Sermon 20 sept 2020
Do you remember PE classes at school? I was never any good at PE, and was not interested anyway, but had to suffer it along with everyone else, wearing my green rompers, and my gumboots because mum wouldn’t buy me proper hockey boots.
The worst part of PE was when two of the popular and sporty girls were asked to pick their teams for whatever torture in the form of a game the teacher dreamt up. The first girl would pick one team member, then the other, alternating until there was only one person left to pick, and it was, you guessed it, me.
I always felt rejected, that everyone knew how useless I was at games, that even for the sake of friendship or kindness I would never get picked till there was no other option.
The story of the labourers in the vineyard reminds me of those times. The landowner hires a likely looking bunch of workers, and sets them to their task, promising them the usual daily labourer fee. Then more workers are needed, so he goes back for more. The next group were probably not as muscly, or not as keen-looking as the first, but they’ll do. And so on. Finally, later in the day, the landowner is at the marketplace – we are not told that he was actually looking for more workers, but he sees this group of team rejects hanging around, and asks them why they are there.
Their reply reminds me so much of PE days. Because no one has hired us, they say. We are the rejects, they seem to say. We are the ones no one wanted. The landowner has compassion on them and sends them into the vineyard to work, even though he really doesn’t need them.
This might all seem a bit odd, but what comes next is what’s really perplexing.
When it’s time to pay their wages, he gets the newest group up first, and much to their surprise gives them a full day’s pay, even though they have only been there for a short time! Imagine their delight! They had been standing around all day in the hot sun, getting more and more worried about how they would feed themselves without any work, when they receive a whole day’s pay for a little bit of work! They really didn’t expect to get anything like that – even a few tiny coins was all they expected.
They are delighted, and start to stand up a little bit straighter, feeling worthy and valued.
The next group comes up for their pay, grinning and nudging one another, expecting that if the newbies got a whole day’s pay for a few hours, then surely they will get more, because, after all, they were there longer. But no. The landowner gives them the same amount! They would be a bit grumpy, but then they reckon that they’ve only been there a couple of hours longer than the others, so, oh well, them’s the breaks.
But when the other groups, who have put in more hours, up to a whole long day of work, and are nursing aching backs and cramped hands, realise that they too are only going to get a day’s pay, that’s when the grumbling really starts!
The landowner points out to them that they have been paid the amount agreed, and that there is nothing illegal about this.
People however are always quick to see if they have been supposedly short-changed, have not been accorded the recognition they think they deserve.
Let’s look back a few more thousand years to the Hebrews wandering about the wilderness after they leave Egypt. They said:
‘If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’
They too were worried about how to feed themselves. They looked back and thought, well at least in Egypt, it might not have been good, but there was food. I’m not sure what they expected in the wilderness – maybe they had been worried for some time about how they would get by, like the last group to get hired by the landowner.
God comes through for them! The camp is covered with quails in the evening! Great tasty protein, that will keep them full. And then in the morning, there’s this flaky white bred stuff all over the ground, which tastes like honey, and satisfies them! Their needs were provided for, in a way that they could not have imagined. God heard their cries for sustenance and fed them.
Does God hear our cries for sustenance too? Yes God does.
Whatever we need, we can ask God for. We can ask in general terms for God’s provision for us. When we do, we need to be prepared for the fact that with God, what we expect is not usually what we get. There will be something, but it might surprise us what exactly God has in store to nourish us.
We can also ask God for specific things. Maybe it’s best to be more modest in our requests – if you need a car, don’t specify a late-model Jaguar, because you might be disappointed. But trust God to provide for the need. I have often been shopping with God. What do I mean by that?
When I have needed a certain thing, for example green curtains for my son’s bedroom, and have only a few dollars, I have asked God to provide, and often I have been nudged in the direction of the right Op shop to find what I want. God is delighted to help us!
Let’s go back to the workers in the vineyard.
What is Jesus telling us with this parable? He finishes with the words
So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’
Those of us who feel neglected and rejected by the world are precious in God’s sight! And if you accept that you are precious to God, you will also need to accept that that other person is precious to God too, you know, the really annoying one at work, or the whiny child in front of you at the checkout, or the violent offender standing in the dock of the court. Yes, even the horrible, not just the merely annoying, people are precious in God’s sight. Even the most violent offender is precious. This is not in any way to condone what they may have done, but to remind us of God’s incredible love and compassion for everyone. And it’s also to remind us of God’s evenhandedness. There is a proverb that ‘the rains falls on the just and the unjust too.’ Jesus is telling is disciples that whoever is called to work in the vineyard is worthy of full wages, even if they are only there for a short time.
This is a challenge for us in the church too – some churches regard those who have been there longest as more saintly, more holy, more worthy. Some denominations feel that the newer expressions of Christianity are not really the real deal, and not so beloved of God.
But Jesus is telling the disciples and us that anyone who works in the vineyard – who proclaims the kingdom of heaven – will receive their reward. So it doesn’t matter if you were a martyred bishop of Melanesia, like one of the saints in the lectionary this week, or a really new Christian. If you are proclaiming the Gospel in word and deeds you will receive your reward – the kingdom of heaven.