September 24, 2023
18th Sunday after Pentecost
· Please join us in Calvin Hall following worship today for a time of fellowship.
· Next Sunday, Oct. 1 is World Communion Sunday. We will join with brothers and sisters around the globe to come to the table to receive the gifts of Christ.
· Please sign up for our Fellowship lunch and activity following worship. We will also be passing out the pledge envelopes for 2024.
· Beginning in October: A Butterfly ministry in our basement. You are invited to come help paint butterflies of grace to remind our hurting neighbors of God’s care and of our prayers. Call Shirley Darsidan at 563-613-2850 for more information.
· JoAnn Grimm at Fieldstone Rehab Center in DeWitt.
· Annette Conzett recovering after a fall.
· Joan Pinkston, on hospice.
*CALL TO WORSHIP
Like the Hebrew slaves who escaped from Egypt, we come to be led by our God.
The Lord went before them, a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night.
When they were thirsty God provided water.
When they were hungry God sent both quail and manna.
Even when they complained, God held them close.
Let us come to give thanks to God for the many blessings poured into our lives and for God’s gracious presence leading us forward. Amen
God of Healing and Hope, Come to us this day and infuse us with your Spirit of Grace. Allow us to grasp your amazing capacity for love that we might borrow a bit to shine it forth into the brokenness of our world. Amen
*HYMN Come Sing to God #181
(You may be seated.)
CALL TO CONFESSION
God’s mercy is bigger than we can imagine. We are called to taste the sweetness of this grace by laying down our failings and our guilt. Let us come to our God to confess our sins and be washed clean.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Forgive us, Gracious Lord, for taking your abundance and blessings for granted. Somehow we have gotten the idea that unless it feels like a miracle, it has nothing to do with you. Today we acknowledge that everything pours from your hand. Forgive us for putting our sense of justice above your call to generosity and grace poured out for all your people. Forgive us for our complaints and demands when we have so much and others have so little. Help us to live your kingdom of grace and generosity and to recognize your many blessings. Amen.
WORDS OF ASSURANCE
Christ understands our human experience because he lived it. Yet in him was also the essence of God. He came to take our failings upon himself, to bear what we could not and to release us from our sins. Know this day that in Christ we are God’s forgiven people. Amen
SONG OF PRAISE Gloria Patri #579
PASSING THE PEACE
May the peace of Christ be with you.
And also with you.
PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION
We come, O Lord, to seek the privilege of fully believing in Christ as our Lord and Savior. We come to be enabled to obey you and live your love into our world. Let us hear your word that can fill the hole in our heart and mind. Allow us to joyfully sing your praise in all that we do. Amen.
Exodus 16: 2 - 15
2 In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” 4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. 5 On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.” 6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?” 8 Moses also said, “You will know that it was the Lord when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.” 9 Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’”10 While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud. 11 The Lord said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”13 That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.
Matthew 20: 1-16
20 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius[a] for the day and sent them into his vineyard. 3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went. “He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’ 9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner.
12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ 13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
SERMON It’s Not Fair!
“It’s not fair!” I think all parents hear that complaint on a semi regular basis. It usually comes from the youngster who feels like they have gotten the short end of the stick. Surprisingly, when they have the advantage, it seems totally fair. They can find several reasons why it should be so.
In so many ways we never outgrow that need to receive equal (what we consider fair) treatment and opportunity. If it feels off balance, with us on the bottom side, yelling and complaint is sure to be heard.
Both of our stories today have to do with receiving what we are owed. We begin with those Hebrew run-away slaves. God owes them what they need! After all, they had food and drink and shelter in Egypt. God is the one who pulled them away--God and Moses. So God owed them. In such a short time away they’re already idealizing their experiences in Egypt. “We sat by the flesh pots and ate our fill,” they said. Conveniently, they forgot about the harsh labor, the way their task masters even made them collect their own straw to make the bricks, but still insisted on the same number of bricks to be produced each day. They forgot about not having a voice in what they would do or where they might go. They had forgotten the abuses and humiliations of being a slave. All they wanted was food, but instead of politely asking, instead of patiently waiting for God to provide, they complained, and argued about where was the best place to die! God led them out for life, not for death! God had provided everything they needed—that final awful plague upon the Egyptians while also saving them, his presence to lead them—pillar of cloud during the day and pillar of fire at night, a pathway through the sea that gave them an escape while their pursuers perished. God gave them water in the desert. Ok, at first it was undrinkable, but in a heartbeat, God turned it sweet and thirst quenching.
But instead of that they complained, “It’s not fair. You took us away from the fleshpots in Egypt. Now you have to give us food.” If I were God, I’d be angry with all the complaining. I’d scold or challenge them. I might even hold off another day just to make a point. But we really don’t see an angry God. Rather God makes provisions for both bread and meat. God frames his gift to his people with these words, “I’m going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather for that day. In that way I will test them whether they will follow my instructions or not.”
God will give them what they need, and in the process God is working to train them to trust that each day he will give them that day their daily bread! No storing up. No hoarding. Trust.
So quail descended upon the camp—and the people were able to capture them by hand—Miracle! The next morning they awoke to find a fine layer of bread on the floor of the desert. Miracle! Well, maybe it was a miracle, but here’s the thing. If we only give God credit for those things that are extraordinary and amazing, what about those everyday gifts that flow from God’s hands and offer such blessing and life for us all? Things like the trip to the grocery store and being able to purchase what we need. Things like a paycheck that provides for our family. Things like a roof over our heads that keeps the rain away and keeps us comfortable. Those are from God, as well.
Scholars tell us that in both of these instances there is reason to believe that it’s not outside our natural world. Quail--It’s not uncommon for birds who migrate from the African continent to be blown across the Mediterranean and to be so exhausted from their journey that they can be caught by hand. Manna-There is an insect, a type of plant lice that punctures the leaves of the tamarisk tree to consume the juice. It then excretes a yellowish flake or ball. It is rich in carbohydrates and sugar. It congeals in the cold but disintegrates in the warmth of the day. It is still gathered by natives in that region and they bake it into a bread. They call it manna!
God provides. That the big message, I think. God provided for those ex-slaves and God provides for us. We don’t collect our food from the desert floor. We don’t catch our meat by hand (thank goodness!) But God provides what we need. God gives us the skills and training and opportunities to work. God give us other means when we don’t have a job. God provides, and our response is to be a people who recognize God’s amazing care and who spend less time thinking about why our neighbor has more, and more time making sure others have their basic needs met, too.
But what about when we look around and see others who don’t work nearly as hard as we do, but have so much more—more stuff, nicer stuff, more power, more leisure, more comfort, more fun! It’s not fair! Or what about those who receive equal to us, but they hardly break a sweat, while we have to work long and hard?
Jesus has a word for that. In actuality, the parable presented this day is in response to Peter’s question and concern. Jesus had just told the rich, young man to go and sell all that he had and come follow him. Of course that wealthy person couldn’t do that. Jesus replied that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God. That shocked the disciples. It was so contrary to their thinking. Peter asks, “Look, we’ve left everything and followed you. What then will we have? The answer—they will have abundant brothers and sister, fathers and mothers, and even fields—100 fold. And they will have eternal life. Then the mysterious phrase, “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” What does that mean? So Jesus offers the parable of the laborers in the Vineyard.
All day long the owner sends workers out to tend his vines. Some early in the morning with an agreed wage; others through the day—each group working fewer hours than the one previously sent out. When it was quitting time they are lined up to be paid. Do you notice that the last to arrive are the first to be paid? Those from the morning are present to see, and when they notice that even these very last ones get a full day’s pay their minds begin racing. Woo-eee! They are going to get a bonus! But not. They get exactly the agreed upon price. They get the same as those who worked only a couple hours! It’s the standard wage. It’s enough to purchase food and the necessities for one day. The full day workers get to eat that night, and so do their families. The partial day workers get to eat that night and so do their families.
Jesus is making a point about fairness. God’s generosity rises above our sense of equitable justice. God needs for all his people to have what they need. There is no cosmic score card with goodies passed out in proportion to the work we do on God’s behalf. We’ve all seen televangelists who live in luxurious mansions and fly to vacation spots in their private jet. They say they’ve earned the good life by virtue of the souls they’ve saved. It think God would frown on that. It’ just not the way our God works.
Jesus also wants his disciples and us to know that God’s generosity extends to those people who perhaps led questionable lives. We would probably call them sinners. But at some point, perhaps even as they are approaching the end of their days, they discover God’s love in Jesus and dedicate the remainder of their days to Christ. They, too, are welcomed into God’s grace, into eternal life, just like that person who was a life-long Christian. Just like the Sunday School teacher, the elder, the worker for Christ’s church. God provides what we need. God’s generosity is bigger than our sense of equitable justice.
And that’s the good news for us, too. Because, let’s be honest. Don’t we blow it over and over again? Don’t we make bargains with ourselves, justifying our actions that we know are contrary to God’s call? Don’t we forget the pledge we made? Don’t we turn aside from our brother or sister in need? Of course we do. It’s the nature of our human condition, but in God’s grace we are welcomed back. We’re given what we need, the necessities for our day. It might not be our preference, but these gifts fall from God’s goodness. We’re welcomed back into God’s grace. We’re given work in the kingdom that allows us to know that our lives have meaning and purpose.
Can you imagine the sad state of our world if God gave to each of us only what we have earned? Those Hebrew slaves would never have made it out of the wilderness. They’d be wandering there to this day because of their obtuse defiance of God. We would be cold and hungry, sick and desperate because for every good and positive thing in our life, there are probably 3 or 4 ways that we fail our Lord.
It’s not fair. That’s a child’s squabbling over who gets the last cookie. We the children of God are called to live God’s generosity and grace. We’ve been called to share and reach out to those in need. We’re called to tell the story of our faith and offer God’s love to those we meet. We’re called to live within our faith community in ways that model love and care and grace.
God is here for us. God provides for us. God’s love is that which carries us forward. Let us give thanks for these many blessings poured out upon us. Amen.
*HYMN God, Whose Giving Knows No Ending #422
(you may be seated.)
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.
Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors;
and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, now and forever. Amen.
OFFERING OUR GIFTS TO GOD
*DOXOLOGY Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow #592
*PRAYER OF DEDICATION
*AFFIRMATION OF FAITH (From Matthew 7: 7-11)
We come to claim the words of our Lord and Savior. For Jesus said,
“Ask and it will be given you;
Search and you will find;
Knock and the door will be opened for you.
For everyone who asks receives,
And everyone who searches finds,
And for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Is there any among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?
Or if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake?
If you then who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children,
How much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask?
*HYMN Be Thou My Vision #339
(You may be seated.)
*CHARGE & BLESSING
* Sections of the service preceded with * are times to stand if you are able to do so.
Bold text is to be read together aloud as a congregation.