Sermon for Proper 20, Year A, September 20, 2020

Jonah 3:10-4:11, Psalm 145:1-8, Philippians 1:21 – 30, Matthew 20:1-16

          I read an article from the Religion News Service this week that said that last Sunday marked six months since the pandemic was declared a national emergency.  It spoke of the phases people go through when there is a disaster according to a government report.  The initial phase is filled with fear – fear of all the unknowns.  We are now in the Disillusionment Phase – which is, in effect, the darkness before the light.  This phase may be the longest and most difficult.  The good news is it the next stage is the Reconstruction Phase when we can rebuild, but the Disillusionment Phase may be the longest.

Lately I’ve heard people refer to what we are experiencing now as “pandemic fatigue.”  We are wondering when this will end.  We want to being able to be with others, to worship together in person, and we don’t want to wear masks, stand six feet apart, and avoid shaking hands and hugging our friends.

          Having worked as a hospital social worker, in hospice and as a priest for nearly 40 years, I can say that what we are experiencing is grief.  We are grieving the lose of life as we knew it, and trying to find our new normal – as some say, as we work through this phase of this disaster.   It is important to note that people grieve differently and while some may continue to be in denial, others are experiencing depression – or the pandemic fatigue.  

The article I read noted, “The reality that this pandemic is a marathon, not a sprint, has started to take a toll on people’s emotional and spiritual well-being, with more than half of adults reporting a decline in mental health due to worry and stress this year.”  So, if you are struggling right now – know that you are not alone. 

          When it comes to grief, people do not move through the so-call stages, they experience them.  We can move in and out of denial, anger, depression and even acceptance.  Just because we accept the way things are today, doesn’t mean we won’t be angry tomorrow.  This is the time in the pandemic when we will likely see more mental health issues.  Restrictions on what we can and cannot do and isolation make even the most introverted among us long for spending time with others.  Even if we are among the ones who are venturing out, some of our friends and loved ones are not.  

          The parable Jesus tells today is about money.  About 40% of all his parables are about money and possessions.  But it also about generosity and compassion.  Something we need right now.  The landowner is compassionate and continues to hire people to work for him even at the end of the day. 

The agreed upon “usual daily wage” is just enough for the workers to feed themselves and their families for a day.  So when the landowner finds people in the market who are not working, he has compassion and asks, “’Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’”

          The landowner tells them he will pay them, “what is right” and they go to work believing something is better than nothing.  What the landowner is feels is right, is to give them enough to feed them and their families.  Those he hires first see what he is paying the others and want more.  “This isn’t fair,” they are saying, “we desire more.”  Is it they would rather see the others and their families go hungry because they didn’t work as hard or as long?  Or is it that they feel they deserve to be paid more than their agreed upon wage?  Both may be true.  But today, I want to focus on what Jesus is teaching us about God.

          God’s love is not earned, but is available to all.  What many of us tend to forget is that the ones who find work at the start of the day are blessed to be able to work – when others are unable to find work.  Those who are hired and work only a short time are blessed to receive the compassion and of our Lord. 

          During the early stages of our response to this pandemic, people were classified as “essential” and “non-essential” workers.  We began to see, perhaps for the first time, that it was the food service industry we needed more than many of the others services we rely upon.   Many of the most educated and highest paid people were deemed non-essential.  Doctors, nurses, and other health care personnel were furloughed and laid off.  It was many of the lowest paid in our society who were classified as essential

          This teaches us just how dependent we are on one another.  The Apostle Paul speaks to this when he says we are all members of the same body – we need each another.  Whatever it is that we do, is important to our life in community.  The landowner, God, values all life and cares for each of us.

          The pandemic has affected some more than others.  Some of us has been blessed with the ability to keep working, others have been severely financially impacted, and still others are better off now, than before.  Most of us are somewhere in between.  Regardless of the financial impact, the pandemic has impacted each of our lives. 

          As we live through this disillusionment phase, it is helpful to note the article reported on 15 years of studying how people are able to cope and they found that faith helps significantly.  The article spoke of spiritual fortitude, making it possible for people to flourish despite hardships.  Our spiritual community can be positive influence that helps us be more resilient.  And, it  noted that during this pandemic, like other disasters they studied (such as Ebola in Africa), we must find new ways to live out our faith. 

          My take away from this article is that we can get through this together – but we need to find news ways of being together as a community by supporting one another.  We have been doing this, but since this phase seems like it may last forever, we need to continue to look for new ways we can safety remain connected.  Suffering is not a sign of weakness.  It is a reminder that we need each other.  Whether or not you are personally suffering, someone is.  Please call three people this week, people you haven’t spoken to in a while – just to let them know you are thinking of them.

Let us pray.           Loving God, help us remember that in you we live and move and have our being.  Guide us to be for others a source of strength and comfort as we continue our lives in the midst of this pandemic.  Help us experience the peace you have to offer us and to share your love with others.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.