Sermon – 09-20-20 – Proper 20 – Cycle A
Scripture: Jonah 3:10-4:11; Psalm 145:1-8; Philippians 1:21-30; Matthew 20:1-16
Sermon Title: “Do We Really Wish Good for Everyone?”
My friend, Sarah, has only good to say about everyone. I like to think she leads a quiet life and only interacts with pleasant people. However, her childhood was not spent in a happy home. Somewhere along the way, she was injured in an automobile accident that had long-lasting effects. She could have been sour on everything and everyone.
During her days spent in hospitals and other care places, there were wonderful care-givers mixed with less-than-wonderful care-givers. Sarah could have allowed the not-so-kind people in her life to determine and mold her own personality. I think it was the mercy of God that steered her vision to focus on the kind care-givers so that her life was shaped by their kindness and example. She became an extraordinary person who found good in everyone. She had the ability to bring out the best in people – to let the goodness in them shine.
It was during one of our Bible Study sessions, when I was expressing my scorching opinions about the dictator leaders in our world, someone shared that she believes there is good in everyone. So that brought me to an abrupt halt! What had I forgotten? I had forgotten that God created everyone and loves everyone. I believe that! If God loves everyone, should I not look for the inner self of each person – the goodness nugget that may be buried so deep that it has become invisible to everyone but God.
Think Hitler! Think Stalin! Think of all the persecution about which you have read or seen on video or witnessed! Think slavery, think human trafficking, think living in gang-controlled countries, think growing up in a home, or still living in a home, where love is hiding under the rug. How can we wish good for the persecutors? How? And Why?! Why should we seek the kernel of goodness in these people? Why should we wish for the transformation of their souls? What good will it do for one person to be searching and even finding? Could the person be transformed by one person’s prayers, by one person’s words and actions?
Do we have a next-door neighbor who seems to be downgrading our life and property? Is it natural to be complaining to whomever is a captive audience about every little detail of annoyance? Could we find it in our hearts to actually wish good for these impossible neighbors? Have we noticed any bit of kindness in that neighbor? Did that neighbor bring our newspapers to our door when we came home from the hospital? Did we ever once hear that neighbor speak unkindly about anyone? When we start looking for the good, we can often find it.
In our Old Testament lesson today, we find Jonah. There is this city, 120,000 strong, called Nineveh. The Ninevites worship other gods. After researching this dislike for Nineveh by Jonah, I now know that Jonah wants the city to be destroyed because it is the capital city of Assyria, a hated enemy of Israel. Imagine, God wants to save this city when these are, supposedly, not God’s people. But God has a heart for these people. He sees good in these people. God wants to challenge these people to turn toward himself and be saved from destruction.
Well, as God would have it, he calls Jonah to be God’s front man to announce to this large group of people that they are bad, that they are facing destruction by God unless thy repent and turn to God. Well, Jonah has no inclination to go to Ninevah to that huge city and shout to people who will not listen. A huge, distasteful waste of time!
What does Jonah do? Of course, he runs away, if you can call getting himself on a ship “running.” A huge storm arrives. The sailors want to know what is going on. They are about to lose their lives. The sailors throw all the cargo overboard! Still no calm. They ask their gods what is going on – is someone responsible for this disaster? Their gods lead them to Jonah who is sound asleep below deck. The sailors frantically wake Jonah and ask him what they need to do to save themselves. Jonah knows the All-Powerful God is chasing him with a vengeance.
Jonah simply says, “Throw me overboard.” The sailors are afraid that Jonah’s God is going to punish them for throwing Jonah to his death but they are desparate. Into the sea Jonah goes. As you probably know, God sends a big fish (or a whale, we don’t know) to swallow Jonah. Three days and three nights! This could be a reference to Jesus being in the tomb from the day of the cross to the third day when he arose. Then the fish released Jonah, alive and well and angry!
Now he finally heads toward Nineveh. He proclaims the news, “Turn to God or be destroyed!” Another three here. Three days to walk from one end of Nineveh to the other. The people turn toward God and change their ways. No destruction!
Angry Jonah wants refuge from this whole episode. The sun is beating down. Jonah seeks refuge from that also. He builds a shelter with plants. They die. The sun is beating down! God actually grows a big plant to shield Jonah again. Great! Jonah is relatively happy. Then that plant withers and again, no shade. Jonah’s anger returns. Why did that plant need to die? So he is angry about the salvation for Nineveh. He is angry about the plant dying and once again he is in the glaring sun! God saw good in the Ninevites! Jonah did not. Was he happy? No, he wants to die.
In our Gospel lesson today, the landowner was fair and just with the workers. The first ones hired could not see the fairness and the justness. Can you see any good and fairness in the payment policy? Would you have handled the payment in this manner? Is being legal always fair? How does envy sneak into the picture? Where is the goodness? Where is the caring for the other person?
You have probably learned by now that looking for the goodness, acting on the principle of goodness, usually leaves us feeling good. Acting out of jealousy and envy and vengeance leaves us feeling angry and we find both our physical and spiritual lives declining. We may want to die as Jonah did. Paul also is longing to die in our Philippians lesson. Paul has physical problems and probably thinks he has done his share of evangelizing. But he envisions the goodness and the progress in Christian faith and joy of the people in Philippi. Paul chooses the growing goodness with this group on earth. Which shall we choose?
Holy and Healing God, help us to look for the good in people and actions and events. If we find ourselves being angry and hostile, transform us to our comfortable selves, working to unleash the goodness of the world wherever we can find it. In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.