Service & Sermon
Sunday, September 20, 2020
This morning we will be sharing our worship via facebook live at https://www.facebook.com/CalvaryHauppauge/ The video will be uploaded here subsequent to the service.
Pastor Laurie's sermon is below:
Today we have two readings which complement one another, partly because the outcomes are unexpected. We begin with the end of the story of Jonah which employs humor to contrast God’s nature and human nature. Jonah was called to be a prophet, God’s messenger, to the wicked city of Nineveh. Sending a prophet to Nineveh would be like sending one to a meeting of the MS-13 gang today. It is true that prophets often protest when God first calls them – Jeremiah says he is too young, and Moses says “Who am I to go to the great Pharaoh? For one thing, I’m not very good at public speaking.” But they both accept the task given them by God.
Not Jonah. He does not offer excuses; he runs away to the port of Tarshish and stows away on a boat so he can get as far away from God and Nineveh as possible. It is a familiar story – Jonah’s presence on the ship causes a huge storm, he tells them to throw him overboard, and ends up in the belly of a great fish for three days. He implores God to help him, and the fish throws him up on shore. But God was not letting Jonah get away, he had to bring God’s message to Nineveh. So, Jonah reluctantly goes to the city and declares the word of God, with a definite lack of enthusiasm, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” Yet, miraculously, the people of Nineveh repent and turn from their evil ways. Even the animals put on sackcloth. This would be a dream outcome for any other prophet. It always seems that no matter how dutiful, eloquent, and even enthusiastic they are, no one listens to them. They would be thrilled to learn that their words had the desired effect. Not Jonah. He isn’t happy at all, because now God is going to spare those wicked people who Jonah believes should have been punished.
Jonah goes outside the city to sulk God provides him with shelter from a large bush, really a big weed, which makes him happy, but apparently his attitude about Nineveh hasn’t changed, so when dawn breaks, God destroys the bush. Now Jonah will have to sulk under the heat of the midday sun, with a sultry east wind from the desert blowing on him. Jonah could have sat in the shade and watched as the people of Nineveh repented, turned from their evil ways, and started a new life with God. Instead he was resentful that God forgave them. God points out that as concerned as Jonah was about the bush, so God had the right to be concerned about the people of Nineveh, as God rather humorously puts it, a city of “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 all of humankind and all of creation, God cares about the animals as much as the people. And since these are not the brightest bulbs in the pack of humankind, God seems even more pleased that the people of Nineveh listened to Jonah when he offered God’s word to them. Jonah just cannot celebrate with God, he would rather stay rooted in his resentment that God would even consider forgiving those who had done wicked deeds. Instead of being proud at his part in such a success, Jonah is disappointed and resentful that he is not God, because he would have let Nineveh be destroyed. Jonah can accept God’s compassion when it is given to him, but he can’t accept it when God extends it to those who Jonah believes should be punished.
In our Gospel story, Jesus dares to compare the kingdom of heaven to a landowner who has an unusual way of paying his laborers. The harvest is ready, so the owner of the vineyard must go to the public market to hire extra hands to harvest the grapes. He hires the first group, no doubt the strongest, the most eager, the early birds. He promises them a fair wage. They are delighted, they will have twelve hours of work, which will enable them to feed their families.
The vineyard owner goes to the market three more times and each time he finds more workers hoping to get work. Each time he hires them and puts them to work. Then, in a strange twist, he insists on paying those who were hired last, first, and he pays them for the whole day. They must have been really surprised, after expecting an hour’s wages they are given a full day, which will enable them to feed their families. But those who worked longer are disgruntled because they receive the same pay. The vineyard owner points out that they received exactly what they were promised, they were not cheated. Yet they believe it is unfair for everyone to receive the same pay. Like Jonah, they are resentful and wish that they could be the landowner, then things would be done fairly.
The practical question is - why did the vineyard owner pay the last workers first? He could have paid the first workers and then paid everyone else in succession, according to the time they began work. Then no one would have known that they were all paid the same, since it is unlikely that people would have hung around just to see others receiving their wages. Obviously, there is a point to be made. Everyone needs to know that each worker received the same wages, regardless of how long they had worked. What kind of justice is this? Jesus says it is God’s justice.
Perhaps the vineyard owner is considering that all the laborers were willing to work. Perhaps those who were there later came from another market, where they had failed to find work. Although the earlier the workers arrived, the longer they had to work, they were paid fairly, no one was cheated out of fair wages. And although they worked longer, they were spared the worry that those hired later experienced. We do not know their stories. Perhaps they were weaker, less skilled, and often overlooked at the job markets. Their anxiety about how to take care of themselves and their families must have mounted with each hour that they were not hired. At least those who were hired earlier had security for that day. The later hires did not know that they would receive a full day’s pay, but they were no doubt very grateful when they got it.
Some have speculated that this story is a way of explaining why Gentiles were fully accepted in the church even though they came later to faith in Jesus as the messiah. Or perhaps this is just a way to explain that even if we come to God late in life, we will be fully accepted, forgiven, and saved. What it does tell us for sure is that our ways are not God’s ways. God continues to surprise us and to make decisions that we might not make under the same circumstances, or that we disagree with. The message is that there is security in God’s promises. No one will be overlooked, no one will be left out, everyone will be treated equally. We need not be anxious, because God’s justice will ultimately prevail. Amen.
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