Texts:Jonah 3:10-4:11; Psalm 145:1-8; Philippians 1:21-30; Matthew 20:1-16
Themes: God’s scandalous love and grace…how are we to respond to that when it is given to others?
Opening Prayer: Gracious Lord, when we wander off, you find us. When we harden our hearts against our neighbors, you call us to account. When we hold back forgiveness, you send us in peace to love and serve all in need. Help us to pay attention and to seek out the least among us, leading them to safety and giving them hope. So nurture and protect all who are in need that they might know they are first in your kingdom. And may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength, our rock, and our Redeemer. Amen.
“CAUGHT & CALLED”
The story of Jonah is extravagant, ironic, and playful hyperbole. In that time, the words of the prophets were not always respected or followed amongst their own people. So you can only imagine what might have been going through Jonah’s head when “The Word of the Lord” came to him to preach to his people’s mortal enemies.
Jonah ran the other way.
After running in the opposite direction of where God had called him to go – God literally “caught” Jonah’s attention. If we get sidetracked on whether or not it was a whale or the size of the fish that “caught” Jonah, we miss the main point. We worship a God who is without dimensions. A God of abundant grace!
The story of Jonah shows us that “You can run but you cannot hide from God.” And so, Jonah finds himself (after several uncomfortable detours) back on the road to call his enemies to repentance. Put into our modern day context – it might be similar to you hearing God tell you to walk right into the middle of an ISIS or Al Qaeda headquarters and tell them God wants them to shape up. Are you getting the picture in understanding why Jonah the Israelite was looking for every excuse in the book to not “preach” to his Ninevite enemies?
What to preach? (That’s the same question I’ve been asking myself all this week!) Should Jonah go in and blast the wrongdoers, the “evil ones” with judgment for justice’s sake, which if he really had to go there, is what he wanted to do. Or, should he preach love?
Hmm…what would you do?
Here is a story where an “insider” reluctantly becomes the instrument of God’s warning for “outsiders.” Jonah barely pronounces the prophetic call in a foreign culture…and they “caught on!” The shortest sermon ever recorded in scripture brought about some amazing results. One sentence! The text tells us that even the animals repented! Jonah didn’t preach longer and he didn’t preach much because deep down, he had been hoping for some of God’s fire and brimstone to rain down on his enemies. Instead, God rained down grace and mercy.
Put yourself in Jonah’s sandals. Deep down, could you ask God to rain down grace and mercy on our national enemies? Or, bless the kid in class that picks on you? Or, the company you work for that keeps cutting back on its promises to the workers? How do you respond to God’s call? Run in the other direction? Hide? Finally give in and answer? Is there anyone in your life that you would not want God to bless? Think about it. And, hold that thought as we take a glance at the parable of the vineyard.
In Jesus’ day, field workers/day laborers would gather at the marketplace in the early morning hoping to be chosen for work. If you weren’t picked, you had no work. That equals no pay. In the subsistence living world of peasants and migrant workers (which still happens today and even in our own country), that meant, no money for food, no paycheck – going home to your family empty handed.
Perhaps the other workers who were overlooked in the first round of hiring were older, or too young, or perhaps they didn’t have “connections.” Maybe they had made some mistakes in the past and were trying to get their life back together. Or, maybe some health or ability issues left them waiting to be hired even though they were willing to work to provide for their families.
Hired/or called to the work field at different shifts, the land owner chose to be generous toward the workers.
As is often the case with Jesus’ parables, the point hits home somewhere underneath the obvious. This is not just a “nice” story about economics or good business practices. It seeks to teach us something about God’s field, God’s kingdom and the work we are called to do. When the paychecks were passed out to the workers at the end of the day, each received a fair day’s wage.
The land owner in the parable followed through on all of his agreements with the workers. He did not short change anyone of them!
Somehow, God’s salary schedule is different than our understanding. Full day and just a part of the day worked and all equal pay? Had there been cell phones back then, you can bet the speed dial call to the Union Steward might have been made immediately! Would we be grateful for the full day’s work and the full day’s pay to provide for our family’s needs? Of course! So, why is it so hard to be thankful when God’s mercy and grace is shown to others? Is it a question of justice or love?
Whether we have had times in our lives wandering off from God, God waits patiently and God still calls. God welcomes us and loves us, offering forgiveness, fresh new starts, grace and mercy. It doesn’t matter if our grandparents were charter members of this congregation – or any congregation – or, we are brand new to faith and a faith community. We are called to welcome all people and encourage them to share their gifts in this field, in this body of Christ without harboring resentment or envy. Envy simply robs us of the present joy we have. The gifts are God’s to give. Every person has value and is loved in God’s eyes – no matter what age, no matter who they are or what they’ve done.
As followers of Christ, we are “caught” in God’s love and “called” to live out of the generosity of God through gracious hospitality in welcoming all people. We are called to live into the generosity of God when reaching out to others in service and in help. We are called to trust in the God whose love and forgiveness, grace and mercy are without dimension.
We are called to share “the scandal of grace,” inviting others to work alongside us – no matter what time of the day they arrive – to bring God’s love to all people: even to our enemies, even to those who prefer judgment and begrudge God’s gift of forgiveness to “the other.”
The scandal of God’s grace toward the Ninevites and to Jonah, to the workers in the vineyard and to you and me, might be summed up by a favorite quote from former ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson. Many of you will recognize this as we had it in our bulletins for quite some time. It goes like this:
“We finally meet one another not in our agreements or disagreements, but, at the foot of the cross, where God is faithful, where Christ is present with us, and where, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are one in Christ.”
May we answer the call to live lives in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
– Brenda Tibbetts, Associate in Ministry
– Brenda Tibbetts, Associate in Ministry