“Hoarding Grace?” Jonah 3:10-4:11
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Sunday, September 24, 2017
Have you ever been like that? Why is it that we can be given so much and yet be so selfish? As we’ve heard in our Scripture readings this morning, selfishness is a problem. Jonah certainly struggled with it. And so did the people around Jesus when he told the parable about the workers. And so do we. Maybe the problem isn’t so much with sharing as it is with us not understanding God’s grace.
Jonah’s story is one of grace. It begins with God calling him to go to Nineveh to warn its people that God is going to destroy them unless they repent from their wickedness and injustice. Jonah hears God but wants nothing to do with the mission he’s been given. He knows of God’s grace and that God might relent from his punishment if the people in Nineveh listen and repent. He wants to see Nineveh burn up in the wrath of God; the likes of which this world has never seen (ok, he didn’t say that but it sure sounds familiar). Jonah sees God’s grace as weakness. For Jonah, it wouldn’t be fair for God to let those Ninevites off the hook. It’s disappointing for us to see Jonah react this way. After all, who is he to question God’s fairness or grace? Didn’t God spare him from certain death by causing that big fish to spit him out? And what about the second chance God gave him to go to Nineveh? God even causes a plant to grow up over Jonah’s head to give him shade from the heat while he complains about God’s grace. Jonah is either someone who receives God’s grace and takes it for granted or he is one who benefits from it but is unwilling to see that it is a gift to be shared.
We are Jonah, aren’t we? We are Jonah when we neglect to see the abundance of God’s grace in our own lives. We may not have been in the belly of a fish, but I’m pretty sure all of us have been swallowed up in something that we think we’ll never get out of. Like the atheist soldier who prays for and finds God’s grace while penned in a foxhole, we cry out for God’s grace and receive it when we are deep inside the belly of our need. But when God does save us, we can almost immediately forget about the grace that met us there and sustained us until we got out. When we neglect to see God’s grace in our lives, it doesn’t take long for us to go negative, get bitter, and even resent how good God is in someone else’s life. One reason I love the fall season is the emphasis on Thanksgiving. It is a time for us to count our many blessings. We really ought to do this everyday in every season, lest we take them and their source for granted. And we must take stock of the bounty of God’s grace in our lives as well.
We are Jonah when we harbor prejudice against people we don’t think should receive God’s grace. Like Jonah not thinking the people of Nineveh were worthy of God’s grace, we can have that same view toward other people. It may be a racial thing for us just as it was not so long ago when white people did not think black people or Native Americans deserved God’s grace. It could be a religious thing, thinking that people of religions different than our own should not benefit from God’s grace. It may be a nationalistic thing, believing that people who are not Americans should not benefit from God’s grace for strangers or people who are on the outside. Or it may be a jail thing, believing that people who are in prison or who have been in prison and done their time but are still not worthy of God‘s grace and forgiveness. If that is us, what God says to Jonah is what God says to us, something like this: “That’s not how I work. That’s certainly not how I have thought about you, Jonah, when you were running the other way from me. That’s not what my grace is all about.” And what God wants us to know is that grace is not for us to keep and manage but it is to freely distribute to the people around us each day.
We are Jonah when we do not share God’s grace with other people. I don’t think our unwillingness to share is because we don’t think God has enough grace for everyone. No I think it is more that we don’t think other people deserve God‘s grace as much as we do. Or it could be that we failed to see how much like them we have been before or now or could be again in the future. I’m thinking we can all identify with the workers in the story Jesus told as we heard it in the Gospel reading this morning. We’ve been working for God all day long and who are these people to get paid the same amount when they have done far less? I’m afraid that’s our attitude toward other people at times. We see God as being unfair to us and way too generous to other people. And so we question God‘s grace and wonder if it all God knows what God is doing. Wouldn’t it be better if we saw people as God sees them and extended the same kind of radical grace that we see Jesus extending to people? Our job is not to question God’s grace for other people but to be so busy sharing it with them that all we can do is rejoice as they discover it and benefit from its life-changing effect.
The video we saw earlier shows what happens when we humans get something we don’t want anyone else to have. Imagine what it would look like to see the kid who has the wheel sharing with the boy he has excluded. Imagine grace freely received and generously shared. Imagine what that could look like in our world today.