of their own. The thing is that often these other kids often don’t like the idea that Eve gets attention, gifts, etc. Kids, more than anyone else seem to have a finely tuned sense of what is fair… Rather than be happy for someone else getting something nice, receiving forgiveness for breaking something, etc, they are upset at the perceived injustice of it all. Learning to being happy for the good fortune of others is a part of life… (Hopefully)
The story of Jonah…
There are plenty more but it struck me as I was reading the story of Jonah that he not portrayed as a hero of the faith, but behaves basically like a child…
For those who aren’t familiar with this story, firstly, I would encourage you to have a read of the book of Jonah… You can read it through in like 10 minutes and its pretty funny…
The summary of the story is basically that Jonah gets called by God to go and preach to this city, Nineveh. Jonah then promptly runs away, heading in the opposite direction away from this Nineveh He didn’t want to go… He gets on a boat, a storm happens, some weird stuff with a fish and he ends up deciding to head to Nineveh, then we get to the bit we just heard. Jonah shares this message with the people of Nineveh and…. They listen…. They repent… So how does Jonah react to this…
“I Knew This Was Going to Happen!”
1–2 4 Jonah was furious. He lost his temper. He yelled at God, “God! I knew it—when I was back home, I knew this was going to happen! That’s why I ran off to Tarshish! I knew you were sheer grace and mercy, not easily angered, rich in love, and ready at the drop of a hat to turn your plans of punishment into a program of forgiveness!
3 “So, God, if you won’t kill them, kill me! I’m better off dead!”
That’s a bit dramatic… What we have here is Jonah essentially having a tantrum and then sulking because this city and everyone in it (including the animals) were spared… Throughout the story, Jonah basically behaves like a child, not doing what he was asked to do by God and then being upset at how unfair it is that Nineveh received grace.
But… God still sticks with him and God still worked through him… I would like to suggest that this story about Jonah is a story about each and every one of us too… It is a story that can both reflect some of our deepest challenges but also offer some of the best encouragement.
Jonah as Encouragement
Firstly, this story reflects why Grace and forgiveness can be so difficult
You see, I think the challenge with stories like this one is that they reflect some of the hardest aspects of forgiveness and grace. It is easy to accept that God would love and long to forgive those who we think deserve it, those who we would be comfortable as seeing as part of God’s family.
For Jonah, he wasn’t just being sent to some random city who needed to hear about God. In his day, Nineveh was the heart of the Assyrian Empire, the empire which conquered the vast majority of Israel, the nation where God’s people lived and forcibly resettled thousands of these conquered Israelites throughout the Assyrian empire… As far as a someone like Jonah was concerned, probably the best, the most just thing, the right thing, for God to do to the Assyrian Empire and cities like Nineveh would be to completely wipe them out. They certainly deserved it… But that is the rub right there.
As much as we might not get upset about trivial things being unfair like little kids, the idea that God seeks even the most evil and broken people in our world to repent can be a tough sell. For each of us, there are likely people who, if we are honest, we would not want to welcome into God’s family, people who we think deserve justice and punishment and are beyond redemption.
Grace and forgiveness can be easy to seek for ourselves and difficult to apply to others. Are we prepared to pray for (and work for) the good of our enemies…? That they may come to repentance, that they may find forgiveness and find new life…
Secondly, this story reminds us that we don’t have to be perfect for God to work through us
It can be tempting to endlessly make excuses as to why we can’t be serving in our community, why we aren’t qualified to talk about faith and how these things are best left to those who are a bit more spiritual, maybe a bit better trained, or at least more confident.
The thing is that when we look at the story of Jonah, we are reminded that throughout the scriptures, God chooses to work through imperfect and broken people. As I was reading Jonah, I found it odd that God doesn’t even seem to get that cranky with Jonah, just continues to work in him, work through him and work despite him for the sake of those he has been sent to. In the New Testament, Jesus disciples, his first followers, weren’t picked because they were the best and brightest, they were constantly mucking up,, and yet God chose to work through them.
As God’s people in this community, I think we need to remind ourselves that in calling us, in inviting us into God’s family through Grace, God also chooses to be present in and through us. This doesn’t mean that we will do everything perfectly or even always for the right reasons, but it does mean that each and every one of us is called to bring what gifts we have, our time, our talent, our financial resources, to continue the ministry of Jesus. If you have been part of God’s family for a year, if you have been part of God’s family for a week, you have an important part to share in God’s ministry here and we are keen to help you discover, grow and go to serve.
May we be a community that is seeking to grow to maturity in faith.
Doing things we don’t want to do when called
May we be a community that is encouraged by the stories of normal people like Jonah, Jesus disciples and the early church. May we have the faith to trust that God can and does work through people like them and continues to work through people like us. May we avoid excuses and procrastination and be those who push outside what is comfortable, seeking to grow as we serve together to embody Jesus in our families, our workplaces and our community.
Celebrating grace received by others
May we continue to celebrate God’s grace that is uncomfortably generous, may we continue to pray for those who we would count as enemies and my we celebrate in those times when they received forgiveness, choose repentance and find new life. May we continue in the knowledge that in the Gospel there is life, there is power and there is renewal, for body, mind and spirit, power that we share in as we seek to continue the ministry of Jesus. None are beyond the reach of God’s love and grace available through Jesus.