ISAIAH 61:1-4

ISAIAH 61:1-4

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me and has anointed me to
Preach the good news to the poor. .
Bind up the brokenhearted,
Proclaim freedom for the captives,
Proclaim release from darkness for the prisoners,
Comfort all who mourn
Provide for those who grieve in Zion to bestow on them
The oil of gladness for mourning
And a garment of praise for a spirit of heaviness

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Of Nineveh and Nazareth

I preached on Sunday from the book of Jonah.  "You Drive Me Crazy:  Hot Button Issues"  I ended with a bit of the life of Jesus and life in Nazareth.    It won't leave me.   I keep thinking, "Am I now in Nazareth, or in Nineveh?" 

Nineveh:  The place Jonah really didn't want to go.   The people in Nineveh were wicked (Or troubled, depending on the translation of that particular word).   But . . .  this Troubled  people were the enemies of Israel.  AND . . . Amos (a contemporary of Jonah) was prophesying about the demise of the Northern Kingdom at the hands of the Assyrian people, chief among which was . . .   you guessed it, Nineveh.  Nineveh, settled by Nimrod way back in Genesis, chief among Assyrian cities, and Jonah was ordered by God to go and preach there.

Not only would this mean a change of identity for Jonah.  He would then be a prophet to Assyria, not a prophet to Israel.  He is also being asked to go to Nineveh alone, a cluster of three cities, about 600,000 inhabitants and this little former prophet to Israel will be alone.  I can only imagine his dismay, but we see his reaction--he runs. 

In spite of Jonah's disobedience in running, God continued to work miracles.  He did several miraculous things:  He brought on a huge storm; He caused the lot to fall on Jonah; He calmed the sea as soon as the rebel prophet was tossed overboard; He prepared the great fish to swallow Jonah; He resurrected Jonah in the belly of the fish; He caused the fish to vomit Jonah out on dry land; He inspired to sailors to make a sacrifice and vows to follow Yahweh; and He melted the heart of Jonah so that the rebel prophet agreed to go to Nineveh to preach.  Isn't that eight miracles one of which is the conversion of the sailors at a time when their "messenger" is running from God, being quiet about his identity?   (They had to ask Jonah where he was from; what people he belonged to; and what God he served.)  So that, even when Jonah was trying to hide, running from God, God was able to touch the hearts of hardened pagan sailors so that they turned to the one true God to worship and serve.  Should I repeat that?  And "Out of the Will of God" prophet was still a vessel for God to use!!

And then there was Nineveh.  Jonah finally comes through and does what he has been asked to do.   He preaches to Nineveh.  BUT.    He then gets angry because God does what he, Jonah, had known God would do -- give mercy and grace to these people.  These people!!!  These enemies of Israel.  These awful Assyrian people!   So Jonah quits, withdraws, becomes a spectator.  (Are any of these familiar activities/attitudes?)  He makes himself comfortable to watch the spectacle while he is fuming.  And what happens?  God interrupts his pout. . .  by destroying is comfort.  Yep.  God marched right into his man-cave and took away the shade.   

God then talks to Jonah about what is important in the world.   Comfort of the prophet?  Or Salvation . . .  even for the prophet's enemies!!   A lesson in forgiveness.

Nineveh: the prophet in a strange land, following orders from God, after much reluctance.  And a bumper crop of converts:  Pagans on the boat, the King and people of Nineveh.  

But what about those quiet routine days?  Those days when nothing much happens. Those days when I wonder if God even sees me, even cares what I do.   Oh, like those days in Nazareth?   The thirty (30) years that Jesus spent in his home town, doing carpentry.   Just being about "his father's work."  

 Jesus had opportunity.   The 12 year old could have been apprenticed to the Temple in Jerusalem. He had proven himself worthy of such study. 

Yet, it was in Nazareth that Jesus learned to forgive seven times seventy times a day. It was in Nazareth that he learned to turn the other check when someone slapped him. It was in Nazareth that he learned to carry his cross daily. It was in Nazareth that learned to truly love neighbor. It was in Nazareth that he got the muscle memory, the constant living out his compassion and mercy over and over again. It was in Nazareth that he learned the skills to accomplish his mission: to save us from our sins on the cross. It was in Nazareth under the tutelage, not of the greatest scholars in Jerusalem, but from Mary and Joseph. They were his best teachers. They knew how to listen to the word of God and keep it.

Nazareth, known for being a less-than place.   Nazareth, a place from which "nothing good could come."  Nazareth where his friends and countryman tried to throw Jesus off a cliff once he began his public ministry and dared preach the truth to them.  Nazareth where Jesus spent thirty years doing carpentry and learning, preparing for the three (3) years of public ministry.   Huge ratio:  thirty years of preparation for three years of ministry.

So where does your daily grind take place:  the workplace, at home, your town, your county, your school, your family?    Wherever that may be, you find your Nazareth.   Maybe it's not where you want to be.  Maybe it's not where you think you deserve to serve.  Nazareth where one learns to show compassion and mercy--over and over and over and over.  I'm reminded of Mr. Miyagi (The Karate Kid) "Left circle.  Right circle.  Breathe in.  Breathe out."   Over and over and over and over.  You get the idea.   

Nazareth is that place on the way to somewhere else.   That place that feels like you'll never leave, never get out.   That place in which you must just DO THE NEXT THING.  Wherever your Nazareth is, know this: It's a place of preparation.  It is a the place for you to to learn wisdom:  to practice forgiveness, to follow instruction, to show compassion and experience mercy.  Wisdom, Forgiveness, Mercy, Obedience, Gratitude.  All to be found in the Nazareth experience.  

So what's your day today?   Nazareth--same ole, same ole.   Or Nineveh--what do you think you're doing, GOD?   You want me to . . . . ?    Don't you know those people don't deserve. . .???  You fill in the blank.

I'm thinking today is a Nazareth kind of day for me.   Groceries to buy, errands to run, a friend in need to help out.   But one never knows, I could bump up against a Nineveh experience right in the middle of my Nazareth.

What about you?   Nineveh?   Or Nazareth??