Suicidal Evangelist: Man Overboard #3 (2018-0818)

. 6 min read

Aug 2019, Christ Mountain Top
the Scripture, Psalm 88, selections
Mark 1.14-20
Jonah 2.1 – 4.1
evangelist, how NOT to witness
evangelist, how NOT to pray
the suicidal evangelist, how NOT to be happy
week: Jonah and Jesus
that we are paying attention to Jonah as comedy. He’s been swallowed and
disgorged by the fish. He’s finally gone to Nineveh (now part of the city of Mosul,
). 120,000 people have responded to his hellfire and brimstone
message. Instead of being elated, he is MAD, mad because God is gracious and
forgiving of enemies, people that Jonah hates.
       From the belly of Sheol, the belly of the
fish, he prayed, “Deliverance belongs to the LORD.” This time he offers a
different prayer: “Please take my life from me.” God responds, “Is it right for
you to be angry?” Or, an alternate translation (NIV), “Do you have a
right to be angry?”
       Jonah holds a stake-out just in case
God’s mind changes once more, hoping to have a front row seat to a holocaust.
God sends a bush, a vine, that grows up in one day to provide shade. The next
day, God sends a worm that cuts the vine. And, God sends a wind that withers
the vine.

sends” or “God appoints” or “God prepares” … an expression that
shows up throughout Jonah.  God appoints
a storm at sea, God appoints a fish to swallow him, God appoints a vine, God
appoints a wind. (That English word, “appoint,” refers to the power of a bishop
to send pastors to serve communities and congregations.) Here, the word refers
to God’s sovereign control over the world and history, but it is a control that
is exercised dynamically with human beings. The people of Nineveh are given the
opportunity to repent. Jonah, who initially refuses his appointment to preach
at Nineveh, is also given the opportunity to repent. Now done with his
preaching, Jonah makes his own bed, but he’s not particularly pleased with
lying in it.
       “Do you have a right to be angry
about the bush?”
       “Yes. Angry enough to die.”
this is progress in Jonah’s therapy. It begins with Jonah being mad because of
God’s kindness to strangers, to Jonah’s repentant enemies. Now, he’s mad
because God has played him. First, he was mad because God didn’t destroy
Nineveh. Then, he was mad because God did destroy the vine. What kind of God
does Jonah want? And, like any one of us caught red-handed in such irony, Jonah
only digs in his heels and becomes more petulant: “Angry enough to die.”
this is Scripture and not just comedy, we need to look for lessons we can learn.
Jonah is angry, not happy. So, we have three ways NOT to be happy.
Jonah is not happy but angry, because he justifies hatred. 
       The genius of hatred is that it
dehumanizes others, erecting a psychological barrier so that we treat them as
less than me. We don’t have to deal with the complications of empathy for
someone whom we find distasteful. We don’t have to find some reason to respect
someone who threatens us. We completely disconnect. We hate them. Now, the fact
that hatred dehumanizes us is hardly relevant. If we are haters, it doesn’t
matter, because our single-minded focus prevents us from contemplating the
truth that hatred closes our souls off from connecting with other humans who
are also made in the image of God.
       There are personal hatreds – the bully
who threatened me in second grade, the man who abused my relatives. But there
are also systemic hatreds that can be just as powerful and effective in making
us angry and unhappy – racism, classism, sexism. It is preferable, if we determine
not to be happy, to be as hateful as possible.
       Jonah had several reasons to hate Nineveh
and its people: Nineveh was the world superpower and the enemy of the Jewish
people that eventually committed ethnic cleansing on the northern kingdom,
effectively wiping out what we now know as the ten lost tribes. In addition,
Nineveh was a city, and perhaps Jonah had bought into the assumption that
cities are centers of evil. Jonah hated Nineveh and wanted to see it destroyed.
Jonah is not happy but angry, because he resists grace.
       When something good happens to Nineveh,
Jonah can’t dare be happy about it. He resists grace. When something good
happens for Jonah, when the vine gives him shade, he slips a bit and the story
tells us he is “very happy”. But, despite being “very happy”, he does not
express his thanks because, deep down, Jonah is unhappy. He is resisting grace.
From his perspective, grace is a fickle thing, like Lady Luck, and you just
can’t trust it. Grace might be given to the people we hate. And, when it is
given to us, it’s probably just to get our hopes up. If you want to avoid such
disappointment, you need to resist grace. You won’t become happy, but you won’t
be surprised either. Besides, just when you think you have God on your side, God
is liable to show some love to those enemies you hate. The nerve! Where is
God’s sense of pride? Resist grace with pride and you’ll be unhappy every time.
Jonah is not happy but angry, because he allows a single small thing to
be central to his comfort.
       If you want to be unhappy, then you must
make small control issues into potential catastrophes. That is, if someone puts
the cheese grater or tape dispenser in the wrong place, you need to fly off the
handle every time. If you laugh it off and smile at the incompetence of people
who inconvenience you, you just might be happier, so don’t dare do that. When
you go to the store, park perfectly and criticize the folks who park
off-center. Make mountains out of molehills at every opportunity.
       Don’t let your children get away with
anything or, on the other hand, let them get away with everything. Either way,
you’ll be making them and their response to you central to your comfort AND
you’ll end up unhappy.
       Make certain, as much as it is possible,
that all your comfort depends on a single undependable thing – an insensitive
and inconsiderate romantic partner, a domineering boss, a distant parent. If
there is anyone else, other than you, who is responsible for your emotions; if
you can yell, “YOU make me mad”, you are well on your way to unhappiness.
       Jonah is happy for a brief but fleeting
moment when he allows a single small thing – the vine – to be central to his
comfort. And it only deepens his gloom because of the roller coaster of raised
expectation and crushing disappointment. If you can find a similar thing in
your life, you will be unhappy.
review. Jonah’s path to unhappiness:
·       justify
·       resist
·       allow
a single small thing to be central to your comfort
is possible that you came here today and were not planning to learn lessons for
being unhappy. In that case, some counter-intuitive wisdom for happiness.
“whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1
John 4:8). “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew
5:44). God loves the people of Nineveh. God loves the enemy. “Should I not be
concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are 120,000 people who
do not know their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well?” God
loves people who are spiritually clueless, distant from God, antagonistic to
belief. Perhaps we can learn to love the clueless, the distant, the antagonist.
God loves the enemy – when that includes me, and when that includes my enemy.
“God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the
humble” (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5). If you insist on being the center of the
universe and getting things your way, you’ll find yourself fighting with God.
And, “the bigger we are, the harder we fall.” But if you humble yourself like
those awful evil Ninevites, you’ll find grace.
“Let your steadfast love become my comfort”

(Psalm 119:76). The love of God is the one thing we can always rely upon. Even
the best of friends will disappoint, but God’s promises will never fail. God’s
love is not the sentimental stuff of greeting cards and flower bouquets. God’s
love is tenacious, passionate, and given to enemies like me and Nineveh.
of Mother Teresa:
God break my heart so completely that the whole world falls in.