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Slow to Anger

Sermon delivered by Heather Entrekin, senior pastor of Prairie Baptist Church in Prairie Village, Kan., on Jan. 25, 2009.

Jonah 3:15; Mark 1:14-20; Psalm 62:5-12

Last summer, two of my nephews, Nathan and Daniel, strapping young men in their 20s, had a little car accident in New York City. Nathan was moving from NY to Boston so his brother, Daniel, drove his pick up out from our hometown, Medina, NY, to help. They had both the vehicles loaded and Daniel was closely following Nathan through downtown New York when they got into an intersection and Nathan had to stop suddenly and Daniel smacked into him.

Everybody stopped and waited as these two big strong guys who work out and have the muscles to show for it, got out, looked at the damage, looked at each other, and started to laugh. After they had laughed a while, they got back in the car and truck, and drove away.

You don’t usually see that in a car accident. What usually happens is road rage. There is even parking lot rage, which I experienced last summer when a big old SUV was, I thought, backing into a parking spot, but actually he was trying to get ahead of me to exit. When I started to pull ahead of him he was, shall we say, not pleased. He put down his window and leaned across his mortified wife and commented upon my I.Q. in a very loud voice.

You get some of this road rage in Jonah. It’s a great story and a short story. I encourage you to read all four little chapters when you get home.

Here is the Cliff’s notes version: God asks Jonah to go to Ninevah and tell the people to repent. Ninevah, the Assyrian capital, represents the enemy camp at its most powerful and wicked. Jonah would do almost anything rather than warn Ninevah of danger so he does. He gets on a boat and goes in the opposite direction. A storm comes up that makes even the sailors seasick. He lets the crew throw him overboard because he thinks the storm just might have something to do with him and also because he’d rather die than do what God wants him to do. A whale comes along, gives him a gastrointestinal course correction and spits him out on shore.

God tries again. Go to Ninevah, Jonah, and tell the people to repent. This time, wiping whale saliva out of his hair, Jonah goes, but he doesn’t have to like it. His message to the people is so short you might have missed it. No mention of God’s mercy or justice, just one little sentence: Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!

Then, isn’t he surprised when the whole godless city does repent, trusts God, turns itself around and God forgives. But that’s not the end of the story. In chapter four, Jonah hates it that God is so merciful to these good-for-nothing Ninevites. I knew it! I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love! Grrrh!!

Last week we talked about how it took God three tries to get a word across to Samuel. Today it takes God two tries, a storm and a whale, to get a word across to Jonah. And then God tries again, in the last chapter, after Jonah disses God.

A theology professor I had at Central told of a student who asked why God hadn’t punished the world and why Jesus hadn’t returned. The professor quoted several learned and renowned theologians but it seemed like none of the answers was really adequate. So he went to the wisest source he knew, his wife. And when he asked her the question, Why hasn’t Christ returned to earth yet? she answered, simply, Because God is patient.

What a contrast between Jonah and God. Jonah is furious when he is afraid, blocked, threatened, wrong. God is full of grace for Ninevites when they repent and for Jonah when he does not. Jonah is full of grudges. God is full of grace and mercy, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Thank God.

God has been doing this for a long time. God keeps making room for people to live the faith they say they have. And apparently, it doesn’t take a lot of faith to accomplish God’s purposes if Jonah is any indicator. And faithfulness turns out to be more about doing than feeling. Jonah sulks from beginning to end, but a whole city is saved through his reluctant obedience.

God who kept making allowances for Jonah until he finally did the right thing is our God. This story is our story. And this past momentous week is the newest chapter of God’s patient call to us to see and do the grace of God ourselves. Garrison Keillor went to Washington and wrote, everyone was in a such a fine mood that waiting was painless, and the same was true of the line to go through security and be scanned ¦. The line was six blocks long, the longest line I have ever stood in but there is nothing so pleasant as being in a crowd of happy people when you are happy about the same thing they’re happy about. ( Magic on the Mall: Millions Reclaim Faith in America, Each Other, The Kansas City Star, 1/24/09, B8).

Signs of God’s grace. An NPR reporter commented that usually when you see mobs of people streaming across streets and bridges its because of a disaster, a revolt. But this time, it was a celebration. Like getting out after the accident and laughing because you realize you are brothers and sisters and your love for each other overcomes the damage you have done.

Signs of God’s grace. On Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I attended the Midwest Center of Bioethics breakfast and heard a retired nun and priest speak about their part in the marches on Selma, Alabama 46 years before. We saw a documentary about those days, Sisters of Selma, in which a young, respectful, black man speaks to a screaming, belligerent, white police officer. In the midst of horrors and injustices, some chose to be gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

And so we came to a day many, maybe most, could hardly believe had finally come. But by God’s grace, this day has come. And millions of people crowded into Washington in the cold with hopeful, joyful hearts and courtesy for one another. And the outgoing president showed grace to the incoming one. A Republican friend said, I don’t belong to any party today. And Rick Warren prayed in the name of the one who changed my life and our president pledged to extend a hand to all who will unclench their fist and Joseph Lowery prayed, Let all those who do justice and love mercy say amen, and the people said AMEN!

And the people said, Amen. So be it. Amen!