But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” – Jonah 4: 10-11 (NIV) Nineveh was the capital city of the Assyrian Empire. The Assyrians were a ruthless regime; notorious in history for their viciousness in war and complete lack of mercy. They had no respect for God and routinely pillaged and plundered the chosen people. In fact, it was the Assyrian Empire God used to finally judge the Ten Northern Tribes of Israel. Within their history however strode the reluctant prophet, Jonah. I love Jonah because I can so easily relate to his striking humanity. Like Jonah, I have a tendency to think that I know better – sometimes even better than God! You see, God decided that in His infinite mercy He would allow the Ninevites to repent and stay His wrath. He gave the assignment to Jonah to preach repentance to them and Jonah decided that they did not deserve the mercy of God – so he ran away. There are parallels for us to consider today as the church. The world today is like the Assyrian Empire was. Sure, today they fancy themselves as being civilized but when you match the brutality of abortion up to the brutality of the Assyrians, the comparisons start to come into focus better. Or the atrocities around the world in ruthless dictatorships which match the Assyrian cruelty. Or in the callous indifference shown by this country towards those who are lesser off. The homeless and poor left to starve or die from lack of medical treatment in the richest country in the world. Bombing other countries into oblivion. The truth is that the world today may do a far better job at public relations than the Assyrians but the level of atrocity remains the same. The church today is like Jonah was. Sometimes heading the opposite direction from where God has ordered us to go. God says to not alter the Gospel and we water it down. God says to go into all the world and we act like we are a social club for the entertainment of the saints. God says to take care of the neediest in society and we line up politically with people who seek to marginalize them even further. God says to preach repentance and we jump on the first boat to Tarshish – preaching monetary prosperity, grace alone, purpose driven, seeker friendly, and circle drawing nonsense to tickle the ears of our listeners and draw bigger crowds. Like Jonah, we too can come back to doing what we were called to do. Jonah did eventually preach repentance to Nineveh and to his great dismay – they repented! So, Jonah retreated to a hill to watch what he hoped would be the destruction of the great enemy of Israel only to see the great compassion of God. God allowed a plant to grow to provide some shade and relief from the great heat for Jonah. God then allowed for a worm to eat the plant and Jonah was furious. This brings us to the closing of the Book of Jonah, found in the key verses above. Working backwards in the verses, let us see what God wants to say to us today. The first thing I see standing out to me is the state the world is in and how poor our perspective of them can be sometimes. God describes the Ninevites as people who cannot tell their right hand from their left. How apropos for the world today beloved. We sometimes tend to look upon the world with such spiritual smugness and disdain while forgetting who they are: The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. – 1Corinthians 2: 14 (NIV) I know we know this verse but do we really consider it? The things we foist upon the world are our beliefs, based upon our faith, and our relationship with Jesus Christ confirmed by the Holy Spirit living inside of us. To the world, these things are utter foolishness! To them reproductive rights make sense. To them expanding into taboo and sinful areas is enlightenment. Instead of understanding this perspective, we become Jonah and petulantly demand that they understand. We assume the same self-righteous stance and retreat to our hill to watch them die. Only to be surprised at the unbelievable grace and mercy of God. We forget that once we too lived in Nineveh. It was only through the unbelievable grace and mercy of God that we are saved! Now that we are, God has one task for us to do – go and preach repentance to the Ninevites. Do not look at them poorly. Do not look down upon them. Do not despise them. Realize that they are people who cannot tell their right hand from their left and God is greatly concerned for them because as the Bible says – He does not wish any to perish! Secondly, we are concerned about the wrong things beloved. In Jonah’s case it was the plant that sprang up over night to provide some comfort and then died. Where is our concern as the church of Jesus Christ? Is it overly focused on what makes us comfortable? Is it overly focused on what provides us with same shade and relief? We continue to build taller buildings as monuments to our great pride like the Tower of Babel before us, while the marginalized continue to fall by the wayside. We do not want to hear about sin, so we strip it out of our preaching and wrap our arms around the feel good messages that Paul warned us about. Just to tickle our ears and tell us what we want to hear. That God just loves our petulance. That He rewards our disobedience. That what we have been blessed with we deserved and what we feel we are missing, God is just dying to give us. No discussion of carrying our cross. No discussion of the blood of Christ. We do enough good works to provide window dressing but in the end, our religion is in danger of becoming worthless: Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. – James 1: 27 (NIV) Polluted by the world? You cannot tell the church from the world anymore. Pagan symbols celebrated. Worldly pursuit of the false gods of Mammon and Baal celebrated. We have the best musicians and the most talented singers. We have the smoothest speakers and the prettiest buildings. While we are concerned with what brings us comfort however, there is an entire world of Ninevites out there that desperately need to hear the Gospel message of repentance before it is too late. Forget Tarshish. Forget the plant which we did not tend to nor make grow. We need to get back to doing what God has commissioned us to do. In Jesus Name. Amen. Rev. Anthony.