KiNDRED | The Call to Family | George Hinman

This week's sermon study guide is pulled from the UPC 2017 Lent Study: "KiNDRED - The Multi-ethnic Family of God"

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“You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be {children} of your Father in Heaven.”

Matthew 5:43-45a

“God has always had a great purpose for cultures, nations, and peoples. We are called to fill the earth and bring it under the reign of God. This will require that humanity in all its diversity reflect the image of God. We are called to pursue the kingdom as our highest priority ... this does not wipe out our ethnic identity, but it changes the structuring of our priorities and the way we relate to people...Our identity is rooted in our connection to Christ as His people. They become our new extended family.” Brenda Salter McNeil and Rick Richardson, The Heart of Racial Justice, How Soul Change Leads to Social Change, page 41

God, We gather together today as your children, desiring to learn what it means to be a part of your family. Give us hearts and minds open to Your Spirit, and to Your vision for us and our world. Amen.

Share with your group: Who do you consider to be your “family?”

Kindred Video:

Jonah 1:1-3

Isn’t it profound how much story can be crammed into just a few sentences? At the beginning of Jonah, readers are treated to a mini “short story” of sorts. In three verses, we learn about the main characters (God, Jonah, and Nineveh), the plot (God wants to use his prophet, Jonah, to redeem Nineveh), and the tension (Jonah’s disobedience).

Let’s take a deeper look at what is going on here.

The story starts with God commanding Jonah to go to Nineveh and “cry out against it.” The Lord tells Jonah that the wickedness of Nineveh “has come up against me.” At first glance it may appear that
God is wanting to use Jonah to curse the Ninevites or to bring them bad news. However, God has the exact opposite of a curse in mind. By commissioning Jonah with this particular task, God is intending to give the Ninevites a chance to turn from their wickedness and receive salvation and protection. Therefore, Jonah’s mission is actually an extension of God’s hessed (the Hebrew word for God’s loving kindness and mercy). God wants to use Jonah to bring about reconciliation and to restore the Ninevites’ relationship with God.

However, we learn very quickly that Jonah doesn’t want any part of this mission. Not only does he refuse to go, he runs in the opposite direction and flees to a place where he believes God is not present.

Why does Jonah flee from God? What was so offensive about this mission to which God had called him? Nineveh was the capital city of the Assyrian empire, a powerful nation with great military strength which periodically tried to conquer the nation of Israel. In all probability, Ninevah represented “the other”—meaning someone or some group of people outside of his circle of safety and comfort. Perhaps Jonah saw the Ninevites as an anonymous group—and labeled them as enemies, oppressors, wicked, or dangerous—instead of seeing them as individuals, deeply known and loved by God. At the very least, it seems apparent that Jonah couldn’t comprehend why God would want to extend mercy to these people.

And, he may have been afraid for his life—with good reason. Despite all of these possible objections, God is telling Jonah to go. This is not a command to send a telegram or an email, or simply to pray for these people. Jonah is being told to go in faith to the capital city of an enemy nation and personally deliver a message of judgment and impending disaster, all the while knowing that God is abounding in love and mercy (Jonah 4:2).

This is a theme that resonates throughout scripture. God repeatedly used prophets to extend the boundaries of love and relationship and to disrupt the sin-based fears that periodically arose within the Israelites, causing them to be suspicious and resentful of outsiders. Finally, God sent the ultimate messenger, Jesus Christ, to show Israel—and the world—exactly what Love looks like. Jesus’ ministry on earth continued to stretch humanity’s understanding of those to whom God desires to extend His love and mercy. Jesus valued everyone equally, spending time with those considered “less than” or “other” in the Jewish culture, ultimately proving on the cross that His love and mercy is meant for every person in every time and every place.

Are we willing to have our boundaries stretched or do we have the same tendencies as Jonah? Might sin-clouded prejudice and fear keep us from seeing others outside of our familiar circles as unique individuals created by God, as part of God’s family—our family? Is it possible we are not seeing that God’s love extends beyond our human-made borders? Do we sometimes reject the call to go in faith, remaining instead with our own tribes and traditions? Are we choosing to play it safe?

As you begin this study of Jonah, pray that God will help you and your small group grasp anew the powerful message of this story. When speaking about Jonah, Dr. George Campbell Morgan said that people “have been looking so hard at the great fish that they have failed to see the great God.” During this season of Lent, may you see with fresh eyes the greatness of the God we serve so that you may respond to the call to go.

Choose from some of the following questions:
1. How would you describe your own culture? How about your own ethnicity? How did you become aware of your own ethnic identity? How did you become aware of ethnic boundaries and prejudice?

2. Have you ever wanted to run away from God’s call for you to go to someone or some place you viewed as the “other”? Why? What were your fears? What about Jonah? Do you think his fears were the same or different than yours? Explain your thinking.

3. Can you think of a time when you followed God’s call to stretch your boundaries and connect with someone outside your usual group? What happened? What did you learn from this experience?

4. Why do you think God continually needs to remind His people of the expansiveness of His love for others? How does this impact how we live?

5. What happens when we, like Jonah, see an entire group of people as “other” and perhaps evil or dangerous? How does our thinking change when we see them not as “other” but as family?

GO... Go on a mini field trip this week beyond “your territory” to experience another ethnicity (visit a new grocery store, walk or drive through a different neighborhood, watch a film from another culture,
sit at a different table at school or work, attend another church) and be observant, particularly to your own emotions (what surprises you, attracts you, makes you uncomfortable). 

God, We thank you that we are part of Your family. We ask You to forgive us for choosing to remain in our small circles of comfort. Help us to see more clearly Your love for us and the rest of Your family. Help us stretch our boundaries! Give us the courage and vision to GO where You call us. Amen.