Proper 20A (OT 25)


238: Sept 24, 2017

  1. Exodus 16:2-15 

  2. Matthew 20:1-16 

  3. Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45

  4. Philippians 1:21-30

Featured Musician: Claire Hitchins


Tasty Wafer: TNS 5-1: John Pavlovitz

80: Sept 21, 2014

  1. Exodus 16:2-15 
  2. Matthew 20:1-16 

Featured Musician - Bryan Sirchio

Tasty Wafer: G-d cast Videos on the Hebrew Bible


Exegetical Notes

Matthew 20:1-16

Initial Thoughts

  • CEB - ”denarion” - “daily wage”

  • Louis CK “Everything’s amazing, and nobody’s happy.”  Tells story of a flight he was on.  At the beginning of the flight it was announced that there would be wi-fi on the flight, which was an amazing new advancement that no one was expecting.  Then a few hours into the flight, the attendant announced that the wi-fi wasn’t working, and the guy next to him was upset that the brand new thing he didn’t know about 5 minutes earlier was not working.  “How quickly the world owes him something, he knew existed only 10 second ago.”  Watch the clip with Conan O’Brien on youtube.

  • Both of the lectionary stories are about how we scoff at God’s abundant generosity.

  • Previous it the young rich ruler who Jesus tells must sell all of his possessions.  This is followed by the “camel through the eye of a needle,” saying.  Chapter 19’s last line is “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

  • Immediately following this parable is another prediction of his death and the mother of the sons of Zebedee asks Jesus if her sons could sit on his right and on his left.

Bible Study

  • This story bookended by repeated “The first will be last and the last will be first.”

    • The parable expounds on this theme, which is a foundation to the Kingdom of Heaven.

    • The disciples would be thinking of themselves as “first,” because they’ve been in on this from the beginning.

    • They are “ground floor” disciples, so expect a reward.

      • Ground floor investors get better dividends, reap higher rewards

      • Rookie cards value is higher

      • Fans of bands consider themselves “better” fans if they knew them when they were playing in small bars instead of huge arenas

      • “Bandwagon” fans are the worst kind in sports.

    • Jesus declares - “There are no bandwagon fans in the Kingdom of Heaven.”  there is no reward for being on the ‘ground floor.’

    • Important message to the Matthew Community in particular, which is presumably largely Jewish, and might have considered themselves among the “first,” amidst a growing church of newcomers.

  • Fairness is a concept learned from a very early age.  

    • Fairness has little to do with the Kingdom of Heaven

    • Fairness and Grace are not mutually exclusive - there simply is no relationship at all.

    • Great story to share with youth.  Challenges moral assurances.  Challenges sense of fair.  Challenges “the way things ought to be.”

    • Challenging the way things ought to be a is vital part of Jesus’ understanding of the Kingdom of Heaven.

  • Mature faith calls us to move beyond fairness and into grace.

    • My salvation is not dependant upon yours.

    • The Kingdom is not a zero-sum proposition.  My reward/relationship with God is not affected by yours.

    • Reward from God is not about wages.  It is not a scarcity-based economic exchange.  Reward from God is peace, grace, love.  These things are not affected by outside forces, or laws of supply and demand.

    • Immature faith delights in misery of others.  Even if they don’t say it like that, it comes out in ideas and concepts such as “They’ll meet their maker someday,” “They’ll get what’s coming to them,” or “Karma will catch up with them.”  And while there is an element of “you reap what you sow that is in the gospel,” the overwhelming message of the gospel is that we don’t get what we deserve.

  • Jesus poses two questions:

    • “Don't I have the right to do what I want with what belongs to me?”

    • “Are you resentful because I'm generous?'

    • The answer to both is “Yes.”

    • An honest look at this story makes us see ourselves more clearly.  When we see our own

Preaching Thoughts

  • An honest look at this passage challenges the way we understand the world.  We see the unfairness of the story, and our natural reaction is to wonder what kind of Kingdom this is.  An honest look at our own jealousy and sense of unfairness reveals the way that we see others who are on the “outside,” and reveals to us the way we may treat “bandwagon jumpers.”  Instead of worrying what others are getting, and worldly concepts of fairness, we must see the reward we already have.  Instead of worrying about the unfairness of a God that blesses all, we should rejoice with those that come to join the work, even if they are late arriving.

  • Seeing the world through the lens of the Kingdom changes everything.  The Kingdom of Heaven is a new way of looking at the.  Kingdom evangelism is not about getting people to avoid their punishment, it is about celebrating a bigger party.

  • How does this affect the way we think of church membership?  How many in our churches feel entitled to influence, time, resources, because they have been “members since…”  We complain about phone services that offer great things to new customers at the expense of those that have been customers forever, but this passage seems to suggest they have it right.  One lesson I’ve learned from The Church of the Resurrection is their concept of membership means that people must surrender their privileges.  Members give up the good parking spaces.  They were asked to give up the back pews in the sanctuary.  Give up even the “prime time” worship times at Easter and Christmas.

Exodus 16:2-15

Initial Thoughts

  • Would you like some cheese to go with that whine?

  • Bryan Sirchio’s songs are awesome

  • Food Justice

Bible Study

  • People Complain

    • “Murmuring”

    • What have you done for me lately?

    • Are we that much different? I don’t think so- and God is still listening and providing

  • God Provides

    • Rejection of salvation- we wish God had not saved us

      • “It would have been better” (echoes Jonah 4:1-3 - the other HB reading for today)

      • It is easier to doubt than to trust

      • The people do not doubt more than once about each thing (Egyptians, Water, Good Water, Food)

    • God’s response

      • God always provides- each time, no matter how often the people complain or misunderstand, God still provides

      • In providing - there is no question of deserve- everything is a gift

      • God is not a capitalist, there is no working on the Sabbath, there is no storing up riches, there are no manna-rich and manna-poor

    • Points to God

      • Saving from the Egyptians, providing water, purifying water, providing manna by day and quails by night - all point to who God is

      • “Cannot live by bread alone” Deut. 8:3

    • “Crisis of Food has led to a deepening crisis of faith” Carol J. Dempsey, Feasting on the Word- if we are going to share the good news, we need to be agents of blessing and feed the hungry first

  • Dependance on God

    • The Israelites are utterly dependant on God and they don’t like it

    • Perhaps one of the problems with the Church today is that we forgot to be dependant on God

    • We are so separated from many things we take for granted: electricity, clean water, clean air, food - we forget the gifts they are and the many people that make them possible.

    • Are we still content with our “daily bread”?

  • Deborah Block: People complain - God Hears - God Responds-People Respond

    • How are we responding to God’s gift?

Preaching Thoughts

  • How do we balance pride/ self esteem with God’s generosity? All that we have is a gift from God- does that leave room for pride?

  • Why is it so hard to think of all that we have from our 401K to our toaster ovens as being a gift from God? Where does this notion of “what I deserve” come from?

  • Are we still content with our “daily bread”?

Philippians 1:21-30

Initial Thoughts

  • First of four weeks in Philippians

  • Reminds me of MLK’s speech in Memphis, where he talked about his death - the day before he was murdered.
“Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind.
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

Bible Study

  • Context

    • Authentic Paul.

    • Philippian church founded in about 50 CE.

      • In Acts, the narration shifts to “we” when Paul gets to Philippi.

      • Small city, population ~10,000.

      • Refounded in 42 BCE as a Roman colony.

      • “Any Jewish presence in Philippi was minimal... Paul’s converts would have been entirely, or mostly entirely, Gentile.” (Morna D. Hooker, New Interpreter’s Bible, v. XI, p. 471)

    • From prison - which prison?

      • Roman house arrest with a capital charge.

      • Caesarea or Ephesus

      • If writing from Rome (which is generally accepted) date would be in the early 60s.

    • Tradition holds that Paul was martyred in Rome.

      • Nothing in  Biblical account of Paul’s death

      • “It is the apocryphal Acts of Paul, written about 160, that tells us Paul was beheaded for his faith after testifying to the gospel before Nero. There we read, ‘then Paul stood with his face to the east and lifted up his hands unto heaven and prayed a long time, and in his prayer he conversed in the Hebrew tongue with the fathers and stretches forth his neck without speaking.’” (as quoted in The Call, by Adam Hamilton, p. 217)
  • Shame and Glory

    • Being in jail is a source of shame - just as crucifixion was the ultimate attempt to crush someone through shame.

    • Paul is standing within the context of a culture where the shame/honor dynamic is important, but he is reversing the typical understanding of what would bring shame and what would bring honor.

    • “It is Paul’s eager expectation and firm hope (since it is founded on God) that he will not be put to shame at the trial but will behave in such a way that now, as always, Christ will be exalted in him. (Morna D. Hooker, New Interpreter’s Bible, v. XI, p. 471)
    • Paul’s only goal is to bring honor to Christ, and he can do that whether he lives or dies.

    • The world would understand a death of beheading by a Roman executioner to be one of extreme shame, but Paul declares that God can use even this repugnant act to glorify Christ.

  • Suffering

    • Opponents

      • “It is sometimes suggested that these opponents were Judaizers… but it seems much more likely that the opposition came from outside the church. The community’s enemies could be either Jews or pagans, but once again the reference to suffering… suggests that their problems may be with the civil authorities.” (Morna D. Hooker, New Interpreter’s Bible, v. XI, p. 471)
      • In Acts, Paul met opposition in Philippi from local businessmen.

    • Suffering is goal?

      • “it’s not that suffering is something altogether different than belief to Paul, it’s that it’s the next logical step. For Paul, belief leads to the kind of living that is so out-of-step with everyone else around you, that pretty soon you’re going to end up being a threat.  And, when you’re a threat, other people dependent on maintaining the status quo are going to start making things difficult for you.” (Rick Morley, A Garden Path)
    • Destruction?

      • “What God makes of that among the persecutors is not the church’s concern. Paul is simply stating that he had said elsewhere and what the church has always believed: The word of God is a two-edged sword. Christ affects the rise and the fall of many. Turning on a light creates shadows, a darkness of a different kind; that is the unavoidable reality.” (Fred Craddock, Interpretation: Philippians, p. 134)
  • Salvation

    • “It is clear that Paul’s reflections hinge on the presence of Christ. Paul is absolutely certain that death is not a transition into a state of non-existence; hence, he is not afraid of it. Paul does not doubt at all that death can only be the moment when he will be united with Christ.” (Christian Eberhart, Working Preacher)
    • Death is accompanied by Resurrection. Sharing in the death of Christ is to share in his resurrection as well.

    • Salvation from opponents is not primarily about their destruction - at least not at the hands of the Christians - it is about destruction of their power.

    • The power that the opposition has is death, but faithfulness removes even that weapon.

    • “Since the image of sleep implies consciousness, the idea perhaps is that if Paul falls asleep in death, his next moment of awareness will be at the resurrection; hence, dying is seen as ‘gain.’ It is important to remember, however, that all these ideas are metaphors - attempts to explain something beyond our understanding. Since God is outside both time and space, questions about when and where are meaningless. Paul’s conviction is simply that death will mean being with Christ and sharing his resurrection life.” (Morna D. Hooker, New Interpreter’s Bible, v. XI, p. 471)

Preaching Thoughts

  • Question of self reflection: “Am I living, and praying, and serving in my community with a kind of faith that challenges the prevailing world order? Am I a champion for the faith that Paul preached, that Jesus preached, and which Jesus demonstrated on the cross? Or, am I, and my faith, too safe? Too bland?” (Rick Morley, A Garden Path)

  • Great reflection about the song “Smile, Though Your Heart is Breaking,” Although the sentiment to smile through adversity seems like a good one, it short-changes the real-life experience of suffering. To simply tell someone to “cheer up,” or to believe that simply smiling through difficult times will somehow fix everything is hollow unless there is something behind it. “Adversity puts the sorrow in Paul's heart along with the yearning for death. As he focuses his thoughts on what God has done for him in sending God's Son, Christ, to companion him, it puts a smile on his lips. Christ within him puts a smile in his heart. Christ empowers him to say "Thanks a lot!" to God, even in prison.

  • How does your life glorify Christ? Your relationship within the community matters as well as your service outside the community.


Thanks to our Psalms correspondent, Richard Bruxvoort Colligan (,@pomopsalmist). Thank you to Scott Fletcher for our voice bumpers, Dick Dale and the Del Tones for our Theme music (“Misirlou”), Nicolai Heidlas (“Sunday Morning”,"Real Ride"and“Summertime”) and Paul and Storm for our closing music (“Oh No”).