Worship September 20, 2020
I welcome you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
This is the good news: there is no ranking in God’s kingdom.
God graces everyone with the same gifts: mercy, renewal, new life.
God has kept the covenant.
We have been forgiven; we have been made new people.
Together we come to worship God.
Lord, whether we have come to you from long ago, or have just come to you now, you reach out with love and blessing for each one of us. Help us remember your mercy and your love and offer greetings and blessings to each other in your name. AMEN.
Hymn UMH #103 Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise (verses 1,2,4)
Scripture Matthew 20: 1-16 (NRSV)
Please pray with me, Gracious God, as we turn to your Word for us, may the Spirit of God rest upon us. Help us to be steadfast in our hearing, in our speaking, in our believing, and in our living. Amen.
The Laborers in the Vineyard
20 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage,[a] he sent them into his vineyard. 3 When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4 and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5 When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6 And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9 When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.[b] 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage.[c] 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?[d] 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’[e] 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”[f]
Reverend Dave Johnson in his sermon titled: “Scrambling to Be First” says “One of my favorite teachers in elementary school was my third grade teacher, Mrs. Stevens, an “old school” teacher who maintained a strict sense of order in class but who genuinely cared about each of us.
On the first day of school she asked us to line up for lunch and there was a mad scramble to get to the front of the line. After we had lined up, Mrs. Stevens went to the back of the line, smiled, and said, “This is the front of the line,” and led the class to lunch. I still remember the surprised grin on the face of the kid who suddenly found herself in the front of the line, I also heard someone at the back of the line say: “This is so annoying!”
The next day when we lined up for lunch, we all scrambled to be last in line, so Mrs. Stevens went to the middle of the line and said, “Today this is the front of the line.” Eventually we all got the message and the scrambling to be first stopped.
Today’s gospel lesson is unsettling on the surface for many people,
Be honest. When you heard the scripture reading did your heart leap for joy? Were you thrilled when you heard that the workers who’d toiled and worked all day long in the hot sun were going to get the same wages as those who’d worked only one hour? I think not!
This parable can be annoying because it turns everything upside down.
The grace the landowner demonstrates in this parable is the opposite of what we, would expect. One scholar aptly refers to this parable as “The Parable of the Eccentric Employer”.
We live in a world in which people scramble to be first all the time: kids in elementary school scrambling to be first in the lunch line, high school students scrambling to be in the top ten percent of their class, college students scrambling to get into a certain fraternity or sorority, employees scrambling for promotions, parents scrambling to get their kids ahead”.
The parable is contrary to our societies value of hard work and just reward: The more you work and the more productive you are so the more you ought to get paid. I don’t know many who would disagree with that. And this is the complaint of those who worked all day: “You have made them equal to us.”
The parable provokes one of the earliest cries of childhood, when one sibling gets a bigger piece than another, the one who feels cheated screams: “But that’s not fair!” And so it goes: Some seem to get more than they deserve while others get less, and it just doesn’t seem right.
But before we dismiss this parable as a, “Bible passages not to be taken seriously,” let’s consider the possibility that there’s a lesson to be learned here, and that lesson is a battle between human justice and God’s justice – a battle between our will and God’s will – And this is what I hope you’ll get out of the sermon today, that when the love of God rules in our hearts, we’re brought into community with each other, and we experience the fullness of life, not as compensation, but as a gift of grace.
Let’s summarize the parable: A landowner hired workers early in the morning and promised to pay them what amounted to minimum wage – He then went back at nine, noon, three and at five and hired more workers telling them he’d pay them what was right. At the end of the day the landowner had all the workers line up starting with those who came at five o’clock. Lo and behold, he paid them a full day’s wage.
Still, no problem, right? If he paid one denarius for one hour’s work, then he must be going to pay one denarius per hour. That’d be generous, but fair. This is where the parable takes an unexpected turn, as the workers filed by to receive their wages, he paid them all the same – one denarius each, no matter how long they worked.
Imagine the chorus of “Hey, that’s not fair!”. Never mind that they got precisely what they were promised; the fact that the others got the same didn’t set well. The landowner replied, “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous? Take your pay and go home.”
What was it that made the workers who’d worked all day angry? The first problem was the fact that they were obviously working for the pay and not out of a sense of purpose or pleasure. And this is a good question we’d do well to ask: “What is it that motivates you to do what you do?” Whether you’re employed full-time or serve as a volunteer, whether you work in the community or around the house, what motivates you to do what you do? If it’s money or recognition or the praise of others, be careful! Most jobs don’t pay enough to satisfy a healthy ego.
If what you’re doing isn’t self-satisfying and self-fulfilling, you’re likely to be angry and resentful about doing it, and when someone comes along doing the same job and gets paid more, you’re likely to feel as resentful as the workers in the parable. It is only when you genuinely enjoy what you’re doing that you have no need to compare your situation with others.
The story is told of Yogi Berra. The New York Yankees were at their peak and were negotiating contracts for the next year. A group of reporters interviewed players as they emerged from the owner’s office, and one of them asked Yogi Berra about the terms of his contract. In his plain-spoken style, he said, “I’m gonna get to play baseball again next year for the Yankees, and would you believe it, they’re gonna pay me besides!”
That’s the spirit of gainful employment, doing what you love to do and do well and getting paid for it besides. If the workers who’d worked all day had this attitude about their work, they wouldn’t have resented those who only got to work one hour. When you’re in the right vocation and you’ve got the right spirit, then the longer you work, the better.
We are pleasing God when we use our gifts and abilities to bring glory of God and to the benefit of others. In the long run, money or recognition or praise has little to do with it.
A second problem with the disgruntled workers in the parable is that they lacked a healthy sense of gratitude. Think about it. Have you ever been out of work? Have you ever applied for a job and gotten turned down? It’s no fun.
Can you remember how grateful you were when you got a call or a letter offering you a job? Well, what happens to that feeling of gratitude once you’re on the job for a while and the new wears off? Isn’t that when we begin to complain and find fault?
Those who are grateful to be employed have little to complain about. It’s when gratitude gives way to the routine that we become disgruntled and resent those who seem to have it better.
Can you remember your first job, how thrilled you were to make a few bucks, to receive a paycheck, to have money of your own? Remember the pride you felt and the eagerness to return he next day?
Well, what happens to that sense of excitement as time goes by? If you’re not careful, you’ll lose your enthusiasm and start to see your work, not a chance to be fulfilled and get ahead, but as a necessary evil to be endured. The more we’re grateful for the opportunity to serve and contribute and work, the less concerned we’re likely to be over working conditions or fringe benefits.
And something else about gratitude: It keeps you humble when you stop to consider those less fortunate. You know the old adage: “I complained because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” The same holds true for every level of work.
Are you able to clean your house or mow the lawn? Are you able to buy your groceries and pay your bills? There are those who are not able to do any of these things. The more you consider how blessed you are, the more you’re able to look upon those less fortunate with compassion instead of resentment.
Dr. Philip McLarty says “This brings up an interesting aspect of the parable to consider, that, perhaps, those who were hired to work at five o’clock had been left standing idle all day, not because they didn’t want to work or didn’t try to get a job, but because they were the least fit to work”. He continues “In 1988-89, I served as superintendent of a rescue mission. We provided meals and lodging for the poor and homeless. Every day after breakfast the men would gather in front of the mission to hire out for the day. Folks in need of day labor would drive by and pick up the men they needed. Some mornings I’d stand out there with the men and watch the process unfold. Invariably, the younger, stronger, more aggressive men would hire out first. They’d run up to the cars and pickups in the street before they came to a full stop. The older men couldn’t compete. By mid-morning, all that was left milling around were the undesirables – those who were too old, too frail, too crippled or too mentally incompetent to hire out”.
In the parable, God’s justice is that everyone got to work, and everyone was given the essential earnings to feed his family. The inequity of their varying hours of work was offset by the inequity of their varying strengths and abilities. And this is God’s justice, not that we get what we deserve, but that we get what we need.
Finally, the problem with the workers who complained the loudest is that they failed to recognize their relationship to each other. Or, to put it another way, the offense of God’s justice is softened when the “all day” workers and the “eleventh hour” workers stop seeing each other as “us and them” and start seeing each other as “we”.
God’s justice arises out of a sense of community in which we see the “eleventh hour” workers as our brothers and sisters whose needs are every bit as important as our own. Next time you get annoyed when someone else gets more than he/she deserves, ask yourself, “What does this say about my relationship to this person? Would I feel the same if this were my brother or sister or father or mother?”
Well, I suppose when it’s all said and done, we’ll always feel a little uneasy about the inequities of life – the unfairness of it all – and perhaps we’ll continue to harbor a little resentment toward those who seem to get a free ride. Let’s just say it’s because we’re human, not God. Even so, let’s trust God to be just in spite of our humanness, so that when the day comes when we’re caught short, as one day it surely will, there’ll be grace for us as well.
The story is told of a man who died and went to heaven. St. Peter met him at the pearly gates and asked to examine his qualifications. “We have a point system,” St. Peter said, “and only those with enough points are allowed to enter.”
“Points?” the man asked, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
St. Peter explained, “It’s simple. We determine how many points you have by the life you’ve led. We require a hundred points to get in. Tell me about your life, and I’ll add up your points.”
The man thought for a moment and said, “Well, let’s see. I was a faithful member of my church for over forty-seven years. I served as a deacon and an elder, and I taught Sunday School.”
St. Peter said, “Very good. You get one point.”
The man said to himself, “Oh, my! Well, let’s see, I was a good husband and a good father. I gave a tithe to the church, and I contributed to all sorts of charities. I helped with various civic projects, and I served on several committees. Doesn’t that count for anything?”
St. Peter said, “Indeed it does. You get another point.”
The man’s face sank, and he said, “I can see now, I’ll never make it. The only way I’d ever get into this place is by the grace of God.”
St. Peter smiled and said, “And that, my friend, is worth ninety-eight points. Welcome!”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
Let Us Pray:
Pastoral Prayer and Lord’s Prayer
Lord God, your Son came among us to serve and not be served, and to give his life for the world. Lead us by his love to serve all those to whom the world offers no comfort and little help. Through us give hope to the hopeless, love to the unloved, peace to the troubled, and rest to the weary
Gracious God of life and death, we live in both. We are mindful of how you made life and you made it to be limited.
We have a limited amount of time to be on this earth, to be your children, to be kind and loving to all those you created blessedly. We have a limited amount of time to live life abundantly for us and for all. Indeed, you made every moment to be treasured, to be blessed, to be full of love and opportunity, but we often treat the moments as unlimited and ordinary. Forgive us, Loving God, for our tendency to not live in the present and accept it as a gracious gift from you. Help us to make each moment have its meaning and to be the energy that brings meaning to others’ moments. We are one in Christ; let us be united in love and caring for those around us. Hear our prayers, O God. When we are in joy, when we suffer loss, we are yours. The world tells us how to be: how to be strong, how to deny loss, how to push down grief so it does not get in our way. But those things do not help us to live fully; they help us to maintain an unfaithful image. Help us, God, to be fully who we are, mixing times of loss and times of gain into a full, faithful life. We know you are there, even though we must walk through the darkest valley from time to time. May we walk through those valleys with courage, with strength, with hope, for we lose so much in life, but it is never the final answer. We pray all these things in the name of the Lord that journeys with us through the darkest of valleys and helps us to find new life along the way, Jesus the Christ, who taught us to pray as one, saying…
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen
Hymn UMH # 126 Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above (verses 1,2,4)
In the days of Moses, God laid out an offering model that involved giving Him the choicest of options. He did not ask for the sheep that was sickly, the runt of the litter, or the animal that would place 2nd in a livestock competition. He asked for the FIRST and FINEST of what the people had to offer.
Today we are called to give God our best, not because He needs our gift. God doesn’t. We are called to give for 2 reasons—-1) He is worthy of our gift, and 2) It is a physical way that we put Him first in our lives.
It is easy to give what we don’t want, our used leftovers; but such gifts cost us little. A gift that honors God is one that requires sacrifice, because that is the gift that reflects our hearts. When we give our first and finest, we acknowledge the position God holds in our lives.
Prayer of Dedication
Faithful Father, thank you that you give the gift of abundant, eternal life. You have said that you are a Good Father who gives us good gifts. Your generosity overflows to us. Everything we have is a gift from you. As we bring our offerings to you, we give back to you from the abundant blessings you have given us. May our gifts be acceptable in your sight O Lord our God. Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, and power and strength, be unto you our God for ever and ever. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.
HYMN TFWS # 2173 Shine, Jesus, Shine
God shows mercy and love to all God’s people. Go into the world where strife and injustices prevail and bring God’s love to each one, not counting the cost, but rejoicing in the sharing. God’s peace is with you always. AMEN.
- Thank you to Arnie, Rod and Jacki for sharing your gifts of reading and music with us.
- Lawn Chair Worship continues (weather permitting) at 10:30 Sunday mornings in Mora.
- Ogilvie continues at 9am each week.
- Online worship and mailings continue so if you have health conditions that put you at a higher risk for contracting the COVID virus, please allow yourself the privilege of staying home.