- The Washington Times - Monday, July 31, 2000

Excerpts from a sermon given yesterday by the Rev. Morris L. Shearin Sr. at Israel Baptist Church in the District of Columbia.

The Old Testament prophet Jonah had the audacity to try to limit God's mercy. In Chapter 4, we read that God's merciful actions "displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry."
A lot of folks in the church are like Jonah. They don't like the way things are going, they get mad. Some take their marbles and leave, others stay and mumble. You know what? You have the right and privilege to get angry with God. But it does not change God. In the Bible, Job got mad with God, so God asked him, "Job, where were you when I created everything?" Your getting angry with God does not deter God's response at all… .
God had called Jonah to do something special, and when God calls, you just do it. God sent Jonah to Nineveh to declare that in 40 days the city would be overthrown, and Jonah refused and fled, so God called him a second time. God gave Jonah a second chance. How can Jonah be angry? The Lord said, "Doest thou well to be angry?"
Outside the city, God prepared a shade tree for Jonah. It grew up quickly, and then worms came and destroyed it overnight. For the day, Jonah had sat in its shade. God was saying, "I am still caring for you." Then God allowed a strong east wind to come and blow down the tree. He was showing Jonah that he had nothing to do with the growing or destroying of the tree. It was all done by God.
God was saying, "You finally did what I asked you to do, and then you get mad at me because I didn't destroy the city, as I said I would." Jonah already knew the great mercy of God: "I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger." But he complained at God's mercy toward the people. It doesn't add up. Do I have any Jonahites in here this morning?
What God was trying to do with Jonah was to persuade him to know who He is. Let us look at ourselves. Look at how God has done things for your life, and still you get angry at God.
Now when the tree was gone, Jonah burned in the sun and was sad that it was destroyed. So God said to him, "Thou has laid pity on [the tree, so] should not I spare Nineveh." In other words, Jonah was part of humanity, so he should care that Nineveh be saved more than the fate of a tree.
God was saying, "I reserve the right to do what I want to do." What Jonah failed to realize is that when he preached the word of God, the whole city repented. From the king on down, they put on sack cloth. Jonah preached three days and a quarter million people repented. But then he had the nerve to get angry with God when He did not destroy them… .
They repented, and that's what God wants. We do with people what Jonah did with the city. He judged his fellow man. The Jewish people read the book of Jonah on the Day of Atonement, which also means "at one-ment." The children of God are all one. So we wonder why Jewish folks can't make peace with the Palestinians. But some in the Jewish church, just like in the black church, can't achieve this "at one-ment" with others, this pity for the stranger or foreigner… .
Pity is not a meek emotion. God said to Jonah, you have a right to be angry, but Jonah, do you realize that there are people there who do not know their right hand from their left hand? People who don't know better. Children that are not responsible for Nineveh's sins.
We have got to change our views of others, and see that God's mercy is always good. Think of all the foolish things you've done, and how good God has been with you. God can have mercy upon whom He wants, and have pity upon whom He pleases.
There are those folks who want to see others go down, but God has a way of lifting them up. So don't be like Jonah. We are to lift people up. Many times, as God repented of his desire to punish Nineveh, he repents of His judgment on you.

Next week: a sermon by the Rev. Joan E. Beilstein at the Church of the Nativity in Camp Springs, Md.

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