Wow, it has been such a very long time since I've posted a sermon. I don't write them at all anymore, so we'll see how this goes, just jotting down some random thoughts and notes that I probably said today -- though since I don't even make notes, this will be the first I've written at all about these readings. For those of you who don't know this, in the Episcopal Church we read (and preach from) readings that are assigned each week; the "assignment list," which rotates the same readings on a 3-year cycle, is called our lectionary. And this week, the lectionary gave me these: Exodus 16:2-15 (the Israelites getting manna from heaven) or Jonah 3:10-4:11 (Jonah's final 2 temper tantrums, after God spares Nineveh); Philippians 1:21-30; and for the Gospel, Matthew 20:1-16 (the landowner paying all the workers a full days wage, regardless of whether they worked a full day or only an hour). I had to address both the Exodus and Jonah from the Old Testament, as I serve 3 different congregations, and one of them used the Exodus, while the other two used Jonah. But this week that was easier than most, because the theme is the same. I usually try to incorporate all 3 readings into my preaching; usually there's a theme, and the 3 readings all elaborate that theme on multiple levels. But today it was mostly Old Testament and Gospel.
I love to preach about Jonah, first of all because the story is so short that I get to tell the whole thing, just to remind people about who Jonah really was. It's a great chance to show the humor in the story, and let people know that it's okay to laugh at some of these biblical characters. Jonah is certainly worth a chuckle or two, and I love adding a few dramatic flourishes, like clutching my chest, gazing up to heaven, and saying, "Okay, God, just kill me now!" (Which Jonah actually does say at least a couple of times.) But mostly I love Jonah because God really is patient and gentle and long-suffering in response to Jonah's stubborn self-will and temper tantrums. Just like I feel like God's really patient and long-suffering with me in my own stubborn willfulness. And I love Jonah for his whining and complaining and arguing with God; I think God just really wants us to be in relationship with God, and to be honest, even if it's through whining and complaining sometimes.
And for me, the Gospel was also about the laborers who worked all day whining and complaining about their pay, when they got the same as the ones who only worked an hour. I pointed out the historical context, that Matthew was almost certainly a Jewish Christian, preaching to other Jewish Christians about how it could be that Gentile Christians could be full members of the church, without even being circumcised. These "newcomers" get the same "pay" (or grace) as the Children of Abraham (who've been in the field all day).
So it's all about whining, and how (we see in Jonah) that it's okay to whine, and that God's response is generally a kindly, patient "It's none of your business" (how God's grace gets dispensed, and it will usually be given abundantly, even in ways that look really unfair to us sometimes). And for my part, I'm so glad it's okay to whine (because I do so much of it), and that God dispenses mercy and grace abundantly, despite how I can be.
Of course I didn't mention all those times when God also seemed to get fed up and struck people dead.