Worship for Sunday, September 20, 2020

Jonah 3:10-4:11

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord! 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?’ Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.

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.’

But God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?’ And he said, ‘Yes, angry enough to die.’ 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 people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?’

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 145:1-8

I will extol you, my God and King,
   and bless your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will bless you,
   and praise your name for ever and ever.
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
   his greatness is unsearchable.
One generation shall laud your works to another,
   and shall declare your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
   and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed,
   and I will declare your greatness.
They shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness,
   and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.
The Lord is gracious and merciful,
   slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  Amen.

Philippians 1:21b-30

For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.

Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well— since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew 20:1-16

‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the market-place; and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.” When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.” When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’

The Gospel of our Lord.

I don’t eat hot peppers – but I love their beautiful colors.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

What were your greatest interests when you were a kid?  What intrigued you?  What were your passions?  What made you tick? 

Our nephew Nic loves Nascar.  He is an encyclopedia of all things Nascar.  Jack loved Legos – art and Minecraft.  Boy – did he love Minecraft!  Will loves boats and trains and terrifying animals.  Jason was a voracious reader.  I too loved reading and my dolls and justice.

Seriously – I am not kidding when I say that even as a kid – justice was a really big deal to me.  The pursuit of justice was my passion.  It gave my young life meaning.  Absolutely – positively every single time I uncovered an injustice in my world – I refused to rest until the situation was resolved fairly and justice prevailed.

Cool creature found!

I was like a mini-superhero.  (All I needed was a cool red cape!)  I was Justice Girl.  I had injustice x-ray vision.  I was a crusader and justice was my cause. 

But sadly I wasn’t some sort of mini-saint.  I wasn’t even close.  I was just a plain – old ordinary kid with sand in my sneakers – glue in my hair – and marker on my elbows!

I wasn’t concerned about the distressing social issues of the day.  Poverty – communist oppression – ongoing gender inequality and race discrimination weren’t even on my radar.

Nope – I was concerned with issues much – much closer to home.

In fact – the only issues of injustice that troubled me – were all about me.  It was my life’s mission to make things in my life as fair as possible – FOR ME!

Even cooler creature!

If we were allowed to have cookies for dessert – then the cookies needed to be the exact same size.  Anything else would have been a profound injustice. 

If I had to practice the piano for an entire miserable 30 minutes then I thought my brother needed to suffer the exact same amount of time too.  A second less and I was outraged.  I really – really hated playing the piano. 

I was an absolute stickler for justice – (for myself.) 

So I am quite certain our Gospel reading for today would have made my brain melt.  Jesus’ parable would have made no sense to me.  It would have seemed ludicrous.  Outrageous even.

Jesus tells us a parable about a landowner with some strange habits.  It was harvest time.  And it had been a wonderful year.  He had a bumper crop – which he needed help harvesting.  Lots and lots of help!

Our bumper crop this year was HOT peppers!

So early one morning – he heads off to town to hire workers to help him with the harvest.  He soon finds some folks who are looking for work.  They do a little bartering before settling on a fair wage for a hard day’s work.   And soon they are all hard at work. 

A few hours later the landowner heads back to town where he finds some more folks who are looking for work.  He hires them after promising to pay them what is fair.  And soon – these workers get to work too.

Jesus tells us the landowner did the same thing again at noon and 3:00 and then finally at 5:00.  Each time he hired a new group of workers – he promised to pay them what was fair.

Finally – as evening settles over the vineyard – it is time to pay the workers.  But the landowner gives his farm manager some rather strange instructions.  He tells him to pay the workers beginning with those who started working last and then to work his way backward through the day’s hires to the workers who started first. 

So – so many HOT – HOT – HOT peppers!!!

The last are paid first and the first are paid last!

Those were really strange instructions – but what happens next is downright shocking.  The vineyard owner paid the people who had worked only part of the day an entire day’s wage.  He even paid the workers who had only worked about an hour a full day’s pay.

Of course – when the people who had worked all day finally received their wages – they were expecting to be paid more money than those who had only worked for an hour.  After all they had worked so much longer.  But to their surprise and dismay they just receive the usual daily wage and not a single cent more.

Can you imagine their disappointment?  Their outrage?  Their indignation!  It was not fair for them to get the exact same pay as the lazy loafers who had only worked for an hour!

There were plenty of tomatoes too.

What happens next seems natural to us.  They voice their outrage.  They complain about how hard they worked all day in the blazing hot sun.  They assert it wasn’t fair that they received the exact same pay as the people who only worked for an hour.  They pointed out the incredible injustice. 

When the landowner hears their complaining and grumbling – he replies – “Friends – I have done you no wrong.  I paid you a fair wage for a hard day’s work.  You agreed from the start that what I planned to pay you was fair.  It is my choice to give the latecomers the same as I gave you.  Are you jealous because I am generous?”

Are you jealous because I was fair to you and generous to others?  That is a hard question.  A question that makes us squirm – because we know how we would react to this situation.  We know we would complain too – or at least grumble to ourselves. 

After all – how could it be fair for some folks to work 12 hours and others to work just 1 hour and receive the exact same pay?  That math doesn’t add up.

This parable stands in sharp contrast to what we think is fair and just.  So what are we supposed to do with this parable? 

Well – clearly Jesus is telling us God does shockingly surprising things.  Jesus is telling us our God is just – but more importantly – our God is deeply and profoundly and wildly and wonderfully generous.  Our God is gloriously gracious and truly merciful. 

With this parable – Jesus announces there is always room in God’s kingdom and in God’s heart for one more believer.  For one more beloved child of God!  In fact – what God yearns for most is that everyone in the entire world would come to know Him and His grace, love and mercy. 

Not only that – but Jesus tells us there isn’t a pecking order in heaven.  Those of us who have been believers since we were toddlers aren’t going to have a better place in heaven than those who came to faith on their deathbeds. 

There isn’t an elite club in heaven.  There aren’t bonus points or prizes for perfect attendance in heaven.

God does not love someone less because she comes to faith later than others do.  God loves us all the same and our heavenly reward will be the same. 

Our God is more than fair.  Our God is more than just.  Our God is wildly generous.  And blesses us more than we could ever deserve.

God loves us all with the very same perfect – gracious love.  The first – the last and those in the middle are all God’s beloved children.  Truly this is Good News.  AMEN.

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