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God of the Redo / Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

10When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that He had said He would do to them, and He did not do it.

Life is unpredictable, and we don’t know what’s around the next corner. Regardless of what’s next, and regardless of our past, God doesn’t give up on us. We will look at Jonah today and see that at the worst times in his life, God was still with him. Jonah had a redo with God’s help, and we can have that too.

Scenario 1

We’ve all done it. Someone really ticked you off and you’re going to tell them exactly what you think! So, you go to your smartphone / tablet / computer, and you tell them, in no uncertain terms, that what they did was inexcusable and that they owe you an apology! Now! And then you press “Send” and your impulsively written note is delivered instantaneously. Just wait until they read that! Then, you start having second thoughts. Maybe I shouldn’t have sent that to my boss, I wish I had done it differently.

Scenario 2

Frank and Mary were married 16 years before it all fell apart. Frank said he didn’t love her anymore. But the truth is, he found someone else, and he was head-over-heels infatuated with the excitement of being with someone besides Mary. A year later, after the divorce and after his “new love” had found someone else and left him, Frank finally got counseling. In those sessions, he remembered the decision that led him to where he was now. If only I had rejected that infidelity, and stayed faithful to Mary … I wish I had done it differently ….

Scenario 3

Jonah, son of Amittai, heard God’s voice. We don’t know if hearing from God a normal thing for Jonah, or if this was the very first time. What we do know is that Jonah wasn’t happy with what God said to him. Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me. So, of course, Jonah gets on a boat headed for Tarshish, which is in the opposite direction of Nineveh. Before long, he was thrown overboard and swallowed by a big fish. No doubt, he was thinking, “I wish I had done it differently ….”

The fact is, there are lots of people, who have had similar thoughts at one time or another. Today we’re taking a closer look at Jonah, a very reluctant prophet who found himself, on more than one occasion, saying (or thinking), I wish I had done it differently. And as we will see, the primary “actor” in our text is God, who extends redo’s. Grace and second chances to all concerned.

The book of Jonah has four chapters and only 48 verses total in those chapters. The book is short on details about Jonah, his family, his background and his upbringing. Instead, we get a close-up look at what turns out to be the most important time in his life. While our text today is chapter 3, I suggest you sit down and read through this book in its entirety. (Again, only 48 verses in the whole book!).

One of the questions that comes to mind is, “Why Jonah?” Why did God speak to Jonah? What was there about him that made God choose him for the task of preaching to the Ninevites? It certainly wasn’t Jonah’s love for the Ninevites!

We don’t know the mind of God and it’s not our job, or privilege, to understand all of God’s actions and choices. The simple answer to, “Why Jonah?” is because God chose him. In many ways, that’s good news for all of us here: God’s call to Jonah is proof that God calls people to positions and tasks, seemingly not because of their gifts and graces, but because God has a plan for them. There’s a saying that’s been around for years that goes, God does not call the equipped; God equips the called. Jonah is the perfect example.

So, Jonah disobeyed God’s call and paid for it. You might wonder if God said, Why, Jonah? It was only by the grace of God that this insubordinate man was saved. The LORD provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.

Jonah chapter 2 is Jonah’s prayer of thanksgiving to God from the belly of the fish. At the end of that prayer, Jonah prays, But I, with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Deliverance belongs to the LORD! He has come to realize his deliverance and life itself is only because of God’s grace.

Then God spoke to the fish and “it vomited Jonah out onto the dry land.” Our text today is from chapter 3, which starts with God speaking to Jonah a second time. “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So, Jonah did what God told him to do.

No ship to Tarshish; no storm at sea; no being thrown overboard; no spending three days and nights in the belly of a fish, none of that this time. Instead, Jonah went to Nineveh according to the word of the LORD and did exactly what God told him to do. It took three days to walk across Ninevah and he faithfully preached the message God gave him. In fact, he must have preached it over and over again. It was a sermon of just five words in Hebrew: Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown! He preached it faithfully throughout Nineveh, and the people repented!

The people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

The repentance didn’t stop there. When the king heard about it, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. He then made a proclamation declaring a fast for everyone, even the animals. Humans and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways. Who knows? God may relent and change His mind; He may turn from His fierce anger, so that we do not perish.

God did, change His mind and He said He would not bring His wrath upon them; He didn’t do it. Nineveh got a redo from God!

It’s amazing what one man accomplished when he was (finally) faithful to God’s call. It’s even more amazing that God didn’t give up on Jonah. While he went through some suffering, God kept him alive, and he was able to start over. God gave him a redo, too.

In “Scenario 1” earlier, there’s the possibility of a redo. Now, admittedly, you must act quickly (in the first 30 seconds after hitting “send”), but enough people have seen the need for this that many of the email providers now include a “call back” feature. However, you probably already knew, as soon as you sent it, that you would have been better off if it never got to the intended person. Redo, but be quick about it! More than likely, though, most of your redo’s will involve serious conversations, sincere apologies and asking for forgiveness.

Which leads us to “Scenario 2” about “Frank and Mary.” Any pastor or counselor who’s been around for more than a few years have had situations that dealt with infidelity, abuse of spouse and abuse of children, desertion and so much more.

Whether we talk about marriages in trouble, families torn apart by drug and alcohol abuse or jobs that have ended with unemployment just around the corner, God is there to help, and He will help you start over and give you a redo! If you’re facing physical issues, God hasn’t given up on you. A redo may not produce anything like your life was before, but God will be with you.

Scenario 3 dealt with Jonah’s rebellion against God. He chose his way over God’s way, and he paid dearly for it. But God stayed with him, and he saved a whole city. I do know that chapter 4 of Jonah leaves him in an awkward place of being at odds with God once again. I believe God had another redo ready for him when the time was right.

Which brings us to think about ourselves. Most everyone has a redo story to tell or is looking forward to a redo in their life. When you think all hope is lost, remember Jonah. Better yet, remember that our God is the God of the redo. He’s got one for you.