The Gospel: Matthew 20:1-16
Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 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?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 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.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 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.’ 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? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that you have inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation, and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: I am going to begin this morning by reading The Collect for last Sunday which was Proper 19: "O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever."
I want to read that center section again: "...because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts"
We have to understand that we need the active participation of the Holy Spirit in our lives if we are going to be able to please God.
I believe that our Gospel reading this morning, supported by the Old Testament reading and the Epistle, is seeking to draw our attention to God's justice and mercy.
That God is manifestly just and merciful in his dealings with us. But God's understanding of justice and mercy are very different from ours. It is only when we seek the intervention and participation of the Holy Spirit in our lives that we can comprehend or glimpse what it is that God is calling us to. One of the ways that the Holy Spirit works in our lives is to help us understand how the Lord longs for us to understand community and relationships. To do that without comparisons and without anxiety.
Now, I have said before and I want to acknowledge again that many of us are facing struggles in our lives. But, I believe it is important to recognize that we often mistake challenges in our lives as justice issues when they are really just the issues of living.
Often, how we understand justice and mercy is shaped by our experience of the society around us. Or how we have been taught justice and mercy are applied - sometimes painfully applied personally to us - by the society that we find ourselves living in.
Sometimes the things that we become anxious about in our lives are a result of how we see justice and mercy playing out in our lives. Oftentimes, this is a matter of comparison with someone else in our circle of acquaintances or our community. It seems to us that they are somehow advantaged over us or before us.
The Collect for today which is Proper 20 says this:
"Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever."
I would suggest that we actually can't achieve what this Collect is suggesting without linking it to last week's Collect. It is only by the work of the Holy Spirit that we can even comprehend or glimpse what it is the Lord requires or desires for us. To not allow ourselves to get caught up - not to be anxious about earthly things - in justice or mercy issues with others around us.
The parable Jesus uses in our Gospel reading, this morning, is a challenging one because of the cultural and societal differences between then and now.
I believe that most of us have to just say "Well, that must have been how society worked back then, it wouldn't happen that way now." Perhaps that is true. But I think we can miss an important opportunity for growth and challenge if we do that and leave it there.
What is at the heart of the issue for the workers who complained to the landowner? Well, they believed they had a justice issue that they wished to have resolved. Someone else gained more than they did. The landowner was not just in his dealings with them.
This is not what they expected to happen when they agreed to the situation. They felt cheated out of their reward.
Now in the reading from Exodus, we heard the Israelites complaining to Moses about their circumstances as they traveled through the wilderness. Now, it is not a completely similar situation but at the heart of the matter, there are some very similar issues.
The Israelites believed they had a justice issue that they wished to have resolved. They only remember how good they had things in Egypt. Moses was not just in his dealings with them. This is not what they expected to happen when they agreed to the situation. They felt cheated out of their reward.
Can I suggest this morning that the central issue in both situations is that they are not seeing, or they are ignoring, the blessing that they have received because they are so busy making comparisons? They are caught up in how they see justice and mercy.
Perhaps I can illustrate what I am saying by referring to a different story that Jesus told. We are all familiar with the Parable of the Prodigal Son. We know that the younger son took the opportunity to squander everything that his father gave him. He went off and made himself poor, so poor he was living in the pen with the pigs he was supposed to be caring for. Suddenly he has a realization that he would be better off returning to his father as a servant. He heads home and instead of his father accepting him as a common worker he reestablishes his place as a son. He throws a party in celebration.
This is a great story and we often concentrate on this aspect of the joyful restoration. This morning I would like us to think about the reaction of the older brother.
I will summarize that story to remind us all of that story:
The elder son has been hard at work in the field, and he comes home and hears music and dancing. He is told his younger brother has come, the father has killed the fatted calf because he has got him back safe and sound. He becomes angry and refuses to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. He answers his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command, yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’
Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’
The elder son is so caught up in his justice and mercy issues that he compares his father's response. He is so caught up in comparing what was happening for his younger brother, that he hasn't stopped to think about what he actually has himself.
He has lived his life without joy and celebration. He has seen his own life as a dreary and rule-bound existence. He hasn't taken the opportunities that he had to revel in his relationship with his father.
My question for us all this morning is: "Is that how we are living our lives in Christ? Are we caught up in comparisons, justice, and mercy issues, and are we forgetting the wonderful opportunities we have to celebrate and enjoy our lives in Christ?
I believe that in the reading from Philippians for this morning, Paul helps us to understand the possibilities we have in our relations with the Lord.
"Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God's doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well-- since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have."
How do we invite the Holy Spirit to guide and direct us so that our lives are filled with the joy of knowing Christ and not anxiety over earthly things? Come Holy Spirit and dwell within us for Christ's sake.
Bishops & Father Mike