Sermon 24th September

Readings Matthew 20 1-16 Jonah 3, 10-4,11


It’s a strange thing that at the end of last term in assembly at the school I told the parable we heard this morning, and early in this term I told the story of Jonah. Interestingly, in both cases, the children came up with unexpected answers when asked about the bible stories.

In the parable, when asked if they thought the pay the different labourers received was fair, they all agreed it was. “They got what they were promised” was the reply- the children saw straight through the expected response that most adults have “it’s not fair”, maybe because they don’t have to work for their keep!

And in the Jonah story, unlike Jonah who was most upset that God didn’t destroy Nineveh, again the children thought it was quite right that God changed his mind and spared the city when the King made the people do the right thing. The children easily recognised the quality of mercy and had no problem with a God who changed his mind.

Jesus said we should become like children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven, and my assembly experiences were a good example of that.


 The adult listeners to the parable and Jonah, and those who read the story, might have thought that there was little fairness in either story, not to mention the Jonah story’s apparent contradiction of an unchanging God, forever the same.

The last couple of weeks, in our readings from Mattew’s gospel, we’ve looked at forgiveness, and how hard forgiving can be, yet God’s example of forgiveness of the perpetual sin of humanity as it seeks its own way, not God’s . As Jesus said to Peter, having our minds on human concerns, not of God’s concerns, those of love.

Implicit if God’s love of humankind is grace and mercy, not something humankind is very good at doing. The school children, however, in their innocence perhaps, but also in their surprising understanding of what we might often consider adult concepts, immediately understood the concepts of mercy and grace, even if they wouldn’t have put it in those terms.

What is it, then, that as we grow older and supposedly wiser, that we struggle with the concepts of mercy and grace?

We spoke last week of how difficult it is to forgive in some circumstances, and how people often harbour grudges and resentment, even to the extent that the original cause may be a distant or forgotten memory, yet the resentment remains. It’s something that’s sadly very apparent in many communities especially small  communities such as Sark, where family feuds and disagreements between small groups or individuals seem to be perpetuated for years, even for generations. And sadly something I see sometimes, and am very sad about between church denominations everywhere,  and our two churches here too.

In the face of the forgiveness God offers us, we are not even worthy to gather the crumbs under the table, let alone fail to forgive, and the logical extension of that is the understanding of God’s mercy and grace.

God’s judgement on Nineveh was quite justified, but he exercised mercy. The landowner in the parable demonstrated the misunderstanding of the concept of grace and “fairness”. We spoke last week of how we should not judge each other, for judgement is up to God, Jesus said, and Paul emphasised in our readings, and if God can be merciful towards us, then what should that say about our relationships with those we may have an argument with. And if God’s grace, that undeserved offer of God’s love and forgiveness is revealed through Christ on the cross, then surely, as followers of Christ, as people who call themselves Christians, should we not also be able to offer mercy and grace in love to our neighbours, friends and families? And yes, as Jesus repeatedly said, also to those we might call our enemies.

But it isn’t easy, is it? Because we’re all too human. Too concerned about our human concerns that it’ hard to enact, or even sometimes to think of God’s concerns.

Which is why Christ sent the Holy Spirit amongst us. Jesus knew his disciples weren’t up to the task in their own strength, after all, they’d run away and hid when the going got tough, leaving him to suffer alone. Even denying him.

So he sent his Spirit.

Guide, strengthener, giving wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.

Showing us the way of love, that overriding concern of God.

And allowing us to learn how to forgive, how to show mercy, how to be gracious in our love and our relationships.

It isn’t easy. But we don’t have to do it alone. Even when we do not have the thoughts or words, the Spirit intercedes for us with groans.

Is there anyone, family, friends, or even enemies that you have a disagreement with, find it hard to get on with, find it hard to speak to even?

If God can change his mind and forgive Nineveh (and Jonah too), if Jesus’ parable of the talents is anything to go by, everyone is capable of change, and everyone is entitled to the same gracious love that God give us the supreme example of in Christ, whether they’ve been a Christian for years or even have yet to know Christ.


We can change. And we can, through the Holy Spirit find the strength to overcome our human concerns and instead have in our hearts and minds the concerns of God, the concerns of love.

And if and when we do, we begin, as a church, the change that enables our community, and the world to know of God’s love, grace and mercy.