Sunday’s sermon: Untouchable, Unlovable … and Unleaveable


Texts used – Jonah 3-4; Colossians 3:12-17

  • When we were living in Minneapolis – when Peter was working at the charter school and I was searching for a call (this call!) – I was also doing some filling in at my parents’ church in Le Sueur. So one day, as I was sitting there writing my Earth Day sermon, our doorbell rang.
    • Not an abnormal occurrence in our apartment – unlabeled doorbells
    • At the door: Elder Edwards and Elder Holmes → something in me just couldn’t say “Go away”
    • Started a couple of weeks of really interesting and sometimes uncomfortable conversations
      • Prayer at the end of our first conversation
    • Uncomfortable relationship but important
      • Learn about Mormonism “from the horse’s mouth” → not perpetuate untruths or misrepresentations
      • Elder Edwards – Prov.: “Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another.”[1] → explaining faith can lead to you strengthening/renewing your own faith
    • Whether we like it or not, God calls us to some uncomfortable relationships in our journey of faith, and as Christians, we are called to act in love, respect, and compassion – no matter the circumstances.
  • Our Scripture passages today have a thing or two to teach us about uncomfortable relationship.
    • OT: Jonah → explores the depths of some uncomfortable relationships
    • NT: Colossians → reminds us why it’s important to give these uncomfortable relationships a chance
  • So let’s journey with Jonah first.
    • Backstory
      • Jonah = prophet → And he’s a lucky prophet because he’s actually living and prophesying during a time in Israel’s history in which God’s prophets were highly respected and favored by all the people.
        • Not the case for any of the other prophets with books in the OT – scorned, disregarded, persecuted → books filled with doom-and-gloom predictions and dire warning about retribution
        • But not Jonah. Jonah was appreciated by the people. Jonah was cherished by the people. Truth be told, Jonah was a bit of a celebrity. He lived a pretty cushy lifestyle. But then one day, something awful happened! – beginning of book of Jonah: The LORD’s word came to Jonah, Amittai’s son: “Get up and go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it, for their evil has come to my attention.”[2]
        • Sounds like a blast, right? Yeah … no. Nineveh was a really scary, sketchy place, and not surprisingly, Jonah has no desire to go there. This whole Nineveh business is the sort of situation that definitely clashed with Jonah’s current lifestyle – taking a serious word of admonishment to a city full of evil.
      • So Jonah chose to run in the complete opposite direction
        • Gets on a ship bound for Tarshish → God causes a giant storm to come up and almost sink the ship → Sailors draw straws to figure out who’s bringing the bad luck to the ship → Guess who drew the short straw! → Toss Jonah over the side of the ship → swallowed by a giant fish → Jonah repents and prays while in the belly of the fish → fish eventually spits Jonah out on the shore → This brings us to where we joined the text this morning.
    • Portion of the text that we read today highlights 2 different uncomfortable relationships
      • Relationship between Jonah and Nineveh
      • Relationship between Jonah and God
    • Now, we can probably guess that the relationship between Jonah and Nineveh didn’t exactly get off on the right foot.
      • Text: Jonah started into the city, walking one day, and he cried out, “Just forty days more and Nineveh will be overthrown!”[3]
        • Message = uncomfortable → We don’t like admitting when we’re wrong. We don’t like admitting when we’ve hurt someone or offended someone. We don’t like looking like we’re not perfect – though God knows it’s true. It’s uncomfortable to say, “I’m sorry.” And it’s even more uncomfortable when someone else recognizes all of these things in us and points them out to us. And yet that’s exactly what Jonah was doing to the Ninevites.
      • Fortunately, the Ninevites are able to learn from their uncomfortable relationship with Jonah.
        • Passage: And the people of Nineveh believed God. They proclaimed a fast and put on mourning clothes, from the greatest of them to the least significant. When word of it reached the king of Nineveh, he got up from his throne, stripped himself of his robe, covered himself with mourning clothes, and sat in ashes. … God saw what they were doing—that they had ceased their evil behavior. So God stopped planning to destroy them, and he didn’t do it.[4]
          • Heb. “believed” = confirmed, nourished, relied upon → The Ninevites didn’t just decide to believe that God might exist. They put their ultimate trust in God … also sometimes an uncomfortable thing, but we’ll talk about that next week.
    • Jonah’s relationship with God is another story. It’s obviously an uncomfortable one, and while it doesn’t appear to teach Jonah anything in the end, we are able to learn through it.
      • Lots of things uncomfortable about this relationship
        • Uncomfortable because Jonah doesn’t want to do what God wants him to do
        • Uncomfortable because of where Jonah is being sent
        • Uncomfortable because of the message that God asks Jonah to deliver to the people of Nineveh
        • Uncomfortable because of Jonah’s reaction → ultimately, Jonah doesn’t like God’s decision to spare the city of Nineveh, so he gets angry & gives God a big fat “I told you so”
        • Text: He prayed to the LORD, “Come on, LORD! Wasn’t this precisely my point when I was back in my own land? This is why I fled to Tarshish earlier! I know that you are a merciful and compassionate God, very patient, full of faithful love, and willing not to destroy. (Only Jonah can make those wonderful traits of God sound so negative!) At this point, LORD, you may as well take my life from me, because it would be better for me to die than to live.”[5] → Jonah doesn’t like these people – these Ninevites. They’re not worthy. They’ve screwed up too often. They are out of reach of God’s forgiveness and grace – completely and wholly untouchable and unlovable. So when God decides to hear their repentance and save them, Jonah throws a little bit of a hissy fit. “I didn’t want to come here, God, because I knew you’d be wasting my time. I knew you’d cave, knew you wouldn’t punish these people like you said you were going to, so why should I even be here. It would be better if I were dead than to be in this stupid place!”
  • And let’s be honest: there are people in our lives or in the world that makes us feel the way the Ninevites made Jonah feel. We don’t like them. We don’t think they deserve a second chance (or third or fourth or fiftieth … or whatever the case may be). We take it upon ourselves to deem them untouchable, unlovable.
    • Extreme cultural e.g.
      • Caste in India known as the dalit, “the Untouchables,” a people considered sub-human by many of the others in India à face discrimination, oppression, abject poverty, violence
        • Important point: the caste system was technically outlawed in India in 1950 but according to the BBC, “caste identities remain strong, and last names are almost always indications of what caste a person belongs to.”[6]
      • It is among the dalit – the lowest class, the Untouchables – that Mother Teresa began her life’s work: among the poorest of the poor, among the outcasts and the lepers, among those whom society had completely abandoned, written off as untouchable and unlovable. Yet Mother Teresa’s response turns society’s judgment upside down.
        • Follows the example of Christian relationship set out by our text from Colossians
    • Text doesn’t promise that these Christian relationships will be easy – quite the contrary, in fact:
      • Text mentions teaching and admonishing one another → can bring out a defensive, self-justifying “Jonah attitude” in us
        • Uncomfortable to be the admonisher
        • Uncomfortable to be the admonished
      • And in these times of unease, when things get tense as they inevitably do – text: Be tolerant with each other and, if someone has a complaint against anyone, forgive each other. As the Lord forgave you, so also forgive each other.[7] → So our Scripture for today actually guarantees we’re going to encounter uncomfortable relationships. But it doesn’t leave us at “uncomfortable.” It moves us past that – above that – to forgiveness.
        • Scholar: In being called into the one unified body … the readers have been called to live out its transcending of divisions; they have been called to appropriate Christ’s peace … [which] involves not a removal from all conflict but a centeredness that comes from knowing that in the new humanity, Christ is in control and all in all.[8]
    • Col. also gives us the “how” of dealing with these uncomfortable relationships → the entire passage reads like a guide
      • The peace of Christ must control your hearts – a peace into which you were called in one body.[9]
      • Speaks of call to “forgive” → Gr. = connotations of giving freely
        • Not coerced
        • Not forced
        • Not fake
      • Speaks of agape love → Selfless love. Giving love. Tolerant love. This is the kind of love that God showed to Nineveh. This is the kind of love that Christ made available to us through his death on the cross, and this is the kind of love that we should perpetuate as those who claim to be his followers.
      • Also says “Whatever you do, whether in speech or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus” – Gr. “whatever you do” can be “in all that you might do” → This is where it can get a little uncomfortable again. Sometimes, we just don’t feel like being thankful. We don’t feel like forgiving each other or being compassionate, kind, humble, meek, and patient. But ultimately, it’s not about us.
        • Scholar: The word of Christ, the message of the gospel that centers in Christ, is to provide the focus. … This will entail listening to, meditating on, and responding in praise and thanksgiving to that word as it is preached and taught. Then it will be an abundant resource as it permeates [our] lives.[10]
        • Sounds like the first verse of our song, “The Summons[11] → Nineveh, will you come and follow me if I but call your name? Jonah, will you go where you don’t know and never be the same? My children in Colossus, will you let my love be shown and my name be known even in the midst of your quarrels and uncomfortable relationships? My children in Oronoco, will you let my life – my compassion and forgiveness, my agape love – be grown in you and you in me?
  • I’m going to leave you with questions again today – questions that may challenge you, may make you feel uncomfortable, but hopefully questions that will also inspire you: Who makes you uncomfortable? Which of God’s unleaveable children have you labeled as untouchable and unlovable? Where do you not want to take and share God’s message of redemption and forgiveness, love and peace? Amen.

[1] Prov 27:17 (NRSV).

[2] Jonah 1:1-2.

[3] Jonah 3:4.

[4] Jonah 3:5-6, 10.

[5] Jonah 4:2-3.

[6] “What is India’s caste system?” from the BBC News website, Posted July 20, 2017, accessed Sept. 14, 2017.

[7] Col 3:13.

[8] Andrew T. Lincoln. “The Letter to the Colossians: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 11. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000), 648, 650.

[9] Col 3:15a.

[10] Lincoln, 648-649.

[11] “The Summons.” Traditional Scottish melody, words by John Bell. The Iona Community, Scotland, 1987.