Service:- 9 August 2020
It is our intention to restart public worship in the church from next Sunday (16th August). In doing this we will follow the guidance from Scottish Government and Church of Scotland, which will mean that we are limited to 50 people and that we are require to apply 2 metre distancing and we will be looking to set up a track and trace system. Because of limited numbers and to help us comply with Track and Trace there will be a need to register your intention to attend on any particular Sunday. To register your desire to attend worship we would ask that you either send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call the manse on 01505 321 767
With the limitation of numbers who can attend worship and the knowledge that there will still be a large number of people who feel more than a little apprehensive about any sort of large gathering or who have been advised to avoid large gatherings, we will also continue with worship online although the format may change slightly, as will the timing of when the service is posted.
Reading: Matthew 20:1-16
The Workers in the Vineyard
20 “The Kingdom of heaven is like this. Once there was a man who went out early in the morning to hire some men to work in his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them the regular wage, a silver coin a day, and sent them to work in his vineyard. 3 He went out again to the marketplace at nine o’clock and saw some men standing there doing nothing, 4 so he told them, ‘You also go and work in the vineyard, and I will pay you a fair wage.’ 5 So they went. Then at twelve o’clock and again at three o’clock he did the same thing. 6 It was nearly five o’clock when he went to the marketplace and saw some other men still standing there. ‘Why are you wasting the whole day here doing nothing?’ he asked them. 7 ‘No one hired us,’ they answered. ‘Well, then, you go and work in the vineyard,’ he told them.
8 “When evening came, the owner told his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, starting with those who were hired last and ending with those who were hired first.’ 9 The men who had begun to work at five o’clock were paid a silver coin each. 10 So when the men who were the first to be hired came to be paid, they thought they would get more; but they too were given a silver coin each. 11 They took their money and started grumbling against the employer. 12 ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘while we put up with a whole day’s work in the hot sun—yet you paid them the same as you paid us!’ 13 ‘Listen, friend,’ the owner answered one of them, ‘I have not cheated you. After all, you agreed to do a day’s work for one silver coin. 14 Now take your pay and go home. I want to give this man who was hired last as much as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do as I wish with my own money? Or are you jealous because I am generous?’”
16 And Jesus concluded, “So those who are last will be first, and those who are first will be last.”
‘Am I Being Unfair to You?’
In looking at some of Jesus parables over the last few weeks I’ve suggested that some of them contain an inbuilt element of scandal, while others invite us to ask “What if God were like that?” And it seems that this week’s parable encourages us to use both of these approaches.
This parable seems to hinge on three words that I’m sure we’re all very familiar with both because we’ve heard them and used them, the three words “that’s not fair!”
Imagine a lecturer standing in front of a class on the first day of the academic year saying, “I’m going to give you all an A!” What kind of response do you think they’d receive? It sounds great, doesn’t it? Or does it?
Well, one professor did exactly that as he handed out the final exam at the end of term, it was probably some kind of psychology experiment. He said, “I still want you to take the test, but I’ll tell you in advance I’m going to give you all As”, and he was stunned by the response. Of course some students loved the idea, particularly those who hadn’t studied sufficiently, those who were on the borderline between passing and failing, those who were hovering between two grades. They loved it because they knew it was a free gift, that they hadn’t done anything to deserve it, so they were extremely grateful for it.
But, and I don’t think this will surprise you, others complained, openly, loudly. “That isn’t fair! They don’t deserve it! We studied hard and they didn’t, and now we all get the same grade? That’s not right! It isn’t fair!”
I’m sure I wouldn’t be far wrong if I was to suggest those three words sum up the way in which many people reacts to the story we just heard. – “that’s not fair!”
And in response we might want to ask: “but what it God were like that?”
Jesus tells his disciples that the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who hires workers at various times through the day, so that some work twelve hours, some nine, some six, and some, the last ones hired, work for only one hour. So far so good, a normal situation that we can all relate to, but what follows is, according to some people, not quite as good.
What happens next is that at the end of the day, when the landowner come to pays his workers, those he hired last receive not one hour’s pay, but a whole day’s pay. Now that’s great for them, but what happens after that, according to many people, doesn’t seem quite fair, as those who worked all day long in the heat of the sun get the same days pay.
Is it fair? Many people don’t think so.
The workers who slaved all day in the heat of the sun clearly don’t think so, and they grumble and then complain to the landowner.
“These men who were hired last worked only one hour, while we put up with a whole day’s work in the hot sun yet you paid them the same as you paid us!’ (Matthew 20:12)
I think it’s the kind of complaint that most of us can get behind, but, “what if God were like that?”
Has something like this ever happened to you? Have you ever had to work hard to get something, and then some Johnny-come-lately breezes in and gets the same reward without all the effort?
If it has, then you can understand where the labourers who worked all day are coming from. If it has, then you can understand why the Landowner’s answer doesn’t sit too well with some people, as he says:
“Don’t I have the right to do as I wish with my own money? Or are you jealous because I am generous?’” (Matthew 20:15)
There’s a level of scandal in his actions and attitudes, but “what if God were like that?”
This is an upsetting parable, especially if you look at it from the point of view of someone who believes that those who work harder and longer deserve more than those who work for less time and without as much difficulty.
This is an upsetting parable, especially if you look at it from the point of view of someone who believes that “you get what you deserve and deserve what you get.”
But equally this story can be upsetting (until the punch line) if you look at it from the opposite perspective. After all, the workers who were hired in the morning received everything that was due to them for their labour. They had agreed to do a day’s work for a day’s pay. And, having been hired first, they had a great privilege of knowing that they had work, of knowing that they would be paid.
As we recognise this, we should also look at the story from the point of view of those hired last.
All day they stood and waited as landowners came and went, but they weren’t hired. At home they had families and no way to feed them, hope disappeared as the sun cut its course across the sky. They dreamed of being in the fields under that hot sun working for someone and earning a wage which would feed and clothe their family.
And finally, just as their last hope is about to set with the sun someone comes and hires them and tells them that they will receive what’s fair. And they go, and they work with the hope of bringing home something, a small portion of a day’s wage, enough, maybe, to survive another day.
And so you can imagine just how they felt when the time came to be paid.
They didn’t feel very good at all, they knew they were going to get something but would it be enough to feed their family?
But then, the landowner does something completely crazy, completely wild, completely unexpected, completely and totally generous. Something beyond their wildest dreams. He gives them a full day’s wage even though they haven’t earned it. He gives them enough to live on, he gives them their families, their homes, their very lives.
That’s incredible isn’t it. But that’s what happened. And again we might want to ask: “What if God were like this?”
So what’s the problem with the parable? Why do those who worked all day grumble and complain? Why are many people disturbed by it?
Perhaps it’s because we all have a tendency to associate ourselves with the workers who worked all day to earn everything they got, and we rarely (if ever) do we associate ourselves with the final group of workers who only made ends meet because they received something they didn’t earn from a charitable employer.
As I said, this is an upsetting parable, if you look at life from a point of view that believes that “you get what you deserve and deserve what you get” because clearly that mantra isn’t followed in this story, and yet Jesus tells us that this is how God and the Kingdom of God works.
And again we might want to ask: “What if God were like this?” “What if the Kingdom of God were like this?”
And so the worker who had toiled all day bring their complaints to the Landowner, but their complaints are based on the worst of all things, they are based on comparisons, and selfish ones at that.
“I’ve worked longer, I’ve worked harder, I’ve done more. If I had to do all of this – so should they.”
“If I got what I deserve then they got more than they deserve. And if they got what they deserve then I deserve more than I got.”
“It’s not fair!”
And, “What if God were like this?” “What if the Kingdom of God were like this?” What if God isn’t fair? What if God willingly and freely gives us more than we could ever earn or deserve?
The Gospel is at the centre of this parable. The Gospel of The Landowner’s love. The Gospel of God’s love. The gospel that’s expressed in the simple word Grace.
The landowner looks at us, our God looks at us, and he sees our needs and he meets those needs. And the question in God’s mind isn’t ‘how much do they deserve?’ But rather, “‘what do they need?” “how can I help them?”
And that’s God’s right, and God’s pleasure, just as it’s the landowner’s right and pleasure to be generous with his help and his love, to give them more than they deserve, to make their hearts glad if he so chooses.
It’s all grace and blessings. It’s grace to be hired in the morning, and grace to be hired at noontime, and grace to be hired near the end of the day. And we do well to remember it.
Jesus concludes his story as he says, “The last will be first, and the first last.”
This parable carries offence, if you believe that God’s love is something you earn, but for those who accept God’s love as a gift it becomes the best news you can hear.
It’s offensive if you weigh and measure other people rather than really try to love them as God loves them, but for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear the parable is glorious news about God’s love for us all.
Indeed it’s a source of hope and strength for everyone who’s called to labour in God’s field and recognise all the love that he offers.
Thank you, gracious God, for always giving us much, much more than we can earn or ever deserve. Contrasted with our calculating, tight-fisted way of doing business with one another, your love towards us seems reckless, extravagant, and unbelievable gracious. You have given us our lives, our families, our homes, and our friends. You have given us confidence for today and hope for tomorrow.
Forgive us when we consider all of this our right rather than as your gift….
Forgive us too for when we have resented the love you show towards others who have not served you as long as us – for when we have been angry because you have brought joy to others.
Lord, so often we see others as more fortunate than ourselves, as getting more for what they do, as being more beloved.
Teach us in your time, O God, how your love is much more than just fair.
Teach us how it is a special caring for each and every one of us, tailored just for our own size and shape, no matter what riches others may have, or how many prizes, or how full of fame.
We thank you for providing for us, we thank you for calling us to labour in your vineyard, we thank you for the bread from heaven that feeds us today and for the promise of how you will spread your table for us in the promised land and forever provide bread without price and wine without cost.
Father, you call us to work in your vineyard – to reach out to others in your name – and bring your healing word, your gentle touch, your embracing love to them.
Help us to be good workers – ones that seek the lost in the market places and village squares – ones who are unafraid to see in a stranger the image of Christ and in a sinner a brother or sister for whom he died and rose again.
Empower us as individuals and as a church to be the kind of ambassadors who know and do your will so well that in meeting us – people meet you.
We also pray today for the needs of those around us who are in need – be it in body, mind, soul or spirit….
Time for Reflection
In all things we pray to you O God in the name of your Son Jesus – in thanksgiving for all your mercies – and with the prayer that you would help us to follow him.
Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be Thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil:
For Thine is the kingdom
The power and the glory, forever.
Finally, please remember
that although the church building is closed
the church community remains open.
If anyone requires assistance please get in touch.
And may we all keep safe.
May the God of peace go with us
May the love of Jesus keep us
firm in hope and full of grace.