August 24th, 2008


[CHPC] Mike N. preaching on the Jonah story [2008-08-24]

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    Mike N. talked about how sometimes we'll be asked, say by our parents for example, to do something, and we'll want to brush it off all "In a minute."  He said that God asks us to do things too, like love our neighbor and be kind to our brothers and sisters and take care of the earth, and asked if those were the kinds of things they thought they should respond to with "In a minute."

    During the Passing of the Peace, Mike N. asked me if I would do the Scripture reading since Munir wasn't around.  I was, of course, happy to.  I thus didn't have a chance to read it once through beforehand as I prefer to be able to do.  The reading went fine (would probably have been a few ticks better if I had been able to do a pre-read-through, but that's my perfectionist tendency speaking -- my biggest self-criticism was probably that almost every time I looked up I looked to my left, but that was hard to resist since almost all the congregation was sitting on that side).  I hadn't actually read the text in quite some time, and I was surprised that Jonah's explanation for why he doesn't wanna go to Nineveh isn't in the opening section -- 'cause when you tell the story paraphrase from memory of course you say "God told him to go to Nineveh, and he didn't wanna, BECAUSE..."  I was also struck by the fact that the sailors don't want to throw Jonah overboard (which Mike actually mentioned in his sermon, saying that was a topic for another day).

    "Be Thou My Vision"

    Mike N. mentioned how Nineveh was an enemy of Israel (capital of Assyria), which I didn't know explicitly though of course I knew that Jonah didn't like the Ninevites and didn't want them to be saved from destruction.  And so of course why would they listen to this so-called prophet from Israel.  But then he talked about how the Assyrian king decreed sackcloth and fasting and repentance of everyone thanks to what Jonah had said -- and he pointed out that throughout the Old Testament, God's prophets are usually ignored.  He touched on the issue of: Now Jonah was gonna look like a false prophet since the damnation he had foretold didn't come to pass (since God saw that they turned from their evil ways and forgave them).  But what struck me was that: GOD'S OWN PEOPLE USUALLY IGNORED GOD'S PROPHETS, BUT HERE WERE THESE ENEMIES OF ISRAEL REPENTING BECAUSE THEY BELIEVED THE WORD OF GOD'S PROPHET.  I love the recurrent theme (in both Testaments) of overturning expectations and of reaching out beyond the usual boundaries and how God's grace is for everyone and so on.  (Mike mentioned how Jonah complained to God about the Ninevites getting spared and God said they were God's creation, too, but if I were giving this sermon I totally would have hammered that point more -- and would have emphasized that yes, even our "enemies" are beloved of God and as deserving of second chances as we are [Mike mentioned that both the Ninevites and Jonah get given a second chance by God in this story] and yadda yadda, because that's what I do.)
      Mike opened by talking about how he tends to avoid the Old Testament, and how he has various reasons for that, but near the end he said that really all those reasons are just excuses.  He said that God is loving, and also demanding and all-powerful.  In the Old Testament, lots of people have firsthand experience with God (Moses, Adam and Eve, etc.) and don't emerge unscathed.  And that's scary.  Does he really want to know what God wants from him?  He said that at best his answer is Maybe, and that he has more Jonah in him than Jesus.
    He also said that God orchestrates a grand musical masterpiece with only an elementary school band.

God is greater than our understanding.  We do not fully comprehend who God is or how God works.  God's reality far exceeds all our words can say.  The Lord's requirements are not always what we think is best.  The Lord's care for us is not always what we want.  God comes to us on God's own terms and is able to do far more than we ask or think.
-Excerpt from a Declaration of Faith, PCUS '77
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