The Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity
27 September 2020
you crown the year with your goodness
and you give us the fruits of the earth in their season:
grant that we may use them to your glory,
for the relief of those in need and for our own well-being;
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.
Lord of the harvest,
with joy we have offered thanksgiving for your love in creation
and have shared in the bread and the wine of the kingdom:
by your grace plant within us a reverence for all that you give us
and make us generous and wise stewards
of the good things we enjoy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Ezekiel 18: 1-4, 25-32
The word of the Lord came to me: What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? As I live, says the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die.
Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is unfair.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair? When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it; for the iniquity that they have committed they shall die. Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is unfair.’ O house of Israel, are my ways unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?
Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, all of you according to your ways, says the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live.
Philippians 2: 1-13
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Matthew 21: 23-32
When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’ Jesus said to them, ‘I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?’ And they argued with one another, ‘If we say, “From heaven”, he will say to us, “Why then did you not believe him?” But if we say, “Of human origin”, we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.’ So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.’ And he said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
‘What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” He answered, “I will not”; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, “I go, sir”; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax-collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.
All good gifts around us
Are sent from heaven above,
Then thank the Lord, then thank the Lord
For all his love.
It is hard not to be allowed to sing those wonderful harvest hymns but it is so good that we can remember the words. God has indeed given us so many good gifts, the harvest of the fields, of the orchards and of our own gardens. Sadly, everything we do is overshadowed by the threat of the virus. We can be thankful, though, that we are still allowed to gather for worship, to thank God for his goodness and to strengthen our relationship with Him.
Jesus told this parable during that crucial week, which we know as Holy Week. The chief priests and the elders had been set to catch Him out. Jesus responded with a parable, so true to life, that we can almost imagine His interrogators squirming as He told the tale. Jesus made them feel distinctly uncomfortable.
I wonder how the parable affects us? Does it challenge us? I believe it is a parable which is full of encouragement. After all, Jesus told the story of a man with two sons. We know that Jesus has told us that if we accept Him as Lord and Saviour, we have the right to be called sons and daughters of God.
In the parable, God is the vineyard owner and the vineyard is the place where God puts us, as His children, to bear good fruit for Him. Jesus said, “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” Because we are part of God’s family, we can call Him Abba or Father. The fact that we are His children equips us to serve Him and guarantees that whatever we do in His name is part of God’s own mission in the world.
Like those two sons, we are not perfect though and Jesus knows this. Although the second son changed his mind, he clearly did not obey His father immediately. We are probably often like that. Maybe we feel we are not up to the task or we have some personal issues which we feel we should deal with first. We, like that second son, can so easily put off what we know God wants us to do until what seems to be a more convenient time. Perhaps, we say, we shall wait until the virus is no longer a threat or maybe until we have a new incumbent. Of course, there are some things that will have to wait.
Let us remind ourselves that God does not always work like that. He does not wait until conditions are perfect. We remember Simon Peter who had been up all night trying to catch fish, who, by the early hours, would have been feeling extremely tired. He could so easily have snapped when Jesus told him, “Put out into deep water and let down the nets for a catch.” Yet it was at that least opportune moment that he caught so many fish that the weight of them almost broke the nets. No doubt, God is speaking to us right now, even though it may not seem the best time to us.
Paul told those people in Philippi, “to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” The fact that we are children of God does not of itself prevent us from making wrong choices. What is crucial is whether our hearts are truly open to God.
Both of those sons made wrong choices. The second son refused to do what his father asked. The first son lied, making an empty promise. Only one son retraced his steps and ended up doing the right thing. If the first son had said he was sorry for lying and had asked his father to forgive him, then no doubt, his father would have listened. Sadly, that son never had a change of heart. On the other hand, the second son had a heart which God could reach. It is not sin that prevents us from working in God’s vineyard, it is our failure to admit and repent of our sins.
So often, our personal needs and worries can prevent us from recognising where we have gone wrong. They can also prevent us from focusing on God, the One whom we, as children of God, are here to serve. We need to hold as our example, Jesus, the Son of God, whose generosity Paul describes in that wonderful hymn of praise in the passage we have heard from his letter to the Philippians. Paul encouraged all who listened to his words to have the same mind that was in Christ Jesus.
God has indeed given us all these good gifts that we see around us. We know that the greatest gift of all is Jesus Himself. Knowing that God has sent His beloved Son to show us how to live and how to love is surely what will sustain us during these long months ahead. Whenever we feel down, we would do well to return to the words of our harvest hymn and “thank the Lord, yes, thank the lord for all His love”. Amen.
We plough the fields, and scatter
the good seed on the land,
but it is fed and watered
by God's almighty hand;
he sends the snow in winter,
the warmth to swell the grain,
the breezes and the sunshine
and soft refreshing rain.
All good gifts around us
are sent from heaven above,
then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord
for all his love.
He only is the maker
of all things near and far;
he paints the wayside flower,
he lights the evening star;
the wind and waves obey him,
by him the birds are fed;
much more to us his children,
he gives our daily bread.
All good gifts...
We thank you, then, O Father,
for all things bright and good,
the seed-time and the harvest,
our life, our health, our food:
accept the gifts we offer
for all your love imparts;
and that which you most welcome,
our humble, thankful hearts.
All good gifts...