On Jan. 26, the Rev. John H. Thomas, UCC General Minister and President, preached at First Congregational UCC in Boulder, Colo., from Jonah 3-4. Here are excerpts from that sermon.
Last Monday I represented you at a service of prayer for peace and remembrance of Martin Luther King Jr. at the National Cathedral in Washington. Three thousand people gathered, including many United Church of Christ members from Virginia, Maryland, the District of Columbia and Pennsylvania, led by leaders of over 25 Christian communions and organizations in this land to pray for an alternative to war in Iraq. It was a moving and powerful witness to the God whose anger cannot be manipulated to serve our ends any more than God's mercy can be channeled merely toward us or our allies...
And so we come in the end to the odd little story of the bush, a castor bean plant that grew up over Jonah, giving him shade and delight for a day, but was then attacked by a worm, and withered, so that when the sun rose and a hot east wind blew, Jonah grew faint and—characteristically—angry. Then the Lord said,
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?
Today the remnants of the ancient and great city of Nineveh lie under the modern city of Mosul in northern Iraq. Iraq, that great nation known for its wickedness, part of the so-called "Axis of Evil," a nation to us of strange foreigners with their foreign dress and foreign tongue and foreign faith. We hear the modern Jonahs in our administration and Congress and Pentagon stalking the land with their enthusiastic eagerness to announce destruction: "Forty days more, and Nineveh will be overthrown!"
The Book of Jonah leaves us with one key question, a question of course that is not just about Nineveh, but also about Mosul and Baghdad and every other place that seems so alien and threatening, and yes, even about those persons in our own lives whose behavior or foreignness evoke in us desires for vengeance, retaliation, and getting even.
What do we do when God loves our enemy?
We pray, and perhaps we organize and protest in these ominous days of war's preparation. But we also do what we have always done as a Christian community bearing witness to grace in the world.
We take oil, and affirm that it is not just a commodity to be hoarded or fought over, but is a sacramental anointing for healing and reconciliation.
We take water, immersing our little ones and reminding the world that every child of every race and culture and land is precious and must never be destroyed—God's beloved in whom God is delighted. With that same water we immerse our own evil and sin, acknowledging that repentance is not just for "them," in some evil axis, but is for "us" in our own complicity.
We take bread, and we break it, announcing that it, like Christ's body itself, is for sharing, and never for sanction.
And we take wine, pour it out, drink it, proclaiming that it is a sign of the presence of God's grace in our world, a grace we cannot assume or regulate, manipulate or control, but merely receive, and seek to follow.
Spirituality in wartime
Concerned about how to live a spiritual life in wartime? You might find help in the new e-course by the Rev. Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat spiritualityhealth.com. Included are links to such topics as "Wartime Spiritual Practices" and "Spiritual Literacy in Wartime."