Sermon (i) preached on the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity (6 September 2015) by the Reverend Canon Tricia Hillas, Pastor

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Sermon (i) preached on the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity (6 September 2015) by the Reverend Canon Tricia Hillas, Pastor

The Reverend Canon Tricia Hillas looks at what makes us angry and grace in relation to the story of the prophet Jonah. 

Over the summer a news story caught my attention. It concerned some very, very angry people. I wonder if you think they had a right to be angry?

The issue was this: an outdoor concert scheduled for a Friday evening was cancelled due to  torrential rain. As a gesture of goodwill, the organisers offered the disappointed ticket holders a refund, plus entry to the next day’s concert. This resulted in strongly voiced complaints from some who had already paid for their tickets for the Saturday evening.

One said: "To give people free tickets to a completely different concert as well as a refund is disgraceful. I am so very annoyed."

No deliberate irony is apparent in the choice of that word ‘dis-GRACE-ful’. The Saturday evening concert goers had, we presumably been happy to pay in the first instance, but hearing that others were being let in gratis provoked strong anger. Did they have the right to be angry?

Interesting what makes us angry – what we conclude is fair – or not. How we react to grace.

In our reading from the Book of Jonah, the prophet Jonah is angry – angry with his circumstances but most of all angry with God.

Jonah had a complaint – one he puts to God: ‘is not this what I said would happen?’

God had commanded Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh, to pronounce judgement and call them to repentance. To Jonah, no task could have been more distasteful – ‘let them rot’

he might have said. (For Nineveh was the capital of powerful Assyria, Israel’s enemy, deemed to have had a long history or wickedness and cruelty).

‘I know you God, you will no doubt show mercy to them -they don’t deserve it, it’s just not fair.’

And what Jonah feared, happened: Nineveh and its people turned to God. So Jonah withdraws, preoccupied with a self-absorbed mixture of anger, resentment and disappointment.

But God provided – first a vine or bush which gave shelter. Jonah settled back under its shade– still hoping to see the destruction of his enemies.

Then God provided a worm, which attacked the vine so that it withered. Worse still, God provides Jonah with a scorching wind and hot sun, which bore down upon him.

Interesting gifts. Now Jonah is really angry.

God speaks, ‘Jonah…it is right for you to be angry about so small a thing as the vine?’

‘Of course!’ retorts Jonah.

‘Really?’, says God – to be so concerned about a vine which you did not plant, which you did not tend…and yet so indifferent about the plight of a whole people who are in great need?  

I wonder if you know where Nineveh is today?

Its’ part of Mosul, Iraq’s second city – a city of over a million people.

The original city of Mosul stands on the west bank of the Tigris River, opposite the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh, but the modern city has spread to encompass both banks.

One year ago the group some call ‘Daesh’, others ‘Islamic State’ took the city and half a million people fled, becoming some of the refugees and asylum seekers whose pain, distress and suffering haunts us. Others remain in Mosul and life for them has changed beyond recognition.

And might God still be asking:

‘Is it right for you to be so concerned about the bush (whatever the bush may be for us)…? Then should not I be concerned about Ninevah, about Mosul, about Calais…and their people?

Jonah choked on the thought of God pouring out grace to those he considered undeserving.

Left unchecked, this lack of compassion would have caused something in Jonah to be as withered and dead as the transient vine.

But in his grace God was bringing life to Jonah as much as he was the people of Ninevah. And I like to believe that he succeeded - that Jonah was thawed by that same grace because, a tradition holds that Jonah was buried within the city, on Tell Nebi Yunus, or Hill of the Prophet Jonah. Did he make it his home? An Assyrian church stood over the tomb for centuries, in the 14th century the church became a mosque. One year ago it was destroyed.

The story of Jonah is about God’ compassion for the world and for its peoples.

God showed Jonah what moves the Divine heart and invites him, and us to reflect on what moves ours.