Worship Service for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost (Thanksgiving Sunday)

Hi everyone,

Welcome to worship this Thanksgiving Sunday, the 19th Sunday after Pentecost, landing on October 8, 2023!

The bulletin for this service can be found here. In it, you will find the order of worship, the words of the liturgy, the hymn and page numbers out of the ELW, and the full sermon. As always the words you need to know will be on your screen and the sermon is also included on this page below the video.

For a fuller online worship experience, you are invited to light a candle in your space for the duration of the service, and extinguish them when the altar candles are extinguished near the end of the service after the sending hymn. And if you wish to partake in communion, you are welcome to do so by having something small to eat and drink ready to be consumed at the appropriate time. More instruction will be given during the service.

May God’s generous blessing and grace be upon you this day and always!

God of all wisdom, give us your Word and send us your Spirit that we might see, recognise, and know Christ in our midst.  Amen.

AITA… “aita”.  Have you ever heard of it?  It’s sort of a trend on the internet where the Original Poster, the OP, the person who is first to set their fingers on the keyboard, presents a situation that they were in where they reacted in a certain way, perhaps of iffy morality.  And so they ask AITA, as and acronym that stands for “Am I The As…..inine person in this situation?”  So they’re wondering with all honesty if they, in that particular situation, were in the right or in the wrong and they go out to ask for opinions on it on the internet (which we all know is a wealth of decency and integrity).

I come across so many different AITA stories in my travels around the World Wide Web.  I sometimes read them, but I often don’t.  But the few that I have read are usually very relatable situations.  Things like being rude to someone who was rude to them first, or being a bit vocal about a spouse or partner not living up to expectation or predetermined agreements, or openly laughing at people who were making real complaints about real dumb things like a kid making chalk drawings on a public sidewalk.  In all these stories that I’ve read, the OP is asking in hindsight if they should have done what they’ve done and in hindsight, are they, because of what they’ve already done, the ass…et to unbecoming behaviour.

It’s all innocent and in good fun I guess, right?  I mean, we can’t change what’s already happened, but we can learn from the past so we can try not to make the same mistakes.  So we turn to the masses and see what they think.  Nothing wrong with that, right?

But actually, at least with the few that I’ve read, it doesn’t feel like the OP is wanting to learn from the situation.  From the few times that I’ve actually read the comments in which the OP engages in the conversation, more often than not I see them defending themselves or attacking others who don’t agree with them.  So to me, it sounds like they weren’t looking for advice at all, but they were looking for affirmation.  Affirmation on how they were actually the protagonist in their story the whole time, and how they didn’t deserve the treatment that they actually received. 

Because really, no one wants to be the ass…isstant to hard feelings, and so I don’t think we’d naturally go out for confirmation to that regard.  But if we think we’re in the right?  Well we just might go out there and ask the world, or at least that small corner of the internet, how they feel about the OP being wronged and how we should all feel sorry for them and jump up in their defense. 

Basically, the OP is playing the victim.  And the victim deserves sympathy.

And we get a lot of that these days, don’t we?  People playing the victim?  Don’t get me wrong, there are some real atrocious things that happen in the world and there are true victims of crime, violence, and evil.  But for someone complaining to you about your kid misbehaving?  Your spouse feeling a bit annoyed with your constant nagging?  Someone not treating you with the utmost respect all the time?  That’s not really being a victim, that’s more like a first world problem.

That doesn’t stop us from playing the victim though, because like I said, as the victim, we can get sympathy.  And when we have sympathy, we can get people standing up for us, we can get power from pulling on the heart strings of others to get them to do things for us or say things about us that just makes us feel better about ourselves.  That’s what I mean about these AITA OPs that just want affirmation for their own being right in doing what they did.  What a bunch of ass…ociates of guilt.

And really, upon first reading the parable that Jesus gives today, it sounds like the landowner is making his own AITA post.  The landowner, innocently owning a vineyard which is like the most prestigious of yards with all its vines growing on it, keeps getting his servants killed by the people he hired to tend to what is rightfully his.  And even after sending his own son to deal with the situation, thinking his son would be safe from harm, it ends up that the landowner is wrong and his son gets killed too.  So now this rich landowner is wondering what the appropriate “non-A” course of action would be.  The Pharisees that Jesus is talking to, these educated religious leaders and pillars of morality, these gurus of the God-given laws, answer that the landowner must react with anger, retribution, and violence.  No, that’s not an “A” move at all.

But we understand this language, don’t we?  I mean, those tenants of the vineyard had it coming.  They dug their own hole.  They were straight up evil for killing those slaves, for murdering the son, for wanting what quite honestly probably would have been given to them anyway.

Wait, what?  Why would they get the vineyard?  Why would they inherit what isn’t theirs?  Why would they ever deserve these riches?  I mean, they’re the problem of the whole situation.  They were unprovoked and caused unnecessary harm.  They were, no doubt, the “A’s” of this story.  There’s no real saving grace for them here.  Or is there?

While we’d want them to get theirs, God says different.  While we’d want those who do evil to be punished, God does something else.  While we’d want to follow the ways of the world and that those who wronged us will get what they deserve, God reaches out with grace and mercy.  God calls out to invite and welcome.  God continues to love.

I mean, look at the response that Jesus gives to the Pharisees when they say that the landowner should kill the perpetrators.  He quotes Psalm 118, a Psalm of thanksgiving to God for God’s salvation to all, even the most wretched, even the most horrific, even the most ass…ailant to decency.  That means even these awful tenants in the story, that means even these Pharisees who think they know but don’t really know, that means even us.

Ouch.  That’s not fair, is it?  Clumping us in with the sinners, the dissenters, the AITA OPs that play the victim?  Ok, maybe we’re not all that bad, but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t in need of forgiveness.  This is what the Psalm that Jesus quotes is about, it isn’t in our accomplishments that we are blessed by God, it isn’t by our achievements or rewards that we see God’s love for us, it isn’t even by how much validation we get from our peers that tells us what we deserve.  But it’s in the healing from suffering that God is most apparent, it’s in the forgiving of sins that God is most felt, it’s in the blessing in spite of being undeserving that God’s love for us is the most strong, lifting us up from under the burdens that weigh us down, and revealing to us a joy in community and life.

So while we might think that we’ll get what we get by earning or taking, God will give because God loves.  While we might think that we need to follow the ways of the world and give an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, God will forgive because God is gracious.  And while we might think that we need validation from others to tell us that we are indeed ass…uredly good, God will lift us up from our own pits of despair, save us from under the weight of our own guilt and shame, and declare us as God’s own children, welcomed in God’s kingdom, and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ our Lord.

I know, life will continue to seem unfair.  We will keep facing things that don’t go our way and don’t happen the way we want them to happen.  We will fall, make mistakes, and be called worse things than what I’ve been saying this whole sermon.  But through it all, God continues to show us the value and worth we have just for being us, God continues to reveal to us our role in the larger picture of life and community, God continues to love us in spite of our undeservedness, and brings us all into blessing and peace.

On this Thanksgiving Sunday, let us with gratitude give thanks to God for all that God has done, for whether we deserve it or not, we are welcomed, we are saved, we are loved.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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