Back to the Future

Jonah 2:2-9

Sunday Sermon

The Rev. Dr. D. William Faupel
Priest-in-Charge

August 13, 2017


I am now an old man nearing the end of my days. I was sitting at my front porch waiting to die, when suddenly, out of nowhere appeared this horseless chariot. A man got out. He said his name was Michael J. Fox and that he had come to take me Back to the Future. So here I am transported to your century, to tell my story.

I.

I come from a small country in what you call the Middle East by the name of Israel. I lived during the reign of King Jeroboam the Second. When I was very young, my country had come under the domination of Syria which is located to the north of us.

My people had to pay a heavy tax to keep its armies from invading our cities and destroying our farms. Despite this tribute Syria still marched against us and took over some of our territory.

As I went throughout our land I saw that the backs of my people had been broken—burdened with the heavy yoke of our oppressor. It was most depressing. Then one day the Word of the Lord came to me. He told me to tell my people and my king that He had heard our cry. He would bring deliverance from our enemy.

I announced the news with gladness and sure enough my prophecy was soon vindicated. News reached us that the armies of Assyria, a nation rising far to our east, had met the Syrian armies in battle and had defeated them. Thus, we were able to retake our land, to possess all that we owned when Solomon was our king. We began to prosper again.

But alas, how quickly my people forget. They began to think that because they were God’s chosen, they were a country of privilege instead of a nation of responsibility. They thought the blessings and riches which they had attained were theirs by right, to do with as they thought best.

Salvation is for the Jews, they said, and then went about doing what was right in their own eyes.

Two of my countrymen, Amos in the North, and Hosea in the South, received another Word from the Lord. “Unless Israel repents, The Lord will send the Assyrians against us to purge our nation.” As I already told you, the Assyrians were even stronger and much more brutal than the Syrians. I shuddered as I listened to their message. But deep in my heart I knew they were right.

II.

It was in this context that I received another Word from the Lord. I couldn’t believe it. He was asking me to do the impossible. I was to go to Nineveh, the capital city of the Assyrians. I was to walk throughout its streets proclaiming this message: “Assyria is wicked. The God of Israel is going to destroy Nineveh its capital in the same manner that He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.”

Can you imagine how I felt? It would be much the same as if one of you would go to Tehran today and tell the Ayatollah that unless Iran stopped supporting Muslim terrorists thoughout the world, God would rain fire down from heaven. He would only laugh at you before he locked you up in prison, or even worse, had you shot without giving it a second thought.

But frankly, that was not what really was bothering me. Rather, it was the prophecies of Amos and Hosea. I believed them when they said that unless Israel repented, Assyria would take her into captivity. And my nation had shown no sign of repenting or of heeding their warning. Then, too, I remembered how that when we were under the oppression of Syria, our Lord had shown His gracious favor toward our enemy. One year we experienced a great famine throughout the whole region. God spared a Syrian widow and her family because she kept the prophet Elijah and fed him when she had hardly anything to eat. She had a little flour and oil to make bread. It never ran out until the famine was over. In the meantime, many godly widows in Israel died during that famine.

And then there was the Syrian Army officer, Namuun was his name, who had contracted the dreaded disease, leprosy. It was he who was healed under the ministry of Elisha, rather than one of the many Jewish lepers. And as strange as it may seem to you, I had this funny feeling down deep in the pit of my stomach that if Nineveh heard the message of doom from my lips, she would repent.

And even though the message That the Lord gave me did not promise mercy----Well, He is just that kind of God and you know where that would leave me! First of all, my prophecy would not come true; my reputation as a prophet would be called into question. But even worse, in a sense, I would become an instrument that God would use to bring destruction to my people. My prophecy of Assyria’s destruction would not come true. But Amos and Hosea’s prophecy that they would occupy our nation would then become a reality. Can you understand my dilemma? I was in, what do you call it in the twenty-first century, oh yes, a catch 22 situation.

III.

Well, you know the rest of the story. I thought that if I refused to go to Nineveh, the Assyrians would not have a chance to repent – or at the very least someone other than I would have to bear the message. So, I went down to Joppa and boarded the first ship going in the opposite direction. It happened to be enroute to Tarshish in Spain. There, I thought, I would be out of God’s presence and could escape my call. Would I be so lucky! A storm came up at sea; placing the ship in danger of sinking. I knew right away that I was responsible. I had no choice but to tell the sailors the truth and have them throw me overboard. At first they did not want to do this, but as the storm persisted, they reluctantly agreed.

Better my life, than to have all of them drown. It was a bitter, terrifying experience for me. But, at least, I thought—It would resolve my dilemma once and for all. I was wrong. The Lord spared my life and gave me a second chance. This time I obeyed Him and went to Nineveh and proclaimed His message. The outcome turned out to be just as I had feared. Nineveh and its King accepted my message and repented. They fasted—they prayed—they put on sackcloth and ashes. Forty days went by. Nothing happened. They city was spared. God had changed his mind. Thus, in one stroke, I became the instrument which preserved my enemy who would one day take my people captive—and at the same time I was shown to be a false prophet in the eyes of my people. Anger burned within me. I fell into deep depression. I wanted to die.

IV.

Depression. This, I understand, is a condition which in your culture, many of you have to face. As with me, so has it been for you, a catch 22 situation that seems to have no exit. Your culture has promised you much. It has romanticized love. It has proclaimed the worth of the individual. It has often provided great material blessing.

But, I also understand that for many of you, the quest for this good life has instead become a rat race. It is punching the time clock. It is living in situations of constant stress. Marriages have turned sour. Materials goods, once obtained, somehow now seem empty. Unfulfilled dreams, shattered hopes, unrealized goals. Anger rages. Today riots spread across such cities as Fergusson, MO, and Baltimore Md. The stock market tumbles, retirement income is threatened.

Your politicians can’t agree on how to lead you to your future, and so instead point fingers at each other blaming each other and your president for failing to provide adequate health insurance

Anger then turns inward, taking on the form of escapism through alcohol, drug addiction, suicide. Above all are the feelings of hopelessness, depression, despair. Yes, I know these feelings all too well. But hang in there. Let me tell you what happened to me. Perhaps it will give you the courage to face the reality that is yours as well.
 

The Lord was gracious to me, although I certainly did not recognize it at the time. As I lay in the heat of the desert, counting off the forty days, watching my prophecy proven false, wanting to die, a plant grew up beside me, giving me shelter from the sun. I watched in fascinated horror as a small worm came and nibbled at the stem. Soon the plant withered and died. It all seemed so senseless. Again, anger raged within my breast. But I also felt another emotion. Something new was emerging within me. What was this strange feeling that was welling up within my heart? Was it pity for the plant? Was it self-pity for my plight? Yes, that was it in part. For, you see, it so symbolized in my mind, my own experience.

Here it was in the midst of the desert heat, my last shed of hope and comfort. And now it too, was taken from me. But was this all? Self-pity did not seem to totally explain my feelings. I struggled to identify the nature of this strangeness which I felt. At last it dawned on me. The strange feeling That I was experiencing was compassion—compassion for the plant. Slowly, I came to realize that the Lord was seeking to teach me a lesson. In the same way that I felt compassion for the plant, He felt compassion for Nineveh. The Assyrians’ response of repentance to His warning had cause Him to have mercy.

But He also was concerned about me and the dilemma he had left me in. In His compassion for me, he justified His gracious action of His mercy toward Nineveh—even though He didn’t have to. He used the plant to show me the justice of his ways. I came to understand that only as I put the needs of others first would my own needs and goals be fulfilled. Only as I placed their welfare ahead of mine would I truly find peace.

V.

I understand that when our Messiah came, He used me as an example. He said that just as I had been buried in the depths for three days and nights, so too, He gave His life and was buried so that others might go free.

And so, with this new understanding, I have been released from my depression. My anger has subsided. I have learned to live with quiet confidence in the midst of unresolved tensions. How often I look back to that time of desperation when I called out to the Lord and first gained a glimpse of this reality. It was in the midst of the storm when I was thrown into the sea that I called to the Lord in my distress and He answered me. Out of the belly of Sheol I cried for help and He heard my cry. He cast me into the depths far out at sea. The floods closed round about me. All His waves and billows passed over me. I thought I was banished from His sight and would never see His holy temple again. The water about me rose up to my neck; the ocean was closing over me. Weeds twined about my head in the troughs of the mountains. I was sinking into a world whose bars would hold me forever. But he did bring me up—alive—from the pit. As my senses failed me I remembered the Lord. My prayer reached Him in His holy temple. He did not abandon me. I will offer Jehovah sacrifice with words of praise all the days of my life for victory belongs to our God.

Conclusion

Well, I have talked long enough. I see that Michael is waiting with his horseless chariot to return me to my home. As I go, I ask you to remember to keep your faith firmly anchored in our God. He will be with you and will go before you, even to the uttermost depths. Thanks be to His Name.