Jonah 3:10-4:11; Luke 5:27-32
Midweek Lenten Service
(Lord, Teach Us to Pray)
April 9, 2014
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI
“Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have someone to forgive.” Just ask Jonah. Jonah’s name means “dove” in Hebrew, but he’s often portrayed as if he’s more of a chicken. After all, he did run away when the Lord called him to preach a message of repentance to the Assyrians in Nineveh. As the story goes, “the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evilhas come up before me.” But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.” You’ve heard that part of the story before, but did you notice what was not in there? We’re not told why Jonah doesn’t want to go to Nineveh. We’re not told why he fled from the presence of the Lord. We’re just told that he got up and went the opposite direction.
Was he just being chicken? Not according to Chapter 4, which was read just a few moments ago. Hear again these words from the Book of Jonah: “When God saw what [the people of Nineveh] did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly,and he was angry. 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. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
“Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.” Jonah thought forgiveness was a lovely idea – when he and his fellow Israelites were the ones being forgiven. After all, they were the chosen people of God. They were the ones with the sacrifices and the prophets. While they might not have technically earned God’s forgiveness, they certainly deserved it more than those wicked Assyrians in Nineveh. Those wicked Assyrians were the enemies of God and his people. How could God forgive them? They would eventually come and take over the Northern Tribes, invading the towns and villages, capturing and deporting the people who lived there, exiling them to some far off village in a distant corner of the ancient world. Certainly these people didn’t deserve God’s forgiveness. They’d made their bed, now it was time to sleep in it. So thought Jonah.
How often are we like Jonah? If we’re honest with ourselves, how often would we rather see the wicked people of this world punished by God rather than forgiven by him? Do you want to see Hitler in heaven? Do you want to see drug lords in heaven? Child molesters? Abusive and violent parents? What those who sexually exploit young girls? Pimps or murders or human traffickers? Do you want to see God forgive them? Or like Jonah, do you find just the tiniest bit of pleasure that you are not like them? Would you rather run and watch them burn under God’s wrath than go to them and preach repentance?
“Forgive us our trespasses Lord, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Powerful words. Dangerous words, for too often we aren’t very good at forgiving those around us. And forget forgiving the big wickedness in the world, like the Hitlers or child molesters. We have such a hard time forgiving the people closest to us, the parents or spouses or children or coworkers who have hurt us in some way. Like Jonah, we tend to hold on to our bitterness, to wallow in it like pigs in the mud. But bitterness and selfish entitlement are like blinders on a horse. They only let us see so much, obscuring the rest of reality that is right next to us. Jonah was so obsessed with the wickedness and sin of the Assyrians that he failed to see the depths of his own sin. He failed to see how God had mercifully provided for him, focusing instead on the supposed injustice he had to suffer as the Assyrians were spared. Jonah was so upset by forgiveness given to the Assyrians that he was ready to die himself.
But that’s what bitterness does. That’s what it did to Jonah, that’s what it does to us. How often do we find ourselves in the midst of a conflict or argument with a loved one, and all we can think about is the wrong that that person has done to us, ignoring the way that we have contributed to the problem. How often is our view of life characterized by giving ourselves the benefit of the doubt while demanding absolute perfection from those closest to us. How often we treat a careless word spoken by another in passing as if they were intended to cut out our very hearts. How often we indulge a sense of entitlement and self-pity when someone has wronged us.
Forgive us, O Lord, as we forgive others? Really? Do we really want that? If we’re honest, we should probably admit that we’d rather the Lord use something other than the genuineness or sincerity of our forgiveness as the standard by which he forgives us. For if he uses our standard, we will find ourselves not the Niniveites, but the vine in the great story of Jonah – withering and dying in the scorching heat as God leaves us to die.
But he does use a different standard – his own. He is the God of grace and mercy. He is the God of reconciliation. He is the God who showed his love for us in that while we were sill sinners, Christ died for us. Jesus is the standard of forgiveness that moves our Heavenly Father to have mercy on us. He doesn’t wait for us to drum up enough forgiveness for others before he will give us any from himself. Rather he has already poured out his forgiveness over us in the water of baptism. He has already poured out his forgiveness over lips in the sacrament of this altar. We have already been forgiven, so now we forgive.
Repent of the bitterness. Repent of the selfish entitlement. Take off the blinders and see yourself and your relationships for what you are. Any 8th grade catechism student can tell you that the Law of God acts as a mirror to reveal our true nature. Let the Law be your mirror; believe what it says. Think about what a mirror does. It not only shows you your reflection, but more specifically, it shows you your imperfection. We look in the mirror to see what’s wrong with us: a smudge on our shirt, a hair out of place, an outfit that doesn’t match. Look into the mirror of God’s Law and see that you do not love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength, and neither do you love your neighbor as yourself.
Then rejoice in the gift of forgiveness. Rejoice in the reconciliation God has provided you through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son. God looked out over his newly formed creation and declared that it was not good for man to be alone. It is not good for you to be alone, our Lord has created you to live in relationships with him and with other people. But in this sinful world, those relationships are going to be rocky at times. If you cling to bitterness and grudges and selfish entitlement instead of clinging to our Lord’s gift of confession and reconciliation, alone is exactly where you’ll wind up. All too often we act as if the best way to keep the peace in relationships is to ignore the conflict in them. What a terrible lie that is! Ignoring conflict only escalates conflict. Burying your head in the sand by ignoring conflict or treating it as if it’s no big deal does not provide a solid foundation for a healthy relationship. The foundation we need is honesty in self-evaluation, honesty in confession, and above all, honesty in forgiveness.
That was a fundamental rift between Jesus and the Pharisees. They thought they had no need of a Savior to rescue them from their sin. He had no intention of being anything else. Those who are well have no need of a doctor, but those who are sick. Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. But there is no one who is righteous, no, not one. If you think yourself righteous by yourself, then Jesus is not for you. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us, but if we confess our sin, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
So confess your sin. Confess that we are all of us citizens of Nineveh. Confess that our own personal wickedness has come up before the Lord. Hear his voice calling you to repentance. And with the people of Nineveh, rend your hearts and not simply your garments. Confess your sin, and be reconciled to God. Be raised up in the joy of forgiveness so that seeing what has been pardoned in you, you have an infinite supply of pardon for others. Being reconciled to God, now be reconciled to each other. Don’t pretend problems or sins don’t exist; forgive them. Bury them in the tomb of Christ. Don’t hang on to them, move past them. Resolve to live in peace with those around you. It doesn’t mean you’ll start to magically like every person who wrongs you or treats you poorly, but it does mean that you will treat them with love regardless of their actions, for that is what our Lord has done for us.
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins or deny our prayer because of them. We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would look instead at Jesus and the righteousness he has provided. And having received the answer to that prayer, now in our marriages, in our families, in our workplaces, in our church, in our school, in our lives, we focus not on the sins that have been committed against us, but we look to Jesus. God’s message to Jonah is clear: Jesus died for the people in Nineveh. Why would he not
want to forgive them? God’s message to us is the same: Jesus died for the people in your life. He has forgiven them as he has forgiven you. Why would we not want to forgive them? Let the love of Christ free you from the shackles of bitterness. Stop lugging around the burden of that grudge. Live your life in the joy of reconciliation, forgiving others as in Christ Jesus, God forgave you.
And the peace of God, which surpasses understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.
 C.S. Lewis Mere Christianity
 Sermon by Chad Bird (Christ Crucified p. 36)
 Jonah 1:1-3
 Jonah 3:10-4:3