17-18 Aug 2019, Christ Mountain Top
Praying the Scripture, Psalm 88, selections
Children, Mark 1.14-20
Message, Jonah 2.1 – 4.1
accidental evangelist, how NOT to witness
hypocritical evangelist, how NOT to pray
Today: the suicidal evangelist, how NOT to be happy
Next week: Jonah and Jesus
Remember that we are paying attention to Jonah as comedy. He’s been swallowed and disgorged by the fish. He’s finally gone to Nineveh (now part of the city of Mosul, Iraq). 120,000 people have responded to his hellfire and brimstone message. Instead of being elated, he is MAD, mad because God is gracious and forgiving of enemies, people that Jonah hates.
From the belly of Sheol, the belly of the fish, he prayed, “Deliverance belongs to the LORD.” This time he offers a different prayer: “Please take my life from me.” God responds, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Or, an alternate translation (NIV), “Do you have a right to be angry?”
Jonah holds a stake-out just in case God’s mind changes once more, hoping to have a front row seat to a holocaust. God sends a bush, a vine, that grows up in one day to provide shade. The next day, God sends a worm that cuts the vine. And, God sends a wind that withers the vine.
“God sends” or “God appoints” or “God prepares” … an expression that shows up throughout Jonah. God appoints a storm at sea, God appoints a fish to swallow him, God appoints a vine, God appoints a wind. (That English word, “appoint,” refers to the power of a bishop to send pastors to serve communities and congregations.) Here, the word refers to God’s sovereign control over the world and history, but it is a control that is exercised dynamically with human beings. The people of Nineveh are given the opportunity to repent. Jonah, who initially refuses his appointment to preach at Nineveh, is also given the opportunity to repent. Now done with his preaching, Jonah makes his own bed, but he’s not particularly pleased with lying in it.
“Do you have a right to be angry about the bush?”
“Yes. Angry enough to die.”
Well, this is progress in Jonah’s therapy. It begins with Jonah being mad because of God’s kindness to strangers, to Jonah’s repentant enemies. Now, he’s mad because God has played him. First, he was mad because God didn’t destroy Nineveh. Then, he was mad because God did destroy the vine. What kind of God does Jonah want? And, like any one of us caught red-handed in such irony, Jonah only digs in his heels and becomes more petulant: “Angry enough to die.”
Since this is Scripture and not just comedy, we need to look for lessons we can learn. Jonah is angry, not happy. So, we have three ways NOT to be happy.
First, Jonah is not happy but angry, because he justifies hatred.
The genius of hatred is that it dehumanizes others, erecting a psychological barrier so that we treat them as less than me. We don’t have to deal with the complications of empathy for someone whom we find distasteful. We don’t have to find some reason to respect someone who threatens us. We completely disconnect. We hate them. Now, the fact that hatred dehumanizes us is hardly relevant. If we are haters, it doesn’t matter, because our single-minded focus prevents us from contemplating the truth that hatred closes our souls off from connecting with other humans who are also made in the image of God.
There are personal hatreds – the bully who threatened me in second grade, the man who abused my relatives. But there are also systemic hatreds that can be just as powerful and effective in making us angry and unhappy – racism, classism, sexism. It is preferable, if we determine not to be happy, to be as hateful as possible.
Jonah had several reasons to hate Nineveh and its people: Nineveh was the world superpower and the enemy of the Jewish people that eventually committed ethnic cleansing on the northern kingdom, effectively wiping out what we now know as the ten lost tribes. In addition, Nineveh was a city, and perhaps Jonah had bought into the assumption that cities are centers of evil. Jonah hated Nineveh and wanted to see it destroyed.
Second, Jonah is not happy but angry, because he resists grace.
When something good happens to Nineveh, Jonah can’t dare be happy about it. He resists grace. When something good happens for Jonah, when the vine gives him shade, he slips a bit and the story tells us he is “very happy”. But, despite being “very happy”, he does not express his thanks because, deep down, Jonah is unhappy. He is resisting grace. From his perspective, grace is a fickle thing, like Lady Luck, and you just can’t trust it. Grace might be given to the people we hate. And, when it is given to us, it’s probably just to get our hopes up. If you want to avoid such disappointment, you need to resist grace. You won’t become happy, but you won’t be surprised either. Besides, just when you think you have God on your side, God is liable to show some love to those enemies you hate. The nerve! Where is God’s sense of pride? Resist grace with pride and you’ll be unhappy every time.
Third, Jonah is not happy but angry, because he allows a single small thing to be central to his comfort.
If you want to be unhappy, then you must make small control issues into potential catastrophes. That is, if someone puts the cheese grater or tape dispenser in the wrong place, you need to fly off the handle every time. If you laugh it off and smile at the incompetence of people who inconvenience you, you just might be happier, so don’t dare do that. When you go to the store, park perfectly and criticize the folks who park off-center. Make mountains out of molehills at every opportunity.
Don’t let your children get away with anything or, on the other hand, let them get away with everything. Either way, you’ll be making them and their response to you central to your comfort AND you’ll end up unhappy.
Make certain, as much as it is possible, that all your comfort depends on a single undependable thing – an insensitive and inconsiderate romantic partner, a domineering boss, a distant parent. If there is anyone else, other than you, who is responsible for your emotions; if you can yell, “YOU make me mad”, you are well on your way to unhappiness.
Jonah is happy for a brief but fleeting moment when he allows a single small thing – the vine – to be central to his comfort. And it only deepens his gloom because of the roller coaster of raised expectation and crushing disappointment. If you can find a similar thing in your life, you will be unhappy.
Let’s review. Jonah’s path to unhappiness:
· justify hatred
· resist grace
· allow a single small thing to be central to your comfort
It is possible that you came here today and were not planning to learn lessons for being unhappy. In that case, some counter-intuitive wisdom for happiness.
First,“whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8). “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). God loves the people of Nineveh. God loves the enemy. “Should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are 120,000 people who do not know their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well?” God loves people who are spiritually clueless, distant from God, antagonistic to belief. Perhaps we can learn to love the clueless, the distant, the antagonist. God loves the enemy – when that includes me, and when that includes my enemy.
Second, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5). If you insist on being the center of the universe and getting things your way, you’ll find yourself fighting with God. And, “the bigger we are, the harder we fall.” But if you humble yourself like those awful evil Ninevites, you’ll find grace.
Third, “Let your steadfast love become my comfort”(Psalm 119:76). The love of God is the one thing we can always rely upon. Even the best of friends will disappoint, but God’s promises will never fail. God’s love is not the sentimental stuff of greeting cards and flower bouquets. God’s love is tenacious, passionate, and given to enemies like me and Nineveh.
Prayer of Mother Teresa:
May God break my heart so completely that the whole world falls in.