KiNDRED | Back to the Heart of God | Solomon Liu
This week's sermon study guide is pulled from the UPC 2017 Lent Study: "KiNDRED - The Multi-ethnic Family of God"
THE COST OF DIVISION | LISTEN
“All you who have ears to hear, let them hear.” Matthew 11:15
“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.” Martin Luther King, Jr., “Advice for Living,” Ebony Magazine, May 1958
Dear Jesus, teach us what You would have us learn from this passage. Help us to open our ears and listen to others’ stories, to see You at work in one another’s lives. Amen.
REFLECT: Discuss last week’s personal challenge.
WATCH: Kindred Video - https://vimeo.com/204613105
READ: Jonah 1:4-17
In Lesson 1, we learned that Jonah refused to listen and was running away from God’s call to go to his enemies in a foreign city and preach repentance, offering God’s mercy. Jonah ran away from God’s desire for him to seek reconciliation with the “outsiders” of Nineveh and to share God’s grace. The book of Jonah reminds us that God’s salvation story is for all and that God calls us to extend this gift, and our very selves, to outsiders, those beyond our comfortable and familiar group. “Salvation belongs to the Lord!” declares a chastened Jonah (2:9).
As the Jonah commentary in the NLT Study Bible states, “Salvation is the Lord’s to give to whomever He pleases, and those who have received God’s mercy must not try to restrict the flow of God’s mercy to others, even their enemies.” But where to start? How to even begin this reconciliation process? Perhaps one word: Listen.
Jonah, having secured passage on a ship heading away from Nineveh, promptly descended into the ship’s hold, lay down and fell fast asleep. “But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and such a mighty storm came upon the sea that the ship threatened to break up” (1:4). The terrified sailors, who knew nothing of the Lord’s sovereignty in this crisis, were a stark contrast to the sleeping Jonah who evidently cared neither for the lives of his enemies, nor the lives of those sharing the voyage with him. The pagan mariners used all the resources at their disposal: each one cried out to his god and, when that proved fruitless, they threw their cargo overboard. All of this was to no avail.
Having cast lots and identified Jonah as the guilty party, the sailors sought to find out more about him by asking to hear his story. How striking that, amid such grave danger, these men took time to question —and listen to—the stranger, the guilty one. Some may have voted to toss him overboard first and investigate later, but these men saw value in the stranger and significance in listening to his story.
As the scene comes to a climax, these pagan sailors showed further evidence of God’s grace at work in them. When they asked him what they should do, Jonah suggested they hurl him overboard in order to calm the sea. Yet, they could not bring themselves to do so and, instead, rowed harder to reach land. When all measures failed, the sailors demonstrated a respect for God and for life, saying, “Do not make us guilty of innocent blood; for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you” (1:14b). Only then did they throw Jonah overboard, into the sea. As the storm immediately began to subside, the men worshiped God. They “feared the Lord even more, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows,” while the resistant follower of God sank into the depths.
All the while, the Lord was at work through each of these lives for the benefit of the other. The Lord was bound by neither pagan unbelief nor outright rebellion and bias in His own prophet. The inwardly focused, ethnocentric Jonah allowed prejudice to blind his eyes and to stop his ears, at risk of great loss of life. By contrast, the crew called Jonah from inaction to action by listening to his story with surprising sensitivity. The sailors’ questions offer a humble example of a starting point for building relationships, as they say, “Tell us who you are.” Theirs is an open, unselfish, and other-focused attitude and Jonah ultimately responds in kind.
First the sailors, and then Jonah, exhibit surprising selflessness. We have just discovered that Jonah does not want to save the Ninevites and is, in fact, in this predicament because of his attempt to “restrict the flow of God’s mercy” to his enemies. But he insists that he be thrown into the sea to save
these sailors. Both the sailors’ and Jonah’s attempt to save one another serve as an Old Testament foreshadowing of Jesus’ selflessness in choosing to die on the cross out of love for us all.
The cross, then, disarms and dispels our prejudices as we reflect and bow in repentance before the Lord of all. Because of the sacrificial love of God in Christ, which clothes us in His righteousness and humility, we are all brought before the cross in the same position, no matter our differences, as the lowly are exalted and the exalted brought low. We see each other with new eyes and listen to the other’s story with ears open to fresh understanding.
DISCUSS Choose from some of the following questions:
1. What are some of the stories (stereotypes) outsiders might use to describe your own ethnicity? How do the stories we tell about other ethnicities keep us apart? How does the story of Jesus challenge and change these stories?
2. What impact does listening to Jonah have on the sailors? How did their questions impact Jonah? Can you think of a time when listening to a story from someone outside your usual circle had a big impact on your life?
3. Put yourself in Jonah’s position as he ponders God’s call to serve a people he does not trust or respect. Then think about your own heart; what conflicts do you find in your heart as you think about God’s call for us to love others about whom you may feel as Jonah did?
4. God used the sailors to call Jonah from inaction to action. In Matthew 5:43-48, Jesus challenges us
to go beyond loving those we know to loving those we consider to be our enemies. Can you share a time when you sought to do this? What happened?
LISTEN... Find time to talk with someone you know of another race or ethnicity. Explain that during Lent you are in a small group desiring to understand the racial and ethnic divide in our nation. Ask them if they would be willing to share one story of a personal experience related to this topic. Then only listen. Pay attention to their story and to your emotions. Do not respond until the very end when you thank them for sharing. (Note: Avoid asking someone to speak on behalf of others and avoid implying that someone is “from” someplace else or is culturally different from you if they are not.)
Lord Jesus, Your story is the one that makes all the difference in our lives, in our world. Help us to see one another and to listen to one another as You do. May Your Holy Spirit empower us to work toward reconciliation across ethnic groups. Open the eyes of our hearts and help us to be one body in Christ. Amen.