Sunday, September 24, 2017

Sermon: The Problem with Mercy (Jonah 4: 1-11)

The Problem with Mercy
Psalm 145: 1-8; Jonah 4: 1-11
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
September 24, 2017

I will extol you, my God and King,
and bless your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will bless you,
and praise your name for ever and ever.
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
his greatness is unsearchable.

One generation shall laud your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendour of your majesty,
and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed,
and I will declare your greatness.
They shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness,
and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.

The Lord is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
- Psalm 145: 1-8

When God saw what [Ninevah] did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’

And the Lord said, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’ Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.

The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, ‘It is better for me to die than to live.’

But God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?’ And he said, ‘Yes, angry enough to die.’ Then the Lord said, ‘You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night.

And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?’ - Jonah 4: 1-11

The past four weeks we have been exploring the book of Jonah. We have learned a lot about God’s character.

When Jonah turned tail and ran from God’s call, the Lord pursued Jonah with a relentless love. When the storm raged as Jonah was headed in the wrong direction, the Lord provided a whale to plant Jonah’s feet where God needed him. When Jonah’s heart was not in his proclamation to Ninevah, the Lord still worked a miracle by giving both Ninevah and Jonah a second chance. They were both delivered by God’s amazing grace.

And today God’s Word reveals the heart of the matter between Jonah and the Lord.

God delivered Ninevah and as Jonah watched God’s mercy unfold he became undone. Jonah was not perplexed or miffed. Jonah was angered to the point that rage was kindled and burning within him. Jonah looked like a red-faced cartoon character blowing steam out of his ears because Ninevah did not get what they deserved.

Jonah confessed this to God. He knew God’s character and he had a hunch the story would end this way. But still Jonah had resisted God’s mercy in hopes that God would resist mercy too.

Jonah’s conflict with God reveals there was something at stake for Jonah. Remember he was a court prophet earlier in Israel’s history (2 Kings 14:23-26). Jonah had known the threat Assyria had posed to Israel all those years ago. He and the readers of this story also knew the injustices of Assyria in a very personal way, for the people of Ninevah had since destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the holy city of Jerusalem. Therefore, Jonah wanted justice to be done. And he told God, give me justice or give me death.

Ninevah experienced first-hand that mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2: 13b) and Jonah experienced the problem with mercy. When we have experienced the brokenness of the world in a very personal way, we judge the merits of mercy for those who have wronged us.

God saw this conflict raging within Jonah. I am struck with God’s response. The Lord did not dig up Jonah’s past failures of faithfulness. The Lord did not remind Jonah of all the mercy he had already received and failed to take into account. The Lord did not chastise Jonah for his anger.

God met Jonah where he was. In a moment of sheer grace God not only drew near to Jonah. God also offered a teaching moment to give Jonah a new perspective of mercy.

God gave Jonah an opportunity to look more deeply into his own heart. The Lord asked, “Is it right for you to be angry?” When Jonah’s emotions got the best of him he walked away from God’s presence. You see Jonah was wrestling between the differences of his reality and God’s reality. In fact, the light of God’s grace shone so brightly that Jonah tried to shield himself from it.

And yet again God drew near and embraced Jonah in nothing less than grace. Not only did God bring forth the shade tree to comfort Jonah, God also took it away to bring Jonah to his senses. God stayed by the prophet’s side in hopes to reframe Jonah’s perception of mercy from a problem to a gift.

Dewitt Jones was a professional photographer with National Geographic Magazine for twenty years. Over the course of his career he learned so much about society, geography, and people. But more than that, National Geographic reshaped Dewitt’s worldview by their vision: “Celebrate what is right with the world instead of what is wrong with it.”

From a young age Dewitt recalls being taught the traditional maxim that we all know, “I won’t believe it until I see it.” As he shot photographs for National Geographic that maxim shifted for him in a profound way. Dewitt realized the truth of the maxim is understood rather as: “I won’t see it until I believe it.”

The magazine would send Dewitt to places he had never been before. Dewitt knew he would not see the shot worth capturing until he believed it would be provided. He believed there would be beautiful landscapes to photograph and they would appear. He believed those landscapes would be full of wonderful people and they would be there. He believed he would see the good in every face framed by the camera lens…and even in the worst situations the good would shine through. He began every shot trying to celebrate what was right with the situation rather than what was wrong with it.

Twenty years of working behind the camera lens gave Dewitt a new understanding of how the world works. He came to learn that “Vision controls our perception and perception controls our reality.”

If we choose to focus on what is wrong with the world we will always see the worst. We will see the world around us through the lens of shortcomings, failure, and evil. We will make our own judgments about people and surrounding situations. We will be tempted to disengage from opportunities to make a difference. Seeing the worst of the world often leaves us hopeless. We get angry and frustrated when we cannot bend the outcome by our control.

Vision certainly controls our perception and perception controls our reality. God gives us opportunities to see the world and ourselves through the Lord’s kingdom vision to shape our faith perception and guide our spiritual reality.

God’s vision is captured through the lens of steadfast love. The Lord is gracious and merciful. God hears the cries of humanity and creation. God is compassionate; for the Lord is slow to anger and abounding in an unconditional love that remembers God’s covenant promises.

Faith charges you and me to celebrate what is right with the world. The cornerstone to be celebrated is that all of humanity and creation are tethered together in a web of intricate relationships by our Creator’s redeeming love.

Every time we affirm our faith saying, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,” we are professing important truths about God’s character; The Study Catechism helps our articulations of these truths:

“God is a God of love and God’s love is powerful beyond measure. We are created to live together in love and freedom – with God, with one another, and with the world. We are created to be loving companions of others so that something of God’s goodness may be reflected in our lives.”[1]

We see the fullness of God’s merciful compassion in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The whole of Jesus’ life is illustrated by him meeting us in our brokenness without judgment or condemnation. Christ already knows the worst in the world and also in us and yet chooses to see us through the lens of God’s compassion.

God’s care for the world reached a tipping point for mercy to triumph over judgment, therefore Christ died for us to reconcile us back to God. Christ rose for us so that we may experience the joy of salvation in our lives today and know God is eternally by our side.

That word “us” is not defined by our boundaries of grouping like-minded people or defining someone’s worthiness; God shows no partiality (Romans 2:11). In Christ there are no longer man-made categories that divide us; there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). Christ is on the move to break down the divisions we create.

Likewise, we are to respond to God’s mercy and celebrate our common calling. For the body of Christ is called to go where God sends us, “to welcome and accept others in a way that honors and reflects the Lord’s welcome and acceptance of you and me,” and to extend God’s mercy to others [2].

In doing so we join God in this holy work of redeeming the brokenness of the world into something new and beautiful. God celebrates our potential to share the mind of Christ. God celebrates every opportunity for all of God’s children to be transformed and changed by God’s mercy and grace.

The problem with mercy is that our vision controls our perception and perception controls our reality.

Jonah’s vision was centered upon what was wrong with the world and how he had been wronged by it. That vision misguided Jonah to perceive that at he knew better than God to decide the merits of mercy. His reality became so narrowed that he could not see the abundance of God’s mercy in his own life.

God’s vision is centered upon what is right with the world; and what is right is God’s merciful compassion that pursues us with a relentless love. That vision opens our hearts and minds to perceive God’s mercies are new each morning. God’s compassion has the ability to shape our spiritual reality focusing on what breaks God’s heart and celebrating God’s abundant goodness that is always present in our brokenness and in the worst situations.

The book of Jonah leaves us holding the question – will we see mercy as a problem or as a gift?

In the name of God our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.

Sources Referenced:

[1] “The Study Catechism,” (Louisville: Witherspoon Press by the Office of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (USA), 1998), Questions 7 and 19, pp. 3, 9.
[2] The Study Catechism, Question 39, p. 25.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Sermon: Second Chances (Jonah 3: 1-10)

Second Chances
Psalm 51: 1-17; Jonah 3: 1-10
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
September 18, 2017

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgement.
Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.

You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.
- Psalm 51: 1-12

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, ‘Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.’ So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord.

Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: ‘By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.’

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
- Jonah 3: 1-10

One of the gems from Jonah’s story is that God met Jonah where he was, even as Jonah ran away from God. Rev. Janet Alford shared last week, “The Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah when he was headed in the wrong direction. Compassionately, God pulled Jonah back in order to put his feet somewhere else. During those long three days in the belly of the whale Jonah had to trust that he was in God’s hands.”

God was moving Jonah to have a change of heart. The hope was for Jonah to turn from his resistance and to come follow God’s lead. Our story continues today saying that the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.

Jonah did follow God’s lead but his heart was not in it. While Ninevah was a three days’ walk across, Jonah only walked through the city for one day. He didn’t go as deep into the city as he had gone into the belly of the whale for three days. As this court prophet stood in the city street, he called out in the same way that the prophet Isaiah remembered Israel's leaders were calling God’s people to respond to God; they were just going through the motions. Israel had forgotten the heart of God and God’s intentions for abundant life lived in community. Jonah had forgotten it too (Jonah 3:4; Isaiah 1:13-14).

God had told Jonah, “Proclaim to [the people] the message that I tell you” (Verse 2). But Jonah did not say, “Thus says the Lord,” the words that introduce prophetic speech as God’s mouthpiece. Jonah stood in the street and half-heartedly called, “Forty days more and Ninevah shall be overthrown.”

That word “overthrown” has two very different meanings in the Old Testament. It can mean to be overturned as destroyed by judgment (Genesis 19:21, 25, 29; Deuteronomy 29:22; Jeremiah 20:16; Lamentations4:6). It can also mean overturned as being delivered (Deuteronomy 23:5; Psalm 66:6; Jeremiah 31:13) [1]

Jonah told Ninevah to trust God or expect destruction by judgment. It is really quite amazing how the people of Ninevah responded – it was an amazing grace moment like the Apostle Paul had on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). God was found by a people who did not even seek the Lord out in the first place. The Lord revealed himself to those who did not ask for God. What a demonstration of deliverance.

All of Ninevah marked this second chance in their lives as a defining turning point of experiencing God’s mercy. It claimed the city from top to bottom; authority figures, residents, and animals alike. No one was excluded from God’s mercy and grace.

When God gives us a second chance it encourages us to know the compassionate heart of God. It happens to us in lots of different ways.

The clapperboard of life snaps “Take Two” with a new opportunity to change and reach towards our God-given potential when we least expect it, as it did for Ninevah.

A second chance comes from purging our hearts which guides our steps towards forgiveness and restoring a broken relationship.

The do-over our children and youth find when they can correct their test mistakes and receive a little extra credit to bring up a bad grade.

The fresh start that comes after a clean bill of health when illness once seemed to have an upper hand.

Second chances bring such joy in challenging circumstances.

But second chances also challenge our willingness to truly live in a new way.

Jesus healed Legion, a man who was plagued with demons and marginalized by society. That second chance saved Legion. He did nothing to deserve his struggles. When his community would not offer him a second chance Jesus did and it gave him an opportunity to live into God’s abundant wholeness. But when the man feared how others would perceive his fresh start, Jesus challenged him to proclaim how much the Lord had done for him, and he did (Mark 5: 15-20).

After telling the crowd, “Let anyone who is without sin throw the first stone,” Jesus stood before the woman caught in adultery. Jesus gave her a second chance saying, “Is there no one left to condemn you?” Seeing nothing around her but stones lying on the ground, she said, “No One, sir.” Jesus replied, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way and from now on, do not sin again” (John 8: 7, 10-11).

And God gave Jonah a second chance. God had chosen Jonah to go and serve as an instrument to bring about God’s purposes. But Jonah did not respond to his second chance with a willing spirit.

It has been said, “A second chance doesn’t mean anything if [we] have learned nothing from the first one” (Anonymous).

God did not echo that sentiment. God still chose to work through Jonah’s strong will even before God offered a teaching moment. Ninevah was granted a second chance even after destroying the Northern Kingdom of Israel and certainly all of heaven rejoiced even when Jonah did not.

And guess what? God gave Jonah yet another chance to change his heart which we will look at next week in the fourth chapter of Jonah. Does that mean we should resist God’s will too if grace and mercy abound? Of course, the Apostle Paul would say, “By no means!” (Romans 6:1).

Rest assured that nothing stands in the way of bringing about God’s will. Not our resistance, not our lukewarm actions, not our conflicts or doubts. We are not that powerful! God can and will work through the circumstances we create and the unexpected chaos and unwanted change we never asked for. God will work through it all to for the sake of God’s glory.

God’s word goes out and will not return empty; it shall accomplish God’s purposes for which is was sent (Isaiah 55:11). God is in control. That means that God is free to judge our hearts. God is also free to show mercy on whomever God chooses. The Lord God can certainly turn a judgment into a blessing because the Lord loved the world so much that he sent his only Son so that whoever believes will not perish but have abundant and everlasting life. (Deuteronomy 23:5; John 3:16-17; 10:10).

God’s gift of salvation comes to us before we can even profess it. God’s Spirit stays on the move to turn our hearts to see our deep need for God’s care and guidance no matter if we have followed God our whole life long, or if we are digging our heels in, or profess no faith at all. God’s love pursues us with opportunities to be completely changed by God’s amazing grace.

God’s greatest desire is to sustain our faith with a willing spirit (Psalm 51:12). A willing spirit is not being obedient to God out of duty or obligation. But it means to trust, follow, and respond to God with gratitude because our God is a generous God.

Faith requires our all because Jesus gave his all. It gave Jesus Christ JOY to give us the gift of God’s redemption and eternal presence (Hebrews 12:2). And we give thanks to God for all the second, and third, and fourth and fifth chances to follow Jesus’ example to extend God’s hope and mercy to others.

Friends we worship a God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all and his compassion is over all that he has made (Psalm 145: 8-9). God meets us where we are and never gives up on us.

I pray that we always remember that.

In the name of God our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.

Sources Referenced:

Art image "Across the Way," by Mark Lawrence
[1] New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, "Volume V: Ezekiel and The Twelve Prophets" (Nashville: Abingdon Pres, 2015), p. 671.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Sermon: Running from God (Jonah 1: 1-10)

Running from God
Psalm 139: 1-10; Jonah 1: 1-10
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
September 3, 2017

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
- Psalm 139: 1-10

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, ‘Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.’

But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.

But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and such a mighty storm came upon the sea that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried to his god. They threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten it for them. Jonah, meanwhile, had gone down into the hold of the ship and had lain down, and was fast asleep.

The captain came and said to him, ‘What are you doing sound asleep? Get up, call on your god! Perhaps the god will spare us a thought so that we do not perish.’

The sailors said to one another, ‘Come, let us cast lots, so that we may know on whose account this calamity has come upon us.’ So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, ‘Tell us why this calamity has come upon us. What is your occupation? Where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?’ ‘I am a Hebrew,’ he replied. ‘I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.’ Then the men were even more afraid, and said to him, ‘What is this that you have done!’ For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them so.
- Jonah 1: 1-10

Seven year old Max was fed up. He grabbed his backpack and shoved a handful of clothes inside, along with his Ironman action figure. He was packing the important stuff. And before he walked out of his room, he left a note:

Mom is ruining my life. I feel like I should run away and that’s what I am going to do. By the time you read this I will be gone. If you want to see me again, I will be at the first Micdonlds that you see wen you turn rite from our house.

From a young age, we all seem to have that innate angst to run away from home. We get frustrated by the house rules, we feel misunderstood, or just plain and simple we conclude that our parent is ruining our life. No mom or dad in their right mind would ever require a child to “Go make up the bed,” or “Put the dishes away,” or “Take your turn for doggie duty.” Right?!?!

Even grown-ups dream of running away. That is what Jonah resolved to do. God called Jonah to “Go at once to Ninevah, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness had come up before God” (Jonah 1:2).

This was not the first time God had called Jonah. You see Jonah was a court prophet. Earlier in Israel’s history, God had heard the bitter cry of his people. Israel (Northern Kingdom) was being threatened by the Assyrians. It did not help that Israel’s king (Jeroboam II) was corrupt and did not seek the welfare of the people. God spoke through Jonah commanding the king to restore the borders of the Northern Kingdom; and surprisingly King Jeroboam II did (2 Kings 14:23-26).

Jonah not only saw God work through a wayward king back then, but now God was requiring Jonah to speak to the people of Ninevah; they were Assyrians. Jonah was to preach prophetically to the people who had destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Prophetic speech implies words that urge others to live differently by the grace of God. Jonah was having none of that. He grabbed his backpack, jumped on a ship, and set sail for the opposite direction.

Throughout Scripture we see our shared human tendency to shrink back when God called our spiritual ancestors to do hard things. My commentary summed it up like this:

“Moses and Jeremiah thought themselves inadequate for the tasks. Elijah feared for his own life. Amos and Isaiah found God’s message too dreadful to announce.”[1]

And yet God pursued each one to follow God’s lead. “God repeatedly overhauled Moses’ objections. God told Jeremiah he had no choice. God evicted Elijah from Mount Horeb and redirected his steps back to Syria and Israel. God held Isaiah and Amos to their respective prophetic posts.”[2]

Jonah considered where he might flee from God’s presence. Even as Jonah took the opportunity to settle at the farthest limits of the sea – God was there. God pursued Jonah as he went down to Tarshish, down to Joppa, and down into the ship. God pursued Jonah as he hid from God and the world in that fetal position of sleep.

You and I can relate to Jonah. As one of our church members shared with me last week, “Who hasn’t run away from God?”

We have all run away from God for lots of different reasons. We keep God at a distance; we tell ourselves we are doing just fine on our own and don’t really need God’s help... believe it or not, I said that in a season of my life as a young adult. Some of us have been hurt by the church and that leaves a bad taste in our mouth. Others steer away because they have grown weary from a message that projects more of God’s judgment than grace.

When we feel God tapping us on the shoulder it unsettles us. We run for fear of not being good enough or qualified enough. We cringe at the thought of where God might tell us to go. We get nervous hearing God’s Word and knowing God asks all of us to do hard things.

Even Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16: 24-25).

We read those words and we can’t help but ask the question, “Really Jesus? Who in their right mind would say yes? Denying ourselves and taking up a cross just like you did…how in the world can we do that?!?”

Well, guess what? God knows all this. The Psalmist felt God tapping him on the shoulder too. The Psalmist knew a lot about the relentless love of God:

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up…whether I am rising up to follow you or rising up with that fight or flight response.
You discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down…even when I am in that fetal position trying to hide from you and the world.
You are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.
Where can I go from your spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? No matter how far I go, you are there.
Even if I settle at the farthest limits of the sea like Jonah did, even there your hand shall lead me and your right hand shall hold me fast
(Psalm 139: 1-4, 7, 9-10).

God is always on the move to pursue us, especially when we have those fight or flight moments along the path of faith. God speaks through so many means to capture our attention and follow his lead.

God speaks through the chaos in our hearts as the Spirit keeps nudging us to say yes. Do you know that nudge…the one that disrupts life and gives us no peace until we say yes to God?! God has a sense of humor as we ask for signs to know how to respond to opportunities in life. God even speaks to us through unlikely situations and unlikely people to move our hearts and our feet in God’s direction.

We see the heart of God revealed in an unlikely person in Jonah’s story. The captain of the ship was the one to grab Jonah’s attention. In the midst of that terrible storm at sea the helmsman, who called upon another god and a completely different tradition, urged the prophet to do the right thing. He told Jonah to call upon The Lord Almighty. The God of Creation is the One who steers our great ship of faith and was the very One who had called Jonah to begin with!

When we find ourselves running from God, the Lord places people in our path at the just the right time. They serve like a mirror to reflect our willingness as disciples to do the right thing, the compassionate thing, and even the hard thing.

Hurricane Harvey has hit our sisters and brothers in Texas in an unprecedented way. The devastation and aftermath of flooding is one of the worst natural disasters our country has yet faced. The stories of the tragic loss of life, loss of homes, and loss of infrastructure grips our hearts and minds. It is hard to imagine what Texas is going through.

But God continues to pursue us to put our faith into action as God works through unlikely people. In the midst of this crisis the Holy Spirit has been flooding the divisions that have been blocking human hearts like race, religion, and politics. The Spirit made a way for unconditional love flows freely.

Neighbors are helping one another at all costs. First responders have put themselves in harm’s way to risk their lives to save women, children, men, and pets alike. Even Mexico, our neighbor south of the border, plans to help with relief efforts as they did when Hurricane Katrina struck twelve years ago.

To see all these taking risks to deny themselves in order to save others is profound. It is amazing because we are seeing the hearts of all God’s children at work even when they profess different traditions and even when some profess none. Their actions inspire us to be the disciples that Jesus Christ is calling us to be.

God may not call you and me to be prophets or captains or heroes. But we are all called be God’s helpers by placing our trust in God alone as we join Christ’s ministry of love, peace, and justice.

May it be so as God pursues us in his relentless love – for we all have our Jonah moments.

In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sources Referenced:

[1] New Interpreter's Bible Commentary "Jonah" (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015), p. 646.
[2] New Interpreter's Bible Commentary "Jonah," p. 646.