Sunday, January 22, 2012

And God Changed His Mind

Some people have power animals.  I have a power prophet.   And my power prophet is not one of the big stars of the Bible like Moses or Isaiah or even the oh, so bemoaning Jeremiah.

My power prophet is Jonah.  

Yeah, I know.  He's a bit of a coward and a fool and a pouter and a drama queen.   Hence, he is incredibly real to me.  His reluctance to go to Nineveh and tell them that they're on a road to destruction  and his running the other way when God tells him which direction to go all speaks to things that resonate with me.  I'm in touch with my inner Jonah.   And I would be willing to bet that most people out there who call themselves followers of Christ are also familiar with their inner Jonah.

Jonah does eventually succumb and trudges in to Nineveh after his high seas adventures in the belly of a big fish, and does as God commands.  He tells them that they have 40 days before God lowers the boom and wipes them out.  Jonah expects the Ninevehites to ignore this news and continue behaving in ways that will bring about their certain demise.  But it doesn't happen.  The Ninevehites hear Jonah's words, take them to heart, fast, and they turn their lives around.  And then, an incredible thing happens...

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

God changed his mind.  At least, that's how the writer of the Book of Jonah describes it.  Since the destruction did NOT happen, God must have changed his mind.  Or perhaps it's that the people of Nineveh, having turned from their purported wickedness, no longer needed a God-whooping.   And perhaps it's not so much that God changed his mind, but the people of Nineveh came back to God. 

In my own experience, I have come to know God as one who is the constant and unchanging undercurrent in the world.  There is always a pulsing steady beat, like a heart, that tha-thumps the same song day-in and day-out to let us know that Love is always present if we will stop listening to our own monkey minds and pick up its rhythm.  I believe that is the rhythm that captured the attention of the disciples as they dropped their day-to-day habits and chores to follow Jesus as he spread the message of Love to a people desperate to hear that good news.   They felt that beat and they wanted to dance to it. 

Now, if you listen to some, especially during this political silly season in the states, there is a feeling that we in this country have "forgotten God" and we, like the people of Nineveh, need to repent.  The ones sounding this alarm are often those who identify as "evangelical Christians" and, as evangelists, they believe it is their duty to take on that Jonah role, screw up their courage, and tell us all how debase and horrible we are and it's time to get on our knees and pray to God.   I agree: when we make laws that punish the children of illegal immigrants and make it impossible for those kids to obtain citizenship, and when we continue to fight over whether LGBT people should be allowed to get married, and when we blithly go along with the idea that our healthcare delivery system is the best in the world, even though millions of Americans can't afford the insurance to access that system, then--yes--I think we need to ask God to forgive us our sins that we are committing against God and each other.  Because when we intentionally inflict pain and suffering on those who are a minority or in need, then we are persecuting God.  Remember Matthew 25?  "What you did to the least of these you have done to me"?  

Oh, wait: I think the things that I believe are reasons to repent are not the same ones that the "evangelical Christians" have in mind.  Oh, no: I think the things that I say are wrong in this country are the things that "they" tend to think are right.  Uh-oh!  We're at odds!  What are we to do?

We could fall back on our inner Jonah.  Jonah sulked and pouted when God didn't destory Nineveh.  Afterall, he hadn't run so fast and furious in the other direction only to wind up in the city to do what he was told to do to then see that nothing bad happens to the Ninevehites.  This was supposed to be doomsday.   And since things didn't turn out as he wanted, he sits down and pouts and is angry at God for ruining the fun.  Sounds like the type of response one so invested in a particular outcome, like a political issue, would have.  But God answers Jonah's pouting and kvetching with a shade bush to keep him comfortable as he grumbled.  Jonah was happy to have that to protect him from the heat of the sun.  Once he was satisfied, God took Jonah's shade bush away by means of a worm, and a sultry wind blew on him making him swelter.  Now Jonah was angry again.

God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?’ And he said, ‘Yes, angry enough to die.’Then the Lord said, ‘You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labour 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 people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?’ --Jonah 4:9-11

Who has the ultimate say here?  Us or God?  Like Jonah, we want to have the last word and be in control of all things and have justice meted out in a way that pleases us.  But that isn't always go to be the case.  The rhythm that beats and moves this world and calls people to join in the dance is setting the tempo of change, growth and evolution of our minds and nature.  Any repentance, or rethinking as I like to call it, will happen at the time when it needs to happen.  And if something is out-of-sync with that rhythm, the correction will happen.  This should be the hope of all people who follow Christ, and it takes the same faith and trust exhibited by those disciples who dropped their lives to tag along after Jesus to trust that God will work God's purpose out.   God will have the final say, and the last dance.  And that is something God won't change God's mind about.     


Phoebe McFarlin said...

A thoughtful, challenging sermon!

Anonymous said...

Another thoughtful well thought out piece of writing, Susan. Thanks as always.


cesar juegos de moto said...

Very good write!!!