16th Sunday after Pentecost
Repentance, Reversal, and Surprise
Morning Prayer with Sacrament Reserved
God changed his mind. Jonah 3:10
Friend, I do you no wrong. Matthew 20:13
The Invitatory and Psalter
V. O Lord, open thou our lips.
R. And our mouths shall show forth your praise.
V. Glory be to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
R. As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Alleluia
Jubilate Psalm 100
1 Be joyful in the LORD, all you lands; *
serve the LORD with gladness and come before his presence with a song.
2 Know this: The LORD himself is God; he himself has made us; we are his *.
we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.
3 Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise; *
give thanks to him and call upon his Name.
4 For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; *
and his faithfulness endures from age to age.
The Lord is in his holy temple. Come let us adore him.
Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45
105:1 O give thanks to the LORD, call on his name, make known his deeds among the peoples.
105:2 Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wonderful works.
105:3 Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.
105:4 Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually.
105:5 Remember the wonderful works he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered,
105:6 O offspring of his servant Abraham, children of Jacob, his chosen ones.
105:37 Then he brought Israel out with silver and gold, and there was no one among their tribes who stumbled.
105:38 Egypt was glad when they departed, for dread of them had fallen upon it.
105:39 He spread a cloud for a covering, and fire to give light by night.
105:40 They asked, and he brought quails, and gave them food from heaven in abundance.
105:41 He opened the rock, and water gushed out; it flowed through the desert like a river.
105:42 For he remembered his holy promise, and Abraham, his servant.
105:43 So he brought his people out with joy, his chosen ones with singing.
105:44 He gave them the lands of the nations, and they took possession of the wealth of the peoples,
105:45 that they might keep his statutes and observe his laws. Praise the LORD!
The Lord is in his holy temple. Come let us adore him.
The Old Testament Lesson: Jonah 3:10-4:11
3:10 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.
4:1 But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry.
4:2 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.
4:3 And now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
4:4 And the LORD said, “Is it right for you to be angry?”
4:5 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.
4:6 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.
4:7 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered.
4:8 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.”
4:9 But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.”
4:10 Then the LORD said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night.
4:11 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?”
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Hymn: Praise, my soul, the King of heaven Henry Francis Lyte Hymnal 1982 # 410
Praise, my soul, the King of heaven;
to his feet thy tribute bring;
ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,
evermore his praises sing:
Praise the everlasting King.
Praise him for his grace and favor
to his people in distress;
praise him still the same as ever,
slow to chide, and swift to bless:
Glorious in this faithfulness.
Father-like he tends and spares us;
well our feeble frame he knows;
in his hand he gently bears us,
rescues us from all our foes.
Widely yet his mercy flows.
Angels, help us to adore him;
ye behold him face to face;
sun and moon, bow down before him,
dwellers all in time and space.
Praise with us the God of grace.
The New Testament Lesson: Philippians 1:21-30
1:21 For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.
1:22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer.
1:23 I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better;
1:24 but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you.
1:25 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,
1:26 so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.
1:27 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,
1:28 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.
1:29 For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well–
1:30 since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
We will extol you J. Nichol Grieve Hymnal 1982 # 410
We will extol you, ever-blesséd Lord;
your holy Name for ever be adored;
each day we live our psalm to you we raise;
you, God and King, are worthy of all praise,
great and unsearchable in all your ways.
Age shall to age pass on the endless song,
telling the wonders which to you belong,
your mighty acts with joy and fear relate;
praise we your glory while on you we wait,
glad in the knowledge of your love so great.
You, Lord, are gracious, merciful to all,
close to your children when on you they call;
and slow to anger, merciful and kind,
in your compassion we your blessings find.
We love you with our heart and strength and mind.
The Gospel Lesson: Matthew 20:1-16
20:1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.
20:2 After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.
20:3 When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace;
20:4 and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.
20:5 When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same.
20:6 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?’
20:7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’
20:8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’
20:9 When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.
20:10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage.
20:11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner,
20:12 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.’
20:13 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?
20:14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you.
20:15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
20:16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise be to you, Lord Christ.
Sermon: The Last Will Be First
One learns, in elementary school when one’s last name comes near the end of the alphabet, as mine does, to love this gospel passage, “The last will be first.” Oh, what a dream that would’ve been – even to think about it makes me smile. Oh, the joy of having the W’s called first or even fourth, instead of 23rd. Imagine getting to the front of the school lunch pizza line and they still have pepperoni left, or being close enough to the beginning when they handed out stringed instruments to get a chance at the cello or the violin. Imagine getting a seat at the front of the classroom, where the Adamses and the Bellamies and Davidsons sat, and not back in the back with the Zataweszkis and the Yellermans, where it was hard to see and hard to hear. Though Tony Zatawezski and Susie Yellerman are still friends of mine, we do still laugh sometimes about how hard it was to get anything done at the back of Ms. Livingston’s third grade classroom, what with Joey Walker, who sat back there with us, having what we would now diagnose as ADHD and being unable to either sit still or pay attention for long.
I’m also not 100% over how Joey got the last cello the handed out that year – he being two people ahead of me in string class line that year, and the violins having run out by the time they got to Stephanie Vantz, now of blessed memory – even though I had a lovely childhood and adolescence playing the viola, even making it to several All-State Orchestras and the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony while in high school. Joey didn’t stay with the violin, of course, and he remembers school as being far less pleasant than I do, for all the distractions when we were nine. We’ve also become friends, later in life, thanks to the wonders of social media, and laugh now and then about how I remember, and he does not, the smirk on his face when he picked up that last cello. “When it came to class rankings,” he said to me once, “I was still at the back, like I’d been since they ordered us by last name. You were all the way up front when it was our numbers – our GPA – not our names, that counted.” Having worked hard to be first in my class, see, but only making it to second, to a woman who is now a successful biochemist, dontcha know, I’d never thought about what it would be like to have done the best you could and still rank no higher than the 250s, with an undiagnosed learning difference and an abusive, and absent, father making your and your mom’s lives miserable every day and in no way helping your with algebra or history homework.
Joey Walker had it hard, for all that he could style his hair like the Fonz, much to the delight of our female classmates, and had his own car at 16 to take them out in, even though it didn’t run all that well. Of course, he tended to make it “stall” in remote, out-of-the-way places, so that there wasn’t much for him and the girl he was with to do as it were, other than…well, that, while they waited for the jumper car or the tow. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may? Oh, thinking back on those days I can still feel how readily I gave in to resentment far more often than I cultivated generosity, not so much counting my blessings and noting how nice it would be to have more of them, dammit, why can’t I have what he got? Also, and I’m ashamed that it was so, I tended to lack compassion for those who couldn’t do even with effort what came to me easily. “People noticed,” Susie said once. “It was the one thing we really didn’t like about you.”
That still stings, and it should. She’s a successful realtor in Florida now, even though her marriage to Tony didn’t work out, like in the Billy Joel song it doesn’t for Brenda and Eddie. Tony’s doing okay out in Phoenix, and Susie has a happy second marriage, a thriving family and a beautiful home on the Gulf Coast. Joey’s turned into a wonderful husband and father, too. Once he grew up and had a family of his own, still back in the ‘burgh, he promised he’d be present, supportive, and kind, since his own father hadn’t been. He’d seen enough tears in his mother’s eyes and heard enough of her muffled sobs to ever forget how much it hurts when someone you’ve loved and trusted turns out to be your worst nightmare. It thrills me to no end to see him happy, and to wish I’d been kinder to him way back when.
The day laborers in this gospel passage didn’t have nightmares like Daddy Walker this to deal with, just the usual run of uncertainty and impending poverty that ever besets the working class, not to mention the often arbitrary whims of their employers. The expendability of workers in the eyes of employers, and the relentless drive to drive down workers’ wages and prevent their improving their conditions, are one of the saddest similarities between Jesus’s time and our own, and perhaps of every time. The generous employer in this passage whom Jesus likens to whoever’s in charge of the kingdom of heaven is far better than most – heaven-sent, indeed, actually caring for those in his employ and those who might be. He makes sure that each laborer as what she or he needs, paying each the same wage (the “usual daily wage,” which was not all that much, tbh) no matter how long he or she worked in the vineyard that day. That’s not only generous, but wise. See, the Holy Land in Jesus’s time lacked any form of unemployment insurance, and like ours did not guarantee anyone a livable wage or a minimum standard of living, so unless these people who were able and clearly willing to work got paid somehow, they’d have no way to feed themselves or their families. Thus, if you provide for people when no-one else will, they’ll remember that. More often than not they’ll hold, not bite, the hand that feeds them, and return in their gratitude far more to you than ever you gave them. The Christian church grew by leaps and bounds whenever it treated people this way in ancient times, and in the times that followed.
The anxiety of having to work to survive and having that work spotty and arbitrary, and its cost to individuals and the common good, are hard to overstate. I, for one, have found it far easier to be productive and effective in a job when I don’t have to constantly watch my six, look over my shoulder to wonder who’s going to try to get one over on me today, try to do me out of my job or my pay, manage incompetently or malevolently in order to make me look bad and themselves look good, or try to make me sing and dance and give them off-book OT just so I can get what I’m already owed, all with the sword of involuntary unemployment, redundancy, and the all-licensed at-will employer hanging over me. Anxiety at work, and when one lacks work, benefits no-one and, in my experience, motivates no-one. By contrast, security does. A laborer whom one pays enough to live on today, even if for less work than another has done, is far more likely to be here tomorrow and be all the more ready to hit the vineyards or the grain fields than is one who’s been peevishly paid or has had to go without. Much as those companies who treat their employees well do better overall, and cost the taxpayer and consumer less, than those who abuse their workers, so too is this generous winemaker likely to have loyal and competent laborers in his vineyard, doing what he wants because they want to, and making it better for their employer and themselves and whoever it is will buy and drink this wine in the process.
Yes, the generous and enlightened employer is one whom many would do well to emulate, ensuring that he does well by doing good, that the rising tide of his generous labor policy lifts all boats, not just his own. For when the last are first and the first are last, what that really means is that everybody has it the same – the same wage for however much you worked that day, the same grace and salvation in life no matter how soon you accepted them or how badly you’d lived before you did so. Just as in Christ there is no east or west, north or south, male or female, Jew or Greek, slave or free, so too in Christ is there no first and no last, just all of us together, distinct and yet as one, equal before God as before the law, and because equal, because having been given the same grace and the same salvation that we all need, free – and in Paul’s words, free to believe in him and to suffer for him, equal in that way, too, as many martyrs tell.
The generosity of God, and the parsimony of people, are also with us today in the reading from Jonah. It’s come to be my favorite part of the book, mostly because people often overlook it, and it doesn’t involve a whale. Here we have laid before us one of the most honest and forthright discussions of sin and salvation that there is, as well as God’s continuing generosity as a teacher with high standards and yet a willingness to do whatever’s necessary to convey the lesson.
See, what happened was was that Jonah was supposed to go to Nineveh, the Sin-city capital of the jackboot empire of Assyria, and tell the people that the Lord, the only true god there was, had had enough of their wicked ways and was about to go all Sodom and Gomorrah upon their might and main. Instead of delivering such inconvenient truths to the power-that-was, Jonah runs away, sails away, and then is whaled away, until he repents and goes to do what the Lord asked. Then, surprise: it works. The people of Nineveh repent. The Lord is happy. But Jonah is not. He was looking forward to seeing the city burn and the sinful people in it wail in despair, and now he won’t get the chance. For this, he thinks, I suffered inside that smelly, dark cetacean? To see the Lord not wreak vengeance upon his enemies, and mine? If he won’t get rid of them, what’s the point? Lord, smite them, or smite me, he says. I don’t want to live in a world where the unrighteous get saved and the wicked are forgiven just because they repented of their sins only at divine gunpoint, as it were.
But they did, said the Lord right back. And they meant it. Get over it.
Jonah did not get over it.
So the Lord decided to teach Jonah a lesson about love. Jonah didn’t see it coming; God’s lessons are like that. He sent Jonah outside and then gave him a plant, a bush that he, Jonah, came to love very much – and the he, the Lord, destroyed it. “See,” said the Lord, “What your love is worth? It can neither make the plant grow nor restore it without my say-so. Yet, powerless to bring the plant back to life, you mourn it nonetheless, because you liked what it did for you.
“Imagine how I feel,” the Lord went on, “When the people I made out of my overwhelming love turned against me, each other, and all that is good, making a hell out of the heaven I gave them. You think a dead bush is reason to cry; imagine for a moment a city of dead hearts, desiccated souls, and dried-up, cruel, selfish, competitive and abusive people who go out of their way to hurt and exploit one another. Imagine how I feel knowing that I, the God of the universe, have only two things I can do about it: wipe them out, or try to convince them to turn themselves around.
“The first I have done,” the Lord continued, “but all that leaves me are valleys of dried bones and pillars of salt on the hilltops and mountainsides. Can love be satisfied with that? No. It gives me no joy to wreak vengeance, not once the smoke clears. No, the only satisfying way to deal with people who’ve gone bad is to get them to come back, choose the good, repent in their hearts and with their minds, and really mean it. This is what I have done to Nineveh – and what you, Jonah, helped me do in Nineveh. They’ve repented. They don’t have to die. They’ve come back around. Please, please, please, do the same. Do not long to see me deal out death and judgment, but rather that I restore to life those who have died inside, that I heal them and make them whole.”
There wasn’t much that Jonah could say to that, and so the book ends abruptly, with the Lord having the last word, which he shall likely have with respect to all of us. Yet I think the overwhelming power of the story is well worth thinking about carefully, and often: God does not want people to come to harm, even when they do harm. He would that it had not been done, and would that they, that we, repent, truly repent, and go forth and sin no more, living lives worthy of the gospel of Christ, to quote Paul again, meaning lives steeped in love, wisdom, where necessary sacrifice, graciousness, and the truth.
I think I would’ve had a better adolescence, and been a better friend, had I more often chosen generosity and understanding, instead of resentment and pride, in my youth. I know I’ve been a better friend to my classmates as an adult than I was in my tweens and teens. I am grateful that they were generous with me as I finally matured – mellowing, even while thickening. As Bob Dylan writes in a lovely, looking-back-on-it-all song called “My Back Pages,” “I was so much older then; I’m younger than that now.” If that’s what it takes to make the last be first and the first be last, as Jesus said, then so be it.
Let the people say, Amen.
A Statement of Faith, A Song of God’s Love (1 John 4:7-11)
Beloved, let us love one another, *
for love is of God.
Whoever does not love does not know God, *
for God is Love.
In this the love of God was revealed among us, *
that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that God loved us *
and sent his Son that sins might be forgiven.
Beloved, since God loved us so much, *
we ought also to love one another.
For if we love one another, God abides in us, *
and God’s love will be perfected in us.
A Collect for 16th Pentecost (Proper 20)
Grant us, O Lord, not to mind earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to cleave to those that shall abide; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
A Collect for Grace
Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
A Collect of Invitation
Friends in Christ,
God invites us to hold the needs of our sisters and brothers
as dear to us as our own needs.
Loving our neighbors as ourselves,
we offer our thanksgivings and our petitions
on behalf of the church and the world.
Hear our prayers, God of power,
and through the ministry of your Son
free us from the grip of the tomb,
that we may desire you as the fullness of life
and proclaim your saving deeds to all the world. Amen.
A Prayer after St. Alphonsus
O Jesus, you are present to us in the blessed sacrament. We love you above all things, and desire to receive you into our souls. Since we cannot at this time share your sacrament, let your spirit dwell within our hearts. Let us welcome you as one already with us, making us one body and one spirit, never to be parted from you. Amen.
Closing Hymn: Hark the voice of Jesus calling Daniel March LEVAS # 126
Hark! The voice of Jesus calling,
Who will go and work today?
Fields are ripe the harvest waiting,
Who will bear the sheaves away?
Loud and long the Master calleth,
Rich reward He offers free;
Who will answer, gladly saying,
‘Here am I, send me, send me.’
Let none hear you idly saying,
There is nothing I can do;
While the souls of some are dying,
And the Master calls for you.
Take the task He gives you gladly,
Let His work your pleasure be;
Answer quickly when He calleth,
‘Here am I, send me, send me.’
The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.
The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.
Hymn: Spirit of the Living God Daniel Iverson, alt.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.
About Episcopal Worship and this Service
We give thanks this morning for our reader, Mala Rowland, for our organist and music director, Beresford Coker; and for our video compiler and editor, Gabriel Wilkins.
Resources (available for free online)
These resources contain the prayers and worship services used in The Episcopal Church and by Episcopalians in their daily devotions.
Book of Common Prayer, www.bcponline.org
Enriching Our Worship 1, https://www.churchpublishing.org/siteassets/pdf/enriching-our-worship-1/enrichingourworship1.pdf
Enriching Our Worship 2, https://www.churchpublishing.org/siteassets/pdf/enriching-our-worship-2/enrichingourworship2.pdf
Hymnal 1982: https://hymnary.org/hymnal/EH1982
Hymnal 1940: https://hymnary.org/hymnal/HPEC1940
Lift Every Voice and Sing II: https://hymnary.org/hymnal/LEVS1993
Wonder, Love, and Praise: https://hymnary.org/hymnal/WLP1997
This source shows the readings assigned for use in Sunday worship and for daily office use for each day of the year, with links to online biblical texts.
Links to church websites – National, Diocesan and our church’s website.
The Episcopal Church: www.episcopalchurch.org
Episcopal News Service: www.episcopalnewsservice.org
The Episcopal Diocese of Washington: www.edow.org
St. Mark’s, Fairland: www.stmarks-silverspring.org
A Prayer in Times of Sickness and Contagion
Heavenly Father, giver of life and health, source of all wisdom and peace: Comfort and relieve your servants who suffer from sickness or fear, give your power of healing to those who minister to their needs, and let your grace be with all those who work to protect us from contagion and disease. May we be strengthened against any weakness, sickness, fear, and doubt, and place our confidence in your loving care through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
 Or Venite, Psalm 95
 Sermon © Christopher Wilkins. All rights reserved. Names changed to protect privacy.