September 24, 2017
Today's gospel; men looking for work. Which of us haven't gone through that process; either ourselves or with a loved one? I know I went through it several times years ago with a young wife and children. But it seems, and this may just be part of the aging process, it seems much harder watching our kids go through it. Bear with me as I update our kids and their job journeys:
This was a rather long introduction to get to the point of the parable...not an actual event but a parable that Jesus told about men seeking work. Now these weren't men looking for a career, they needed a job for the day. The setting would be the village square perhaps, or a designated meeting place; Jesus says the Marketplace. A place for workers to gather hoping to be chosen to work on that particular day. Got the picture? Now last week Judy told the story of Ruth in a story form so we would get into the heart of the story. I'm going to do something similar, but what I'm asking from you today is to put yourself in the place of the men who gathered that morning. Our sanctuary is the gathering spot, you are the workers gathered, looking for work.
It is 6:00 AM. You have to be here early to get on the full day's crew. The foreman of a vineyard enters our building and walks up and down the pews. He picks out the strongest, the ones who look like good workers...and the rest of us are left.
Alright, that's not so bad, it is still early. There may be more jobs available or maybe he will come back needing more helpers. And sure enough, he comes back at 9:00. He picks out a half dozen more men...but not you.
9:00, coffee time for many of us today. But for those of you looking for work, it doesn't look quite so bright. But there is still lots of daylight left. And there is still a chance that some work will come available. But the morning is starting to drag out...10, 11 o-clock, still no job offers. And we may be getting a little desperate. We need to bring home some money for our family to eat. Our wives are not working part time at Wal-Mart to help out. It is all up to us.
Noon, here comes the foreman again. We can hardly believe it. The job is taking longer than they thought, with the right crew they can finish the job tonight. So he chooses a few more...you and you and you...but not you. Wow, its now after noon. The best we can hope for is half a days work and the odds are slim for that to happen. We probably should just go home. But then we'd have to admit our failure to provide. We look around the room; the others here are not exactly the pick of the litter. Too old, too young, lame, weak. We all are the rejects and we know it. But what choice do we have? We hang out for the afternoon and at 3:00 we are all shocked to see that foreman back again! Well, I will certainly get picked out of the motley crew of workers left! And it is only a few hours, but maybe we can make enough to feed our family for a day or two. We are hopeful, but he take 4 more men and leaves.
Wow, we've been passed over 4 times now! There aren't too many hours of daylight left. Why do we hang around? It seems hopeless, but misery loves company and so we hang out. Maybe play some cribbage to pass the time before we have to face our hungry, and maybe angry, family.
But at 5:00 here comes that foreman again! He's shocked to see us still here but announces that they need help to finish today. Everyone is invited to join the work crew. Well, we've waited all day, we might as well go and get an hour's pay at least. An hour's pay is better than no pay. So here we all go.
Now it gets interesting. It is time to collect our meager one hour's pay. We get in line and suddenly there's strange murmuring going on...happy smiles and even laughter. It turns out that those of us chosen last are getting a full days pay! Why that's unheard of. But what a wonderful feeling of wonder and joy and even self worth! And when you get home and show the family your windfall; well chances are your family is not used to you bringing home a full days pay. For after all, in the eyes of the work-world, you are one of the rejects. You have been passed over more than you've been chosen. But today? Today we celebrate the wonderful feeling you get when you supply for your family's need; when you are chosen for special grace.
And now the kids are in bed, you and your spouse sit down to reflect. How did this windfall happen? Was it because you were so qualified? No, you'd have been chosen earlier if that was the case. Because you got so much work done? No, your one hour doesn't compare to the 12 hours the first crew put in. Is it your good looks? Your intelligence? Your wealth. You don't have any of those things...well, some of you have good looks and intelligence...this is just a parable you know. No, the reward you received was based on one thing, and one thing alone—the grace of the landowner. And this is the true nature of this parable. Jesus tells us that it is telling about the kingdom of heaven. Our wages that we received were not due to what we did, but to the wonderful generosity and grace of the landowner. Our reward in heaven is not based on our merit, our intelligence, our wealth, our good looks...but wholly on God's grace through our Savior Jesus Christ.
Now a few thoughts on this parable that go beyond that main point, and please don’t forget that main point. Often this parable is used to show that God's mercy extends to even those who come to recognize the call of Christ late in life, even on their death bed. And that is true for the very reasons I gave; it is not our worth that makes us fit for heaven, but God's righteousness imputed upon us in Christ. Theology talk...God makes us righteous, we are not righteous and we cannot be righteous apart from God. We all sin and fall short of God's righteousness. And scripture tells us the wages of sin is death. So what we earn, what we deserve is not salvation but eternal death. But we are given eternal life in Christ. Let us not take that for granted. That's why I wanted us to put ourselves in the place of those last workers. We would have been overwhelmed with the grace of the landowner; we should be overwhelmed daily with the grace of God no matter when it comes.
I should point out, scriptures teach that there are degrees of reward in heaven, some would say rewards we earn by our good works here on earth. What that looks like doesn't matter, because our rewards will all be thrown at the feet of Jesus in homage to him. Never can we trust in our good works to get us into heaven. We rely on the grace of God in Christ. The blessings of heaven are not a reward for good works but a free gift given by grace.
Usually when I read or hear this parable, I side with those first workers. I've gone to church my whole life. I spend a lot of time on church work. It just doesn't seem fair that someone can come along at the last minute and receive my reward. Anyone else ever feel like that? And Jesus certainly understands that. He includes it in his parable, “they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us.” But I don't believe we need to be stuck with those feelings. We all are undeserving recipients of the landowners generosity and grace. That is the point.
Jesus gives us something we cannot get on our own. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to see that Jesus provides us the hope to live in this often hopeless seeming world. It was said in last week's bible study that Christianity is the simplest thing in the world—believe and be saved. It is also the most difficult as we seek to live as Christ would have us. Sanctification; being made more Christ-like, How do we live in a world where the powerless—like those workers in the parable—live at the mercy of the powerful? Most landowners in this world do not act like the man in the parable. Our lives should be working for justice for the least powerful in the world. When we imagined we were workers waiting to be hired, we had no power. We were at the mercy of the powerful landowners. Justice for the powerless? I took a peak at our denominations website on justice and this list of objectives was there: Protect children from all forms of abuse; End human trafficking; Amplify the voices of those society marginalizes, Challenge systems of oppression and discrimination; Stand with those who seek livable wages. This certainly fits in with today's message... and with our gathering on Tuesday! We, acting as Christ's hands and feet, gather our community together to talk about how we can bring safety and justice to the most vulnerable among us. Patty Wetterling is our speaker. But think of Jesus. He came to earth and taught mostly among the vulnerable of his world; the lepers, the sick, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the poor, the children—those the world deemed unqualified for God's kingdom. So as responsible citizens in this world and in God's kingdom, we work to make our children, those closest to the heart of God, safe and loved. That is working for justice, that is being like Christ. We don't often get a chance to make a big difference in our world. I believe this is big. And we seek to bring glory to the Lord in our work. We don’t do this to earn God's favor; we do it because God has already shown us His favor. Favor that overwhelms us, grace beyond measure. Let's pray:
Thank you God, for your great grace and your faithfulness. Forgive us if we are ever tempted to take your gift of salvation for granted. You are the good landowner who calls us to work in your vineyards, the world. May we work for justice in this world and show compassion to those in need. Lead us to live in such a way the we bring glory to your name. Amen.
Hymn: 'Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus 312 HLC