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Change We Need 
Sunday, January 25, 2009, 08:00 AM - Sermon, Podcast
Jonah 3

Pastor Christy reads the book of Jonah, the man who hated change.


The message below is available as a podcast recorded live at our worship service. Click the podcast image to listen now or right click the image and choose "Save As" to save this message in mp3 file format on your computer for playing later.

Jonah is a short book. It is just four chapters, two pages in the Bible, but it traces a complete arc of one man's dealings with God's demands. Jonah is against change. The book with his name shows us how we deal with the demands for change in our own life, from God or otherwise.

Realize The beginning of working on a problem, or working on God's call is to realize that something is wrong. God takes notice of Nineveh. Jonah knows Nineveh, it was the big bully on the block at the time. God wanted Jonah to go and fix them. Later Jonah says he was afraid God would forgive them instead of destroy them. He wanted no part of the salvation of Nineveh, they did not deserve his help.

The problems are too big, there is nothing I can do, it will take care of itself. When we realize that we are have a part in the solution of the problem, that God has called us to make a difference in the world. We are on are way to the change we need.

Retreat The most common action after we realize we have a problem to work on, a call to go forward. Jonah runs the other way. Some put Tarshish is on the other side of the Mediterranean in present day Spain, west of Israel, while Nineveh is east. Others put Tarshish in South America near Buenos Aires. Far from Israel and Nineveh. I've meant many people who run away from the problems, literally, they move to another town, move to another church, move to another spouse instead of working on their problems. They bring their problems with them.

I remember talking to the police who pointed out that criminals never figure out that you can't outrun the radio. It is even tougher to go where God can't get you. As Psalm 139 sings, even if you take the wings of the morning to the furthest reaches of the earth will only find God there to greet you. If we make our bed in heaven or hell, we are still in God's hands.

Most of our problems are of our own making. Not the situation, but our reaction and response to the situation. This works out well for the only real thing we can change is ourselves. So fleeing from problems, either by distance or denial doesn't work for wherever we go, there we are. Running away just moves the problem, it does not escape it for you cannot outrun yourself.

Reproach Strangely, we can go right from retreat to reproach. From acting as if we have nothing to do with the problems, to taking all the problems on ourselves. Sometimes some of us can go overboard with a problem, thinking death or destruction is the only way out. Jonah's says it is all my fault, throw me overboard, I am the source of all the problems and evil.

It is also a popular game when the boat is going down, who is to blame. If no one comes forward, folks pick who to sacrifice by casting lots, by random divination. What have you done to bring this upon us? This is done in countries, churches, and families. Someone is to blame for our troubles, if we throw them overboard, all will be well. What if Jonah had repented on the ship? Decided to do what was required of him, instead of giving up on life itself? He took the beating and the blame instead of using it as a time to change and repent. He hadn't hit bottom yet, he just knew the pain was great, but not great enough to change.

Repent Jonah hits bottom in the belly of a great fish. He prays there in the dank and dark saying that he will do what God has commanded him. When we get so low there is no way out but up, we see repentance. When the pain overcomes the fear of change, we do what we need to do. Repent means to turn. Change course, go in a new direction.

Some of us wonder how an African American got elected President. We never expected to see the day. I wonder if it took a lot of pain to see a new way out. Maybe we are in the belly of the whale now. A place where we can turn away from racism, classism, greed, and forcing our way on the rest of the world. It is good when things are bleakest, when banks teeter on collapse, investments shrink, and jobs evaporate; when we got of the storm only to swallowed by a fish, to realize that maybe God is trying to get our attention to turn our course. In the belly of the beast, Jonah prayed. It is good when all has gone from bad to worse to pray God.

I talked to one person who made a huge career change. Left the ministry, he said, when all was going bad in his current position and he couldn't even get through the first interview with other churches because he was so down on himself and life…he prayed, I get I'm supposed to leave this church God, show me your way. Immediately a dream job dropped in his lap, and everything else fell into place. He was much happier out of the ministry, but it took a kick in the gut and an honest prayer to get him to see that God wanted him to move.

Reveal Our third chapter has Jonah reveals his message and result of his warning. All of Ninevah from the King on down makes a change in sackcloth and ashes and repents. He is a change without know that it will work. Who knows? Interesting thing has been reveled in pandemic planning, you know if another great flu epidemic rages through the world like in 1918 where 20 to 100 million people died. Planners have run different ways of coping, shutting down air travel, declaring a holiday, closing schools, distributing vaccine…they found that any change was good and helped the outcome. When something isn't working, when the present form of the world is slipping away, and the current course shows doom is certain, any change can bring a better outcome than the status quo. God does relents and lets the city survive.

Regret Now this makes Jonah a liar. Worse than that he saved Israel's enemies from the destruction of God. It is like God was like God was going to destroy the terrorists, but you warned them, and they repented so God let them off. How popular would you be back home? Jonah regrets the whole episode.

Change is like that as well. At some point the old ways seems so much better compared to the new. The Israelites mourned for slavery in Egypt, the alcoholic remembers the sweet numbness of the bottle, the abused women returns to her attacker. We forget the storm and the whale belly that got us to change and slip back into what A.A. calls stinky thinking. Jonah can't see the good in an entire city repenting and the saving of people from destruction because his pride was hurt and nationalistic desire for revenge was thwarted.

Reflect The last chapter is reflection, or a challenge to reflect. God gives Jonah a tree for shade one day and then destroys it the next. Jonah misses the tree and its shade. God says well, you miss the tree you had nothing to do with, that you only had a one day relationship. How much more do I care for the men, women and children of Nineveh? The book ends with that question, which is a cue that that the reader is supposed to answer the question.

The entire book of Jonah is about how God's care changes us. God's messengers or the recipients of that message, God's care is with us in the belly of the beast, the storms of life, and in our most wickedest moments and with our deadliest enemies. If we let God's care and love for us and others direct us from ourselves into relationship and care with others we will find not only ourselves changed for the better, but the world. Amen.


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