Sermon-When My Enemy Is Forgiven



NOVEMBER 13, 2016

When My Enemy Is Forgiven 

In the month of November, we are considering two difficult truths about Forgiveness.

Of course, it is a welcome thing when God forgives us.

But what about when God forgives a nation that has hurt and oppressed us?  And what does it mean when God tells me to go and forgive my enemy?

In between those two passages, we will hear from Pastor Shim, who will address all 4 congregations next week.  He will be preaching in Crosswalk in English about what God has laid on his heart as he’s been preparing to come to lead this church for the past few months.  That is a message you do not want to miss.  If you’re not in Turkey, you should most definitely be here :)

But for today, we are going to look at Jonah 4, where God asks a question to Jonah that is quite timely, I think.  “Is it right for you to be angry?”  Is it right for you to be angry when God continually seems to uplift and bless the group that you are waiting to be brought to its knees?  Is it right for you to be angry when God chooses to offer more forgiveness to a group that has been so cruel and calculating?  Is it right for you to be angry?

There’s a certain Black Preacher that I am thinking about - a man named Jeremiah Wright, who ministers in Chicago, who became famous and even notorious for his epic rant asking for God to “Damn” America.

First, let me say this - this man is articulate and has passion and a deep knowledge of the scriptures.  I respect Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Second, let me define some terms.  “Damn” is a profanity in our culture - and like all curse words it takes it’s own non literal meeting.  But Rev. Wright is using the word literally.  Literally, to “damn” means to bring punishment upon.  So, when you say, May God Damn them, you are saying, “May God expose their sins and shame them, may God bring punishment on them and crush them so that they cannot hurt anyone anymore, and may their suffering bring God glory as God reveals that God is a righteous judge!”

And Rev. Wright is asking for the punishment of America.  He defines America as the folks who are unrepentant and indifferent about the genocide of the indigenous peoples of this continent.  He defines America as the folks who are unwilling to admit and repent of the way they chained and whipped Blacks for hundreds of years.  He defines America as the people who justify the dropping of atomic bombs on civilian targets in Japan - the people who did it twice.  He defines America as the people who take away the civil liberties of their minority citizens, not because they did anything wrong, but just in case they might do something wrong, they rounded them up and put everyone of Japanese ancestry in “Internment Camps.”  He defines America as the racist, sexist, cruel and crude nation that has always done harm to others while claiming to be righteous.  

So, when I think about the protests throughout America, I think about Rev. Wright’s protest against America, and I wonder what he must have been thinking as he watched the campaign and watched this election.

In the eyes of Rev. Wright, what did it mean when pastors and denominations of white conservative Christian Americans endorsed Donald Trump?  

I think he must have thought, “Finally!  White America finally has a candidate it deserves, someone that exposes the hypocrisy and amorality of their movement.”

And I’m sure Rev. Wright was full of glee while out of so many Republican candidates, the one that represented the party became Donald Trump.  Donald Trump is what he sees at the heart of the Republican party, and now that became the face of the party.

And perhaps he prayed, “God, now is your chance.  It’s going to be so easy.  Take this candidate and bring him down!  Let people mock what Trump stands for, and may the United States of America repent of what it has been, and let my people lead America!”

I don’t know.  I’m not his friend.  But maybe, that’s what he prayed.  And during the course of the election, he might have gotten excited.  This guy is going down.  And the America that he represents is exposed as sexist, racist, hate filled, and ignorant, and that America is going to be judged and condemned.  Yeah!

And then on the night of the election - Trump gains victory.  Trump is the President Elect!  Instead of judging and stamping out Trump’s America, God seems to be blessing the America that stands behind Trump.  God seems to be forgiving this America and blessing this America.  What?

This sense of horrific “What?” Is what Jonah felt when he heard the news that God would not overturn Nineveh.  This leads to a conversation between God and Jonah, recorded in Chapter 4.  Let us turn to it, and may God speak to each of us.

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1 But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. 3 Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

4 But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

5 Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. 6 Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant[a] and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. 7 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”

9 But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”

“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”

10 But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

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I believe there are 3 truths that God presents to us.

  1. God’s grace is not just amazing, it is infuriating.  Until I die to myself, I cannot celebrate his grace.

  2. God’s expression is constantly changing.  Unless I keep my eyes on God, I will be confounded by God’s actions.

  3. God refuses to fit into human categories.  God is the God giving grace to the Ninevites.  And yet, God is also the God giving patient grace to Jonah.

First, let’s read vs 1-3 again.

God’s grace is not just amazing, it is infuriating.

“I knew it” Jonah says, “I knew you weren’t going to punish them.  You let yourself be fooled by them.  You let them off the hook when it is only you that can judge them.  I hate that you forgave them!  I hate that they are experiencing your favor!  I’m so mad about it that if this is the way you’re going to be, then I would rather die than live.

God is gracious to Donald Trump.  God is giving him a chance.  President elect Donald Trump has made so many mistakes, has done so much wrong, but God is still allowing him to take the highest office in America.

“I knew it,” Pastor Wright might say.  “I knew you weren’t going to punish them.  They always repent just enough and claim your forgiveness and you just give it to them.  And when you give them a chance, give them a reprieve, they go and invent new ways of doing evil.  I’m tired of this.  People accusing me of being hate-filled or anti-establishment, that I can deal with.  But you betraying me, you deciding to give grace to my enemies, I can’t even.  I’m done.”

Trust me my friends.  We are in a divided nation.  There are different “Americas.”  Your “America” - the ideals you think it represents, is different from another person’s “America.”  We have different fears, think different problems are most pressing, and have different things we are proud of, and are looking for different policies.

And you will be infuriated by the grace of God.  “God seriously?  Non-gender specific bathrooms?  Something as basic as gender is suddenly up for grabs?  Come on - judge the liberals and let us do what’s right!”  For everyone celebrating God’s favor allowing for LGBTQ rights, there are some that are bemoaning the erosion of our common sense.

You will be infuriated by the grace of God.  “God seriously?  Hispanics are becoming middle class, once poor Asian economies are taking all the jobs we used to have, and you seem to love the poor in every country except for the poor in our community.  Can you stop being gracious to them, and be gracious to us?”

And of course you will say, “God, I know those Syrian children dying is sad, but that’s just war, and it’s not my fault.  Why do we have to let them into our country where there is danger that one day we’ll have more mosques than churches? Don’t you know that there is something fundamentally un-American about those people? Can you stop being gracious to them and be gracious to us?”

Different people will always find different reasons to critique the grace of God.  Every thoughtful and opinionated person will eventually say, “God, I can’t deal with you.”  Your ways are not my ways, your thoughts are not my thoughts.  You refuse to do what I think is right, and you are always telling me to pray, trust, and submit to you.  This doesn’t work for me.

And different people, for different reasons will reject God, and will say I would rather live a godless life than to love and trust a God that is so gracious and compassionate to the people that need to be punished and silenced.

That’s point one.  

Point two is quite different.  I see it in vs 5.

5 Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city

Because God’s expression is constantly changing, if I take my eyes off of God, I will not understand God’s actions.

You see, when Jonah was looking at God’s face before going to Nineveh, Jonah saw a stern expression.  Jonah saw in God’s face a desire to punish, a desire to execute judgment, and saw in God’s face righteous wrath.  And in that moment, Jonah received a word from God, and happily went to share it.

Then, after he did his work, he said, “whew, that was intense and spiritual.  I need to chill for a bit.  Let’s just see what happens next.”

And instead of keeping his eyes on God constantly, which requires spiritual intimacy, an exercise of longing, and of being devoted as a worshipper, Jonah surfs through MSNBC, FOX, and CNN to see what will happen next.

So many Christians on the Left got a sense that God was against the personality of Donald Trump.  When the “I just kiss them.  I don’t ask, I just do it.  I reach down and just grab them by the”. When that tape came out, we looked up to God - and we saw a stern look of judgment on God’s face.  And then we figured, “God can’t be for this guy.  God doesn’t like this guy.”  At some point in the campaign, many who voted against Trump and for someone else said, “God will surely be against him.”

But did people continue to look into the face of God?  Did people read the articles about how Trump Rallies are actually oddly community affirming, and full of people coming together to mourn together and hope together?  Did people read about the challenges in small town and rural America and the need for change in those communities?  And did people begin to pray and seek God’s face and wonder what God would do given all of these contradictory and complex realities?

If so, then the shock of the Trump election would not have been so bad.  You would have seen it in God’s face, and would not have been so sure, and would not have felt so betrayed.  

Why did Jonah feel so betrayed by the outcome for Nineveh?  It’s because he looked once, got a message once, and then refused to continue to look at God.  Christians who live this way will continue to feel confounded by God.  They will say, “Where did this come from?  I had no idea this would happen.  I was so sure you would do something else.”  And GOD’s reply might be, “Your certainty didn’t come from intimacy with me.  Your certainty came from distance from me.”

In the time of Jesus, many of the Jews were certain they knew how to please God.  They were certain they knew who God hated.  They were certain they knew what God would do.  But Jesus knew this was not because they had ongoing intimacy with God.  They looked once, and refused to continue to look.  They built their theology on one look at God’s face, and so they did not understand how God was acting, and ended up resisting the plan of salvation.

Jesus says of them, in Matthew 11:  16 & 17

16“To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:

17 “‘We played the pipe for you,
   and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
   and you did not mourn.’

Jesus says of us too.  You take one look at me, understand one scripture, and you fit it into your own preconceived ideas, and you claim to know my ways and you speak for me, so sure you know what is right.  But you are not listening to me.  You do not hear the music I am playing.  You do not know the ways of God, because you refuse to maintain constant communion with God.

And that’s partly what explains the shock so many feel at the outcome of this election. Based on one sense of conviction, one sense of God’s heart, we made a decision - and we did not maintain constant contact to keep gazing at God’s face, to see the fullness of what God is feeling.

And that brings us to the third point

What is God feeling?  God feels frustration at our frustration.  Just like Jesus was frustrated when Simon Peter asked, “Shall I ask for fire and brimstone to fall on this faithless village,” Jesus is frustrated when we are so quick to condemn others.  But that does not mean that Jesus does not understand our grief at the sin and injustice we see.  Of course Jesus understands.

Jesus understands when you are not ok.  Jesus says to you, “It’s ok to not feel ok.”  Jesus understands if you feel good.  Jesus says to you, “It’s good to feel good.”  

But Jesus wants you to know his heart is bigger than our heart, his ways our higher than our ways, and he wants us to follow him.  He does not want us to limit his grace and goodness.

The God who directs the heart of kings will certainly be sovereign today.  The God who changed the arrogant Emperor Nebuchadnezzar can certainly disciple President Elect Trump.  And the God who worked through sexist Artaxerxes in the time of Queen Esther can certainly work now.  

And for those of you who voted for Trump, who are frustrated that people are not playing fair, that people are protesting instead of uniting - God is certainly at work.  Just as God has been good at governing and uniting his unruly people since time time of the Israelites in the wilderness, God will govern and unite his people now.

Because we are all God’s people.  Certainly, we don’t have a monopoly on morality, and we don’t have exclusive claim to God’s grace, but we are God’s people.  God is not done with us.  God has grace for us, whether we are just beginning to repent, or whether we are well practiced at thinking we are holier than thou.

To prophets who are frustrated, and to pagan peoples just learning fear, God offers much grace.  That grace is our hope.  When we die to ourselves and embrace God’s grace as good, then the Holy Spirit will lead us into productive protest and humble rule that we might be a loving community in step with HIs will.

Let it be so now, and as we continue to seek God’s face, let it be so each and every day until our Lord returns.

Come Lord Jesus come.  In His name, let us  pray.