Sermons  SSLR  Illustrations  Lenten Resources  News  Devos  Newsletter  Clergy.net  Churchmail  Children  Bulletins  Search


kirshalom.gif united-on.gif

Sermon & Lectionary Resources           Year A   Year B   Year C   Occasional   Seasonal


Join our FREE Illustrations Newsletter: Privacy Policy
Introduction To The Scripture For Ordinary 25 - Proper 20 - Year A
Exodus 16:2-15; Psalm 105:1-6,37-45; Phillippians 1:21-30; Matthew 20:1-16
Alt – Jonah 3:10 - 4:11; Psalm 145:1-8

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) of the United Church of Canada. John normally structures his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'.

INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE	
Ordinary 25 - Proper 20 - Year A

     [NOTE: Throughout the Season after Pentecost the RCL 
     provides a set of alternate lessons which some 
     denominations prefer.  A summary of these readings is 
     also included below.]


EXODUS 16:2-15         After their miraculous deliverance from slavery 
in Egypt by crossing of the Red Sea, the Israelites pressed on into the 
wilderness.  When they complained to Moses that they would starve, further 
evidence of God's guidance and providence was given in flocks of quails 
and a flaky substance they called *manna* (Hebrew for "what is it?") in 
plentiful supply for their daily needs.

  
PSALM 105:1-6,37-45		The story of God's providence to the Israelites 
in the wilderness is recalled in this hymn of thanksgiving.  We have no 
clues as to the occasion which inspired this song.  The great events of 
Israel's history seen from the perspective of faith form the theme of many 
other psalms.  The events have been idealized, cleansed of such 
distractions as the people's waywardness and complaints.  A profound 
theology of history comes through clearly nonetheless.  In all of Israel's 
history, the psalmist is saying, God's hand has guided us and provided for 
us.  The psalm must be read as a celebration of faith, not a statement of 
historical facts.

 
JONAH 3:10-4:11 	   [Alternate] Far from either a factual account of a 
prophet's mission or a fantasy worthy of Hollywood's best computer 
graphics, this little book is a parable about God's infinite and universal 
grace.  This ending of the tale brings out the full impact of its message 
that God's forgiving grace extends far beyond all the boundaries most 
religious folk like us might wish to set. 


PSALM 145:1-8          [Alternate] The psalmist praises God for God's 
gracious and merciful help motivated by steadfast love.


PHILIPPIANS 1:21-30    This was probably the last of Paul's letters 
written from prison in Rome.  The apostle's triumphant faith in the face of 
his impending trial and death rings through every sentence.  By no means 
certain of winning his freedom (vs. 19), his one aim in preparing for his 
imperial audience was to make a bold witness for Christ (vs. 20).  This 
brought forth one of his noblest declarations of what it meant for him to 
live as a Christian in a world where all the power was totally marshaled 
against him: "For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain."  (vs. 21).


MATTHEW 20:1-16        To our materialistic minds, this is a very 
troublesome parable.  It seems so grossly unfair.  The last group of 
laborers were paid the same amount as the first even though they had 
worked only one hour, not the whole day long.  From the point of view of 
work and wages, that appears to be a gross injustice.  Was Jesus 
recommending a crude form of communism?  Or was he suggesting that we be 
ruthless exploiters taking every advantage of the workers?

The parable has nothing at all to do with the money paid for work done.  
It is the kingdom of God - the absolute sovereignty of God's love - which 
is at issue.  The currency of the kingdom is grace, not coinage.  Grace 
comes to us as the gift of God totally unmerited in spite of all our 
worthy efforts. 


A MORE COMPLETE ANALYSIS:

EXODUS 16:2-15   After their miraculous deliverance from slavery in Egypt 
by crossing of the Red Sea, the Israelites pressed on into the wilderness.  
When they complained to Moses that they would starve, further evidence of 
God's guidance and providence was given in flocks of quails and a flaky 
substance they called *manna* (Hebrew for "what is it?") in plentiful 
supply for their daily needs.

We have in this ancient story an important part of the Passover and Exodus 
saga told from the point of view of the highly developed faith of later 
generations.  Scholars have known, as the priests or scribes who committed 
this story to writing may also have known, that the manna and quails on 
which the Israelites fed were natural phenomena to be found in the 
wilderness of Sinai.  Recent investigations suggest that manna is produced 
not by secretion of sap from the tamarisk bush as previously thought, but 
by insects which ingest the sap and excrete a honeydew rich in sugars and 
pectin thus creating a scale on the branches of the shrub.  Quail are still 
found migrating along their natural flight path through the Sinai 
wilderness to and from their nesting grounds in Europe and wintering 
grounds in Africa. 

Natural explanations do not deny what the Israelites saw as miraculous. 
Not what fed them, but that they were fed by the providence of Yahweh 
remained the great blessing which generations praised as in the following 
psalm. 

This faith remained strong even in Jesus' time, as it still may be for our 
time. Jesus identified himself as "the true bread from heaven" come down 
to give life to the world. (John 6:30-35)  So also now, faith in Jesus 
means faith in the providence of God, a tradition as old as Abraham and 
Moses. (Cf. Genesis 22:8)  If Israel's faith extended nearly two millennia 
into the past through an oral tradition recounting the saga of their 
ancestors trek though the wilderness, does it not also extend two 
millennia forward to our time and place in history when the global economy 
is suffering such vast imbalances of riches and poverty?

But what does that faith mean in an age when the technologically developed 
nations have the means of producing far more food than needed but have 
problems marketing their surplus at prices which pay a fair return for the 
costs of production?  What does it mean for the current controversies about 
government subsidies to agriculture, transportation, genetically altered 
foods?  How do issues such as the migration of unemployed refugees from 
Asia, Africa, South and Central America fit into this paradigm of divine 
providence for the needs of God's people?  Are these not the struggles of 
our generation which must we must think through and share openly with the 
politically powerful who have responsibility for making decisions that 
will determine the fate of millions? 


PSALM 105:1-6,37-45   The story of God's providence to the Israelites in 
the wilderness is recalled in this hymn of thanksgiving.  We have no clues 
as to the occasion which inspired this song.  The great events of Israel's 
history seen from the perspective of faith form the theme of many other 
psalms.  The events have been idealized, cleansed of such distractions as 
the people's waywardness and complaints.  A profound theology of history 
comes through clearly nonetheless.  In all of Israel's history, the 
psalmist is saying, God's hand has guided us and provided for us.  The 
psalm must be read as a celebration of faith, not a statement of historical facts.

It would not be far from truth to imagine this psalm as part of the 
Passover celebrations in the temple from the time of Israel's return from 
exile in Babylon or soon after until the time of Jesus.  Vss. 1-15 of this 
psalm also appears as vss. 8-22 in 1 Chronicles 16.  This would indicate 
that the psalm was in public use in some way during the period of the 
Second Temple, built circa 520-525 BCE, rebuilt by Herod the Great, and 
destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE.  Scholars believe that the psalm is the 
original which the compiler of the Books of Chronicles wove into his 
account of David bringing the ark to Jerusalem and establishing the 
Levitical singers.  It was during the Passover that the Jews challenged 
Jesus about Moses giving them bread from heaven and of himself as that 
sacred food.


PHILIPPIANS 1:21-30   This was probably the last of Paul's letters written 
from prison in Rome.  The apostle's triumphant faith in the face of his 
impending trial and death rings through every sentence.  It would appear 
that he was awaiting his trial before Emperor Nero, the Caesar to whom he 
had appealed after being arrested in Jerusalem and tried before Roman 
governors Felix and Festus, and King Agrippa. (Acts 25:11-12). 

Paul was by no means certain of winning his freedom (vs. 19).  His one aim 
in preparing for his imperial audience was to make a bold witness for 
Christ (vs. 20).  This brought forth one of his noblest declarations of 
what it meant for him to live as a Christian in a world where all the 
power was totally marshaled against him: "For to me, living is Christ and 
dying is gain" (vs. 21).  He was even at a loss to know which he preferred. 
If he lived, it would be to go on with his mission to the Gentiles.  In 
Romans 25:24, 28 he expressed a desire to go on to Spain after he had 
visited with the Christians in Rome.  He probably did not achieve that 
goal. It is believed that he died a martyr during Nero's persecution of 
the Christians blamed for the destructive fire he had himself started so 
he could build an even more glorious city.

Nevertheless, in writing this letter Paul recognized his importance to the 
Gentile mission and paid special tribute to his loyal friends in Philippi, 
his first converts in Europe.  He fervently believed he would see them 
again and enjoy their fellowship (vs. 24-26). So he urged them to live 
lives that are worthy of the gospel of Christ.  Their unity in the faith 
has special meaning for him, perhaps because they were unique among the 
congregations he had founded and where there was so much strife.  The 
Corinthians and Galatians may well have been in his mind at this point.

The key to Christian witness, then as now, is faithfulness to Christ, not 
the subtleties of doctrine, theology, church politics or ritual practices. 
In Paul's time, that certainly meant persecution to the point of martyrdom.
In our time, it may mean no more than being laughed at, treated 
as irrelevant or totally ignored and marginalized as a significant part of 
society. It may also mean being accused of not playing a part in the 
political power games around to economic and social issues. 

Living as Christians was never easy.  Many whom we meet day by day will 
learn no more of Christ than they see in us.


MATTHEW 20:1-16   To our materialistic minds, this is a very troublesome 
parable.  It seems so grossly unfair. The last group of labourers were 
paid the same amount as the first even though they had worked only one 
hour, not the whole day long. From the point of view work and wages, that 
is a gross injustice.

So what does it mean?   Was Jesus recommending a crude form of communism?  
Or was he suggesting that we be ruthless exploiters taking every advantage 
of the workers?

The parable has nothing at all to do with the money paid or the amount of 
work done.  It is the kingdom of God - the absolute sovereignty of God's 
love - which is at issue. The currency of the kingdom is grace, not 
coinage. Grace comes to us as the gift of God totally unmerited in spite 
of all our worthy efforts. 

Nor does the time clock or human chronology have anything to do with it. 
It is said that Roman Emperor Constantine waited until he was dying to be 
baptized because he had so much sin to be forgiven and was afraid that he 
would sin again. What he forfeited was not eternal life, but a mature life 
as a faithful Christian free of fear and able to contribute a full life to 
Christ's mission to bring the world under the reign of God's love. 

In other words, we are all on an equal footing with God when we have 
received God's forgiving grace. There can be no distinction made between 
anyone. Because of our salvation by grace alone, we are acceptable to God 
only because God loves us and Christ died for us, and for no other reason.

                         
copyright  - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.



Further information on this ministry and the history of "Sermons & Sermon - Lectionary Resources" can be found at our Site FAQ.  This site is now associated with christianglobe.com

Spirit Networks
1045 King Crescent
Golden, British Columbia
V0A 1H2

SCRIPTURAL INDEX

sslr-sm