Led by: Revd Dr Carla Grosch-Miller
Jonah 3:10-4:11; Psalm 14:1-8; Philippians 1:21-30; Matthew 20:1-16
Prayer before worship
You who breathed peace into the fear and worry of the first disciples, breathe peace now into us. Receive us in love and patience. Be the firm ground on which we can stand. Fill us with the peace that passes understanding. Amen.
Call to Worship
This is the day the Lord has made;
we will rejoice and be glad in it. [Ps 118:24]
Great is our God and greatly to be praised! [Ps 145:3]
We gather in joy and thanksgiving
in this place and in our homes,
to find the calm in the storm,
to praise and to pray,
and to remember who we are
and whose we are.
Prayer of Adoration and Confession
Great and gracious God, beyond our full understanding yet as close to us as breath, we come together this day in gratitude. We are grateful for having made it to this day, grateful for the measure of health and plenty we enjoy, grateful for the love of family and friends, grateful for a world that is beautiful and bountiful, a world you created in love, a world you continually recreate and renew.
As the storm of the pandemic continues to swirl around us, in the midst of challenge and change, your steadfast love is our anchor. We say with the psalmist The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. [Ps 145:8] We know our need of your grace and your mercy. We breathe in your peace as we struggle and strive to live wisely and fruitfully in these times. We cannot do it without you. You are our solid ground, though the earth shakes and trembles. We trust you. We trust your presence alongside us, giving us what we need, encouraging us into our best selves.
We confess that we ourselves tremble. We feel trapped by the pandemic, cloistered away from those we love, afraid of what could happen. In our focus on survival this day, we find it difficult to lift our eyes to a greater horizon. Our focus narrows: we are stuck in the perception that what matters most is the welfare, comfort and convenience of ourselves and those we love. We know those are important, but we also know that there is a wider world in need of our love and attention. And so we ask again: breathe your peace into us. In this moment of silence, as we inhale and exhale, fill us with that peace and with the promise that you will accompany us into each new day. [Silence]
Release from all fear and guilt, and shape us for your future. And hear us as we pray the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray together, a prayer heard round the world from many lands and in many tongues, Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.
Assurance of Grace
Hear the good news of Jesus Christ: When we turn towards God in need or in guilt, God meets us in mercy and lifts us in love. In Christ we are a new creation. Thanks be to God!
Musical Meditation: Be still for the presence of the Lord
Paul Hartley on organ
Chapter 3, vs. 10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
Chapter 4, vs. 1 But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. 2He 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. 3And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’ 4And the Lord said, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’ 5Then 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.
6 The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. 7But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. 8When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, ‘It is better for me to die than to live.’
9 But God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?’ And he said, ‘Yes, angry enough to die.’ 10Then the Lord said, ‘You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labour and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?’
Chapter 20, vs. 1 ‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. 2After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage [a denarius], he sent them into his vineyard. 3When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the market-place; 4and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went. 5When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” 7They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.” 8When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the labourers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.” 9When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage.* 11And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12saying, “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.” 13But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?* 14Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” [Is your eye evil because I am generous?] 16So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’
I hope that you are finding a bit of equilibrium after the announcement Thursday of new restrictions. While I anticipated the possibility, I was surprised at how destabilising it felt to me. We need sea legs for this storm of a pandemic!
Today our scripture readings include the end of the Jonah and the Whale story and a parable of Jesus that a lot of us struggle with. I want to look at the texts for what they say about how we think and respond to things we don’t like or understand, taking the phrase from the mouth of Jesus Is your eye evil?
There is a lot of evil eyeing in the readings this morning. Jonah would have loved to give all of Nineveh the evil eye, and maybe even to give it to God. Sulking under the bush, angry that God had saved the city of Nineveh – the city of the enemy who destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel, Jonah was blinded by his anger, his own eyes full of evil. To help Jonah see his blindness, God raised up a bush to provide shade and then gave it the evil eye and it shrank. The book ends there. We don’t know if Jonah got it. For all we know he died a miserable old git, still angry, still unable to grasp the wonder of a God who does not give up on anyone, a God who seeks to save and to enlist every human being into the love that knows no end.
In the parable of the labourers in the vineyard, a parable that begins the kingdom of heaven is like…., those labourers who had worked all day and been paid a day’s wage too were giving the evil eye, to those who had worked fewer hours and received the same wage. They too were blinded by anger, by a sense of unfairness. In one translation from the Greek, Jesus says to them Is your eye evil because I am generous?
A few years ago I led a retreat on the parables of Jesus in Pitlochry for the Christian Women’s Fellowship. In one session we acted out this parable. Oh, did I see some evil eyeing! Those first-to-the-field labourers were not happy. And some of them remained unhappy. In the discussion after the drama, a few remained convinced that Jesus had it all wrong. It was simply unfair. Life is not supposed to be like that. People should get paid for the work they actually do.
We are often blinded to what God is up to….by our assumptions about how the world should be, or what certain people are like; by strong feelings – anger, fear, anxiety; by the prison of self-concern. Jonah knew, was certain, the Ninevites were not worthy of God’s mercy. The first-to-the-field were sure they knew what was right. They were angry that the landowner had made those people who did not work all day “equal” to them.
Wrapped up in ourselves, in what we want or think we need, we can’t see the bigger picture. The “way things are” presents itself as the “way things should be”, the only way they can be. If the system has worked for us, we’re not eager to see that it might not work for others. Those labourers in the field were day labourers; their pay, a denarius, was hardly sufficient for them to feed themselves. In the kingdom of heaven, as God sees it, it matters more that each has enough than that someone’s idea of fairness is upheld.
What would it take to be able to see as God does, to be freed of our assumptions, strong opinions and emotions, our blindness, our evil eyes?
Surely first we need to calm and quieten our strong feelings – breathing deeply, so that our thinking brains can come to the fore. Whenever we are caught up in strong feelings, our emotional brains take over and shout out our thinking brains. That is why we are liable to say hurtful or unthinking things when we are all riled up. We also need to be willing to let go of what we think we know, to hold our opinions perhaps a little more lightly, to remember that we do not know everything and that we are not God.
Then I think the route to the eye includes the ear. The theologian Paul Tillich says The first duty of love is to listen. I imagine one of those first-to-the-field labourers sitting down with someone who perhaps had been lingering at the hiring spot all day and was finally hired in the last hours. He hears her story, discovers that she is a widow, supporting her aged mother and five children. He puts himself in her shoes, sees the gratitude in her eyes for a day’s wage despite only working part of the day, realises he may have been wrong.
The kingdom of heaven is come when we reign in our strong feelings and strong opinions, take a breath, and lean in towards others – ready to listen, seeking to understand, wanting to see with the eyes of God. This is inner work, spiritual work.
I want to release my own evil eye, to see the world with the eyes of God, in the light of Christ. I know it will break my heart sometimes. I know it may overwhelm me with sorrow or with joy. I suspect strongly that it will change me. But mostly, having seen with the eyes of God, I want to be moved to share the generous love of the heart of God.
May it be so for the church of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Hymn Christ be our light
The Virtual Choir
Prayers of the People and Dedication of Offering
Let us pray:
Compassionate and caring God, we come before you this morning during these strange times – sometimes quick to criticise and judge those around us without realising how each of our circumstances are so different. Just like Jonah at Ninevah and the workmen in the vineyard in Matthew’s gospel we forget that each person’s situations are different. You have your own ways we often find difficult to understand. Please help and guide us to be more sympathetic to others’ needs.
The world seems to be in turmoil – climate change which is affecting our Earth; the melting glaciers, the raging fires, extreme temperatures. We pray you will guide us to try and ease this worldwide situation.
Then we hear of countries which are struggling – trying to create peaceful situations. Guide and inspire world leaders to do right for the benefit of all their peoples.
Oh! Loving God you remind us that “the first must be last and the last must be first”. Help us to “walk a mile in their shoes”: the refugee who has lost everything; those struggling with mental health problems because of the isolation experienced during lockdown; the separation of family units because of this virulent virus; the ongoing problems of the homeless; the marginalised; then the minority groups in our communities.
We are grateful to the volunteers and the professional people who keep our daily life ”ticking over” in these exceptional times.
At St Andrew’s we are thankful to be able to meet with you in this building – the feeling of comfort and hope that things will get better.
We know all our monetary offerings, both in the plates each Sunday, as well as the generous gifts received on a weekly basis, represent our love and gratitude to you. Bless these offerings to be used in your work at St Andrew’s and in the wider field.
And, lastly, ourselves: give us courage, strength and hope to continue this strange journey knowing your love will develop and sustain our faith.
We humbly ask all these things in and through your son, Jesus Christ, who gave the ultimate sacrifice for us.
Dismissal and Blessing
May the heart of God dwell within us,
the mind of Christ unite us, and
the wisdom of the Spirit guide us
as we go forth to love and serve the Lord.
Exiting hymn Forth in the peace of Christ I go
The Virtual Choir
Words and Music reproduced under CCLI 213535 / One License A-632495