Monday, January 19, 2015

The Best Sermon Ever

Pastors have interesting ways of assessing their success in the local church they serve.  Some base their success on the number of people who are members or the number who attend worship regularly.  Some look to the amount of money that comes in as an indicator of the success they have.  In some religious traditions, it has to do with the number of baptisms or conversions that happen within a certain time frame.  In some churches, as long as there is no conflict or discord going on, then the pastor feels pretty good because all seems to be working well.

I would think that all of these factors have something to do with the feeling of success.  Pastors are a lot like other human beings.  They want to do good work that contributes to the overall welfare of the flock they serve.  They want people to get along in harmony and to do work that speaks to the world around them.  They want the bills to be paid so that the utilities will work and they can live in a comfortable manner.  They want their church members to feel challenged and concerned about the world around them and to be doing something in life that reflects their faith.

Conversions and baptisms are not something we count regularly in our church.  Yes, we want people to believe and want that belief acted out in the daily lives of our members but we do not do the hard sell that comes with other churches.  We left the "hell-fire and brimstone" far behind long ago and have a much more moderate approach to presentation of the Gospel in our church weekly.  We present Jesus who is our friend and who wants us to walk and talk with him, preferably in the garden, but also out in the world wherever we go.

Now, if you want hell-fire and brimstone, I can point you to the preacher you want to hear.  His name is Jonah.  He was not sure he wanted to be a preacher, but after spending three nights in the stomach of a large fish and being spit out on shore, he decided that he could serve a congregation after all.  The group he was to preach to was one he did not want to even think about, much less go it, because he was called to go the First Church of Ninevah, not a very friendly group to his kind in the past.  In fact, they had been the enemies of his people for so long that he could not remember a time when they were not enemies.  He really wanted God to smite them, not save them, but for some reason God decided they were worth sparing and that really irritated this preacher a great deal.

Jonah, being finally convinced that there was no way out of presenting his sermon, walked three days from one end of Ninevah to the other preaching the same short sermon to all who would listen: "Forty days more, and Ninevah shall be overthrown!"  His text was unclear but his presentation was effective because all who heard it reacted and the king gave the edict that all should cover themselves with ashes and dress in sackcloth and not eat or drink anything at all.  They prayed to Jonah's God that they may be spared and sure enough God heard them and answered them prayers and granted their forgiveness.  Over 120,000 converts were made in one day because of Jonah's preaching.

There has been perhaps no greater conversion of sinners at one time than this example of Jonah's short sermon of the hell-fire and brimstone type.  Everyone accepted the Word of the Lord and was saved and Jonah was the bearer of the words that brought about their salvation.  Jonah was not happy with his success, however.  It was not because of the number of people saved or the lack of enthusiasm on their part--they were very sincere.  It was because he did not like to see his enemies saved.  He wanted them destroyed because he hated them so much.  Even at the end of the book that bears his name, we find the surprise ending where God chides Jonah for his refusal to accept the gift of God's grace for the people of Ninevah.  Jonah cared more for a bush that grew and died than he did for a city full of people who may have perished.
Who on earth is dispensable to us?  Who could die and vanish without our being concerned and even noticing?  Who is considered less than equal to us in our eyes?  Who has less rights then we do and we do not care?  Who does God love that we cannot love?  Questions Jonah could not answer...can we?

No comments:

Post a Comment