Making Christ's Love known to All

Morning Prayer for Trinity 15

20 September 2020

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A reading from Jonah, chapter 3, verse 10 to the end of chapter 4.

When God saw what the people of Nineveh 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.

But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry.  He 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.  And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”  And the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

Then 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.  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.  But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered.  When 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.”  But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?”  And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.”  Then 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.  And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”

This is the word of the Lord.
All        Thanks be to God.

 

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A reading from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 20, verses 1-16.

The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard.  After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.  When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’  So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same.  And 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?’  They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’  He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’  When 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.’  When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.  Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage.  And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘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.’  But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?  Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you.  Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?  Or are you envious because I am generous?’  So the last will be first, and the first will be last.

This is the word of the Lord.
All         Thanks be to God.

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May the words of my mouth and the thoughts and meditations of all our hearts be always acceptable in Your sight, O God our strength and our Redeemer.  Amen.

When I was a small child, we lived quite close to my grandparents and every weekend, usually on a Sunday afternoon, we would drive over to spend the day with my Grannie and the evening with my Nana and Grandad – or vice versa.  My Mum and Dad were scrupulous about sharing our time out between them – even though, in many ways, my Grannie needed the company rather more, as she lived alone.  We did our very best to be fair about how we divided up our visits.

I was particularly fond of my Grannie for a lot of reasons.  At least one of those was the magnificent spreads she would lay on for tea!  And another was the fact that, whenever we visited, there was usually a point at which her purse would come out and she would slip my brother and I a 50p piece each to spend on sweets or comics.  50p was a REALLY big deal for a small person back in the 70s!  It was only recently that I discovered that, whenever this happened, she would then sellotape a couple of 50 pence pieces to a piece of card, pop it in an envelope and send it off to my much older cousins in Jersey!  They ALWAYS knew when we had been visiting.

So, like many, many children, I learned my concept of fairness at a very young age indeed.  Children certainly pick up the idea very quickly – how often have you heard the words, “It’s not fair!” coming from somewhere around knee height?  There’s a particular tone of voice that goes with it too!  Children are great ones for fairness, even if, sometimes, they don’t always use it the way we would as adults.

As we grow up, our ideas about fairness become tangled up with our ideas about deserving … or even entitlement.  In both of today’s readings, we find Jonah and the disciples making exactly this mistake.  Jonah isn’t really worried about what is fair when he grumbles about the Ninevites and the bush – in the first place, he’s concerned with whether the inhabitants of the city DESERVE to be forgiven; in the second, he’s mostly concerned with finding a patch of shade to sit and sulk in.  And in the Gospel, the disciples have just been practically bargaining with Jesus to see what they might deserve in return for being the first to follow Him.

What both Jonah and the disciples seem to have forgotten – or perhaps not worked out in the first place – is that, in God’s grand scheme of things, if they were really honest with themselves, they wouldn’t deserve much at all.  It isn’t just the inhabitants of Nineveh and the Pharisees who can’t match up to the standard Jesus sets – it’s them too.  In fact, it’s every single one of us.  Psalm 130 – otherwise known as De Profundis – reminds us:

“If you, Lord, were to mark what is done amiss,

O Lord, who could stand?”

Someone very wise once said that the mark of a Christian is not that we don’t sin – it’s that we are AWARE that we sin.  Psalm 130 goes on:

“But there is forgiveness with You.”

Today’s readings remind us, above all, that God doesn’t keep a tally.  He doesn’t write down our sins in a book and balance them against the good things we have done.  He doesn’t mind how late we turn to Him or how often we need to turn BACK to Him.  God’s grace is for everyone – even the workshy and the notorious Ninevites.  God is utterly, completely fair.  It’s not about our deserving; it’s about how much He loves us despite everything.

Yes, of course, we hope to respond to His goodness with works of service and acts of love and compassion.  But, in the end, they are just that – a response.  They are not and cannot be a way of becoming God’s “teacher’s pet”! 

My Grannie wasn’t a churchgoer – in fact, having lived through the Second World War, I suspect that she didn’t really have much time for God.  But she was a good woman and, in her way, she taught me an awful lot about the nature of God.  We ALL got 50p – whether we were 6 or 16, behaved when we visited or not.  Because she loved us all equally and unconditionally.  That sounds very much like this morning’s parable to me!

Amen.

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Of your charity, please pray for the sick and distressed, among them:

John
Alex
Tony
Gordon
Pam
Katie and Jack
Bob
Rosemary and David
Tori and her family

Of your charity, please pray for those who have died and those who mourn them:

Kathleen Musto (funeral 2 September)
Margaret Martin (funeral 16 September) 

Please pray for our schools:

William Barnes Primary School
Sturminster Newton High School
Yewstock School and College

And for all those starting at college and university in the coming weeks

Please pray for our outreach into the community:

  • For the work of the local Foodbank
  • For all our future plans – that they may evolve and grow, led by the Holy Spirit into new paths