Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Readings – Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32
Let’s begin today with a series of passages from the Good News according to St. Luke. First, about Levi, also known as Matthew. He was an outcast because he was a tax collector for the Roman Empire. [Luke 5:27 – 31] Levi was invited to follow Jesus, a rabbi, a man of God. And Levi responded by giving a banquet and inviting Jesus and his disciples, and all his friends which included other tax collectors. An outcaste was welcomed and he in turn welcomed other outcastes to meet Jesus.
Second, about Mary of Magdala, she was said to be a tormented soul. [Luke 8:1-2] Mary of Magdala and other women financially supported Jesus and the traveling band of disciples. Cured, she became a devoted follower, she was there at the foot of the cross, and she was there at the tomb on Easter Sunday.
Third, here we learn of a man possessed, a man struggling with his mental health. [Luke 8: 26-39] Restored to health, rather than joining the traveling band like Levi and Mary, Jesus sent him back to his home town to be a powerful witness to his healing from God. Restored to health, he was also restored to his community.
Fourth, a woman in the crowd touched the fringes of Jesus’ clothes. [Luke 8:42b – 48] Due to hemorrhaging she too was on outcaste. Restored to health, sent forth in peace, she was restored to her community.
Sometimes when we read only one passage, we miss the fuller, more powerful impact of Jesus of Nazareth with whom the fullness of God came and lived among us. In each of these four people’s lives, they were restored to personal well-being and to renewed life in their community. In the 21st c. language, they were given their life back. A tax collector, a wealthy yet tormented woman, a frequently incarcerated man, and a shunned woman were all given another chance. We see this time after time after time as we read Holy Scripture.
In our reading from Exodus, the Hebrews in the wilderness were at it again, complaining, complaining. This time it was about water. And once again God quieted their anxiety, and the water flowed from the rock as Moses struck it with his staff.
In the words of our collect for today, God, “you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity”. God’s power is in sharing mercy and pity, to the complaining wilderness Hebrews, to Levi, to Mary of Magdala, to the Gerasene, to the hemorrhaging woman. All get second chances; all got their lives back. And, I would say, they all probably got third, fourth, fifth chances in the days following.
In our Gospel reading, we learn of two sons invited to go to work in their father’s vineyard. One went and the other did not. Yet, it really doesn’t matter to me if others go into the kingdom of God before me. Just as long as I get in too. And God will show us mercy and pity; and God will invite us to work in the vineyard time and time and time again.
St. Paul, following the hymn of humbleness, wrote, “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”. God’s mercy and pity enable us to return, again, and again, and again, to do his will on earth as it is in heaven. You see, we have been given salvation through God’s mercy and pity, and it is our responsibility to live it, to put it in play. You see, God is at work in us enabling us to work and to do his will.
The love of God, the mercy and the pity of God, reaches out and touches us each and every day, and especially on Sundays. On Sundays, we hear the words of Holy Scripture. On Sundays, we gather as a community, and I know there are smiles under those masks. On Sundays, we gather in prayer for ourselves, for our nation, and for our planet. On Sundays, we hear songs of faith. On Sundays, we proclaim God’s truth in canticle and in creed. On Sundays, we receive the Bread of Heaven, the bread of the Kingdom, the Body of Christ is put right in our hands.
Through the mercy and pity of God we are the people of second chances.
Today we are touched by God; today we are enabled by God to work in God’s Kingdom, to work in God’s vineyard, and to work out our salvation.
Thanks be to God. Amen.