Pastor Sherry’s message for January 24, 2021
Scriptures: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Ps 62:5-12; 1 Cor7:29-31; Mk 1:14-20
Our culture tends to believe that success is good but failure is bad. Furthermore, we should avoid failure at all costs. This can lead, however, to some really bad decisions/actions on our parts. I read this week about the Darwin Awards. Very cynically, these are given to people…“who improve our gene pool by removing themselves from it—usually doing so in an extraordinarily stupid manner.” I don’t know who these Darwin folks are, but they scan the news, looking for foolish ways that people accidentally kill themselves. They have been making these posthumous awards annually since 1994. One recent winner was a 19 YO male from Houston. He had bragged to his friends that he could win at Russian Roulette. His gun was a semi-automatic. Apparently he either didn’t know or didn’t remember that it automatically inserts a bullet in the chamber whenever it’s cocked. In other words, his chances of surviving pulling the trigger were zero, and he indeed died. A second recent winner was a Malaysian executioner. Imagine putting that on your resume: “From 2001 to 2008, I was an official executioner.” It seem she wanted a friend to take a picture of him standing on the gallows with a noose around his neck. However, he hadn’t first checked to see if the trap door was locked in place. When he stepped on the platform with his head in the noose, the trap door opened and he was hanged! The Darwin Folks would have us believe these two got what they deserved and we are better off without them.
In a similar vein, do youremember France’s Maginot Line of WWII? The French had heavily armed and barricaded the border they shared with Germany, thinking this would save them from a Nazi invasion. What they failed to consider is that the Nazis would first invade Belgium, then cross into France from that border, breaking into France to the west of and avoiding the Maginot Line altogether. I’m sure students of military history have decried France’s misplaced trust in this impaired defensive strategy as a huge and costly mistake.
Currently we are dealing with the “Cancel Culture.” If the press or social media discover one bad thing you have done in your past, they come after you with no mercy, shaming and embarrassing you in public. There is no grace and no mercy.
Cancel Culture, the Darwin Awards, and even the experience of the Maginot Line would have us all believe that it is fatal to make a mistake. Such a belief is both unchristian and totally at odds with our God! He often views failure/mistakes as a way to bring about good:
(a) Failure keeps us humble;
(b) Failure reminds us we are neither perfect nor gods;
(c) Failure allows God to mold and shape our character;
(d) Failure helps increase our dependence upon God. When we see what a mess we have made of our lives, we realize we need God to guide and protect us.
Two of our Scriptures today reference a godly response to failure. In our Old Testament lesson, we catch up to Jonah (3:1-5, 10) post whale experience. You probably remember that God had given the prophet the assignment to evangelize the Assyrians. But Jonah was horrified at the prospect and immediately ran in the opposite direction. Maybe he or his family had been victims of Assyrian raids, as they were feared all over the ancient Near East for their ferocity in battle. The tales told regaling the revolting and brutal things they did to those they fought and defeated would strike terror into the hearts of any listener. It is said that piles of human skulls sat outside the gates to all their cities. Perhaps Jonah ran from the missionary task because he instead wanted God to justly punish them (like the Cancel Culture, he wanted to exact revenge on his enemies). Or perhaps he just couldn’t get his mind around the fact that God meant to show them—even them!–mercy. Or maybe he was just simply afraid of them! Whatever his rationale, he headed to Spain, got caught in a violent storm, was thrown off the ship by the crew—who were sure someone on board had offended the gods–and swallowed by a giant fish/whale.
Our lesson today picks up with Jonah having been miraculously vomited up onto the beach, only to have God again tell him to go to Nineveh, the capitol of Assyria. And, having learned his lesson—it’s not healthy to defy God—he goes. Archeological digs dating from the 1950’s tell us the city was apparently 27 miles in circumference (2.5 mi. long; 1.33mi. wide). It was probably like many of our large cities, in that one suburb ran into another in a big urban sprawl. It apparently was so large that it took Jonah several days to walk through it, proclaiming his message of repentance.
Now I don’t know about you, but I have often wondered why fierce Ninevites would pay any attention to a lone, bedraggled Israelite. But imagine how Jonah might have looked after having spent 2-3 days in a whale’s digestive juices. Other folks who have been recovered from the stomachs of large fish (and some have over the years), have been found to be hairless. Like persons who have undergone chemotherapy, they lose the hair on their heads, faces (including eyebrows and eyelashes), and their bodies. Jonah probably didn’t wear a wig, so his totally hairless appearance, and lack of a beard, would have surely grabbed peoples’ attention. No doubt the stomach acids altered his skin color as well. He probably looked orange, the original “Orange Man.” The folks of Nineveh had never seen anyone like him, so they probably stopped to gawk. While he had their attention, he told them they had 40 days to change their ways or die! Pagan folks (& some Christians too) are often superstitious. They would have figured Jonah was someone special, so they all—even the king—immediately fell into repentance. They were profoundly impacted. Several hundred thousand people came to grief over their sins and desired to know and follow God. J. Vernon McGee, my favorite Bible commentator, calls this the largest revival in history.
This story is such a wonderful demonstration of God’s mercy. Look at how grace-filled He was toward these horrible Assyrians! He gave them a second chance. Look at how grace-filled He was toward His disobedient prophet! I’m always amazed at how God uses and redeems our rough experiences, when we allow Him. He even used Jonah’s altered and strange appearance as a means of attracting an audience willing to listen to this wandering Israelite.
And these are not the only examples of God’s extension of second chances to folks in Scripture:
(1) Jacob stole his brother’s inheritance, yet God made him a patriarch of the faith;
(2) King David committed adultery and murder, and yet God later—following David’s repentance–made him a man after His own heart.
(3) Peter denied and abandoned Christ when He needed him most, yet Jesus made him an Apostle and very likely the first Bishop of Rome.
(4) Saul, who zealously murdered Christians, encounters the Risen Christ, and becomes Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles.
(5) In Jesus’ story of the Prodigal This son, who according to ancient Near Eastern tradition, should have probably been snubbed by his offended father, is gladly embraced. Any on-lookers would have expected the father to kick this money-grubbing, insolent, disrespectful son to the curb, but his father greeted him with kisses. Their neighbors would have expected to see the son beaten, but instead his grateful father produces a celebratory banquet.
All of these examples demonstrate that our God is a God of grace and forgiveness. He patiently waits on us to come to our senses and come to Him. Unwilling that any of us would miss out on His love and mercy, He offers us a 2nd chance, and sometimes even more!
Our psalm today is Psalm 62, written by King David in his elder years. As you read it, you may be surprised by David’s themes as he wrote this after having survived a palace coup by his favorite son, Absolom. Over time, and without David’s knowledge, Absolom had curried the favor of former friends of his father’s, and even a portion of the Israelite army no longer loyal to the King. Absolom and his cronies entered Jerusalem by one gate, while his elderly and grieved father is forced to flee (with his court, advisors, and army personnel still loyal to him), by another. So, as David composed this psalm, he is feeling rejected and betrayed by his favorite son, and overcome by grief.
Yet notice how he focuses not on his pain, but on his relationship with God. He expresses his trust in God! Though he has been forced from his capital city in defeat, instead of being caught up in bitterness or a desire for revenge, he expresses optimism and praise to the Lord!
(1) In v.9 He says he doesn’t put his trust in the fickle mob, not in men, but in God;
(2) In v.10 He says he doesn’t trust in material things;
(3) In v.11 Instead, he says he trusts in God because God has the Power!
(4) In v.12 Instead, he says he trusts in God because God is merciful.
These are such good lessons for us in these uncertain times, aren’t they? When wild-eyed and unhinged political zealots are calling for revenge and retribution toward their enemies; when the Covid-19 has morphed and ramped up its killing capacity yet again; when the economic future seems uncertain; when we see our civil rights being challenged and increasingly curtailed by big tech, big business, big media, and big government; and when another caravan of thousands of migrants seems poised to storm our borders; in all of these situations, we need to put our trust in God.
Like Jonah, we can be obedient and stand back and watch Him do miracles! Like King David, we can trust in Him despite our circumstances…remembering that God has the power to protect us, remembering that God is merciful. Unlike the people who give out the Darwin Awards, the Nazis, or the Cancel Culture, our God has shown time and time again that He believes we can change—with His help. He doesn’t demand that we be perfect (the more I feel pressured to be perfect, the more mistakes I tend to make). He just wants us, like King David, to trust in Him. And He wants us, like the prophet Jonah, to obey Him. Thank you, Lord, for being the God of 2nd chances! Amen!
©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams