The sin of Jonah

God’s mind is changed – and Jonah is beside himself.

Jonah is our kind of guy – he knows what he knows –

and he knows that God is capable of great mercy.

But he also knows that the citizens of Nineveh are past all mercy and grace.

They are exceedingly wicked – they don’t deserve the promise of God;

they are not worthy of God’s grace.

Yes, Jonah is our kind of guy – or more accurately, we are guilty of Jonah’s mistake –

we know what we know; about God, about our friends,

and more importantly, about our “enemies”.

We know – or we imagine that we know – how the promises of God

and the gospel of Christ are arranged:

the word is offered and accepted – then the hearer is changed and,

God be praised, the kingdom is brought closer.

So we appoint people to preach the word,

and we arranged an institution to instruct God’s people

in the principles of goodness and grace (we call it The Church) –

and then we set the price of admission just high enough

that only the right sort of people will come…

it didn’t begin that way, but that’s what we have become –

or more properly, that’s how we are perceived.

I don’t mean that there is an actual price of admission –

though we are delighted by the generosity of our members

(how else would we keep the lights on and pay the preacher?)

No, the price of admission is more complex;

you must believe what we believe – and recognize our traditions –

and understand our structures –

and please, please, please don’t question the image of God that we have constructed

it’s one we understand and we’d rather not change our minds

about who God is or how God acts…)

The Church (the whole church) sounds alarm bells when attendance drops off,

and when we meet resistance in the public square about our ideas,

or our expressions of faith. We (the church – the whole church) circle the wagons

and call on our friends to support us in this “war against unbelief”

or whatever we might call it – there are calls for renewal and reformation

and rededication to “holy principles”, and all the while,

God goes on loving and saving and showing mercy through any means available –

to people we recognize as good and to those we think have fallen off the wagon.

The recent General Assembly is a case in point – we argued for hours

over a description of the mission of the Presbyterian Church in Canada –

fighting over wording and grammar

because these are the things that help us express who we are and what we are about –

but none of our efforts did anything to expand the notion of who God is

or how God might act apart from this small, stubborn band of Presbyterians.

Our arguments made new excuses and new enemies for us to blame for our problems –

and God simply smiled and went on being gracious.

That’s the way God works.

Yes, we are guilty of the sin of Jonah, because God is not our puppet –

and God will not be bribed, or tricked when it comes to deciding who receives mercy,

or whose repentence is genuine, or who might be considered a child of God.

It’s not because God doesn’t want us to work for justice and peace –

that is what we are called to do as disciples of Jesus –

but we try to make God our puppet when we bend the gospel to our own purposes,

and create closed communities of people unwilling to push boundaries or ask questions.

God’s Kingdom will come whether we participate or not –

whether we proclaim the gospel, or not –

whether we are willing, eager participants, or not.

(that is the lesson Jonah doesn’t learn)

Our own communities are full of people who feel

that their questions about God

(or their complaints about the church)

have excluded them from the mercy that we claim as our own.

Our future is in danger because we can’t imagine

how those people who dare to ask such questions

could help us shape the kingdom of God –

but God doesn’t need us to define God’s kingdom,

rather, God works to ensure that their is a place

for all who choose to participate in the building up of the kingdom.

Our doors are open – the invitation of the gospel is generous and clear .

Scripture reminds us, time and time again,

that we are no judge of who is fit for the kingdom.

We must open our hearts to welcome those we once called enemies –

those we thought beyond all help – for God’s mind has been changed before,

and God’s mercy is wider than we can possibly imagine.

Thanks be to God. Amen


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