Sermon – 01-24-21 – Ephiphany 3 – Cycle B
Scripture: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:5-12; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20
Sermon Title: “A Comedy: The Revenge That Did Not Happen”
A person named Darryl was bullied all through pre-school, elementary school, middle school, and senior high school because he stuttered. He was a good student but naturally he had knots in his stomach each day. His body did not release that apprehension and misery until summertime when there was no school. His teachers were not able to successfully work with Darryl to alleviate his stuttering. He wrote great essays, poems, and stories for which he received A’s but speaking to the class or even other classmates was torture both for Darryl and for the listeners.
He did have one close friend who stuck by him from kindergarten through high school. This friend did not do this from pity but instead from a genuine enjoyment of this companionship. Many times this friend shared the harassment aimed at Darryl. But this friendship enabled Darryl to persevere. Did Darryl want revenge for the taunters? Did he harbor anger and hatred? Maybe. It would be natural. However, it seems that fear and embarrassment took all of Darryl’s energy and he did not wish revenge on these bullies.
After all of Darryl’s years moving toward high school graduation, he went to college. There he found the most kind and most experienced staff person who walked and worked with Darryl to gradually say goodby to stuttering. Now, he could actually pursue a vocation that was stirring within him ever since he realized that people had vocations. He could run for a state senate seat!
In all those years of suffering, something was brewing inside of Darryl, but it was not revenge. It was yearning for the opportunity to use his God-given talents. After all of those years of restriction, God provided the right person to step into Darryl’s life for the specific purpose of healing.
This is not the comedy part of this sermon. Here comes the comedy part.
God calls Jonah. Jonah is living between 800 and 750 B.C. It happens that Assyria is in control of Israel at this time. There is a city called Ninevah in Assyria. These people are living wicked ways. God tells Jonah to walk through the city of Ninevah to announce that they shall repent, change their ways, or God will destroy them.
Jonah dislikes this city with a passion. He may be afraid. We really don’t know. He certainly does not want to walk through Ninevah and give the people of Ninevah a chance to repent. He does not want anything good to happen to the city and the people in it.
So, Jonah gets on a ship heading in the opposite direction. He is running away if we can say “running” by getting on a ship. A violent storm appears. The ship will capsize. Finally, Jonah realizes and admits that he is the cause of the storm. He asks the sailors to throw him overboard. They do. Jonah is swallowed by a big fish. The cover of our bulletin shows Jonah sitting inside the big fish. Jonah converses with God. God has the fish spit Jonah out on dry land.
Now what? Jonah resigns himself to go to Ninevah. The Bible says it takes 3 days to walk through Ninevah. Jonah only spent one day of shouting the message to repent or God will destroy them until the people started repenting. Even the person in charge of Ninevah, called the king, orders every person and every animal to fast and wear sackcloth. They repent! God saves them.
Of course, this upsets Jonah. He wants to see the city destroyed! He thinks they should be destroyed because of their wicked ways. He does some serious pouting. Jonah asks God to let him die. Going beyond our scripture passage for today, we find Jonah building a shelter for himself because the sun was strong. We don’t know why he couldn’t or wouldn’t go into a house. Jonah and God have a little tit-for-tat. God says why should you be angry? But God does have a large plant, a vine, grow to give Jonah more relief from the sun. Sounds merciful of God, does it not? But now God sends a worm to destroy the plant. Now Jonah is more angry than ever.
Jonah still wants revenge on that city. As far as we know, the city did not, or does not, hurt Jonah. He is miserable because he is feeling sorry that he was involved in the city being saved. The revenge is injuring Jonah internally. This can be seen as a comedy! Being miserable for no good reason. Being miserable because someone else is feeling good. People are saved. The city is saved. Jonah could choose to be joyful.
If we compare Darryl in our first story with Jonah we might see ourselves more in Jonah than in Darryl. There are the people who may have ignored us or hurt us. Surely we have the right to ask God to punish them! God does not work that way. That is not God’s heart as we know the Father through Jesus. God’s mercy is beyond understanding. We, his people, get in the way. It is silly, it does not work, it is like a bad comedy for us to wish anything bad on our enemies when God is protecting us and when God is changing these “enemies.”
We may find ourselves pointing at other people, when instead we could be pointing to God asking God that we not be the enemies. It is not our pointing that matters; it is God, to whom we are pointing, who is important. God can change our unkind habits. The writings of the Bible help us to understand God but the Bible is not God. Different ways of thinking about the Bible (theology) is not God. The church is not God. The pastor is not God. Instead, in God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is our light and our strength, our wisdom and behavior, our love and our kindness.
God is our rock and our salvation; our stronghold, so that we shall never be shaken. Let us strive to be like Darryl, seeing the light of God, after the darkness of being hurt by bullying. Let us strive to be like James and John, Andrew and Simon; not running from Jesus but immediately dropping their lives and following Jesus.
O God, help us not to seek revenge when we perhaps should simply seek relief. You are the true relief-giver. You are able to dissolve our anger. We just want peace. Fill our souls with peace. In the name of Jesus, the Son, Amen.