Welcome to worship on this 17th Sunday after Pentecost, September 24, 2023!
The bulletin for this service can be found here. In it, you will find the order of worship, the words and responses to the liturgy, the hymn and page numbers out of the ELW, and the sermon manuscript. All the words that you need to know will be on your screen, and the sermon is also found on this page below the video.
If you would like a fuller online worship experience, you are invited to have a candle lit for most of the service and you may extinguish it near the end after the sending hymn when the altar candles are extinguished. And you are welcome to participate in communion if you wish and feel comfortable, by having something small to eat and drink ready to be consumed at the appropriate time in the service. Further instruction will be given then.
May God’s generosity and grace fill you with joy and peace, this day and always!
Gracious and generous God, may your Word challenge us this day, that your Spirit might blossom in us a yearning for your righteousness and faith, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Throughout our lives we have faced many things. While each of our stories are unique and different, I’m sure that many, if not all of us share some very similar experiences and situations. We’re not so different from each other when it comes to our being human. We’ve had ups and down, highs and lows, joys and hardships. We’ve felt loved and hated, included and excluded, happy and sad. We’ve been pleased with life, displeased with life, and maybe perhaps at times, even angry with life.
I know I have. I’ve been angry at a lot of things before. Really angry, even. But in all my years, in all the things that I have gone through, with all that life has ever thrown at me, not once have I ever felt so angry that I could die. That just sounds like more anger than I’m capable of feeling. Something pretty horrific must have to happen that would grind my gears to that extent. Something pretty infuriating must have to take place to get that far under my skin. Something so awful, so unimaginable, so incredibly bad would have to occur to make my anger so strong that it’d actually kill me. That’s like Incredible Hulk level angry. So yeah, I’m pretty sure I never got to that point before. At least I’ve never turned into a large green gamma radiation infused monster.
However, we do read about this kind of anger in our first reading for today. Jonah, the swallowed-by-a-big-fish guy, claimed not just once, not twice, but thrice, that he was angry enough to die. But what happened to him? What caused his massive indignation? What changed his mind about life that made it no longer worth living? Well, a bush that gave him shade withered up and died, so he was no longer in the shade. Right?? Oh yeah, and he was also a super successful and effective preacher that through his words, a whole village was saved. Yeah, no wonder this guy was mad.
We look at this story and we can’t help but shake our head. We think about the amount of selfishness and self-centeredness it must take to be this angry about these particular situations that really aren’t so bad. We might even think about how it’d be impossible for us to ever feel this way, because we aren’t such unreasonable people.
Or are we?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not pointing my fingers at anyone in particular, especially none of you as you don’t make me so angry that I want to die, but I’m just saying it seems like our society in general can get pretty angry over things… things that I don’t think really warrant that level of anger.
I mean, we have protests, rallies, and movements in the name of this anger. We hear of disputes, violence, and even wars when this anger is allowed to manifest. We see the shaming, accusations and assumptions, and a lot of hate toward the other with whom we just can’t seem to agree with.
So yes, there is a lot of anger in our society. And quite honestly, with many of the issues we face, I see a lot of anger on both sides of the fence. It’s like no one, no matter what they believe or stand for, is free from it. In recent protests, like as recent as this past week, I saw footage of verbal abuse, spitting in spite, and people carrying signs that were just nasty. I saw name calling, finger pointing, and all this hate mongering coming from every which way because it’s like no one can take the time to see and understand where the other side is coming from.
Honestly, if everyone is just angry at everyone else, what’s the point? Can the anger actually be effective and productive in bringing out compromise and agreement? Can the calling each other out actually get people to change their minds? Can the yelling, the condescending labelling, and even the violence that can come out of these disagreements ever bring out rational thought and discussion and a desire to work toward reconciliation?
Anger just begets more anger, really.
But I get it, we can’t always help how we feel. We can’t always control how we react. We can’t exactly tame our triggers and hurts and the injustices against us that lead us down these paths. It isn’t our fault that life can be so unjust, unfair, and have the audacity to treat others as equal to us.
That’s what Jesus’ parable for us today is about, isn’t it? The workers who were chosen first were grumbling about the actions of the landowner, and not because they were being treated unfairly. They weren’t angry because they were getting paid less than what they earned. They weren’t protesting because they were somehow wronged.
No, they were grumbling because others were given as much as they were given. They were angry because their judgement of what others should deserve was wrong. They were protesting because the landowner, the rich one, the one with ultimate power and authority, was generous, gracious, and abounding in steadfast love.
And that, right there, is the problem.
Just like we talked about in the past few weeks, there is a real problem in our society where we’re just taught to see others as worse than us, not as deserving as us, less worthy than us. We’ve learned that we gain more power when those around us have less of it. We’ve been conditioned to believe that the better we are, the more we get and thus those who have less than us aren’t as good as us, don’t work as hard as we do, aren’t human enough. And when we take away the humanity of others, we naturally think that they cannot be as welcomed as we are, as valued as we are, as loved as we are.
To be honest, that’s what I see in these protests and even the counter protests that happen throughout our history and beyond. I see the protesters dehumanizing the other and causing more division and turmoil. I see our want to be praised and others to be cursed keeping us from seeing how we can respect others not just in spite of difference, but because of them. I see this need that we have for us to stay unequal, this insatiable hunger for power, this desire to have those we think are beneath us to be treated unfairly, holding us in captivity of anger and indignation.
See, going back to the parable, those that we hired last were probably exactly that: those that were deemed worthless, not strong enough to get the job done, those that no one wanted to hire because they just weren’t good enough. But this landowner hired them anyway. Sure, it was at the end of the day so they didn’t work as long as the rest, but maybe that was an act of grace as well. He gave them only what they could handle, expecting nothing more than they could do, honoured them for who they are.
And the others were angry at that?
These young, virile, able-bodied workers were grumbling because some old, frail, physically challenged workers were treated with respect? These strong, well-liked, popular people were angry because some weak, over-looked, marginalized people were given some dignity? These privileged folk, in their inability to recognise their own privilege, were protesting against the landowner because some severely underprivileged were shown that even they, in all their shortcomings and difficulties, can be shown grace and love?
I mean, shouldn’t this be a reason to celebrate? Something to rejoice in? Something to be proud of and proclaimed from the rooftops? Our God is gracious and kind, generous and merciful, abundant in blessing and love and all are welcome at the table that is set. All are welcome in the kingdom and family. All are welcome to know and see and feel the salvation of God.
See the thing is, salvation isn’t about what we’ve earned by working hard, but it is literally for those who are unable to save themselves. It isn’t about what we deserve from thinking that we are better than those we despise, but it is for the sinner who can only rely on God’s grace. It isn’t even about following the rules doing what we think we’re supposed to do. Rather, it’s about God deciding to be generous. It’s about God wanting to extend God’s arms in welcome to everyone regardless of class, physical make up, or gender identity. It’s about God being all love for all people for all time.
My friends, this is our God, one who forgives graciously, abounds in steadfast love, and is slow to anger. So maybe we can learn to be as well.
In this season after Pentecost, may we see the equality given to us by God, a God who welcomes, saves, and loves us all just the same. Thanks be to God. Amen.