20A, "There is nothing you can say or do..."
This week's readings can be found here
You Are Enough
The early Israelites shared their ancestry with the Ninevites.
But, they had forgotten, Jonah had forgotten. That these people whom he thought so deserving of God’s wrath—were his people too.
They were people who shared in the common origins of his own community. They were people, living, dreaming, hoping, doing just as his people lived and dreamed and hoped and did.
He had forgotten.
And, in this, in this he was condemning not the Ninevites, but himself. His own people, his own origins, his own.
His own who were in fact God’s own people.
They had fallen short, they had done evil,
But they had turned back to God.
And, God in God’s inestimable mercy—a mercy far beyond that which Jonah himself understood—was forgiving.
Because God had not forgotten that these were his people as well.
They had not yet named God with their lips, but they were moving towards naming God in their actions. Becoming more akin to the people whom God intended them to be.
Jonah forgot, that they were him and he was they. That in condemning them, he condemned himself.
And, in this, this becomes a narrative not about the repentance and the warning of the Ninevites. But, about Jonah’s need for transformation.
He is the one being called to repentance. He is the one, who is confronted by the truth that he himself had fallen short in failing to extend the kind of mercy which God intended in this moment.
“You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”
God is concerned about those we would forget.
God’s compassion is given to those we would condemn.
And, in this, I find myself vulnerable to my own wonderings—whom have I forgotten? whom have I failed to show compassion for? Whom have I condemned? How have I fallen short? What can I do to fix this thing, this moment that seems so terribly and completely broken?
And, I want to curl up beneath the bush alongside Jonah…because in this, I have condemned myself.
Exhausted by my own wonderings, my own questioning. Unable to see or hold the big picture because the many small pictures of despair have been writ large across the screen and I am tired. I am tired and overwhelmed.
Like so many of us, I feel exhausted by the world. By the forces of evil which seek to divide, by the natural disasters that just keep coming, by my failing, by our failings.
Is it any wonder that Jonah despaired? That we despair?
But, where do we go with this. Where is the comfort? Where is the hope? Where is the good news that we so long for? And, I say we, because we need good news. We need to know that in our weakness others will be strong and that in our own moments of strength we can support the weak. We need to know that even our poorest effort, even our last ditch, show up at the last-minute effort, is recognized with grace and mercy and forgiveness.
A grace, mercy and forgiveness that we find so challenging to give not just to others but to ourselves.
This passage from Hebrew Scriptures is one about compassion. Compassion for others AND compassion for self.
There is a podcast I listen to--“One Bad Mother” in which two moms seek to support and encourage each other and their listeners as parents. Parents are invited to call in and share both their genius moments in parenting and their complete fails. And what is amazing about this is that the wildly unrealistic expectations that we have for ourselves become glaringly obvious when we are asked to have compassion for someone who is struggling with the very things we ourselves may be struggling with.
The tag-line for the podcast is roughly, "you are doing a great job!”
A tag-line that is intended to acknowledge the very, very, hard and so often thankless work of parents. Parents who struggle to do what is right, and whose every desire is to do a good job in the midst of all of the external and internal pressures and criticisms they face.
To tell somebody they are doing a good job, particularly in moments when they may be despairing, is to extend compassion. A compassion for which we all hunger.
But, it’s not just about compassion for each other as parents--it’s compassion for the children we raise. Biz, one of the hosts, often describes how she will tell her daughter, “baby girl there is nothing you can say or do that will make me stop loving you!”
Sit with that for a moment, “There is nothing you can say or do that will make me stop loving you.”
There is nothing you can say or do that will make God stop loving you!
You will be forgiven, you will be loved, you will be held accountable. And on the last day—God will welcome you with open arms because there is nothing you can say or do that will make God stop loving you!
And, not just welcome you, God will search for you tirelessly. God will, like the landowner in today’s parable, keep going out in order to find more and more people. God will not give up on those who are in need!
You are loved. You are sought. You will never be abandoned.
This is a fitting message on a day when we welcome baby Henry to the household of God. A fitting message when we bless our Pilgrim youth. As their community, part of what we are called to do is to remind these young people throughout their lives that they are loved. That there is nothing they can say or do that will make God stop loving them.
But, not just them. But, us. We are also beneficiaries of this love. We need the reminder that if we are the ones who are found at the very last—long after the bulk of the work has been done—we will still be loved, we will still be welcomed, we will still be given the freely given grace of God.
People of God, there is nothing we can say or do that will make God stop loving us.
And...if you want to check out the podcast One Bad Mother, click on the link!