Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 20A

Track 1: Let Us Not Be Anxious about Earthly Things

Exodus 16:2-15
Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

Have we ever found ourselves complaining against the Lord? The children of Israel had been liberated from slavery in Egypt through miraculous signs and wonders by God. Now, however. they were unsure that God would still provided for them. From Exodus we read:

The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”   (Exodus 16:2-3)

Why is it that, when our faith is challenged, we want to go backwards, even when that means slavery to past problems? It is better for us to wait upon the Lord as he helps us to face the present.

God answered the complaints of his people:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?” And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.”   (Exodus 16:4-8)

When we complain against God it is usually because we are focusing on the wrong things, the less important things in life. God knows our needs before we ask him. This beautiful prayer is found in the Book of Common Prayer:

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Surely we are living in a time when earthly things are quickly passing away. How are we to be best prepared for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ?

Today’s psalm may say it best:

Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name;
make known his deeds among the peoples.

Sing to him, sing praises to him,
and speak of all his marvelous works.

Glory in his holy Name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.

Search for the Lord and his strength;
continually seek his face.   (Psalm 105:1-4)

We remember that Jesus told a parable about a widow and an unjust judge. She continually sought the judge concerning her complaint. He finally granted her justice because he was tired of her complaining. Jesus said that Father in heaven would do better than the unjust judge:

And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”   (Luke 18:7-8)

God responded to the concerns of the children of Israel in the wilderness. He has responded to our concerns in the past. But will we keep the faith? Will we seek his face on a daily basis? Will we continually praise his name? Will we tell others about the mighty things he has done, how he has given us salvation through the blood of his Son?

Let us not let the enemy steal our praise. Let us hold on to our holy hope. The world needs our witness all the more as the day grows darker and temporal things pass away. Jesus is calling us to keep the faith even in challenging times.

 


Track 2: The Privilege of Serving God

Jonah 3:10-4:11
Psalm 145:1-8
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

All of us are called by God for a specific ministry in his kingdom here on earth. Understanding our call and answering that call is just the beginning, though a very important first step. What happens when we accept that call and begin our ministry is a whole new level. Almost immediately, we are met with opposition from the enemy, particularly if we are following God’s plan for our lives. We often run into things that we did not expect to encounter. And the results that we wish to achieve are occasionally changed or transformed by the Holy Spirit, without our initial understanding of God’s purpose.

The prophet Jonah of the Old Testament was confused about his ministry. His ministry to the city of Nineveh offers a classic case of an expected result, at least on Jonah’s part. Nineveh was the notorious enemy of the Jewish people. As we remember, Jonah did not want to minister to Nineveh. He set sail in another direction, away from Nineveh. Eventually his sailing companions tossed him overboard when they discovered that his disobedience to God was jeopardizing the ship.

We now the story, Jonah was rescued when swallowed by a large fish. He then was persuaded by God to prophesy the destruction of this great city if its people did not repent. Unexpectedly, Nineveh repented, but this did not please Jonah. From the Book of Jonah we read:

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.   (Jonah 4:1-11)

Jonah wanted God to rain down destruction upon the people of Nineveh, even after they repented. What was Jonah’s problem? Perhaps he was too much into rewards and punishment. We can decided in our own minds who deserves punishment and who should be rewarded.

Jesus told a parable about workers in a vineyard which may help illustrate this point. As you recall, the owner of the vineyard hired laborers to work in his vineyard. Some of them were hired early in the day and others late. Some were hired even at the last hour. A problem arose because of this. We read in Matthew:

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.”   (Matthew 20:8-12)

We may have a built-in understanding of what we think is fair play. (Keep in mind that we are talking about reward and punishment.) Again, from Matthew:

The owner 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.”   (Matthew 20:13-16)

This parable speaks on many issues. One issue is our sense of fairness. What is fair about “the last will be first, and the first will be last?” God’s order is not our order. His ways or not our ways. Just serving God is a privilegeThe Apostle Paul wrote:

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   (Philippians 1:27-30)

What keeps us from understanding the privilege of serving God? We have the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well. There are hardships in serving God. Things do not always go our way. But we are blessed to even be in the arena with God – to be counted as his servants. We are coworkers with Christ.

We are not working that we might receive salvation and enter into the kingdom of God. That is a free gift from God by faith in Christ Jesus. We do not have to keep score on ourselves or others. God is the one who keeps score. We recall the words of Jesus:

So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’   (Luke 17:9-10)

These are harsh words for those who are working for rewards. But they are liberating words for those who know the joy alone of just serving Jesus in the vineyard, under any and all circumstances. To God be the glory!

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2 Comments

Filed under homily, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, Pentecost, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon preparation, Year A

2 responses to “Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 20A

  1. patbryant24523@aol.com

    I think the people affected by Hurricane Harry were good witnesses to the importance of focusing on what is important. Several of them also stated that they knew that the Lord would take care of their needs. A wonderful reminder to us all.

    r Pentecost: Proper 20A

    Sun, Sep 17, 2017 10:01 am Preaching the New Lectionar

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