Sunday, January 25, 2015

“The worm that saved the world”
Highlands Presbyterian Church
January 25, 2015

You have all heard the story of Jonah and the whale. But have you ever heard to story of Jonah and the worm?
Once upon a time, the word of the Lord came to Jonah, saying, “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.”
Jonah googles Nineveh and and saw that Ninevah was to the north. So he headed south, fleeing to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He kept going down…first down to Tarshish and then down to Joppa when he found a ship, he went down to the deepest hull of the ship to hide from the face of God.
But the Lord knew exactly where he was and hurled a great wind upon the sea, and such a mighty storm came upon the sea that the ship threatened to break up. The ship’s crew was afraid, and each cried to his god. They threw all the cargo overboard to lighten the boat.
Jonah was fast asleep. The captain came and said to him, “What are you doing sound asleep? Get up, call on your god! Perhaps the god will spare us a thought so that we do not perish.” The sailors said to one another, “This must be the fault of one of us. Jonah began to sweat. His face was flushed. They could tell he was the one to blame.
Then they said to him, “Tell us why this calamity has come upon us. What is your occupation? Where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?”
“I am a Hebrew,” he replied. “I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the men were even more afraid, and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them so.
Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea was growing more and more tempestuous. Jonah wanted to continue going down to get away from the wishes of God so he said to them, “Pick me up and throw me down into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you.”

So they picked Jonah up and threw him down into the sea; and the sea ceased from its raging. But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in down the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the smelly belly of the fish, saying, “I called to the Lord out of my distress. You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, all your waves and your billows passed over me. The waters closed in over me; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped around my head. As my life was ebbing away, I remembered the Lord; and my prayer came to you. I want to make a deal. If you save me from the belly of this fish, I will, with the voice of thanksgiving, sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Deliverance belongs to the Lord!”
Then the Lord spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon the dry land.

Then the Lord repeated himself, speaking slowly so that Jonah would get every word. “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah set out north and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord.
Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city. It would take a man three days to walk across it. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. There he stopped on a street corner and gave the shortest sermon in the history of sermons; 8 words!
“Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
Short and effective for upon hearing those 8 words, the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God.

All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.” When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

Now Jonah was really put out. The sermon he gave was not intended to be a warning. He thought it was a prophecy. He had hope God would do what God said God would do and that in 40 more days, Ninevah would, in fact, be no more.

But NOOOO…God saved Ninevah and the Ninevehites. This was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! I was afraid of this? You thought I fled because I didn’t want to go to Nineveh as you requested. Oh no! I ran away because I was afraid that in the end you’d relent and save these undeserving sinners.

That’s why I fled to Tarshish in the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, I have seen more than I can bear. Please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

And the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Jonah said to himself…I have every right to be angry with a God who saves the undeserving.

Jonah walked out of the city and sat down and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting, still hoping to see a mushroom cloud consume the city.

The Lord God kindly instead sent a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush.

But God had another surprise for Jonah. Early the next day, God sent a worm. The worm attacked the bush. The bush withered so that Jonah was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

But God said to Jonah, “What reason do you have to be so angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night.

And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”

I know you have been taught from the time you were a child that this is the story of Jonah and the whale…a story of how Jonah defied God, was swallowed by the whale…repented and decided to follow God and was saved.

I am sorry. The church has taught you wrongly. This is not the story of Jonah and the whale. It is the story of Jonah and the worm.

Yes…Jonah comes around and does what God asked…sort of. But he wanted it both ways. He wanted out of the belly of the whale as we often want out of the belly of the predicaments in which we find ourselves. To get out, he promises to do what God asks.

He goes to Nineveh but delivers little more than a vague semblance of what God has asked him to do. Then we get to the real story. Jonah is angry with these merciful God. And he tells Him so. Jonah didn’t go to Nineveh the first time around because he didn’t want those people to be saved. “THOSE” people didn’t dress or act or eat or believe as he did. He didn’t want to be used by God as the tool for saving those people.

Despite his lukewarm, half-hearted efforts, THOSE people are saved. Jonah is angry. He leaves the town and finds a place to sit and stew. God sends him a plant to shade him so that he can stew comfortably.  And when God thought Jonah had stewed enough, he sent the worm.

It’s the worm that deprives Jonah of the comfort he needed to continue avoiding God’s real message. When the worm attacks the plant, the shade is gone and Jonah now must face what he is really angry about.

You see…like many of us…Jonah thought he alone knew who was deserving and who was not…and God has surprised him.
God sent the worm first to make sure Jonah was comfortable…and then to jerk him out of his comfort zone.

You see God knows we are uncomfortable with people who are different from us…but in the end God doesn’t care what we think about who should be saved

God’s job is to use us to serve them and love them regardless of whether they live in Nineveh or Somalia or down the road on the other side of the tracks.

And the closer we get to God the less we will worry about the worthiness of others

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