When Forgiveness Hurts

Sermon Text – 03.03.2019
[Jonah 4:1-4, 6-11]        
   C.S. Lewis once said, and I’m paraphrasing, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – your heart will change. It will not be broken; instead it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of love is Hell.”      
     Today is the final sermon in the Jonah Files. It’s one of the shortest books in the bible, it’s only four chapters – and yet there has been so much to find, so much to learn from this prophet of old. Today we’re going to talk about loving your enemies – I can’t think of a more important topic for our world right now.         
    See, a lot of people think they know the story of Jonah. We know he runs away, we know about the storm, about the whale, even about Nineveh and their repentance. But very few people know about chapter 4. Today we are going to tell the great untold story of the book of Jonah – the story of the plant and the worm. So we hop back into our story for today, and last week Jonah delivered God’s message to the people of Nineveh. He told them – destruction is coming, repent – he did his job, and it worked! They repented, they changed their ways and God forgave them. And then we find at the beginning of chapter 4, [read verse 1-2]. As a kid, the story was always presented to me as Jonah was afraid that the people of Nineveh would be mad at him for what he said. He was afraid to deliver bad news, maybe they would hurt him. But reading this, we realize that Jonah was afraid to deliver GOOD news. He wanted bad news for them. Jonah did not want them to be forgiven, that’s why he ran away; he was hoping they would receive punishment. He wanted them to burn. The final chapter of Jonah changes the entire narrative. The hero of the story is no hero at all. Jonah is the villain, not a hero but a monster – desperately hoping for the destruction of his enemies. And God asks in verse 4 – is it right for you to be angry? And so God sends a little metaphor into Jonah’s life to show him how wrong he is. Verse 5, [Read it]. Basically, Jonah sets up shop to watch the show. He knows destruction might come and he doesn’t want to miss the fireworks. And it says, [read v6-7]. And Jonah gets so angry about the worm, so angry about losing this plant – that he wishes he was dead. And then God hits him with the point of the story. [read verse 10-11a]. You cared more about this little plant, that’s been in your life for one day, than you do about the lives of over a hundred thousand people.          
        And this is when I realize – I think we are a lot more like Jonah then we care to admit. Truth is, sometimes we want enemies. Hatred can be a lot of fun. Judgment can make you feel good. Even more than judgment, righteous indignation (how dare you?) – it gives us this self-satisfying feeling of superiority, doesn’t it? We watch someone destroying their life, and we think – “That’s so sad, if only they knew better like I do.” A lot of Christians fall into something I call the “I Told You So” Syndrome. We LOVE to tell people I told you so. I mean, is there anything sweeter in life than watching someone, who ignored your advice or didn’t even bother to ask your advice, to watch them make a mistake and then to be able to turn to them and say, “I told you so.” You don’t even have to say the words, right? You can just make that face. And of course, what we mean by that is “you deserve it.” When we say “I told you so” to someone, what we mean is “you deserve it. It’s your fault.” We like hating our enemies. We feel a sense of perverted joy when justice rains down and their life starts to fall apart, and karma comes back and bites them in the…well, you know. It’s the alternative to accountability. Instead of bringing someone back into the light like we’re supposed to, like Jonah was supposed to, there is a part of us that wants to watch them burn. Not all the time, but every now and then, in our lives – we want to see them fail. Like Jonah, we want to sit back and enjoy the show. If our enemies, who we hate, want to destroy their own lives – why is that my problem?    
       But then God shows up. God’s forgiveness is bigger than your hatred. And he asks, “is this right? That you care more about this stupid little plant than you do about all these people?” Then we find out that Jesus has a better plan than our broken system of justice which is really just a dressed up version of revenge. God comes in, Jesus comes in, and forgives. God’s forgiveness is bigger than your hatred. Let me say that again – God’s forgiveness is bigger than your hatred. God forgives those who repent. God forgives everyone who repents. And we don’t like it, because we’re like Jonah. Jonah is furious. He says, I knew it. I knew that you were gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and full of love. I knew you were a God who would forgive. I knew it. If they repented, if they actually changed their ways – I knew you would forgive them. Now that’s bad news for Jonah, the vengeful sadistic jerk of the story, but that is the good news for us this morning. God’s forgiveness is bigger than your hatred. God forgives those who repent. God forgave you, and you didn’t deserve it. So when he chooses to forgive our enemies – we must forgive them too.     
          There is only one piece of application today. Love. Your. Enemies. Jonah could not figure that out. Love your enemies. The way we treat the people we hate is the measure of how much we believe in God’s grace, how much we believe in the power of God’s forgiveness. Jesus says, in Matthew 5. [read 43]. This is what the world will tell you to do. Pick a side, draw your lines. Right? Republicans and Democrats. Liberals and Conservatives. Progressive VS Traditional. There’s always a reason to hate someone, a way to create enemies in the modern world. It’s not even hard. Would you like to know how to make an enemy in the modern world? Express an opinion. The world says love your friends, hate your enemies. Be happy when they fail, and fall apart and burn. Because you won, and they lost! Celebrate at their failure, rejoice in their misery. This is the world’s perspective. [read 44]. Love your enemy. It’s the words of Jesus, but God has been trying to teach us this lesson all the way back since the world of Jonah. Love your enemy.      
     In fact, I’m tired of saying those words at you – let’s get a little congregational participation. I’m gonna say, “What do we need to do?” and you say, “Love your enemy.” So what do we need to do? Love your enemy. I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that, what do we need to do? Love your enemy. Nope, I still can’t quite hear you because the entire world is screaming at me to hate my enemy. When the world tells me again and again to hate my enemy, one more time – what do we need to do? Love your enemy. Three parts to this. First, you’re gonna get some push back. The world will not thank you for loving your enemy. They will not applaud, they will not be impressed. They’ll think you’re a weirdo, or stupid – why would anyone love their enemy? Truth is, they don’t know how to love their enemy. Our entire society has been crafted to avoid forgiveness. Let me know you what I mean – in sit-coms, comedy shows. When a couple fights – that’s the end of the relationship. The characters on these shows cycle through relationships like disposable diapers. Or think about going to restaurant. When we go out to eat, and we have a bad experience – bad waiter, or crummy food, we never try to fix it. We don’t give second chances – we just go to the restaurant across the street, we don’t try to improve, or show love, we have been trained to just walk away. But Christ teaches us – love your enemies. And so we as Christians we need to lead the charge. When no one else is doing it – we need to love our enemies. And when the world laughs at us, or rolls their eyes and calls us ridiculous – what do we need to do? Love your enemy. First, we need to love our enemies in a world that does not understand forgiveness.    
       Second, stop assuming your enemies are morons. The first step to loving your enemy is to understand they are a human-being just like you, to walk a mile in their shoes. To realize that they are created and loved by God, same as you. I cannot tell you how frustrating it is to watch people attack the other side. Nobody talks about issues anymore – it’s just tearing apart who they are, personal attacks. If you have an opinion, about some hot button issue. Take a second, think of an issue. Oil pipelines, or education, or immigrants – whatever issue. What does the other side think, and why? And if you don’t know why, or if you write them off as “they’re just selfish, they’re just evil, they’re just dumb.” You are not loving your enemy. You may not agree with them, you may have different priorities, different goals, different perspectives – but if you just assume they are less than you, and you have not tried to understand them – you cannot love them. Liberals – why do conservatives believe what they believe? Conservatives – why do liberals believe what they believe? And if you can’t tell me that, then you are not loving your enemy. First – Christians need to set the standard, we need to be the ones who love in a world that has forgotten how. Second – even when we disagree, we must view them as created and loved by God just like we are.  
         And the final piece to loving your enemy is actually my favorite. There is one final piece I want to show you this morning, one more realization that comes from the text. Christians don’t have enemies. Think about that. Christians don’t have enemies. Now, we do have people who oppose us, please don’t misunderstand. But the Christian definition of an enemy is someone that we have not reached yet. God’s instruction to love your enemy is a push to invite the world into forgiveness, into God’s grace. Love your enemy, because someday hopefully, they might be your brother, or your sister. Jesus tells us Love your enemy – not because he wanted the world to laugh at us. Not because he wanted us to be a doormat that gets stepped on – but because he wanted you to reach them. And hate never brought anybody home.     
         The greatest way to destroy an enemy is to make a friend. This is the highest and most difficult thing Jesus calls us to – forgiveness. Love your enemies, even when forgiveness hurts. I don’t care what side you’re on. I care how you treat the people on the other side. And so I’ll leave you with this. Three things. First, may you love your enemies. Second, because I think some of you missed it – may you love your enemies. And third, because seriously…love your enemies. Amen.   

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