Year B, Proper 20 "Prophets and Whiners"

Sunday September, 18, 2005

Susan Langle

St. John the Baptist, Sanbornville

Mt 20: 1-16; Jonah 3: 10- 4:11

In the name of the Holy One: Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of us all.

This morning I am tempted to offer a few words to introduce myself, but over the next year as I join in your life and ministry we will get to know each other in all our quirkiness, in all our mutual struggles to be the people God calls us to be. I look forward to your helping me to grow into being a good priest.

Today the Holy Word invites us to think about prophets and whiners. Maybe you have a whiner in your family. Maybe you, on rare occasions, have emitted a high pitched sound. This week I’ve been right there with Jonah. You want me to do What? Why Me – not my turn! This is too hard! What is the point anyway? This week I’ve been sitting in the late summer swelter and listening to him grouse. This is what I think I heard .

I said OK already. You – the Most High God – you wanted me to go to Nineveh – where they chop off heads and throw people in prison at the drop of a hat and rob the poor blind – you wanted me to tell them to change their ways. You wanted me to go so I went - Eventually. You got my attention with the bit with the storm. I tried to wait it out. I didn’t want those sailors to drown. I did the right thing. I insisted that they throw me overboard. Well yeah – they did feel bad but that wasn’t my fault. And in the end they gave You thanks and praise didn’t they. Thanks to my quick thinking it all worked out, didn’t it?

And you sure got my attention with Moby. That whale came right up in the middle of the ocean, opened his mouth and my shoes didn’t even hit the waves. Down I went. Not that I am complaining or anything, but that is not the kind of accommodations I am used to – not First Class – not even Motel 6. The smell. The sticky stuff everywhere. Was that really necessary? OK, OK so it got me to Nineveh. I get the point. Thanks to my flexibility I got there, didn’t I?

I marched right up to the gate and walked in. Not that I didn’t have some misgivings. They are a cruel people, a violent nation. They think they are better than everyone else, that their power and wealth can buy them anything. But I gathered my courage and went right in. I’m actually pretty brave, don’t you think?

Such a huge place! I walked and I walked and found a place where there were lots of people gathered, and I stood up on the edge of the fountain and I gave them what for. “Change your Ways! The End is Near! 40 more days and Nineveh will be overthrown!” Anyway, Mission Accomplished, I got out of town.

(You know, somehow the King heard about my visit. And the government proclaimed a Fast. And the whole people kept the fast. Silly King – he even made the horses, and the goats, and the cats and the dogs fast. As if the beasts were as important as people! The whole city stopped and thought about how they treated each other, about whether they wanted to keep living in the cycle of violence they had made for themselves or if they wanted to stop – to really live with and for each other. And they changed their ways.) And did they thank me? Hardly. How humiliating.

And You – the Most High God - you let them off the hook! But I figured that out a long time ago – I’m pretty smart. You always let them off the hook. What is the point – You don’t appreciate me. All this hard work I’ve done – all the trouble I’ve seen, all the risks I’ve taken and it is completely irrelevant. You let them go Scot free. They didn’t even have to pay a fine. They didn’t even have to apologize. Why don’t you just kill me and put me out of my misery. I’m just going to sit here and see if they can keep it up.

Oh – this is a good spot to watch the action. And a bush to sit under. Nice. Uh oh. There are some brown leaves.

You – what’s with the bush? The least You could do is let me sit in peace and be cool. Why don’t you just do me in. Yeah – you bet I’m angry. Burning. Seething. I’m so furious I can’t see straight. First you drag me here, then you forgive them – THEM – those rotten wretches. At the last minute they changed their ways and did it matter to You – no way – You took them right back. It is not fair. YOU are not fair. YOU give everybody a second chance.

Friends – you and I are the people of Nineveh. Will we hear the prophets among us? Can we open ourselves to the possibility that the road to which we have committed ourselves may not be the path that leads beside the still waters, the refreshing, life giving stream? Can we accept the grace to choose a different road, to start again? When we see those around us taking the first steps to embrace recovery from addiction, those yearning for pardon for the decisions of a misspent youth, those struggling to mend broken hearts and families – can we set aside an inclination to insist on payment of each and every debt but rather, with God, encourage and rejoice in conversion, in new life, in resurrection?

Will we be the prophets our neighbors, our nation, our world needs to hear? Maybe reluctant prophets, maybe whining prophets, but prophets none the less. Great cities, whole communities can turn again, can start over. Will we cherish the beasts, and the children, and elders, and the people with mental illness, and the people whose lives have been swamped by tragedy? Will we live into our call to be the children of the compassionate God – the Divine Mother bending over the cradle, singing a tuneless song to whole earth loving it, loving us – the Sacred Father sitting up late, peering down the driveway waiting to welcome us home after we mess up big time.

You and I are the laborers. How often do we sit around waiting to be asked? How often are we focused on the size of someone else’s paycheck fretting about how much bigger it than ours. How fleeting is our wonder if folks who only earn a copper coin instead of the piece of silver in our pocket, if they have enough to feed their children or keep them warm in the harsh winter that is almost upon us? How often do we ponder of that is fair?

We have work to do, all of us. Each piece of the quilt is essential to the integrity of the whole. God calls us, woos us to stand firm in the one spirit as we go about our work. Two of my colleagues from seminary were able to go to the aid of people displaced by Katrina in the last couple of weeks. This is part of a note from Jane Bearden, a Deacon from the Diocese of Massachusetts, whose roots are in south Louisiana:

I have been attached to the disaster mortuary for the past 3 days. I cannot go into detail about the work here but I will say that the group is a fantastic bunch of professionals from all over the world who do their job with care and compassion. I provide pastoral support to the team as well as intervene when families come looking for their loved ones. I have had no shortage of work. I pray with the trucks as they come in from New Orleans. I have grown to dislike photographers a great deal. There are other chaplains working in the field at New Orleans doing the recovery. They are under a great deal of stress and could use your prayers.

It is very, very sad here. The numbers are staggering. I lay hands on whole trucks. The drivers step out and pray with me. The guards stand at attention. We are providing dignity to those for whom Katrina took away all dignity. I wake up crying and go to sleep praying. We support each other. We have had babies, whole nursing homes, hospitals, etc. It is so sad. Pray for us.

I bid your prayers for those doing the hard work of finding and burying the bodies, of sitting with people who have lost everything, of trying to welcome uprooted, traumatized children into new classrooms. Not all of us can or should go to an emergency site on short notice but maybe some of us can plan to go help sustain the rebuilders down the road. Our brothers and sisters will be at this a long time. Most of us have already sent funds and some clothing and other essential aid. What a brilliant idea to play some New Orleans Jazz while funds are raised! We need to remember to continue the ministry of mercy after the pictures fade, after some new episode claims national attention.

As we harvest the crops in the New England fields which we tend let us keep singing the hymns, the spirituals. Let us keep praying for those who lost jobs, homes, loved ones. We will be sustained by our by Christ’s own presence in the Eucharist we are about celebrate and in the Spirit that will push us into the world, to the place where we need to speak works of comfort and open our hands in love. Remembering that we stand on the edge of the font let us encourage each other with the urgency of letting our prophetic voice be heard, to tell the truth in love, and hold ourselves accountable for the welfare and dignity of our brothers and sisters. Whether it is noticed or not in the Kingdom of Heaven each and every act of compassion is essential. Listen, look, and do the work you are given to do with a glad and joyful heart. AMEN

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