Sermon for September 24th, 2017
The city of Ninevah did not get what it deserved. The bible doesn’t tell us how it was wicked, we don’t know if there was a particular sin they were all guilty of, or if it was just generally a sinful city. All we know is that they weren’t living the way God had called them to live.
It was Jonah’s job to point this out to them. Jonah had been hired or called by God to go to Ninevah and point out to them, not only the fact that they weren’t living right, but also the reality that this couldn’t go on much longer. God was coming and he was going to be judging the actions of the people of Ninevah. The end was nigh and it wasn’t looking too pretty.
Jonah was ready to see these wicked people get what they deserved. He had his viewing stand all picked out: just outside the city on a hill. A nice spot where he could sit and take pleasure in seeing God’s justice pour through Ninevah, cleansing it like a might river. But something happened.
As Jonah was preaching in the town, the people took what he said to heart. They believed him; they repented and fasted and begged God for mercy. They listened to what Jonah said and they changed their ways. My Lord, that is every preacher’s dream. They all got the message. That almost never happens. At least, Jonah certainly didn’t expect it to happen. And because they are able to acknowledge their sin and repent, God shows them mercy. He changes his mind and decides not to destroy the city after all.
Now you might think that Jonah would be proud of a job well done, but no. He is angry. He is angry at God. He’s mad because he wants to see people get what they deserve. He had just warned all those people that they were going to get what they deserved and now, they weren’t getting it. He felt like a fool. He felt cheated. Why should he have done all that work if God was just gonna forgive these people? He could have just stayed at home. He was hoping that he might get to see a few good explosions. Some action. Fire and brimstone. It was hard work, but at least he was gonna get to see some wicked people get what they deserved. And now…nothing. It is just burning Jonah up that God could treat him so unfairly. So he sits there, stewing. God has a bush grow up around Jonah and it gives him more shade and comfort, but inside he is burning up. Then the bush dies and now Jonah is burning on the inside and the outside. And he says to God: “why don’t you just kill me?” You aren’t going to give Ninevah what they deserve and I have a right to be angry because I’m not getting what I deserve as your servant. God says to Jonah: “You are upset about losing the bush, but you didn’t work for it.” In other words, you Jonah did not earn that grace, I gave it to you freely. You did not deserve to sit in the shade. You Jonah are mad because Ninevah is not getting what it deserved, but you are not getting what you deserved either. Stew about that for a while.
The scripture passage ends, but if I were Jonah I would probably go back and remember that I wasn’t always a willing laborer in God’s vineyard. Jonah tried to run away from what God was calling him to do. Jonah didn’t want to work for God. God said go to Ninevah, Jonah said nope, I think I’m gonna head in this direction. Eventually he got himself into some trouble. He tried to sail away, but when the seas got rough, he got thrown overboard. If that wasn’t bad enough he got swallowed by a big fish. He should be dead. He doesn’t deserve to be alive; he is only alive through the grace of God.
You can get mad at God for not giving people what they deserve, until you realize what a blessing that is.
Our gospel story today is the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. The landowner goes out to hire laborers for his vineyard. He finds one group first thing in the morning, then another group later in the day, then later on another group, and so on. At the end of the day, they all get paid the same. The first group, although they were given exactly what they were promised, are angry because the people hired at the end of the day, didn’t have to work as long and still got paid the same. It wasn’t fair. They had been working longer, they deserved more pay. I can identify with their frustration, but then I realized that that is the problem with interpreting this passage. I am trying to identify with the laborers who have been out in the field all day. What if, I’m not a part of that group? What if I’m one of the ones who came to the field later in the day? What if I am one of the ones getting more than I deserve? How does that landowner’s generosity look then?
The landowner is God and the vineyard is his kingdom. I think it is natural to want to identify with the workers who have been serving God all along, but it’s probably not true. No matter how much we have tried to serve God and his kingdom, I think most of us can identify times when we, like Jonah, have been running in the other direction. We want to remember the times when we are running through the streets of Ninevah, proclaiming God’s word, but we forget those times when we were anything but a servant of God. And yet, when we accept God’s invitation, those times when we were standing idly by or running away from him, they are covered by his grace. They are forgiven. And at the end of the day the reward that we receive isn’t what we deserve; it’s more than we deserve.
That is the God that we are here to proclaim: the God that gives us more than we deserve. The God that accepts repentance. The God that chases after us even when we are running in the opposite direction. That is the God we serve.
By accepting God’s invitation; by deciding to serve Christ and his kingdom in this world, you will not be given what you deserve and that is good news indeed. You will be given more than you deserve. Those times when you were standing idly by or serving other masters, that is forgiven and those times are covered by God’s generosity and grace. That sounds like good news to me.
The fact that God promises us eternal life, even though we haven’t earned it and don’t deserve it. That is some good news. The fact that God can forgive me when I acknowledge my sin and repent ; that is some good news. Being able to enjoy something you didn’t work for, that’s like winning the lottery. What a gift God has given us. It’s more than we deserve.
I am not here to serve a God that gives people what they deserve. I am here to serve a God who gives people more than they deserve. I am here to serve a God who has given me, more than I deserve. I serve a generous God.
The Apostle Paul knew that in Christ he was getting far more than he deserved. He could have been content just to accept that grace and receive his reward, but no. He was getting so much more from God than he deserved, that he just couldn’t keep quiet about it. He wanted to keep working in the vineyard, not because he hoped to earn more, but because he had already been given more than he deserved.
That is, I think, why we come here to worship Christ and serve him day after day and week after week. Not because we hope to earn more than others, but because we know that he has already given us more than we deserve.