September 24 sermon: Earworm

September 24, 2017

Jonah 3:10-4:11
Matthew 20:1-16


Do you know what earworm is?


It’s a song that makes it way into your ears and once entering the otic canal it just lodges there.  You can’t get it out of your head.


Here’s what Wikipedia says: An earworm, sometimes known as a brainworm,[1] sticky music, or stuck song syndrome,[2] is a catchy piece of music that continually repeats through a person’s mind after it is no longer playing.[3] Phrases used to describe an earworm include “musical imagery repetition”, “involuntary musical imagery”, and “stuck song syndrome”


Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.”


Adele’s “Hello.”


Ed Sheeran’s “The Shape of You.”


Meghan Trainor’s “All About that Bass.”


If the Bible were a song, there would be one refrain that would stick itself to your insides and be permanently lodged there that would be the earworm that lodges who God is and what God is about, and it would go like this:


The Lord is gracious and full of compassion,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.


The Hebrew has one word for steadfast love that is earworm: Hesed.  Say it with me, hesed.


Whatever you know about God, whatever you think about God, get that out of your head and plant this inside instead: hesed.


Isn’t it wonderful?  Isn’t it beautiful?  Yes.  Yes, except when God is gracious and full of compassion for someone we can’t stand.


Like those awful Connecticut drivers who cut in front of you just as I’m slowing for a red light or changing a to get on 95 South, or any number of other scenarios.


Like pastors who don’t work nearly as hard as I do and are beloved by their people.

Like those who are poor and are bleeding the system.


Like those who are rich who are bleeding the system.


We who are, as we say, in the sin business have a really hard time, a really hard time with the forgiveness business.


Let me ask you a question, isn’t it really hard to be right all the time?


Jonah had it rough.  He was recruited by God to call the people of Nineveh to repent of their wicked ways.  Nineveh was the evil empire of its day.  You’d think, being a prophet and all, that Jonah would be “jonesing” to stick it to the Ninevites.  But no sooner did God tell Jonah to correct the Ninevites than the guy ran away in the opposite direction. 


God was persistent, through storm and fish.  God told Jonah a second time Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.  “Okay, okay, okay,” you might have heard Jonah say, muttering under his breath “stupid Ninevites.”  [Get this: the Bible says Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across.  So, Jonah walked one day’s worth across, one-third of the way and spit out an eight word sermon “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”] He just wasn’t into it, don’t you think?  What were those stupid Ninevites going to do?


Um, repent. It says the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth


So God being gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love did not rain terror down on the Ninevites.  And Jonah lived happily ever after. 


No, he couldn’t stand the Ninevites.  And they did not deserve mercy.  But, hesed, that’s the refrain that is God.  I knew it, I knew it, I knew it, Jonah said.  Really, he said I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.


In the gospels, Jesus tells story after story after story to say what God is like.  He tells the story about the workers getting the very same wage, an entire days’ pay whether they worked all day or just the last hour, to say that God is not who you think God is.


Can you imagine someone getting paid the same salary as a full-time worker who only works one-quarter time?  That would be bad business.  That wouldn’t be fair. 


Put it this way:  Can you imagine yourself desperate for work, someone hiring you on the spot to come in at five, and when you were done a few hours later gave you what you need to feed and clothe your family, which amounts to a full day’s wage?  That would be incredible.  That would make you think differently about the world, and maybe God.


Here’s what’s happening:  like the landowner paying coins to early risers and latecomers alike, into our palms is pressed the very nature and inclination of God. When we give up our narrow notions of mercy–to the wideness of God’s mercy will we recognize the generosity of God. 


Jesus himself gave up such notions.  At the end of his life, into Jesus’ own palms, nails pierced his flesh onto a wooden cross and he spilled his blood so that blame for any mess, any one or any people that we might say are God-forsaken (war-torn nations, Hurricane victims, those like Jonah and the Ninevites, those like Manny and Marion and you and me) might be received into God’s ways.   This is what God is like.  God’s ways are revealed most wonderfully in Jesus’ open arms for grumps, for those who seek, for those who sin, for children, and for those who make Jesus and the cross their pattern.


With the blood, and with the dying that we all must go through, then, flows mercy, grace upon grace, and living, really living.


With Manny and Miriam we have a chance to discover this cross-shaped claim that showers the world in Christ.  These children, mere babies, whose lives are uncertain and unknown, start the journey of faith in a good place, through the waters of baptism and joining the community who declare that God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.   These children, so dependent on mercy loving-kindness, will have Christ’s cross traced upon them forever.  With Manny and Marion and with all who are baptized, we are blessed to know new life on this day of new beginnings.


Let’s hope the tune will stick with them. Let’s sing it to them and to each other whenever we’re together. Hesed.


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