St. Mark's Episcopal Church

124 North Sylvia Street - Montesano, WA, 98563

Pentecost 14 2011 Sermon

Today’s parable follows the encounter with the rich young man who went away sad because Jesus suggested he give away all he had to the poor.  Jesus told his disciples it was difficult for the rich to enter God’s kingdom.
The Message [Eugene H. Peterson] relates the following conversation that precedes the parable of the vineyard: “The disciples were staggered.  Then who has any chance at all?”   Jesus looked hard at them and said, “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off yourself.   Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it.”  Then Peter chimed in, “We left everything and followed you.  What do we get out of it?”  Jesus replied, “Yes, you have followed me.  In the re-creation of the world, when the Son of Man will rule gloriously, you who have followed me will also rule, starting with the twelve tribes of Israel.  And not only you, but anyone who sacrifices home, family, fields-whatever-because of me will get it all back a hundred times over, not to mention the considerable bonus of eternal life.
This is the Great Reversal: many of the first ending up last, and the last first.””
And then Jesus told them the parable of the manager of the vineyard.
The first part of this parable really touched me when I read it.  I have tended to focus on the latter part-making comments about equal pay for equal work and how this practice of paying everyone the same for different hours of work wouldn’t fly today.  I have been thinking about the unemployed today-how their numbers keep increasing and people are losing their safety net, unemployment checks, when they need them the most.
I can see the unemployed lining up at a known pickup point, hoping to get some day labor.  They have their worn gloves and are wearing their work clothes so they can do whatever job they are asked to do.  Maybe some of them have their tools with them--in the hope of making enough money to pay a bill, put food on the table or keep a roof over their heads. There used to be such a place in downtown Seattle, where people could go for day work and employers would go there to hire them--a different kind of temp agency.  Oftentimes the men employed from there were homeless.
And, I was thinking about this manager:  “God’s kingdom is like an estate manager who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard.  They agreed on a wage…and went to work.”  I was touched by this manager’s compassion.  We don’t know if he needed more laborers but, he kept going back to see if there were more to hire.  Even as the sunset approached and all work would cease, he went back and hired more to work.  He didn’t have to do that but he had compassion for those who had not been able to earn any money for the day.
It really touched my heart; I got tears in my eyes.  If this manager is a stand-in for God, he exhibits God’s willingness to wait and see who will come forward to do the work he has given us to do.  It doesn’t have to be a timely response--a response at any point will be sufficient, even for the rich young man.  For whomever we know who has scoffed at working for Christ, scoffed at those who believe in God, they still have the opportunity to respond to God’s loving compassion.
Working in the vineyard was hard work but those who worked the longest were paid the same as those who came in later and later and later.  And, when the pay was doled out, those who had worked the shortest time were paid first. Specifically so those who worked the longest would see they received the same wage as the others.
Wow, I think I’ve been in situations like this before.  I don’t remember specifics but I do recall thinking I would get more accolades for some accomplishment than others who were mentioned first because I had, of course, done more than they or had done it better.  And, I have been disappointed.
Sometimes what I had done was expected of me while others had gone well above what was expected of them.  And, why do we work for God at all?  It is supposed to be about God’s glory.  It is supposed to be about extending God’s kingdom to those who don’t know about it.  It is supposed to be about letting people know how much God loves them and the compassion they can expect.  It is supposed to be about God and the others and not about me.
We all “get it back a hundred times over, not to mention the considerable bonus of eternal life.” [Matt. 19-the Message]   So, giving up accolades now for something that was expected, has value later. And that is what we get out of it. “Are we going to get stingy because {God} is generous?” [Matt. 20:15]
And the work is hard--there are temptations.  Jesus promised that what was done to him would happen to those who followed him.  Life would not be a cakewalk. And, we have in the letter from Paul his struggle with wanting the reward of being with Christ and recognizing he had not done all the work he had been asked to do.  More was expected of him.  Working in God’s vineyard carries all kinds of responsibilities but we will be paid-eventually. We may have to watch others receive their pay first and we can’t allow ourselves to think our pay will be grander. After all, what more could we ask for but eternal life with this loving, compassionate God?
Jesus is telling the disciples about compassion.  If you have an opportunity to be generous, give.  If you have an opportunity to be kind, attribute it to God’s kindness and compassion for you--and be kind.  In Paul’s words from The Message: “As long as I’m alive in this body, there is good work for me to do.”

Telling people about God and his love for them is the kind of work Paul was doing.  I don’t know what the future holds--Paul had an idea that martyrdom was in his future and he looked forward to being with Christ.

Many people these days are worried about the future--like those day laborers in the marketplace.  Maybe we are just in a wilderness right now like the Hebrews with Moses.  So, perhaps we should quit complaining and continue with acts of kindness and compassion and generosity and place our trust that God is here and will show us the way to sustain ourselves.  Instead of wishing for the fleshpots of Egypt let us look forward.  It is human nature to feel discomfort and fear and to complain.  Can we not turn from these and look to our God who is gracious and merciful, generous and abundantly good, even to the point of offending us because we want more than those who came later with their deathbed confessions? [Sojourners Sept.-Oct. 2011 pg. 57]
I want to remember that God is waiting and watching and is always delighted when one of us turns into the light of his full love and compassion.  Let’s be there to help each other and the new folks do the work we need to do.  As Paul said, “As long as I am in this body, there is good work for me to do.”

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