KiNDRED | The Heart of Unity | Ken Sunoo
This week's sermon study guide is pulled from the UPC 2017 Lent Study: "KiNDRED - The Multi-ethnic Family of God"
THE HEART OF UNITY | LOVE
“By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35
“Racism and injustice, violence and hatred are spiritual problems. They are evil. Ultimately, only one power in the world can solve the problem of evil. Only the power of the cross, only the life and death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, can open the way of life, hope and reconciliation.”
Brenda McNeil Salter and Rick Richardson, The Heart of Racial Justice: How Soul Change Leads to Social Change, page 27
Thank you, God, for loving us and pursuing us as You have pursued Jonah. Help us to understand what You are patiently, repeatedly trying to teach us. Enable us, through the power of Your Holy Spirit, to seek multi-ethnic unity and reconciliation based on Your greatest act of love: Your redeeming work on the cross. Amen.
REFLECT: Discuss last week’s personal challenge.
WATCH: Kindred Video - https://vimeo.com/205097589
READ: Jonah 4:1-11
Last week, we learned of God’s great compassion and love for people long considered enemies of Israel. When God saw that the Ninevites had turned from their evil ways, He relented and chose not to destroy their city. United as a community, the Ninevites are miraculously saved through Jonah’s prophetic message of warning. God’s salvation thus produces one of the most beautiful and astonishing moments of relief and joy in all the Old Testament.
Talk about an enormous change of heart brought about by God’s love! Are we not marveling at what God has done through His prophet? Are we not rejoicing with the Ninevites, that they have been rescued from destruction? From king to cattle, everyone and everything was included in this city-wide metanoia (the Greek word for repentance, meaning a complete, about-face, 180 degree turn).
And yet Jonah’s reaction to God’s compassion is the opposite of what we might expect. Verse 1 states that this news was “very displeasing to Jonah and he became angry.” In Matthew 12:34, Jesus says: ”For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” and out of what was foremost in Jonah’s prideful and ethnocentric heart came these words:
“O, Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country?” Basically saying, “I told you so!” Jonah expresses just how frustrated and outraged he is with God’s grace for those he considers unworthy. In this tirade, Jonah readily admits that he quickly fled to Tarshish, revealing his arrogant belief that he could somehow control the fate of the Ninevites, or at least forestall it, by disobeying God. This is a deception with roots in the first sin in the Garden; the belief that we can be “like God” and, thus, Jonah supposed that he knew what was best for those he viewed as evil and “other.”
Even when Jonah acquiesced to God and made his way to Nineveh, he did not do so in the hopes that God would actually save the people in that great city. He did as God asked, but what was his heart’s motive? In the depths, Jonah made a promise he was compelled to keep, but it appears he was simply going through the motions. It becomes readily apparent that he still desired disaster to ensue in Nineveh, despite the fact that he had been the very instrument of God’s mercy.
Jonah then describes God’s fundamental, unchanging character as if it were full of flaws. You can almost see him throwing up his hands in disgust and shaking his fists at God, all the while declaring his contempt for God’s steadfast love and compassion. Completely blinded by his rage, Jonah asks the Lord of life to kill him on the spot. He would rather die than see God’s mercy poured out on the Ninevites.
What are we to make of this Old Testament temper tantrum? Initially, we might expect Jonah would be visited by the very calamity God had promised to bring upon the Ninevites if they did not repent. However, we have just been reminded by Jonah himself that our God is gracious, patient and infinitely loving. Instead of rebuking Jonah as he deserves, the Lord asks him a question about the state of his heart: “Do you do well to be angry?”
The Bible records no continuation of this conversation but, in the silence that follows, we might “do well” to ask ourselves a variation of this probing question: Is it right for me to feel frustrated, afraid, overwhelmed or apathetic regarding God’s call to love all peoples, every tribe, tongue, and nation?
It appears that Jonah had plenty of time to ponder God’s question as he sat outside of Nineveh on a hill overlooking the city. Instead of staying inside its walls, where he had a perfect opportunity to build relationship with its people, he chose to go outside the city and sulk. Despite Jonah’s hardness of heart, the Lord continued to patiently show His love and compassion for Jonah, providing much-needed respite from the sun by creating a fully-grown plant to shade him.
Desiring God’s newly bestowed blessings to be removed from Nineveh, it is Jonah’s blessing instead that is short-lived. When “his” plant is abruptly destroyed, Jonah’s rage is rekindled and he again asks to die. And, once again, God questions Jonah about his anger and Jonah’s answer reveals that his rage has overridden his common sense. Again, the Lord does not directly rebuke Jonah, but reasons with him, calling him to consider whether Jonah’s priorities are aligned with His love and care for the people of Ninevah.
Asking questions to encourage us to examine what is hidden in our hearts is God’s pattern throughout all of scripture. Beginning in the Garden with “Where are you?” the Word is filled with hundreds of questions asked by God. Note that three times Jonah asks to die and three times the Lord answers Jonah with questions, first about Jonah himself, second regarding the plant and last, about the people and animals residing in Nineveh. With that last question from the Lord, the Book of Jonah ends again in silence, so to speak. And we are left with a question of our own: Does Jonah ever have a change of heart?
Because God has pursued Jonah on land, on sea, in the depths and, finally, to the hillside of Nineveh, it appears that God’s loving and faithful nature would point to a continued pursuit of Jonah’s heart change, just as God continues to pursue our heart change. The Book of Jonah serves to remind us that, although we may look at the outward appearance, God looks at the heart and His desire is that our hearts are unified with His.
DISCUSS Choose from some of the questions below:
1. Forming multi-ethnic relationships and community is often very difficult; what are some of the factors that make it so hard? What are some of the motivations and experiences (positive or negative) we might bring to this work?
2. After Jonah’s harrowing descent into the depths and his realization that “Salvation is of the Lord,” how was it possible for him to miss the implications of this truth for Nineveh? Why do we struggle with this, even when we know the truth that God loves everyone and wants each of us to flourish? Might we be like Jonah at times, just going through the motions, not really wanting what is best for people of other ethnicities?
3. Consider how God has provided us with every good and perfect gift and how those gifts bring life and light when we heed His call. Then consider the power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised us the night before He was crucified (John 14:15-18). How does this power help us walk in God’s love as we answer His call to be a blessing to others?
4. There is certainly no guarantee that love will be met with love; Jesus is our prime example of that. When God’s love was not reciprocated by Jonah, what did the Lord do? What example does that set for us in our journey to become agents of God’s love and reconciliation?
5. Considering what we’ve learned in this study, how do you suggest we go forward, together? What benefits and blessings will we experience when we do this?
LOOK... Pray that the Lord will help you identify a person of another ethnicity with whom you can build a deeper friendship in the coming weeks (e.g., someone at school, work, in your neighborhood, or at church). Invite them to join you for conversation, activity, coffee, or a meal. Take your first step this week. Pray for your time with them, asking God to open your heart so you may have His heart for them.
O Lord, we come before You, in awe at the immensity of Your love for all people. In humility, we recognize that Your ways are far above ours and we humbly ask for Your help to love others as You love them. As we move forward, we ask for the grace of the Holy Spirit to courageously examine our own hearts, repent as we may need and respond with compassion and mercy towards ourselves and others. Help us, Jesus, as we seek to understand and emulate Your heart in all things. Amen.