Proper 20A’20
20 September 2020
Jonah 3.10-4.11
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone

If you, God, kept records on wrongdoings, who would stand a chance? In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. -from Psalm 130.3 [The Message]

What does the Brady Bunch, David Cassidy, and polyester leisure suits all have in common? They are all iconic of the 1970s. Another icon of the 70s was antique enamel colors used for home appliances and décor. There seemed to be three colors that were used heavily: Antique gold, orange and green – think the Brady Bunch house. Folks back in those days liked these colors so well they would buy enamel paint in these colors and paint their furniture and cabinets with it.

My mother had inherited a chest of drawers that had been painted in a pea green shade of antique green, and thankfully she had stored it in our garage. One day she got a wild hair and decided that she would strip off the antique green enamel and get the chest back to its original condition. She eventually got through several layers of varnish and enamel back to the original solid maple original. As she sanded it and rubbed it with linseed oil the fine grain of the maple began to shine in the sunlight – it was amazing! Why anyone would have ever thought covering it up with varnish and enamel was a good idea is beyond me!

The bible can be a lot like my Mom’s beautiful maple chest of drawers, that got all covered up with pea green antique enamel – beautiful, amazing stories have gotten all covered over with layers of crazy church history, and bad theology. Today we have two stories that are worth stripping off the enamel to see the amazing truths that they show to us.

The first is a whimsical but deadly serious story about a man named Jonah. God chose him and called him to go to the city of Nineveh, and preach so that the Ninevite people would repent, and turn from their evil ways. Nineveh was a city of around 120,000 people and was located just outside the modern-day city of Mosul in Northern Iraq. These Ninevites were a group of people who worshipped many false gods, and were often at war with the Israelites. Jonah, was a good an observant Jew but with a ‘cardiac problem,’ he despised the Ninevites, and didn’t want them to be forgiven, he wanted to see them punished for violating God’s law. So, when God called him to go, Jonah didn’t have the stomach for this special call so he ran away and got himself swallowed by a whale that took him (involuntarily) on a three-day cruise. While trying not to be digested the thought of going to Nineveh didn’t seem quite so bad, so he prayed for God’s deliverance. I love the next detail provided in the story: “Then the Lord spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon the dry land.”[1] He goes to Nineveh and preaches for the people to turn from their wicked ways and turn back to the Living God – and they did!

Jonah’s ‘cardiac problem,’ attacks – rather than rejoice that God’s mercy, forgiveness, and love had been lavished upon them, Jonah is angry, and he reminds God why he ran from the call in the first place: “for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord take my life from me for it is better for me to die than to live.”

How can we relate to this story? Why did Jonah run away from the call, in direct disobedience to God? For the same reason we would! If we could sit down and have a conversation with God, how would we feel if God started telling us how much God loved Osama Bin Laden? Not only did God love Osama, he liked him and wanted us to go tell him, and all of the people of his village that had been hiding him, this message of God’s merciful, forgiving, and unconditional love.

Author Anne Lamott puts it this way: “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.”

Jonah is a mirror reflecting our faces back to us, in him we see the part of ourselves that doesn’t seek for justice and reconciliation, but fairness, and punishment – ‘God this just isn’t fair, you need to punish these violators of your law! – rain down your judgment!’

But God also loved Jonah and wanted to heal his ‘cardiac condition.’ God uses a bush and a worm to reason with Jonah. In his state of anger after God had forgiven the Ninevites, he went up on a hill overlooking the city and made a booth for himself to sit and sulk. “The Lord appointed a bush” and the bush grows miraculously larger and shades Jonah from the burning rays of the Sun. Jonah was happy about the shade. But on the next day “God appointed a worm that attacked the bush,” so that it withered, the Sun beat down on Jonah and again the poor guy is ready to die. God reasons with Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” Jonah responds, “Yes, angry enough to die!” God sees Jonah is in a teachable moment and says: “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”

Well, if you’ve ever wondered where the expression, “they don’t know their left hand form their right hand” came from, right there it is! That is a description of the human condition if I’ve ever heard one – God’s vision sees how much the Ninevites, Jonah, and all of us, are in need of God’s mercy, forgiveness, and unconditional Love. God freely, and gratuitously lavishes Amazing Grace on all who are hungry, and thirsty for the True Bread, and the Living Water and who are ready to receive it.

Our second story, is Jesus’ parable about the landowner and the workers and also hit’s the high note of God’s Amazing Grace, and how ‘unfair’ God can be. The parable tells of a landowner who hires workers from early morning until just an hour before quitting time, and agrees to pay them all a day’s wages. Some end up only working for an hour, and at the end of the day all are paid the same daily wage. Jesus scandalously shows us that God isn’t fair – God is just. The landowner answers the outraged workers who had worked all day for the same wage as those who worked for an hour: “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous? So, the last will be first and the first will be last.”

God’s generous mercy, forgiveness, and unconditional love found in both Jonah’s story and Jesus’ parable, are like the beautiful maple wood of my mother’s chest of drawers, the unvarnished truth beneath the thick coats of religious enamel.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu said it best:

“We may be surprised at the people we find in heaven. God has a soft spot for sinners. His standards are quite low.”




[1] Jonah 2.10