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Revised Common Lectionary: Exodus 16:2-15; Jonah 3:10-4:11; Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45; Psalm 145:1-8
Matthew 20:1-16; Philippians 1:21-30
In our saga of the Exodus, things have taken a turn for the worse. The people who have fled Egypt, who have been delivered by God and led by Moses, Aaron and Miriam across the Red Sea, are now bitterly complaining. And this complaining will last for forty years! In their cries of hunger God provides bread from heaven to fill them. But the people have cried out in anger to Moses and Aaron (and probably Miriam), and Moses wisely says, “Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.” How often do we complain about lack of leadership in our churches and in our government, but do nothing to bring about change? The Hebrew people could not see how far they had come, could not see the Red Sea they had traveled to or remember the slavery they were delivered from–they could only see the problem they were facing that day right in front of them. No memory of the past and no future outlook–but just the problem that was on their plate (or not!) for the day.
Rather than blaming leadership or lack thereof, rather than working only to change leadership, perhaps we are called to change ourselves. Moses and Aaron call the people to gather bread that God will provide. The people have to work to fulfill their hunger. We have to work to bring about positive change–we have to gather our resources and share what we have with others and work together–not just complain, not just vote people in or out or hire and fire–we need to work together to bring about a greater change–remembering where we have come from, what we have been through–and looking ahead to the future, but working together to bring about change for the day.
If you are following the Old Testament thread of the prophets, Jonah is a great break–included among the prophets in our Bibles, Jonah is really a great old story. This passage is the end of Jonah, showing how easily Jonah (and we as human beings) can be caught up in being right vs. doing right. God does the right thing–listening to the repentant prayers of the Ninevites–and Jonah wants them all to die because that’s what God called him to proclaim. Jonah wants to be right more than doing the right thing. Instead of allowing for people to repent and change, Jonah simply wants to be right and see God punish them.
I see this story of Jonah as a greater story that plays out repeatedly in our faith life. We see it in the lives of the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, those who were so legalistic they wanted to be right instead of doing the right thing and helping the poor and caring for the sick–they wanted to be clean and pure as the law required. We see it today in the life of the church–people want to be right to the point they keep the sick, the addicted and the afflicted out of church. And we see it in society. We become convinced that our ways of thinking are the right ways and we are more concerned about proving that we are right than we are concerned with the well-being of others and doing the right thing to care for their needs.
Psalm 105:1-5, 37-45 recalls the exodus from Egypt in lighter terms than the text from Exodus this week–it recalls how God provided for the people when they “asked” for food. It compliments the story as it recalls how great and marvelous God was and is to the people, but ignores the human failing of complaining and being narrowly focused on the day’s needs.
Psalm 145:1-8 is a psalm of praise to God and how God’s faithfulness shall be shared among the generations, remembering God’s abundant goodness.
Matthew 20:1-16 is the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, where everyone is paid the same wage for working in the field, regardless of when they started. Just before Jesus tells this parable, Jesus teaches that the first will be last and the last will be first. Peter insists to Jesus, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” A rich young man came to Jesus and could not follow Jesus because he could not give up his possessions. Jesus goes on to tell the disciples, and us, that we need to give up our “right-ness.” We need to give up the idea of the first being first. We need to give up the idea that the ways we live in this world will work in the reign of God, because the ways of this world is about being right, having the right things, having the right power. The way of the reign of God is to care for others, to give up power over others and instead use the power we have to do the right things. It is about doing right rather than being right. In this parable, it doesn’t matter when we start following Christ, when we start doing the right thing, when we understand the Way–but the fact is that we are doing it, and we are all doing it together. For those of us who have grown up in the church, it can be hard at times–we may never have that amazing conversion experience. We may not have the big celebration at our baptism nor a moment of spiritual clarity, because we’ve been part of the church for so long everything almost seems routine. But we are all part of the reign of Christ together. We all have the same reward–the promise of new life here on earth and the hope of resurrection. The promise of new life here on earth is available always, and for those of us who grew up always knowing God, always knowing Jesus and the way of Christ, that new life is always available to us now. Let us not tire in doing what is right, and be less focused on being right.
Philippians 1:21-30 is about living in Christ, living for Christ, and living our lives in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ (vs. 27). It is once again about doing right rather than being right. It is living our lives to do this good work that God has given us. And while we live with the hope of resurrection, we have the promise of new life now, here on earth, where the reign of God has come near, and we are called to live and do the right thing now.
Call to Worship:
Leader: A new day has begun, the week has been born.
People: We gather here to renew our spirit and refresh our hearts.
Leader: To-do lists are constructed and tasks are at hand.
People: Let us pause, reflect, and re-create.
Leader: We give thanks for the past, and look with hope to the future.
People: God, fill us with joy for today and strength for tomorrow.
ALL: Come, let us worship our God.
Prayer of Confession:
Great Creator, we come to You in the spirit of confession, knowing that at times we fall short of following Your way. At times we are self-centered and we think only of how events affect us, and we view the world as unfair. We do not always celebrate when others receive blessings that we did not; at times we feel that we deserve more and others deserve less. Forgive us, O God, when we cannot see Your reign on earth, when we cannot see our neighbors in Your light and love. Forgive us, O God, when we are concerned about fairness and being right rather than having compassion and doing the right thing. Help us to celebrate with others and to bear each other’s burdens, knowing that we are all part of this world together, part of Your reign on earth together. In the name of Christ, the Way, we pray all things. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon:
The last will be first and the first will be last in the reign of God, but no one will be forgotten. God knows the number of hairs on your head. God knit you together in your mother’s womb, and God knows your heart. You are no longer lost, but found. You are forgiven, renewed and restored. Amen.
Creator of the Universe, Creator of the seed, You know the ebb and flow of the world. You know when our lives are flowing towards You and when they are flowing away. You know when we are struggling and when we are content. Help us to turn away from the ways of the world that cause us to be selfish, to savor greed and power over others. Guide us in Your ways of love, peace and justice, so that we might participate in Your reign more fully here on earth, as it is in heaven. Grant us the wisdom of the past, strength for today and courage for tomorrow to follow You all of our days. In the name of Christ, our companion on this journey of faith, we pray. Amen.
“Step by Step” is a wonderful song of praise of following Jesus, and so is “Brother (Sister) Let Me Be Your Servant.” “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus,” is a classic hymn of the same theme.
Release Date: October 8th, 2019