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Sunday September 20th 2020 – Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

Opening prayer:
God in Christ has revealed his glory.
Come let us worship.
From the rising of the sun to its setting
the Lord’s name is greatly to be praised.
Give him praise, you servants of the Lord.
O praise the name of the Lord!

Psalm: 145:1-8
 1 I will extol you, my God and King,
   and bless your name for ever and ever.
 2 Every day I will bless you,
   and praise your name for ever and ever.
 3 Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
   his greatness is unsearchable.
 4 One generation shall laud your works to another,
   and shall declare your mighty acts.
 5 On the glorious splendour of your majesty,
   and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
 6 The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed,
   and I will declare your greatness.
 7 They shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness,
   and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.
 8 The Lord is gracious and merciful,
   slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

Old Testament: Jonah 3:10-4:end
When God saw what they 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 people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?’

Epistle: Philippians 1:21-end
For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labour for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.
Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well— since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

The Gospel: Matthew 20:1-16
Jesus said ‘For 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 market-place; 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 week's gospel reading is the story of the vineyard owner, who seeks those who will work in his vineyard and to do a day's work and it tells of how through the day he goes to the marketplace to find those who are looking for work and employs them. At the end of the day those who worked for a few minutes at the end of the day, those who worked through the middle of the day, and those who worked all day, each receive the same wage.

And many of us might read that parable with a sense of the injustice of those who had worked all day getting no more than those who worked briefly. It is not fair, it is unreasonable and yet we have to remember that this is a parable, it's a story. And often in Jesus' parables, in Jesus' stories, he so seeks to illustrate the good thing he is trying to say, that he will pull out something negative to help us to understand. So, in the story of the lost son, it feels as though the elder brother gets a raw deal but actually what we're to look at, is how amazing the love of the father is to the lost son. In this parable, we need to focus on the extravagant, the outrageous, the unexpected generosity, grace, and love of God.

So, let us just remember the story again. The labourers do as they do in an agricultural town, they gather at the beginning of each day, hoping that somebody will employ them for the day. And it is all a bit random, maybe, it is a bit like gathering in the school playground wondering who's going to be picked for the team. I was certainly one of those who was amongst the last to be picked, to be the unwanted or the liability, rather than the asset to the team.

And the labourers are waiting to be picked, waiting for somebody to employ them for the day. Their norm is this random lifestyle of day by day, they wait and see who will employ them for that day. And I guess that some workers would have been known for their productivity, for their enthusiasm, for their reliability maybe they did get picked first. But this owner keeps going back and through the day at 9am and noon and 3pm and 5pm he keeps going back.

Whilst the first people employed at the break of day have been given a contract, they will receive a denarius for their day's work. These others are just told they will be paid what is reasonable. I guess they would expect a proportion of a day’s wage tied in with the amount of work they have done. But at the end of the day each receives a day's wage. For those who had worked all day their contract is on it what they had agreed is paid. The master has been reliable and has kept his word. For those who have worked less than a day, they get what they need not what they deserve, but they get a day's wage which means that their families can be fed and that they can be cared for and looked after.

This parable is sandwiched by two similar phrases. At the end of Matthew chapter 19, Jesus reminds his listeners that 'many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.' And this parable ends in a similar way, 'the last will be first and the first will be last.' And we know, and we see in this parable, that Jesus turns values upside down. For the crowd listening to him speak, we have an employer who cares, an employer who is generous, an employer who keeps his word and so those will be upside down values. And then we have the complaint, the 'it's not fair', 'it's not reasonable'. We are reminded that the Kingdom of God works upside down, just as the last will be first and the first will be last; things do not work in quite the way we would expect.

It is not about merit, it is not about what we do, but it is about God's extraordinary, amazing, outrageous grace. In a way for all of us, it is tough, because we are reminded that it is not about what we do, but about who we are. It is a reminder that God's love and God's mercy are undeserved, and that God blesses us even when we do not deserve it.

So, we pray: Lord thank you for this parable and teach us from it in our daily living but teach us in relation to you. To appreciate afresh your amazing grace, your extraordinary love, and your generosity to each of us. Amen.

Archdeacon Andy Wooding Jones

God, who in generous mercy sent the Holy Spirit
upon your Church in the burning fire of your love:
grant that your people may be fervent
in the fellowship of the gospel
that, always abiding in you,
they may be found steadfast in faith and active in service;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

We pray for God’s grace.
Lord, receive our praise
and hear our prayer.

Lord God, through your grace we are your people:
through your Son you have redeemed us;
in your Spirit you have made us your own.

We pray for … (the Church)
Make our hearts respond to your love.
Lord, receive our praise
and hear our prayer.

We pray for … (the world)
Make our lives bear witness to your glory in the world.
Lord, receive our praise
and hear our prayer.

We pray for … (the sick and those in need)
Make our wills eager to obey, and our hands ready to heal.
Lord, receive our praise
and hear our prayer.

We give you thanks for …
Make our voices one with all your people in heaven and on earth.

Lord’s Prayer:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.

Go in strong and growing faith.
Trust in the tenderness of Christ
to heal a bruised and broken world.
Thanks be to God.

Go in eager and refreshing hope.
Work with Christ risen from the dead,
to fulfil the promise of a new creation.
Thanks be to God.

Let us go in peace,
to treasure and to tend the world God made and loves.
In the name of Christ.

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