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Calvary Episcopal Church
667 Mount Road
Aston, PA       19014

610-459-2013
OFFICE




mail@calvaryepiscopalrockdale.org
SERMON
19 Pentecost - Proper 20
September 21, 2008
The Rev. Kristine Hill
667 Mount Road, Aston, PA   19014                                                 610-459-2013
Small Parish - Big Heart
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the Lord

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community

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church
This  morning  we  have  a  marvelous  story  to  ponder.   The  people  who  put  God’
s  Word  into  human  language,  did  so  in  a  masterful  way.   Scripture  describes  
situations  in  the  lives  of  God’s  people,  tells  the  interplay  between  God  and  God’
s  servants  so  immediately,  so  vividly,   that  we  are  drawn  into  the  drama;  the  
emotions  in  the  narrative  become  our  emotions,   the  suspense  in  the  story  
holds  us  captive.   This  is  certainly  true  of  our  first  reading  today  from  Jonah.   
What  a  character  Jonah  is;  what  an  interesting  relationship  he  has  with  God.   
Jonah  does  not  hesitate  to  contend  with  God  --  disagreeing,  pouting,  arguing,  
testing  God  in  numerous  ways.   And  it  is  fascinating  to  see  how  God  responds.

When  God  first  calls  him  to  deliver  a  message  to  the  people  of  Ninevah,  
Jonah  runs  in  the  opposite  direction.  He  doesn’t  want  to  go    near  the  people  
of  Assyria  –  where  Ninevah  is  the  capital  city.   Assyria  is  his  enemy,  the  
enemy  of  his  people,  Israel,  and  what  a  brutal  enemy  they  have  proven  to  be.  
In  warfare  they  do  not  merely  defeat  their  foes;  they  terrorize  and  torture  them,  
humiliate  them,  mutilate  their  bodies.   Nobody  who  has  ever  come  up  against  
the  Assyrians,  likes  them.  Jonah  has  ample  reason  for  the  grudge  he  holds  
against  the  people  of  Ninevah.   


But  of  course,  running  away  from  God  does  not  work  and  in  the  end,  Jonah  
goes  to  Ninevah  and  delivers  God’s  message --  very  briefly,  in  as  few  words  
as  possible.  Even  so,  all  the  people  repent  of  their  wickedness.  They  fast  and  
replace  their  expensive  clothes  with  burlap  sacks.  They  fall  on  their  knees  and  
ask  God  for  mercy.  God  is  moved,  decides  not  to destroy  them,  and  forgives  
them.  At  that  Jonah  goes  nuts.  He  is  furious  that  God  has  extended  mercy  to  
these  horrible  people.   He  blames  God  for  having  sent  him  to  Ninevah  in  the  
first  place,  saying:  “I  knew  this  would  happen.  I  knew  you  were  a  merciful  
God,  slow  to  anger,  and  ready  to  relent  from  punishing.   That’s  why  I  did  not  
want  to  come  here  and  tried  to  run  away!”   God  simply  replies:  “is  it  right  for  
you  to  be  angry?”  

We  know  how  brothers  and  sisters  are  when  they’re  children.  If  one  gets  
caught  doing  something  wrong,  he’s  sure  he’ll  feel  better  if  his  brother  or  
sister  get  punished  too  –  or  in  his  place.  Pastor  Jeff  saw  his  younger  son,  
Tom  getting  a  re-fill  on  a  glass  of  soda  one  night.   Their  children  are not  
allowed  much  soda  and  only  a  very  little  before  bed.  It  was  Tom’s  bedtime  
and  that’s  where  he  was  supposed  to  be,  so  his  Dad  said  “Tom,  no  more  
soda.  Get  in  bed.”   Tom’s  reply  was  “well,  I’m  only  getting  more  because  
Daniel  just  got  a  second  glassful  and  he  went  to  drink  it  in  the  basement.”  
Daniel  is  his  older  brother,  and  the  basement  is  completely  off  limits  for  
drinking  soda.  So  Pastor  Jeff  hollered  down  the  stairs  “Daniel!  Come  up  here.  
And  bring  your  glass.”  All  the  while,  Tom  is  standing  by,  watching.   When  
Daniel  got  there  his  Dad  said  “you  know  you’re  not  supposed  to  drink  soda  
in  the  basement.  Don’t  do  that  any  more.”  By  now,  Tom  was  feeling  pretty  
good;  this  was  what  he  had  wanted.   But  then  his  Dad  did  a  real  strange  
thing.  He  said  “Daniel,  hold  out  your  glass”  and  he  poured  more  soda  in  the  
older  son’s  glass.  Then  he  said  “Now  drink  that  here  in  the  kitchen  so  I’ll  
know  you  know  where  you’re  supposed  to  drink  soda.”  At  this  point  Tom must  
have  been  wondering  what  in  the  world  was  going  on.  That  wasn’t  
punishment;  it  certainly  was  not  what  he  had  wanted  when  he  told  on  his  
brother.  

Back  to  our  story  about  Jonah…  Jonah  went  out  from  Ninevah  a  short  ways,  
built  himself  a  booth,  a  lean-to  for  some  shade,  and  sat  down  to  see  what  
would  become  of  the  city.  A  curious  thing  to  do  since  God  had  already  made  
it  clear  that  he  forgave  the  people  of  Ninevah.   Anyway…  our  hero  sits  down  
under  the  scant  shade  provided  by  his  lean-to  and  waits.  It  is  very  hot.   God,  
out  of  kindness,  has  a  bush  grow  up  and  give  Jonah  better  shade  than  what  
his  little  booth  could  provide.   The  bush  made  Jonah  very  happy.  It  says  that,  
right  in  the  text  --  “so  Jonah  was  very  happy  about  the  bush…”   That  bush  
must  have  been  like  an  air  conditioner  to  give  Jonah  that  much  of  a  boost,  to  
make  that  much  difference  in  his  mood.  Or  maybe  Jonah  read  more  into  the  
bush;  maybe  he  interpreted  the  bush  as  a  sign  of  God’s  favor,  that  God  
especially  wanted  him  to  be  comfortable  while  he  waited  to  see  the  fate  of  the  
city.  We  don’t  know  for  sure.  

The  next  morning  just  as  dawn  was  breaking,  a  worm  came  and  attacked  the
bush.  It  withered  and  no  longer  provided  any  shade.  Jonah  was  crushed.   The  
sun  rose  and  a  harsh  east  wind  blew  and  it  was  unbearably  hot.  Jonah  was  
faint  from  heat  until  finally  he  said  to  God  “just  go  ahead  and  kill  me.”  

Jonah  has  some  significant  mood  swings.  The  previous  day  he  was  happy  
about  the  bush  which  shielded  him  from   the  sun.  Now  the  bush  is  gone,  the  
day  is  hot,  and  Jonah  is  so  upset  he  wants  to  die.   Maybe  he’s  just  had  it  
with  the  whole  situation  --  that  he  was  picked  to  deliver  a  message  to  
Ninevah,  that  they  repented  and  God  actually  had  mercy  on  them,  that  he  is  
watching  and  nothing  bad  is  happening  to  them,  that  the  bush  shielded  one  
day  was  gone  the  next  and  the  sun  is  scorching  him.   He  might  as  well  die  
and  get  it  over  with.  

Why  did  Pastor  Jeff  give  his  older  son  another  glass  of  soda  in  front  of  his  
younger  son,  who  had  just  been  scolded  for  getting  himself  a  second  glass  of  
soda?  He  might  have  done  it  out  of  spite;  nobody  likes  a  tattler after  all.  But  
Jeff  is  not  a  spiteful  kind  of  person.    No,  he  did  it  to  teach  his  sons.  So  why  
not  just  talk  to  the  boys, remind  them  of  the  family  rules,  and  their  importance,  
and  close  with  a  few  words  about  not  telling  on  one  another?     Children  do  
not  always  listen  with  rapt  interest  to  parental  lectures.   Over  the  long  haul  
those  lectures  are  effective,  children  do  get  the  message,  but  in  the  short  run  
they  don’t  always  accomplish  much.    So  instead,  Pastor  Jeff  pulled  a  reversal,  
he  did  something  unexpected.  His  actions  reinforced  the  rules  --  his  younger  
son  did  not  get  a glass  of  soda  right  before  bed  and  his  older  son  was  
reminded  not  to  drink  soda  in  the  basement  --  but  everyone  was  surprised,  
even  shocked,  and  because  of  that  they’ll  remember  it.  (Little  brother  might  not  
be  as  quick  to  tattle  either  because  the  results  weren’t  so  great.)

Back  to  the  story  of  Jonah… The  conversation  between  God  and  Jonah  is  
revealing.  It  reveals  a  lot  about  God’s  relationship  with  Jonah,  about  God’s  
relationship  with  creation,  and  about  God’s  relationship  with  us.  From  this  last  
encounter  between  Jonah  and  God  we  observe  how  Jonah  sees  himself  in  
relation  to  God  and  to  others,  we  are  brought  to  wonder  what  Jonah  hears  in  
the  things  God  says,  how  Jonah  might  be  opened  up  by  God’s  challenge  and  
blessed  by  God’s  attentions.   The  bush  is  gone,  Jonah  is  sitting  in  the  sun,  it  
is  hot,  and  Jonah  has  said  “It  is  better  for  me  to  die  than  to  live.”  God  
replies:  “Is  it  right  for  you  to  be  angry  about  the  bush?”   Hear  God’s  
response;  it  echoes  the  reply  God  gave  to  Jonah’s  complaint  that  Ninevah  was  
spared  destruction.  Then  God  said:  “Is  it  right  for  you  to  be  angry?”   God  is  
pushing  Jonah  to  consider,  to  reflect,  to  look  at  the  broader  picture  and  his  
own  place  in  it.    IS  IT  RIGHT   for  you  to  be  angry?    God  seems  to  be  saying  
“think  deeper;  consider  the  matter  from  a  larger  perspective;  I  am  God  –
remember  who  you  are.   Is  it  right  for  you  to  be  angry…  about  the  bush?

Jonah,  God  bless  him,  says  “Yes,  angry  enough  to  die!”   Honest,  forthright  
Jonah  --  he  is  us,  you  and  me  and  anyone  else  who  ever  walked  the  earth,  
because  there  are  times  when  we  do  think  we  are  right,  even  in  opposition  to  
God.   We  might  not  be,  but  we  think   we  are.  What   Jonah  remembered   was  
the  suffering  of  his  people,  and  he  was  still  smoldering  over  it.   He  did  not  
want  “those  people”  –  the  Assyrians  –  to  be  forgiven,  not  after  what  they  had  
done.   We  understand  that  sentiment,  whether  we  would  argue  as  boldly  with  
God  as  Jonah  did,  I  don’t  know,  but  we  understand  how  he  felt.  

God  lays  the  issue  before  Jonah  with  a  few  simple  words.  “Jonah,  you  worry  
about  a  bush  that  you  did  not  plant  or  grow,  but  begrudge  me  the  right  to  
care  for  the  city  of  Ninevah,  though  I  did  ‘plant’  them  and  have  nurtured  them,  
and  though  there  are  many  Ninevites  who  are  no  more  ‘criminals’  than  you  
are.”     We  are  left  to  ponder  whether  Jonah  was  able  to  hear  this  last  word  of  
God.  The  text  does  not  tell  us.  Of  course,  much  more  important  is  whether  
God’s  words  are  able  to  reach  us,  to  change  our  hearts.    

God’s  love  for  us  is  astonishing.   Hardheaded  though  we  are,  God  does  not  
give  up  on  us.   God  does  not  throw-up  God’s  hands,  mutter  “they’ll  never  
understand  the  concept  of  mercy”  and  leave  us  to  our  own  devices.  God  
stays  with  us  like  the  truest  friend,  the  best  counselor,  the  most  patient  
teacher,  helping  us  past  our  stubbornness,  our  woundedness,  our  unforgiving  
nature.     What  is  remarkable  in  this  story  from  Jonah  is  that  God  did  not  have  
to  accomplish  God’s  mission  in  this  way.     Pastor  Jeff  did not  have  to  give  his  
older  son  another  glass  of  soda  in  the  presence  of  his  younger  son  to  make  
his  point,  but  did  so  hoping  his  boys  would  truly  learn;  …in  the  same  way,  
God  did  not  have  to  expend  all  this  time,  energy,  patience,  and  effort  on  
Jonah   in  order  to  bring  the  word  of  salvation  to  Ninevah.   There  were  other  
prophets.  God  could  have  sent  someone  else.  When  Jonah  went  out  of  
Ninevah  and  sat  down,  waiting  to  see  what  would  become  of  the  city…   I  
figure  God  was  sitting  back,  waiting  to  see  what  would  become  of  Jonah.  

See  what  an  intimate  companion  we  have  in  God.  Since  we  belong  to  Jesus,  
we  know  that  already,  but  this  story  from  Jonah  reinforces  the  message.  It  
reminds  us  that  God  loves  everyone,  not  just  “our  people”  or  those  whom  we  
consider  to  be  “good.”   And  yet  we  see  in  God’s  relationship  with  Jonah  how  
patient  God  is  with  us  when  we  are  slow  to  give  up  our  prejudices  and  our  
grudges.  God  will  not  bend  to  our  will;  eventually  we  will  be  remade  according  
to  God’s  will.  That  is  also  clear  in  this  story  from  Jonah,  but  the  tenderness  of  
God’s  love  is  striking  --  remaining  near  us,  listening  to  us,  answering  us  even  
when  we  are  stubborn  and  wrong.   

Here  is  God,  granting  forgiveness  to  Ninevah  when  the  citizens  there  turn  
away  from  their  sin;  and  at  the  same  time,  here  is  God,  waiting  with  Jonah,  
watching  to  see  when  he  will  accept  the  fullness  of  mercy  for  others  and  for  
himself.    What  an  incredible  God,  gracious  and  merciful,  slow  to  anger  and  of  
great  kindness.    Indeed,  there  is  no  other  like  our  God.                
Jonah 3:10-4:11
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16
The Rev. Kristine Hill, Interim Rector