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