DATE: 21 September 2014
TO: Congregational Church of Weston
Call to Worship: Psalm 145: 1-8
One: I will speak of Your glorious splendor
All: my God, my Sovereign God
One: I will praise Your name
All: for ever and always
One: Let us rise up God’s name…let us enthrone Her
All: We praise God, He renews us!
One: Praise God!
All: God shows mercy
One: Our God is great and worthy of our worship
All: God’s abundant grace exceeds our understanding
Unison Prayer of Invocation
Oh God! Just and loving, we adore you.
We come before you once again to ask for more:
more justice, more blessings, and new encouragement, new cheer. We give you thanks for your overflowing mercy.
Today Lord we ask that you open our eyes,
our ears, our hands, and our minds that we may receive your word with all that we are. Creator, grant us patience…
in your mercy. Hear our prayers. Amen.
Hebrew Scripture: Jonah 3: 10-4:11
10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. 4 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly,[a] and he was angry. 2 And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. 3 Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4 And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?” 5 Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. 6 Now the Lord God appointed a plant[b] and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort.[c] So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. 7 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” 9 But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” 10 And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”
Gospel Reading: Matthew 20: 1-16
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.2 After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius[a] a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ 5 So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. 6 And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ 8 And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ 9 And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 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.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’[b] 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.”
Leader: This is the Word of God for the people of God.
People: Thanks be to God.
in my Uncle Jesse voice, “Have MERCY…!”
Blessings to you, Congregational Church of Weston! In my cultural tradition, when a person is being welcome into a new environment, a new home, or a new church it is customary to bring greetings on behalf of those who have released us to join a new community! In my case, I bring you greetings on behalf of my local church, Manantial de Gracia in West Hartford, CT and our Pastora, the Rev. Dr. Maritza de Gonzalez. I bring you greetings on behalf of Andover Newton Theological School, and I would be remiss if I failed to greet you on behalf of The Franklinton Center at Bricks in Whitakers, NC where I have learned in a physical way what it means to harvest God’s overflowing bounty.
So I greet you and thank you for welcoming all of who I am, and all of who I have been.
Now, if you are a person who is into keeping track of the liturgical calendar you know that we are on the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, a time that is also referred to as Ordinary Time… The liturgical color most often used is green, though we New Englanders know that we are already starting to witness the changing of the colors, the switching of our wardrobes and the frost in the air. To be honest, I am already looking forward to the first hints of spring’s thaw!
Those who are looking at the United State’s secular calendar, know that we have just entered into National Hispanic Heritage Month, and though it is not my intent to preach a Hispanic Heritage sermon, please be patient with me, if bits of my ethnic culture manage to sneak into this sermon!
During this season, this post Pentecost Season… we who proclaim our love of Jesus who is the risen Christ continue to wrestle with what it means to be a Christ-like-people … in light of the turmoil we continue to witness, in light of the pain we cause each other, in a world still full of bitterness, un-forgiveness, and pain.
Now, congregation, we are just starting to meet each other, so I am going to take this sermon also as an opportunity to tell you a bit about who I am…
I come from a church that has a visceral response to a sermon, they sometimes say Amen! Or Halleluiah!! Sometimes they can’t help but add a yes or a no!! I know that this might be a bit out of your comfort zone, but I do invite you to respond if you feel led by the Spirit…
Let me tell you that this weeks lectionary readings led me to ponder God’s mercy and our response to it!
Moses/Aaron vs The People
Let us start with Exodus 16:2-15. This Torah reading invites the reader to witness the hardships that THOSE people, those people who were forced into slavery, those recently freed slaves, those whose oppressors freed them and immediately tried to “hunt” back into submission…those people who left their homes of bondage carrying unleavened bread.
One could say that those people might sound a lot like THOSE OTHER people, those who flee oppression and turmoil looking for a new way of life. Those other people, those who send their children with the remnants of hope that they still hold on to… on the wings of a prayer, seeking refuge and mercy. But those people don’t always receive our mercy.
The Israelite community according to our reading was grumbling about their freedom! When they were slaves they had grumbled about oppression (and rightly so). And God showed them mercy and provided freedom.
But see where they had previously been, they might have been slaves, but they had some basic comforts. They had access to food and yet THOSE people now grumbled that Moses and Aaron were responsible for the hunger they now faced.
According to our readings, Moses and Aaron… realized that the grumblings of the people were not against them, but rather against God. For they understood that they were not responsible for providing. For provision did not come from Moses and Aaron, but rather provision comes from God.
God responded to the people’s grumblings, according to Exodus 16:10
By having quail cover the camp in the evening and the mornings dew turned into manna (bread which rained down from above). God showed MERCY again. God’s mercy had allowed the people to be free. God’s mercy allowed the people to eat. God’s mercy allowed the people to survive. Mercy!
Now whether you see this manna as a miracle is for you to determine, there is actually a tree in the Sinai Peninsula, called the Tamarisk Tree which exudes drops of a sweet substance that is gathered and eaten by the locals between May and June. They call this substance man, but then how do you account for the length of time the substance was available to the Israelites? Or how do you explain the fact that the provisions doubled just in time for the Sabbath?
Somebody who needs you
As I thought about that reading there was a song from my youth that ran through my mind…!
If you are from my generation you remember a television show called Full House, if you have children, you have probably seen it recently as it has come back into fashion! The premise of the show is a family that has experienced the loss of a loved one and the theme song, went something like this:
What ever happend to predictability? The milkman, the paperboy, evening tv. You miss your old familar friends, but waiting just around the bend.
Everywhere you look (everywhere). There’s a heart (there’s a heart). A hand to hold on to. Everywhere you look (everywhere). There’s a face of somebody who needs you.
When you’re lost out there and your all alone. A light is waiting to carry you home. Everywhere you look.
In honor of that song that has kept me moving through these readings, this week’s sermon is titled: in my Uncle Jesse voice, “Have MERCY…!”
Before I continue, let us pray:…
Let us talk about the passage that we heard read aloud: In this text we find the owner of a vineyard in need of employees (farm hands), he sets out early one morning looking for workers. When he finds a group of willing employees he offers to pay them a denarius for a days work. They agree.
Three hours later he sees another group of potential hires in the marketplace and he offers to pay them “what is right” for their services…they also agree.
Six hours later, nine hours later and the same…about the eleventh hour he found still more potential hires standing idly in the marketplace, he asked, “why have been hanging out all day doing NOTHING!?” They respond that no one has given them a job [or an opportunity]. To which he responds, “go work my vineyard!”
At the end of the workday the owner asks his foreman to call the workers back from last to first…
The ones who came last received a denarius for their time…and by the time that those who started working from early morning were paid they had begun to expect to receive MORE than the originally agreed upon amount, imagine their surprise when they also received a denarius for their time.
And their began the grumbling… “those people only worked an hour and they got the same amount as us…THOSE people received equal pay to those of us who suffered the heat of the day and the difficulty of the load… THOSE people…”
Those people… as though those people were the problem.
As though, those people had done anything wrong.
Much like Moses and Aaron, I am sure that those people who were being complained and grumbled about wanted to put some distance between themselves and the conversation that was being had…
Denarius (provision) in this case comes not from the foreman, but rather from the vineyard owner and who are we to judge or stand in the way of payment.
This is NOT:
If we look at this particular Bible passage we can see a few things, it is a parable that recounts the story of payment. But the point of this parable, I believe, is NOT:
to contrast Jews and Gentiles (them vs us)
nor is it an allegory for human life (childhood, adolescence…) or spiritual progress or world history
Nor is this a pictorial representation of a later passage (21:31) where the last (collectors and prostitutes) get into the Kingdom of God before the first (Pharisees).
In the first part of this parable the landowner is anxiously attempting to attain as many workers as possible. He seeks more workers at every hour of the day, even until the eleventh hour of a twelve-hour workday.
The latter part of the parable begs to the question of compensation. The workers hired at the beginning of the day agreed to a standard daily pay — one denarius. The rest are promised only “whatever is right.” At the end of the day, the landowner has them paid in the reverse order of their hiring — this is the only “last shall be first” part in the parable. Every worker gets the same full day’s pay — that is the punch line of the story. In a final dialogue of the landowner emphasizes that their original bargain was kept and that he disposes of his wealth as he chooses.
It is important to remember that the parable is about the kingdom of heaven, not about wages or work in this world. Receiving the denarius is the admission to the kingdom of heaven. Some get it after a full life of righteous living; others get it by grace at the last gasp. So God disposes entrance to “life eternal” (19:16).
As some commentators have pointed out, the thrust of this parable is much like that of the Prodigal Son. One loyal son stays home and serves the father throughout his life; the other son runs away and wastes his inheritance. At the end, the father urges the older son to join the party when the younger son is accepted back with a feast. In our parable, the 12-hour laborers are like the older son, and the eleventh-hour workers are like the lost son who returns finally to the house of the father.
God’s grace does not promise equality in worldly terms, but a waiting and patient care for the return of the lost — to be united with the previous workers in a common household.
Grace! That unmerited mercy that God bestows upon us is not ours alone. According to the covenant that God made after first drenching the world in tears (I mean when the rains fell and the only things saved where Noah, his family and the pairs of animals)… that covenant, established in Genesis 9:8 says that God spoke to Noah saying:
I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with EVERY living creature that was with you – the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you – every living creature on earth….
God promised mercy and not just for those of us who think we are worthy, but rather for all living creatures. That is the message in each of the readings this week. We as the readers are able to hear God remind us that S/He provides mercy. Even when we are acting slightly, shall we say…ungrateful, undignified, bitter?!
God shows us mercy over and over and over again. Equally. Regardless of when we learn to love God. As we heard the Matthean text read aloud, I am reminded in the many ways that we are in need of God’s grace. AMEN!
Pastoral Prayer, Silent Prayer, and Lord’s Prayer This human life is hard.
We recognize that we are, after all, only human,
That there are days when moving forward is difficult,
Both individually and as a faith community.
In those moments we cannot even fathom the pain we cause one to the other, how many hearts we hurt, maybe we break even God’s own heart… and even then, God loves us and once more forgives us.
Let us take a moment of silence to contemplate
On our short short-comings and acknowledge our less than stellar moments.
Moment of Silence…
We hear your good news Lord: You love us.
You watch our footsteps.
You created us and know us intimately.
When we pray, when we ask,
You hear us, once more offering us an opportunity
to be liberated of our heavy loads.
Thank you Lord for your mercy!
And now let us pray that prayer that Jesus taught: Padre nuestro, que estás en el cielo, santificado sea tu nombre; venga a nosotros tu reino; hágase tu voluntad en la tierra como en el cielo. Danos hoy nuestro pan de cada día; perdona nuestras ofensas, como también nosotros perdonamos a los que nos ofenden; no nos dejes caer en la tentación, y líbranos del mal. Amen!
Call to Offering
We know that we serve a merciful God.
Like Jonah, we know life is hard.
Like the Prodigal Son we have seen the error of our ways.
We understand that God’s mercy includes justice, devotion, and love.
We share our tithes and offerings to fortify the work of justice in this our community.
Prayer of Dedication
Provider of our daily bread we thank you for this opportunity To once more arise and serve you.
Multiply Lord, that which we offer,
We do so with our whole heart
Knowing that even this we have only because of your mercy. Amen.
Please remain seated for the Postlude and Benediction and be welcome to join us in a Time to Share and Care…
May God’s peace shine upon you. May God’s love illuminate you. May God’s mercy flow through you. May you be conductors of that abundant love that includes mercy in this reality and into the next. And may all God’s people say: AMEN!
“Sing Praise to God, our highest good,” #6, The New Century Hymnal “Jesus, I live to you,” #457, The New Century Hymnal
“I love my God, who heard my cry,” #511, The New Century Hymnal
Music that fed my spirit: