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Newaygo United Methodist Church
Thursday, November 23, 2017
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

God Changed His Mind

God Changed His Mind

Jonah 3:1-5. 10

 

Jonah did not want to warn the Ninevites about the destruction to come.  He wanted the Assyrians in Nineveh to be destroyed, after all the Assyrians came as conquerors and sent many of the Israelites into exile.  Jonah’s desire not to preach to the Ninevites initially landed him in the belly of the whale.  But the second time he was told to go and speak to the Ninevites, he obeyed.  But he did not want the Ninevites to be spared by his very gracious god.  Here is part of that story with the results of Jonah’s message to the Assyrians:  (Read Jonah 3:1-5, 10)

When I was a kid our neighbors discovered a nest of baby birds, probably just a few days old, in their attic.  They brought them outdoors for the kids in the neighborhood to see, but didn’t know what to do with them.  Some of us wanted to take one home, but were told they probably wouldn’t live.  I placed on of the tiny featherless creatures in my hand, carefully folded the other hand over it and walked home, feeling the little life squirm and hearing its tiny cheeps.  Being careful to avoid my mother, who I knew would tell me to get rid of it, I tiptoed past the living room, carefully maneuvered the stairs to my bedroom, retrieved an old shoe box with a few items I had been collecting, dumped the items out, lined the box with about half a roll of toilet paper and placed the baby bird inside.  It had a new nest.  After finding a good hiding place for the box and bird I went searching for something for it to eat.  Not really knowing what baby birds could eat, I searched the cupboards.  I thought about what would be wormy, knowing that some birds ate worms.  I found a couple of cans of chicken noodle soup and wondered if the noodles would be good enough.  Hiding the cans of soup and a can opener the best I could I slipped past my mother once again, retreated to my bedroom, opened the first can of soup, pulled out a noodle with my fingers, lifted the bird in my other hand and proceeded to try to have the bird swallow one of the noodles.  No success!  Disappointed, I tried again, without luck.  He just wasn’t going to eat one of those noodles.  Frightened that the little bird was going to die, in ran  down the steps, got a small glass, poured a little mile in the glass, grabbed a spoon, and went as quickly as I could back to the little bird.  This time I tried a little milk on the spoon, but didn’t get much into the mouth of the squirmy little bird.  Feeling unsuccessful, I got angry and said something like, “You can just die then.  I’ve tried everything!” set the bird back in the box ready to take him outside and let him go in the grass.  Just then I heard a little cheep, and interpreted it as “Please, I’m sorry.  I’ll try this time.”  After all, children may just be able to interpret bird language.  So I change my mind, realizing that the bird was truly helpless.  This time I cut the noodle into tin y bird bite size pieces and literally stuffed the pieces one at a time down the bird’s throat.  It worked!  The bird swallowed those pieces and kept them down.  Several weeks later, my baby bird was ready to be taken outdoors because it was hopping around outside its box.  I’m not sure what happened to the bird after it began hopping around the yard, and I think my mother never figured out what happened to her missing cans of chicken noodle soup.  I’m glad I changed my mind and decided to keep trying to feed the bird that I grew to love very much.

God had a mission for Jonah.  God wanted the Ninevites warned of their impending doom.  God had used the Assyrians to interfere with the Israelite nation and send them into exile because they had forsaken God and had broken covenant with god.  But because the Assyrians themselves had become a corrupt, idolatrous nation, God was going to destroy them for their wickedness. You might say that God, who loved what he had created had given up on them.  Jonah, after his stint in the belly of the whale, changed his mind and decided to obey God and delivered the message.  Surprisingly, what Jonah had feared happened, the Ninevites paid attention and repented.  Then God changed his mind about destroying them.  Perhaps he realized that they were truly helpless and ignorant of the ways of God.  When the Ninevites swallowed the pieces Jonah was feeding them, they responded.  God had not given up on them after all.

What makes the story unique is that the people who repented were not the people of God, the people of the covenant.  So why would God have sent Jonah to preach repentance to them?  Wasn’t God mostly concerned about the Israelites?  Shouldn’t God have punished them for their treatment of the Israelites?  It seems hardly plausible that God would change his mind and not destroy the enemy of the chosen people. 

There is another way of looking at this story.  God’s original intention was that the Israelites would be light to other nations.  In other word, God’s love and mercy were intended for all creatures.  So I wonder if God changed his mind after all.  This story may just be a message and a reminder to the Israelites that their purpose was to draw other nations to the God who had nurtured them.  Jonah was the one who needed to repent from his bigotry and closed mind.  Jonah’s reaction was one of anger that God would not destroy their enemies. He had a hard time understanding that God was not just a God of the Israelites, but God of the universe who loved all peoples. Perhaps god’s purpose was to open Jonah’s eyes to the universal truth of God’s love.  That thought flew in the face of the stories about the almost constant destruction of Israel’s enemies we find in so much of the Old Testament.

Jonah’s message has something to say to us also.  We Christians tend to become very closed in our thinking.  We lose sight of the big picture.  We feel privileged to be a part of a faith that can claim a special, saving relationship with god.  So we gather with others who believe pretty much the same and work hard to do the Kingdom of God among us.  We feel alright about who we are and what we are doing, especially that we are doing good things.  We get good at feeding the hungry, providing clothes and needs of the poor.  And we feel good about having a good place to worship.  But a little bit of criticism can get tucked into our way of doing things.  We compare ourselves to those outside our circle of faith, those who seemingly have little faith, or don’t go to church or oppose our way of thinking.  We begin to think that the best thing God can do is get rid of the “bad” guys, especially those who are vocally and militarily opposed to us.  There is always the question of how to handle evil, or what we perceive as evil.  But in our quest to oppose those who we think are on the wrong side, we can tend to forget God’s original intention.  We, like Jonah, can not want the enemy to survive.  We, like Jonah, do not want to bring all people to God.  We can forget that Christ came not just to the people of God, but began to redefine all peoples as people of God.  Jesus came to the lost, to those who had no idea how to find God, how to find the answers to the longings in their souls.

God did not create followers of Christ to isolate themselves from the rest of the world, to be exclusionary, or to only feed each other with support.  God created Christians to spread the Good News, that there was a way for all people to be in relationship with the God who created them.  It isn’t necessarily God who changes his mind, it’s our minds that need to be changed.  We are the Jonah’s of our time.  It’s our responsibility to keep the bigger perspective in mind.  We must keep asking ourselves what God’s intention for all peoples is.  And then we must respond by moving the story out from behind these walls and into the world.

In the last church I served Joe and I got into the habit of going out to lunch after church.  We started inviting others to go along with us and as time went by we had up to 20 people going with us.  Most restaurants could not hold that many people so we searched for a close place where all could fit comfortably and have dinner and conversation.  It turned out the only place we could find was the local bar down the road.  Not many people went to the bar at noon on Sunday so we had plenty of room and after a couple of times the people working at the bar had tables set up for us and willingly added as needed.  The most interesting thing that happened however, was the reaction when that whole group bowed in prayer of thanksgiving for the meal.  We noticed that the other people who had come into the bar to drink or play pool bowed their heads as well.  We were a witness to God’s grace. 

God will not rest until the whole world is paying attention, until the whole world has heard the story and been given the chance to repent and accept Christ.  God’s love is not just for us here, but reaches out into the farthest recesses of the darkest soul.  We can no longer be “sit on our thumbs Christians.”  We must be out their feeding God’s creation any way we are called to do so.  We must be the feeders, getting people to swallow little pieces at a time so they can be nourished and grow into the love of God.

 

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