God said to Jonah, “Get up and go to Nineveh,
and proclaim to it the message I tell you.”
“Get up and go.”
It wasn’t the first time God had said such a thing.
God said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and tell him
to let my people go.”
God likes that word “go.”
Isaiah stood before the throne and heard God wondering,
“Who shall I send and who will go for us.”
The prophet replied. “Here I am. Send me.”
And God said “Go and tell this people (my message.)
So when God told Jonah to “get up and go,”
he’d said it before.
And he would say it again.
Jesus’ last words to his disciples were,
“Go and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them . . . and teaching them. . . .”
When I look at churches I see a lot of
“abide in my love” religion,
but not so much “get up and go” religion.
Jonah didn’t much want to go anywhere either.
God dispatched Jonah to Ninevah,
capital of Assyria – the cruelest empire ever.
God sent Jonah to carry a word of tough love to Ninevah.
If it had been an irrevocable curse,
Jonah might have done that.
He hated Ninevah.
He decidedly did not want to see them
turn around and live in God’s mercy.
So Jonah took a ship the opposite direction.
But, as we know, God rather insisted.
So, Jonah reluctantly delivered God’s message to the evil empire
and they were saved.
What does this story say to us?
Jesus said “You are the light of the world.
No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bushel.”
Well Jesus had never been in an Episcopal Church.
More often than not, we do just that.
We like to keep the lamp of God
for our own family nightlight,
rather than spread that light into a darkened world.
What is our Ninevah?
It is not so far as Assyria was from Judah.
Our Ninevah is the secular world – not in a distant land,
but right here in this Oasis of Nevada.
87% of the state of our state is functionally unchurched.
They may be on membership rolls somewhere,
but 87% rarely inhabit a pew.
Maybe that’s their business – not ours.
Then again that’s what Jonah said about Ninevah.
So maybe we need to ask this question about 87% of our neighbors:
how’s that working for them?
Let’s just do a spiritual assessment of our home state.
I don’t mean to pass moral judgments and wag a pious finger.
I mean a needs assessment.
How are our neighbors doing when it comes to hope and joy,
serenity and courage?
Do they have a “sure and certain hope” that all will be well?
Nevada has the 4th highest suicide rate in the United States.
Suicide is the 2nd most common cause of death of Nevadans
between 15 and 24 years of age.
Nationally, in the 2nd decade of major drops in church attendance,
suicides among people 35 to 64 increased by 30%
Our rate of deaths from alcoholic liver disease
is 1.7 times the national rate.
That means we have almost twice as many people
dying of drink as elsewhere in America.
Meanwhile we lead the nation in women killed
by domestic violence.
Does that sound like a people who have soaked
in the 23rd Psalm or the Lord’s Prayer or Romans Chapter 8?
“Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future,
neither height nor depth,
nor anything in all creation can separate us from
the love of God that is in Christ Jesus Our Lord.”
Ain’t that good news?
Brothers and sisters, hope and joy are our stock and trade.
With 87% of our neighbors unchurched,
and so many signs that they are in despair,
that ought to tell us something about our mission.
There are folks out there who need to be in here.
The people just outside that door are our Ninevah.
And we don’t want to go there. I get that.
Sharing faith is not so safe.
But God’s love is a funny thing.
We cannot keep it for ourselves.
We cannot hold it within the confines of a sect
of like-minded people who already know each other.
God’s love hoarded in a congregation turns stagnant and brackish
like a dammed up stream.
But God’s love is a wild rushing river.
You can dam it up to keep the water all in one place,
but then it isn’t a wild rushing river anymore.
If we want to live in God’s love,
then it has to flow all the way through us
to those outside.
We have to go to Nineveh.
I don’t mean door-to-door proselytizing.
But we need to ask at least these three things:
First, are we organizing ourselves
in a way to spread the Gospel;
or are we planning how to maintain our group
the way it is?
Are we planning for maintenance or for mission?
Second, what are we offering our neighbors?
I saw a billboard ad for a church last week.
It said: “Relationship problems? We can help.”
The average Nevadan driving down the road
isn’t thinking about Jesus or wondering
what time our services are.
She’s thinking about her relationships.
If we can help people sink the roots of their relationships
in God’s love, they just might not shoot each other.
That’s only one example.
The point is: we need to provide what people need
and let them know about it.
We serve a lot of sandwiches in our soup kitchens,
and that’s a good thing.
But what about people who are hungry for some healing
of the heart and spirit?
Finally, it may be unacceptable to tell unbelievers
right off about our relationship with Jesus
– but what about provocative things happening at church
and how much we value them?
If we go to a movie and like it, we tell a friend.
If there is something worth mentioning at church,
would we tell a friend?
And if there isn’t anything happening at church
we would want to share with a friend,
maybe there ought to be.
Maybe a needs assessment for the wider community
can start with ourselves.
What do we need to make our lives happier and holier,
more meaningful and serene,
Do we need to learn better ways to pray?
Do we need to have some fun?
Then if we are doing something that makes life better,
we might we be willing to tell a friend.
It is a good thing to minister to the needs of anyone
who is suffering for whatever reason.
Feeding a hungry person we will not see again
is still a good thing.
But to touch the aching heart of someone
who may become part of our family of faith
– frankly that is harder.
We are reluctant to form those bonds.
But that’s where the spiritual action is.
That’s the point at which we are all at risk of being transformed.
Maybe that’s what makes us nervous about Ninevah.
But maybe Ninevah is the place our joy will be complete. Amen.