Sermon Ash Wednesday - Jonah 3:1-10 - Februrary 18, 2015
1) Jonah is quite the man, is he not? The Word of the Lord comes to Jonah saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it, for their wickedness has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:2) But Jonah does arise and go to Nineveh. He goes down to Joppa, the port city, books passage for Tarshish, which is probably in Spain, so, the end of the world. Then he goes down into the ship. Jonah does the exact opposite of what the Lord demands of him. He travels as far as a ship will take him in the opposite direction of the Word of the Lord. He is a preacher who is disgusted with his call assignment. In a world full of false prophets who run when they are not sent, in the man Jonah, the Lord graciously sends a prophet to the heathen Assyrians. But the prophet will not go. Not only will Jonah not arise and go to Nineveh, he refuses to do what prophets do. The Lord sends a mighty tempest on the sea which Jonah is traversing in order to bring the obstinate prophet to repentance. The pagan sailors know what to do in an end of life situation. “The mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god, and threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea.” (John 1:5) Where is Jonah, the true prophet of the true God, during this calamity? “Jonah had gone down to the lower parts of the ship and had lain down, and was fast asleep.” It was the captain, a pagan man, who had to stir the prophet from his deep slumber in the bowels of the ship. Yet Jonah will not pray to the very Lord from whom he runs. He would rather be tossed in the sea than beseech the Lord for mercy. From there Jonah goes down into the sea, to his death.
2) We see so much of ourselves in Jonah, if we take an honest look. We are not all called to the Office of the Holy Ministry, as was Jonah. But the Lord does call all of His creatures to live according to His will. You may not share Jonah’s office but you share his sin. The Lord demands that He alone be your God, the One to whom you look for every good thing. He alone you are to fear, love and trust. Yet you do not live like this. You often live as if you were you own god. You love yourself, your comfort, your own opinion, your own safety, more than you love the true God. You fear the future, you fear the failing health, you fear death at times, and you fear the changes and chances of this fallen world and what that world will do to you and your loved ones. You trust your own intellect, your own cunning, and your own heart and courage to get you through the day. There is not much room in the human heart for the true God. The human heart is busy deifying itself, so that we think that whatever we feel in our hearts or our bellies must be God’s voice, even when it teaches us things and leads us in directions that diverge from His Word and Gospel. In this calling, to live as creatures of the Lord, created by Him to live by faith in Him, our faith is so often placed upon external things of this world or on our own internal voice and conscience.
3) Then there is life with your neighbor, anyone and everyone with whom you come into contact throughout your day. Your creator has designed you to love your neighbor selflessly, unflinchingly, and sacrificially, “as you love yourself.” But our selfish hearts will not allow this to happen. We must look out for ourselves. We must be on guard against our neighbor lest they hurt us and dash us against the rocks. So instead of loving our neighbors we take advantage of them, we pass them by uncaringly, or we misuse them entirely. Eyes lust for flesh not given to them. The heart covets the possessions, lifestyles, good fortune, or personality traits of others. The heart beats with hateful thoughts towards those with whom we disagree. Slights become grudges, grudges become anger and anger congeals into hatred in the heart. The Lord says arise and live as the creature your Creator made you. Faith toward God. Love toward neighbor. But like Jonah, you, and I, would rather go down. Down to Joppa. Down into the ship. Down into the bowels of the boat to sleep rather than pray. Down into the water to escape God’s will of loving Him above all things and loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.
4) But the Lord does not let Jonah have his sinful, selfish way. Sin is always destructive to those around us and to ourselves. Jonah’s self-destructive sinful heart would have ended him up dead in the water and dead for eternity. But the Lord had not finished with His prophet. He prepares a great fish to swallow Jonah for His salvation. Jonah, for all his rebelling against God and cursing God in his heart, is still deeply loved by God. Didn’t we just pray in the Collect, “Almighty and Everlasting God, our Father, who hatest nothing that Thou hast made and dost forgive the sins of all who are penitent?” (Wisdom 11:24) The Lord brings Jonah from the bowels of the ship to the bowels of the fish so that Jonah might see just where His continual ‘going down’ will get him, so that the prophet might repent and confess his sins and humbly rely upon the mercy of God, the very mercy which, up to this point, he has been running from. It is there in the belly of the great fish, the place of digestion, decay, and death, the Jonah repents of his sin, of going down when the Lord calls him to arise to His calling. The Lord shows His mercy is providing this great fish to save Jonah. We may think of the fish as punishment, after all, who would want to live in the belly of a fish for three days? But this great fish is Jonah’s savior. Without this great fish, provided by the Lord, Jonah would have got what His sin deserved: death and eternal separation from the Lord. The waters would have killed Jonah, but God brings Jonah alive out of the water.
5) And that is where we find ourselves with Jonah again. We sin daily and deserve nothing but wrath and punishment. We engage in sinful behaviors, thoughts words and deeds, that are destructive to others and ourselves. But the Lord is not finished with you. The Lord threw Jonah in the roaring waters so that there in certain death He might deliver Jonah. He throws you into waters that are combined with God’s Word of promise. He takes you to the baptismal font not just to wash you of your sins, but to kill you entirely. The Apostle says, “As many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death.” (Romans 6:3) He says elsewhere, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live.” (Galatians 2:20) Like Jonah, you are driven to the water where the Lord kills you and buries you with Christ in the tomb. The old man is gone. The sinful flesh is drowned. Like Jonah, you are brought to the point of death so that in those very same waters the Lord might raise you to new life. So St. Paul writes, “Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:11) He writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” You plunged into Baptismal waters which put the sinful self to death and simultaneously raise you to new life, the life of faith toward God and the life of love toward neighbor that all flows, not from you, but from the One who lives in you: Christ Jesus our Lord. Jonah was brought down into the water so that he might be spat up on dry ground as the new man, forgiven of all his sins and set back in his divine calling.
6) Having been killed and made alive in the sea, this is written, “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.’ So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord.” (Jonah 3:1-3a) Once Jonah emerges from these baptismal waters, his sin is not mentioned. His rebellion is not hung in front of his face nor is his former willful disobedience hung around his neck as a burden to bear. There is no more sin for Jonah. All has been forgiven in those baptismal waters. The Lord does not bring them up as Jonah wipes vomit from his clothing. The Lord cannot bring them. He tells us in Jeremiah 31:34, “For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” Jonah’s sins are forgiven. His guilt removed. The only thing the Lord has to say to the prophet is to reiterate the divine call. “Arise, go to Nineveh.” Jonah is not stripped of his holy office. The word of the Lord comes to him “a second time.” This time Jonah goes and in that going the Lord works through His living and effective word to produce the same repentance and faith in the great city of Nineveh. What the Lord does for Jonah He does for Nineveh. What the Lord does for Jonah He does for you.
7) “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:27) And “there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) In the waters of Holy Baptism your sins are forgiven. You are made new. The Lord remembers your sins no more, so neither ought you to meditate upon them them reherse them with an evil conscious. And though you sin daily and daily deserve nothing but wrath and hell and punishment from hand of God, your baptism remains. Not because it was a decision good enough to merit grace. Your baptism remains. Not because you had something to do with it, quite the opposite, because you had no say in it whatsoever. It was not your decision, your volition, or your will that plunged you into water combined with God’s Word. It was all the Lord’s doing. He washed you. He killed the old Adam in those waters. He calls forth to you, “Arise” and brings forth the new man from those waters that run red with the blood of Jesus. Your baptism remains because it is God’s work done to you. God’s work endures forever. The complete remission and full forgiveness He gives to you in Holy Baptism is lived out then in daily confession of your sins and daily believing the Gospel that those sins are forgiven for the sake of Christ. Confessing your sins and believing the Gospel is nothing more than a daily remembrance of your baptism where your old man is drowned again by confessing your sins and the new man is daily raised up through faith in the Gospel. As the Lord erased Jonah’s sins, so He daily erases your sins. As the Lord once again called Jonah to live in His divine calling, so the Lord calls you back to your callings each day. Arise and go in peace, dear children of God, to the places God has placed you. Your sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, completely, utterly forgiven, remitted, and removed. Amen.