In pm's words
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September 25, 2017, 7:40 AM

the one about mercy...


Sermon from September 24, 2017

Text: Jonah 3:10-4:11, Matthew 20:1-16

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, there’s this thing about looking back through history. It appears that the further we are removed from the subject we are reading about the more ‘enlightened’ and advanced we believe we are. In some cases, this is true. Our ability to share information, travel quickly, and the use of our modern technology would appear magical to anyone plucked out of time and placed here.

However, for as much as we have advanced technologically there are many areas in our life where we have not moved from very far or really at all. Take our gospel this morning. The story that Jesus tells in his parable is one that still very much applies to today.

How many of us can identify with those first laborers in the field? The ones who’ve been there ‘from the beginning?’ When news spreads of those ‘newcomers’ receiving the same stuff that we were promised – no matter if it is something involving the church or even in those areas outside the bounds of worship and faith – there is a bit of envy (even arrogance) that rises up from deep within us.

Maybe you’ve been in those conversations where you’re talking to someone about this new band you’ve just heard and how awesome you think their music is. Their first response? Oh, I’ve known about them for a long time, but their older stuff is so much better.

A few years back I remember reading a story about a large swath of student loan debt that was forgiven for those who used a specific loan agency. I remember reading that story and the very first thoughts to pop into my head were, “Why not me? I’ve still got a lot of student loan debt? Why isn’t someone helping me out?”

Or perhaps there was that time that I had one of the most contentious conversations I’ve had in the church, where a long-standing member (not here) asked me to ‘talk’ with someone else in the church in order to slow her down from participating and trying to lead in the church. The reason? She hadn’t been here long enough to do that – she’d only been there for 10 years.

In each of those situations, heavy sighs and deliberate eye rolls were queued up and ready to go.

In our readings today, we read again of the mindset our God has with the world that we’re not – for reasons that at times defy me – always comfortable with. Jonah recalls the words that are used the most often in scripture to describe God – for God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. Those words describe God more than any other words in the Old Testament.

Yet, when we actually see and experience God living into those descriptions we can and have become like Jonah and the laborers in the field. Profoundly aghast at what God has done. Lamenting on high about how they didn’t get what they deserve.

Nineveh didn’t get punished for their wicked ways. The laborers who showed up later in the day received the same ‘reward’ as those who had been there from the beginning. Jonah was upset because the citizens of Nineveh – didn’t get it from God. Those first laborers were upset because they didn’t get it from God.

In each faithful story, the response of God is pretty much the same.

So, let me come right out and say it for each and every one of us to hear. These following words are some that even I have to hear (way more than I want to admit at times). Ready?

God. Isn’t. Fair.

Yep, that’s right. God isn’t fair. God’s never been fair. Why? Because God is merciful. Mercy isn’t fair. I think that most of us have experienced mercy as well (and we probably didn’t like it). At least anyone with a sibling. Remember that time when your brother or sister did something wrong and you just knew your parents were going to rake them over the coals? Remember when your sibling apologized and then your parents did nothing to them! Remember how upset you were? That’s mercy. It isn’t fair.

Just as Jonah reminded us again this morning, our Lord isn’t fair, yet God abounds in steadfast love. God is slow to anger. God is gracious and merciful. God is always ready to relent from punishing.

That is who God is.

What would it look like my sisters and brothers if we were able to see and live into that mercy for others? How would our lives and outlooks change if when confronted with those moments of mercy given to someone else we were able to immediately and innately share in their joy?

When I heard that story of debt forgiveness, I was definitely envious. I looked at my sum of debt and acted like a grump. Wanting what they had. It isn’t fair.

When my sister got a cell phone at 16, while I at 20 couldn’t? And the only reason given to me was, “Matt, you wouldn’t get cell signal traveling on 34 going from Newberry to Rock Hill.” It isn’t fair.

The person who grumbles because new people are leading in the church of God immediately as they are welcomed into the fold whereas they felt like they had to ‘serve their time’ first for years. It isn’t fair.

The one who lived their life recklessly and without caution. The one who troubled so many others throughout their life. Who took advantage of people at numerous opportunities. The one who was selfish – that one repents in their late age – maybe at their deathbed – and that person receives the same grace and mercy from God as me? It isn’t fair.

You’re right. It isn’t. It’s merciful. That is who God is.

There are many of us who feel as if we are those first laborers in the field, the ones that have worked from the beginning. Yet, we forget that our God is continually going out and bringing new folks – new laborers – new sisters and brothers – into the kingdom of God. Why? Because there is still work to be done.

That same God – our God – then blesses each of us with mercy and grace.

What would it look like if we remembered and lived into that sort of grace that our God bestows upon each of us? What would it look like if instead of abounding in envy and anger and being slow to love, we followed in our Lord’s path? If we joined our God in the invitation of celebration of God’s mercy’s bestowed upon others? If we remembered each day that God’s love is stronger than punishment and that God is not deaf to the cries of God’s people?

What would it look like if we remembered that that is what the kingdom of God is like?

During Hurricane Harvey there was a story about a bakery in Houston. The owner of that bakery was able to escape to safety. Yet, three employees were trapped and stuck inside that bakery. So, what did they do? They did what they knew and were skilled at; they baked bread. A lot of bread. So much bread that they used up all the flour, sugar, yeast, almost all the ingredients the bakery had. Why? They knew people would be hungry and would need food when the storm finally passed.

The kingdom of God is like that bakery owner who comes back after the storm and sees what his employees have done, noticing the loss of revenue in the store of ingredients that are gone, the lost profit as the bread is freely given to those in need and says, “Good job – give it to these people.”

The kingdom of God is less about ‘fair’ and more about mercy. Are we envious because God is generous?

Sisters and brothers, what would it look like if we lived into God’s mercy for others and God’s mercy for us? Amen.

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