St. John's Episcopal Church

Sermon for September 24, 2017 

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The Rev. Carol Hancock


St. John's, Centreville
September 24, 2017
Exodus 16:2-15; Matt. 20:1-16
Proper 20 A
     God of new beginnings, meet us where we are in our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
     God's abundant generosity. That's what our Old Testament and gospel lessons this morning are about - God's abundant generosity.
     As we continue with our readings from the Book of Exodus, we find that the Israelites have escaped from the brutal slavery of the Egyptians and they are on their way to the promised land. However, they are over their joy of having escaped from the Egyptians and they have settled into the reality of wandering in the wilderness. Their food has run out and they are worried that they will die of starvation in the desert. So they complain to their leaders, Moses and Aaron, that they have led them out into the desert to die.
     They seem to have quickly forgotten about God's handiwork of getting them out of Egypt by sending the seven plagues to force the Pharaoh to release them and of getting them safely through the Red Sea while the Egyptian army that has followed them are drowned. And God repeatedly tells them that God is with them.
     So God tells Moses and Aaron to tell the Israelites that he will provide food for them - bread in the morning and meat in the evening. But they must only take enough for that day. If they take more and do not use it, it will spoil. Their dependence for their lives and their survival must be on God alone, each and every day.
     God's abundant generosity. God hears the complaints and grumblings of the Israelites and God provides for them. Then they will know that he is the Lord, their God.
     God gives to them out of the abundance of God's grace and mercy. The Israelites don't have to earn God's love. They don't have to deserve it. It is freely given.
     As we move on to our gospel lesson, we find the same theme - God's abundant generosity. The landowner goes out to find laborers to work in his vineyard. He tells those who are hired early in the morning that he will give them the usual daily wage. A few hours later he hires more laborers and agrees to pay them "what is right", not a specific amount. He tells the same thing to those he hires throughout the day. As the work day ends, he tells his manager to pay the most recently hired first. He gives them the usual daily wage, so when those who have worked the whole day come for their payment, they are surprised and angry that they are not paid more than those who only worked a few hours. "It's not fair," they said. "We spent the whole day in the scorching heat, working hard, and yet we are only paid the same as those who came in at the end of the day."
     But the landowner replies, "I paid you what I promised you. Why should you be upset? I chose to give the last workers the same pay I gave you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?"
     We live in a world where we want things to be fair. You have to work for what you earn. There's no free lunch. Everything you get has to be earned or deserved.
     But that is not the case in the kingdom of God. God's love and generosity are freely given to all. We don't have to earn it or deserve it. It's right there for us to take by God's grace. Our loving God is free to be extravagantly generous, giving us more than we deserve. This grace isn't earned but is freely given. God gives because the nature of God is love, and the principal quality of love is to be gracious.
     We live in a world where there is a sense of entitlement. Just listen to the commercials on the radio or TV. You deserve that new car or latest Iphone or biggest house or whatever the newest gadget is. Because that is what will make us happy, they say. Well, NO. Things may make us happy for a short while, but then we grow bored and we want the next new thing. God wants us to be happy and to enjoy some things. But we need to keep things in perspective.
     We are not entitled to anything. God has given us everything we have and everything we are. We don't deserve it. We haven't earned it. But because of God's abundant generosity, God freely gives us God's love and grace.
     It is our relationship with God, at the core of our being, that will make us happy and grateful for what God has given us. It is what is going on in the depths of our souls that will lead us to a purposeful and satisfying life, not the kind of car we drive.
     In this world, we don't like to see others have more than we have. It's not right, it's not fair, we say. We deserve it more. We have worked harder. So we collect more things - more and more, just to keep up with the Jones'.
      But when is enough enough? How much of our lives are we surrounded by the sounds of greed, of war, of selfishness, of wanting and getting everything we want, sometimes at the cost of relationships with others?*The Lord's Prayer says "Give us this day our daily bread". Not "give us all the food we need now so we can depend only on ourselves". Our dependence on God must be realized every day of our lives. Giving bread and meat to the Israelites every day revealed to them who God is - a sustainer in the wilderness. It was enough for them to survive. It was subsistence living.
     Can you imagine what this world would be like if everyone got only what they needed - plenty but not too much? We would have no millionaires and no poverty. We would have no huge mansions and no homelessness. We would have no obesity and no hunger. Plenty, but not too much.
     To me, that sounds like the Kingdom of Heaven. Everyone has enough but not too much. And all are loved equally. Human standards are not used to judge God's generosity. The abundance of God's love and generosity is the only thing that matters.
      Like the parable of the laborers in the field, we don't need to be concerned with what someone else has, how much someone else is making and how hard they did or did not work for it. Let's focus instead on God's abundant generosity. Let's focus on how we live out the call we've received from God - a calling to be people of faith and love and generosity in a world that so desperately needs it*. Amen.
*ideas taken from "Synthesis" - Proper 20, Year A; article by Susanna Metz
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