Damariscotta Baptist Church
Monday, May 21, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

01/22/12 Sermon

Jonah 3:1-4:2

May the words of my mouth….

 

How many of you have ever watched either the movies or TV series: Mission Impossible.

If you’ve never seen it, it’s about a team of secret agents known as the Impossible Missions Force who work for the American Government to keep the world secure.

Now if you recall, the hallmark of the series would be when the team leader would receive the instructions of the mission from a recording which always of course seemed impossible.  (If you choose to accept this mission you will have to take documents from the most secret and secure place in the Kremlin)

His assistants would always be waiting in disbelief of what they were being called to do.

And another trademark of the show was that after the mission was given on the recording device, it would say “this message will self destruct in 5 seconds”.

It would self destruct and then you would hear the theme song……..

Now I thought about Mission Impossible when I read the story of Jonah.

In the story, Jonah is given a mission from God---and for Jonah it must have seemed like Mission Impossible. He’s to go to Nineveh, the pagan capital of Assyria which was an enemy to Israel; a place of wickedness and worshipping of false gods.

And Jonah has the impossible mission of prophetically calling them to repentance to follow the one and only true God.

Well Jonah wants no part of it. He doesn’t want to choose to accept his mission.

 

But unlike the Mission Impossible TV shows, Jonah doesn’t have a choice. This message from God doesn’t self destruct in 5 seconds.

Instead it follows him everywhere. Even though he tries to run and hide from God, the mission doesn’t go away.

It followed him on a ship of Gentiles on his way to Tarshish. It followed him while the boat was being tossed and turned in a storm. It followed him when he was reluctantly thrown overboard by the gentile sailors and it followed him as he was swallowed up in the belly of the great whale. No matter where he went the Mission followed him.

And as we pick up today’s scripture we see that the Mission has followed him as he lies on the beach and hears God again say Jonah  ‘Get up, go to Nineveh,… and proclaim…the message that I tell you.’

 

And as we see this time, he accepts the Mission albeit reluctantly.

He goes to Nineveh, a city that we read was so large that it took 3 days just to get across it.

And Jonah speaks one simple message: ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’

The word gets to the King and he calls for all the people, even the animals, to wear sackcloth which was the sign of repentance.

And as a result the city is spared from judgment and the seemingly Mission Impossible--- with God and Jonah’s reluctant obedience was made possible.

So what does this story have to say to us today???

Well the story of Jonah is a microcosm of the whole story of God’s call to Israel to witness to the Gentile nations of the world.

Israel, God’s chosen people, was called by God to witness and share the blessing that God had shared with them with all the peoples of the world.

Of course this calling to witness was then made complete and inclusive when God revealed Himself fully in Jesus Christ. In Christ a new revelation of chosen people brought together in a new covenant which includes Jewish, Gentile, male, female, free or slave, red and yellow, black and white have been given the mission to go to whoever the Ninevites may be today, to share the revelation of God’s love and grace in Jesus Christ.

Now that’s our call today as followers of Christ. We are the chosen ones. You and I are Jonah. And God is calling us to a mission and it’s not a mission we can choose to NOT accept; unless we want to end up in the belly of a whale.

So where is Nineveh today?

Well, I don’t think we need to look much further than our own backyard to find Nineveh today.

We live in a country today that especially resembles Nineveh….More and more people are turning to false gods, false beliefs; they live in fear;  suicide rates are up, along with abortion, divorce, drug addiction, sexual immorality, greed, violence, bigotry and hate. We live in a fallen world that keeps falling.

Morality and character in our culture are becoming rarer and rarer. Things can look hopeless, helpless and impossible.

So what can we as Christians do?  Well God is calling us, just as he was calling Jonah, to a Mission Impossible…….

So what are our Mission Impossible instructions?

Well the first instruction we see in the story of Jonah is that our Mission Impossible begins by saying yes to the mission. Like in the show we have to accept the mission we’re given no matter how impossible it seems to be.

 

Jonah had to stop running and accept that he was called to go and witness to others. It wasn’t optional.

And it’s the same for us too. You and I have a call from God to go and witness to others about the good news of the kingdom of God. It’s called the Great Commission.

You know Jesus didn’t command the world to go to church; he commanded his church to go to the world. That’s our mission.

We can’t keep the message for ourselves. And why would we in the first place?

How many of you have ever seen a great movie or read a great book or got some great news? We never have any problem sharing with others about these things.

But when it comes to talking to someone about faith or prayer or inviting someone to church or some other Christian event we keep it private.

A man came out of his house on his way to church on Sunday morning just as his neighbor was pulling out with his boat.

He said, "Hey, Jake, "Come to the lake with me." ------The man said, "Sorry, it's Sunday, and Sunday means church."   After a moment's silence, the neighbor quietly said, "You know, Jake, I've often wondered about your church, and your faithfulness. You know I always invite you to go to the lake with me, but you‘ve never invited me to go to church with you."

Many Christians are starting to embrace God’s call to go to the Ninehvites.

They’re inviting others to go with their Christian friends to ball games together, to movies together or to have dinner with them.  Small groups are formed that also invite non-Christian couples together and in the natural part of a conversation an invite to other things like church just happens.

Ask yourself today, who do I know that I could invite into a closer relationship?  Who’s going thru a tough time that you might ask to pray with? Who might God be calling you to invite to church or to your small group?

God is calling you and me just like he was Jonah to say yes to the mission of his Great Commission. Let’s not run from it but rather embrace it.

Now the next Mission Impossible instruction we’re given……is the call to go to Nineveh by dropping our prejudices and our biases.

If we really look at the heart of the problem with Jonah’s refusal of his mission, what we see is that Jonah held deeply rooted prejudice toward the Gentile people.

As I mentioned earlier, the story of Jonah is really a microcosm of the whole story of God’s call to the chosen people of Israel to carry God’s blessing to all the nations of the world.

Unfortunately the people of Israel saw their chosenness as meaning they were favored by God and better than others.  Jonah like the majority of other Israelites looked down on the Ninevites and all gentile people.  They weren’t worshipping the God who loves everyone and wants to extend mercy and grace to everyone. Instead they were worshipping a god created in their own image who held prejudices as they did.

I like the quote from Anne Lamont this week from Inward Outward that said:

You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do”.

For us to fulfill our Mission Impossible, means we have to let go of our prejudices and replace them with a genuine love for ALL people.

So ask yourself today who are my Ninevites? Is it a particular group of people that I want to avoid?  Is it a certain race or a certain religion (Muslims, Mormons)? Are they liberals or conservatives, fundamentalists or atheists?

Perhaps your Ninevites are people who have committed certain sins and you have a bias against them, adulterers or pedophiles.

Maybe it’s someone that you can’t forgive. Maybe it’s someone you’ve attached a label to that annoys you.

Whoever you think in your heart is someone who’s less than you or who you think God is going to destroy, is your Ninevite.

But the one true God is a God of grace and mercy. That’s what the Nienevites found out. As they repented and turned to God, they found out first hand that God loves them too and wants a relationship with them.

And while Jonah knew this truth, he continued to resist this kind of God because he couldn’t let go of his bigotry.  But as a result, Jonah chose to live in the hell of despair and resentment……

But God wants to free us from our prejudice and the false gods we’ve created that we might live with a joy and freedom that gladly carries out his Mission Impossible by being a beacon to the God of grace and mercy and love.  God wants to free you and me from our prejudices. Let us too repent that we might carry out God’s mission with genuine love……

Finally the last piece of instruction of our Mission Impossible…… is to remember that God is the one who will change people’s hearts.

Our mission is simple: we witness while God does the rest. Our Mission Impossible is NOT an Impossible Mission because God’s power is with us and works thru us….

God is the One who changes hearts. We don’t need to carry the burden of converting people.  We’re simply called to obey God’s instructions and faithfully surrender to his power by sowing the seeds of God’s love.

We aren’t called to do the impossible. God is the One who calls people and changes people….He’s the One who makes the impossible, possible.

So ask yourself today, where is God calling me to share my faith but I feel inadequate to do so?

Remember that Jonah was half-hearted at best in his witness and yet God used even that. We simply need to sow the seeds in faith….and joyfully let God do the rest.

In closing today, while we live in a time when churches are closing, and the culture is falling, it can seem dismal, bleak and hopeless.

But today we’re reminded that as we respond to God’s call and let go of our prejudices and witness to God’s grace and mercy, God is able to make the impossible, possible.

Today God is calling you and me to his mission, to witness to his love and mercy and grace for all people. Don’t run from it or turn it down. Instead accept your Mission Impossible and let God use you to spread the good news of his kingdom to others….

 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen