The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s022g15  Good Friday  3/4/2014

‘Is it right for you to be angry?’   Jonah 4:4

My thoughts are taken to that picture of Jonah sulking outside the city of Nineveh, wishing he was dead: ‘The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush.   But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered.   When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die.   He said, ‘It is better for me to die than to live.’  (1)

The infidels had not been destroyed, God had not been glorified, Jonah had been made to look a fool, and the world, rather than being fixed, could carry on as if nothing had happened.   Jonah was angry and flummoxed.   All his preconceptions about God and religion were being turned upside down.  

Not that he didn't have an inkling that it might turn out like this.   He complains: ‘Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country?   That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.   And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’   And the Lord said, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’’ (2)

Do we not get the message that God sets up those who exalt themselves to be humbled (3) and if this is true on a personal level, it is surely more true on a corporate level?

So if the Cross evokes in us a sense of anger and helplessness, then perhaps our religion is about others being destroyed, about our ‘god’ being glorified, about we being seen as right, wise and exalted, and the world thereby ‘fixed’.

If the resurrection which we will celebrate on Easter Day restores our faith that the infidel will actually lose, that God will end up glorified, that others will acknowledge our rightness, wisdom and exaltation, and we (alone) will live happily ever after; I suspect we haven’t got the message of the Cross.   If our Easter Communion is our vindication; we being waited on by God, while the unbelievers are forced to look on in anger and remorse (4) we are deluded.

Actually this is the same message as the book of Job, that religiosity and charity also don’t guarantee the practitioner a life of unbridled health, wealth and happiness.

God’s answer to Jonah is this: ’should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?’ (5)

God’s answer to Jonah is the same as the message of the Cross - that God loves the world as it is - and each and every creature as they are -  even when they are undeniably different from us.   There is no place in God’s plan for saints and sinners, gurus and devotees, leaders and followers; we are all called to love and be loved, and to enjoy this life as best we may, provided it is not at the expense of someone else.   God’s answer is the same, that God loves others, as well as, and equally to, us.

Now the message of the book of Jonah is surely a message to the ancient people of God not the people of Nineveh; so also the message of the Cross is just as surely a message to Christians - to be affirming and inclusive of others - not to those outside.   Salvation is from the Jews (6) but is meant to flow from them, in gratuitous love.   If gratuitous love doesn’t flow from Christianity any more freely why should the Lord consider us any better?

If our ‘evangelism’ is about getting those outside to read the bible, or even better to come to our Good Friday service to witness our retelling of the passion narrative in all its gory detail so that they will be ‘cut to the heart’ (7) and become like us, we haven’t even begun to get the message of the Cross.    If this statement flummoxes us and makes us angry, we are in good company.

If the fact that the Cross doesn’t seem to make an impact on the western world any more makes us flummoxed and angry, the words of the Lord are directed towards us too: ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’

1.  Jonah 4:6-8
2.  Jonah 4:2-4
3.  Matthew 23:12
4.  Psalm 23:5
5.  Jonah 4:11
6.  John 4:22
7.  Acts 2:37