Last Sunday I had the privilege of hearing a sermon by retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong. Speaking at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Bishop Spong preached a very simple yet profound message that any religious person, regardless of the faith tradition from which you come, needs to hear. The message is simply this: God is bigger than we are!
Using the story of the reluctant prophet Jonah as a springboard, Bishop Spong shared examples of his own life and the life of the Christian church that sadly repeated Jonah’s error. Jonah, thinking that God surely must be mistaken in telling him to preach to the Ninehvites, did all that he could to avoid God’s command. But God would not be deterred. Eventually Jonah came to understand not only were the Ninehvites the intended audience of God’s message of repentance, but that Jonah, too, needed to hear the message that God is God of all people–including (and perhaps especially) those whom we consider “other,” “outcast,” “unclean,” “despised,” or whatever other term we use to look down our noses at individuals or groups who, no less than we, reflect the image and likeness of God.