16TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST Lessons & Meditation

09-13-2020

FIRST READING: Jonah 3:10 – 4:11

Do you know the story of Jonah – how he spent three days and three nights inside a great fish for trying

to escape God’s call to preach to Nineveh? Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria, the ruthless empire that was a threat to tiny Israel. Before that fish incident, Jacob was supposed to go 500 miles east to Nineveh but got on a ship heading 2,000 miles in the opposite direction. The last thing he wanted was for that stinking city to receive God’s warning, maybe repent, and then receive God’s blessing of mercy.

After he thought it over and changed his mind inside that fish, Jonah was spit out and – probably with great reluctance regret – went to Nineveh and preached God’s judgment. He was so disappointed when the people of Nineveh actually repented and were spared by God. And he was devastated with even more anger when God took away a little shade bush that God had provided him out in the hot sun. He thought he was angry enough to die. And he announced this to God.

The book ends with a question: “Should God not have pity on the city of Nineveh?” The prophet Jonah gave his answer several times before, and we don’t know how he answered God this time. But you must give your own answer. Are you willing to serve in an obedient, responsible way? Do you really mean it when you pray, “THY will be done…”?

When have you attempted to escape God’s call, to run away from something you know God is telling you to do? Be honest – did you ever find a successful hiding place? Running from God is like trying to run fro your shadow when you were a child. You can’t run from God either. (See Psalm 139.)

When have you tried limiting God’s mercy, especially when it comes to “those people”? To whom is God

wanting you to show mercy? Do you think you will go? Can anyone put limits on God’s mercy and forgiveness?

We can be so difficult. But God can be so patient.

SECOND READING: Philippians 1:21-30

On his second missionary journey (Acts 16, around A.D.50), Paul founded the congregation at Philippi, the chief city of the Greek province of Macedonia. His relationship with the congregation remained strong and personal. It was the one church that Paul allowed to give him monetary support. Throughout this letter we see how much joy and gratitude Paul has for their partnership.

He writes to this Christian community from a prison cell (the location is debated, it could be Rome) with uncertainty about his future. In this opening chapter he shares his confidence in the good work of the congregation and confidence in the outcome of his own life, whether in freedom or death. Paul states that, no matter what happens to him, he will be in good shape. And he hopes that he, his Philippian readers, and you will strive to live worthy of the gospel, “standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side for the faith of the gospel… in no way intimidated by your opponents.”

The life worthy of the gospel is not restricted to a few believers; it is for all who have received it in faith.

GOSPEL READING: Matthew 20:1-16

It may be helpful to look back a little. In Matthew, Chapter 19 Jesus is continuing to make his way toward Jerusalem, expecting suffering and accepting death as his God-given mission. He is also continuing to heal and to teach, and we become aware in this chapter of the conflict and the confusion that his ministry generates. In 19:1-12 the Pharisees test Jesus on the law of divorce, which permitted husbands the freedom to rather easily dismiss their wives with a piece of paper; but Jesus told them that divorce was not part of God’s plan, it was a concession to the hard-hearted. In 19:13-15 Jesus corrects his own disciples for their religious and cultural bias that children don’t really count and are a waste of Jesus’ time; he insists that the kingdom of heaven belongs to children. And in 19:16-22 Jesus disappoints and saddens a rich young man who would enter the kingdom of heaven without being willing to generously share his God-given treasures with the poor.

Then there is this Sunday’s parable about laborers in the vineyard in Chapter 20, a story that follows Jesus saying in 19:30, “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first” and concluding in 20:16 with Jesus saying, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Pass the word: GOD IS UNFAIR! In the parable, five groupings of laborers come to the vineyard to work at different hours of the day. When they gather to be paid, all receive the same wages, regardless of the time they clocked in to begin their work. The owner of the vineyard asks in 20:15, “Are you envious because I am generous?” You bet we are! We begrudge the generosity that goes to others, the injustice that favors others, the unfairness that seems to be our lot too many times. We were “on the job” a long time!

GOD IS UNFAIR! Many of us good and decent churchgoing folk are stunned, offended, even angered by the notion that God would reach out with the same merciful love and offer the same eternal life to sinners who have seemingly squandered their entire lives away. Whatever happened to seniority merit and production bonuses in the Kingdom of God? And don’t those who sin less deserve more reward from God? We were “on the job” a long time!

GOD IS UNFAIR! Would you prefer that God should give you exactly what you deserve? Instead God gave you Jesus.

In your Christian journey, do you think of yourself as “first hired”, “eleventh hour”, or somewhere in between? The truth is, your own salvation is never earned… only given. Martin Luther has written that in baptism we receive the grace of God that is freely given to all. He wrote that, in the presence of God’s mercy, we are all beggars.

You and I will never understand God’s unexpectedly generous grace – God’s grace is imply beyond our comprehension – but we ought to be grateful for it. So get in line! God loves you so dearly, and is about to give you a bigger paycheck than you ever could have deserved! You see, instead of what you and I deserve, God is giving us Jesus, LOVE THT SUFFERED, LOVE THQAT DIED, LOVE THAT TRIUMPHED, for our sins. Stop grumbling and be grateful – for yourself and for every other sinner!

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