Sermon: Following God Means Doing Hard Things
JONAH AND THE WHALE
NARRATOR: In a faraway city called Nineveh, the king and his people were doing bad things, God was not happy. God told a man named Jonah to travel to Nineveh.
GOD: “Give the people there a message, tell them that they
must learn to be good or I will destroy their city.”
NARRATOR: Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh. He thought the people there should be punished if they were bad. Jonah thought that the people of Nineveh should be punished if they were doing bad things. He forgot about them and fell into a deep sleep on the ship. As the ship sailed across the ocean, God whipped up a mighty storm! Fierce gusts of wind rocked the ship. Huge waves crashed onto the deck. The sailors were terrified. It was the worst storm they’d ever seen. As for Jonah, he kept right on sleeping. The sailors rushed to Jonah and shook him awake.
SAILORS: “How can you sleep through this awful storm? What if the ship sinks?”
NARRATOR: Jonah knew that he had disobeyed God, and the storm was his punishment. He had to save the ship and everyone on board!
JONAH: “The storm will stop if you throw me overboard.”
NARRATOR: The storm grew even worse. The wind and the waves nearly blew the ship right over! The sailors didn’t want to throw Jonah overboard, but he told them that it was the only way to stop the storm.
SAILORS: “Please forgive us, God.”
NARRATOR: Immediately, the storm died down and the water became calm. The ship sailed on. Poor Jonah started to sink to the bottom of the ocean. He didn’t know how to swim!
JONAH: “This is my punishment from God”
NARRATOR: Then suddenly an enormous whale came along and Jonah was sucked into its huge open mouth. The whale swallowed Jonah in one mighty gulp! Jonah ended up inside the whale.
JONAH: “I haven’t drowned! Thank you for saving me, God. Please forgive me for disobeying you.”
NARRATOR: For three days and three nights, Jonah was trapped inside the whale. He began to think that he would live there for the rest of his life. Jonah promised God that if he was given another chance, he would do the right thing and go to Nineveh. Then, all of a sudden… the great whale swam to the shore and spat Jonah out! Jonah knelt on the beach and breathed in the fresh air. How glad he was to be alive!
GOD: “ I’ll give you another chance, Jonah. Please tell the people of Nineveh that they must learn to be good or I will destroy their city.”
NARRATOR: This time, Jonah obeyed God and made the long journey to Nineveh. Jonah told the king and all the people that they must learn to be good or God would destroy Nineveh. Were they listening? Jonah wasn’t sure. Hurray! The people of Nineveh did listen to Jonah. They asked forgiveness from God and promised to lead better lives. They began to share…care for each other…and help one another. Even the king shared his riches and worked hard to make the people of Nineveh happy. God was delighted and forgave them all.
JONAH: “Why did you forgive the people of Nineveh instead of punishing them?”
GOD: “They’ve learned to be good now, they needed another chance, just like you did.”
Now Jonah understood the meaning of forgiveness.
Church has a lot of different parts to it- singing, praying, talking. One of my favorite parts of church when we’re all together in-person is listening to all of the things you share for our prayer time. Sometimes at church we do special things like have puppets, and there’s almost always a story of some kind. But the main reason we come to church, whether it’s by watching from our homes during a pandemic, or coming in-person the rest of the time…the main reason we go to church is one thing: to learn how to follow God’s directions. Every story, every song, every prayer, is all about helping us to do this one thing better.
And so today we heard a story from the Bible about a guy named Jonah. When I was a kid, I used to think the Bible was full of people that always followed God’s directions and never messed up, but then I heard the Jonah story and realized that even in Bible times people made mistakes (like Jonah…).
You see, God gives Jonah directions to follow. God says, go and deliver a message for the people in a town called Nineveh who are being bad. Not sharing, not caring, not loving each other. God told Jonah, you need to go and help them follow me! But Jonah could not be bothered. He thought since the people of Nineveh were doing bad things that they should be punished, not given a chance to be better. (Personally, I think Jonah was a little jealous that God was even caring about them since they had made so many mistakes). So instead of following God’s directions, Jonah did the opposite. He didn’t go to Nineveh to deliver the message, he went out to sea. Jonah ran away!
Well, long story short. That did not work out well for Jonah. A storm came, he was thrown overboard, swallowed by a giant fish, AKA a whale, and found himself living inside the whale’s stomach. Ew!! Gross!! If I was in a whale’s belly, I might feel … discouraged. But Jonah was actually glad. If it hadn’t been for the whale, he might have drowned in the ocean. It’s all relative, I guess! So he prayed to God and said “thank you!” for sending the whale. He was so happy to be alive, he promised God that he would now follow God’s directions. And the whale spit him up, he went to Nineveh, he delivered the message, and the people there stopped being bad and started loving and caring again. God forgave Jonah and God forgave the people of Nineveh.
This story is pretty cool because it tells me that even though I won’t always get it right the first time, God won’t ever give up on me. And it also tells me that following God’s directions is such an important job that God will not never give up trying to get us to listen. Even if it means spending some time in a whale’s belly!
So you may be guessing that, like Jonah, God also wants US to follow God’s directions. But what exactly are God’s directions, anyway? Let’s keep things simple and focus on the two big ones. Love God and love one another.
Now that doesn’t just mean love the people we like, like our families and our friends. That would just be easy! God means for us to love people we might not actually like, and people we don’t even know. This might mean standing up for someone who’s getting bullied in school. Or this might mean saving up your money to help buy a toy for someone who doesn’t have enough. This might mean helping your mom or dad with chores around the house. This might mean being friendly with the person in school has been mean to you before. God wants us to watch out for one another and spend time each day doing something for someone else.
I loved hearing the story about how our Scout Pack 5 collected dozens and dozens of hats and gloves to give to people, they didn’t even know: Veterans who are experiencing homelessness. Those hats and gloves are a great way to follow God’s directions to love one another.
Grace and Peace,