Sermon by Daniel L. Sonnenberg November 3, 2013
1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. 2 And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.
3 Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4 And the LORD said, “Do you do well to be angry?” ” 5 Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. 6 Now the LORD God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. 7 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” 9 But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” 10 And the LORD said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”” (Jonah 4:1-11)
God blesses the Ninevites whom Jonah hated. God curses the plant which Jonah loved. And Jonah became, not suicidal, but “angry to death,” as angry as he could possibly be, literally, “burning with anger.” Have you ever felt that way? So angry you wanted to retaliate, or if you can’t retaliate, nearly want to die to make the pain go away. In a fallen world, things happen that make us angry enough to become bitter. Why? Because as sinful people we respond wrongly when other people and God don’t do things the way we want them to. Because like Jonah, we are more concerned about ourselves than we are about God and the people around us. But God doesn’t leave us there. He enables us to move from anger to compassion by means of the grace of prayer and the grace of trusting in his sovereign care.
Earlier in our story, we found Jonah prayer-less. When God first called him to go to Nineveh, he didn’t pray about it. We see here that he did think it over in his mind, but he didn’t take it to God in prayer. And carried away by his own thoughts, he took off in the opposite direction for Tarshish. However, at the bottom of the sea, God enabled him to pray, he cried out to God for help. And here we find him praying again, twice. First, when Nineveh repents. And again when the plant dies. He prays his complaint to God, just as we see often in the Psalms.
God also gives us the gift of prayer to give voice to our concerns, our requests and our anger. If we hold anger in, we become bitter, resentful. But if we bring it to God in prayer, he helps us make sense of it. He helps us put it in perspective. He asks Jonah both times “How angry are you?” Both times Jonah says, “As angry as I can possibly be.” God wants to get at the depth of our anger. He asks you and me, “How angry are you about this?” In other words, “Tell me how you really feel. I want to hear it. I can handle it.”
But then God would enable Jonah and us to take the next step, from complaining in prayer to trusting in his sovereign care. God uses the plant to show Jonah and us how much we tend to care only about ourselves. And in contrast, how God cares not only for us, but also for all the who will become his people. Like Jonah, we care more about our personal comfort and our personal preferences. But God, in his sovereignty, cares not only for us but also for the thousands of helpless, lost people around us. We care about our job, our family, our home, our church. God cares for those as well. Not a hair falls from our head that he is not aware of. But he also cares for the lost in our own city. In his sovereignty, he can “work all things for good for those who love the Lord” all at the same time. By his grace, God calls us and enables us to repent of our self-centeredness and trust in his sovereignty. As we trust that he is simultaneously working on our behalf and on our neighbor’s behalf, we can be assured that we are not neglected. And so we can care as he cares, we can rejoice when the prodigal brother returns home. That’s what God was seeking for Jonah when he said, “You pity the plant…should I not pity Nineveh, that that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” God cares for you and me, and our families, and our church. But God also cares for the over 500,000 people living in the metro Toledo area. And like Jonah, God send us with the gospel to those who are far from him, to those even who may be very unlike us. God has a sovereign purpose for us and for this city.
I have a growing conviction that God may in fact be calling us to move our church from Graystone Hall to Perrysburg Heights Community Center. When we looked into this before, the door was only barely cracked open. However, in the past six months the door for ministry there has flung wide open. I have asked the Session to reconsider this opportunity in light of these recent developments, and I ask you to pray with us as we pray and consider it. There is a new, more open, more flexible board in place, and another church is already renting space there temporarily for Saturday night services. We would be able to share in the use of some of their equipment and share in the set up and tear down responsibilities. For the same price we pay for rent here, we would not only be able to hold Sunday morning worship each week, and have an office and nursery and storage there, we would be able to use 3,000 square feet of their classroom and activity room space three nights per week, three hours per night, fifty-two weeks of the year. More importantly, we would be embedded in a spiritually, emotionally and physically needy community. Children, teens and young adults already come to the Center five to six days a week for tutoring, day care and recreation. By establishing ourselves at the center, it can become like Jacob’s well in Sychar of Samaria for us, the place where Jesus rested and met the famous woman of Samaria. We go out of our way to meet them there in order for God to accomplish his purpose through us and in us.
Like Jonah, we can think of many reasons for not going. We have virtually nothing in common with the people there – different religious backgrounds, different races, different economic status, different views of the family, different standards of morality, different politics, different work ethics, different standards on drugs, alcohol and violence. But the same could be said for the differences between Jonah and the people of Nineveh. We may feel indifferent toward them. We may even despise them, but God loves them.
If God is sending us to Perrysburg Heights or later to inner city Toledo or any other place, he will enable us to do what he has called us to do. Just as he did Jonah. We may not like it any more than Jonah did. We may have nothing in common with or care little for those people. But God cares, and if he is sending us, that’s why we should go. As J. Vernon McGee used to say in his Back to the Bible series on Jonah, “God didn’t tell Jonah to love the people. He told Jonah to take the Word to them because God loved them.” And God says to you and me, ‘You go with the Word. I/God love the lost. You take the word to them, and when they are saved and you get acquainted with them and know them, you will love them too.”
Write a prayer to God about something you feel angry about, a loss that you’ve experience or are experiencing that is not yet settled in your heart; you’re still angry, sad, fearful or depressed about it – your church, your family, your finances, your job situation, your health, or something else. That’s your prayer to God.
Then fold it up and take it home with you. When you are ready, tear it up as a symbol that you are entrusting it to God’s sovereignty. That you really don’t know how it will turn out or should turn out. But that you’re trusting him to take care of it in his way.