Wednesday, September 23 2020
SERMON FOR SEPT 20, 2020
by The Rev. Terri Lolcama
Theme: My vocation as a deacon in this life is not about money; it is about God’s love and compassion extended to all people through me.
The last sentence of the parable of the Rich Man in Matthew Chap19:v30, reads, “Many who are first will be last; and many who are last will be first.” It is also the last sentence in today’s parable of the vineyard owner.
It must have been important. For Jesus would not have said it to his disciples and the early Christians at least these two times – perhaps even more times.
In Palestine, the market place was equivalent to the labor exchange – or unions as we call them today.
The parable shows that on any given day in the market-place of a Jewish village; there would be men looking for work as the rains would soon come and the crops would be ruined. Landowners would be hiring many workers at all times of the day – even at the last hour of the day. Landowners had the right to hire anyone they wanted.
The first men hired that day agreed upon their pay of a denarius. This was a very small amount because it would barely support a family for one day.
Throughout the day, even up to the last hour, the owner hired men who were standing idle; just waiting to be asked.
As the day went on the idle workers became desperate for fear they would not be hired. This would be a disaster for them as going even one day without pay would mean their family would go without food. The last men hired were simply sent out to work – nothing more. There was no agreed upon amount for their work. The parable goes on to say; all workers received the same pay no matter if they were hired early or late in the day.
The first hired workers were very unhappy and angry; and they let the owner know it! They wanted to know if he considered them as equals. The owner indicated it had nothing to do with being equal. He said, “You got paid the wages we agreed upon.” The last hired men received what the owner determined to be a fair wage.
The vineyard owner was angry and said, “…Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what belongs to me?” It was not a matter of justice and equality of pay; it was a matter of generosity. The vineyard owner asked if they were unhappy because he was generous. Evidently they were.
In stooping for others we become great in God’s Kingdom. We wrongly assume the harder we work the greater the reward. It is our responsiveness to Christ’s words that counts. The reward given was based on the owner’s generosity, not by measuring how much each worker accomplished.
How we serve or work is not how much we do or God calls us to do, but on how faithfully we respond to His will. God’s reward is not based on how much we have done nor earned; but is a gift that demonstrates His generosity and His Grace. We owe God everything.
Those who waited all day were labeled as idle. They were idle waiting for work – they were not – lazy. They waited all day because they were desperate to make a living.
How does this translate in our world today? Do we have more workers than work? Perhaps Yes! Perhaps No!
I am of the opinion that almost all people are eager to work for a living. Begging and handouts can be demeaning to those receiving them. These are just a few of the questions concerning our cities and the nation at this time. We may not ever get a chance to talk with those on our streets. How they feel about their situation is unknown to us. Do we label them with our first reactions? What is their truth? What is our truth?
The question for me is, “if I were in their situation how would I define myself? How would I feel?
We might ask ourselves what side of this problem we sit. As Christians do we look with an “evil eye” at those with less than we have.
Do we stand idle in our churches; judging others. Or are we out there trying to solve the problems that exist in practically every city in our country.
At the time this parable was written; idle men were not connected to a group or family. Slaves and servants were connected to a family – day laborers were not. Being unemployed then and today is a disaster. Day laborers may be connected to a group called the homeless. Although not a desirable group, it is a group.
It must be a terrible feeling to have no one to reply on when times get tough from loss of a job or home. Who might you rely on in the event of a disaster?
COVID 19 and terrible natural disasters are happening right now. Thousands are being affected and some will be left with nothing. No home, car, furniture, no food -- perhaps no family.
My concern is that thousands of people every day have no one to help them. They may rely entirely on non-profits or government agencies. There just does not seem to be enough support – probably because there are so many in need.
We too may find ourselves left with nothing and may ultimately end up standing idle on the streets and doorways. Who needs the compassion then?
The landowner of the vineyard was well aware of the need and showed compassion for the workers. This was social justice at its best. The landowner chose to do the right thing at the right time. No judge, no jury.
It was the other workers who took exception to receiving the same pay as those who only worked a few hours. They became the judge and jury. Many stories Jesus told were a “first taste” of social justice and compassion shown to the people of that time.
In Jonah’s story today we learned that he confronted and condemned the social injustices that developed with prosperity. Jonah’s work for God was his work of loving & caring for people. God’s love was revealed to Jonah through the repentance of the sailors. God’s love for us will be revealed to each of us through our repentance and as we move closer and closer to loving and caring for the people. God’s divine compassion is to preserve all mankind. God takes no pleasure in bringing death to the evil.
Many in that era, especially the gentiles, were not treated with any respect. The Israelites believed the gentiles were not worthy because they did not follow the laws of the Jewish faith that had been taught and preached for centuries. They did not want them in the churches.
Theologians have studied this parable and their understanding has changed throughout the years. We are blessed to have those who offer us new and varied ways of thinking and interpreting what we read in the Bible.
CG Montefiore was the founder of Anglo-Liberal Judaism and a scholar of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament. He was of the belief this parable application is or was the heart of the Christian religion. He calls this parable “one of the greatest and most glorious of all.” Discussions have long occurred about the fact that earlier Christians were more precious and valuable to God. Some in the early churches were not as willing to encourage new members – with new ideas; a new generation of believers with new policies.
We must realize being a long time member does not mean a place of honor. It was a long held belief that the Jews were “the chosen.” They looked down on Gentiles being able to come into the church. In God’s world there is no such thing as a most favored nation. No master race! We are all considered equal in the eyes of God. All are welcome into the Kingdom of God no matter when they arrive.
My understanding is that our United States Constitution was written to follow this “equal for all” principle. And yet today– there are those in our country in very high places of leadership who definitely believe that all are NOT equal. Our country and our church have much to learn about equality. I truly believe all people are valuable and precious in the eyes of God. Let us make no mistake- this belief is not held by everyone.
I cannot write this sermon without taking a moment to honor the life of one of our finest Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She gained the respect of men and women for her work of equality for all.
As we read this parable many centuries later since its original writing; we read more into it. SURLEY, in it there is the comfort of God. Which means no matter when a person chooses to come into the Kingdom of God; no matter what race, color, ethnicity; early or late in life – it does not matter. Everyone is precious and loved by God. That may be our only comfort.
Compassion shows forth in the way the vineyard master paid his workers. There is an element of human kindness or tenderness in this parable. The infinite compassion of God is expressed so well.
When we make judgments and perceptions of others we really don’t know - “Perhaps we haven’t arrived yet.” There is no racism in God’s world and yet, each of us show a face of racism at times in our life –“Perhaps we haven’t arrived yet.” In our huddles of life and the church, we say we are accepting. “Perhaps we haven’t arrived yet.”
Accepting everyone into the life of the church is the goal. 1 - Perhaps we have arrived when we can do it without judgment. 2 - Perhaps we have arrived when we show God’s compassion to everyone. 3 - Perhaps we have arrived when we have figured out how to accept and care for those who enter our doors.
We must not let anyone stand idle at the door. The doors must be open for all to enter and have a home to practice their faith. The church is our home away from home. It may be the only “home” for some.
Two questions we might ask ourselves – HOW? And WHEN? How best can we get this done? Do we have a plan? What is our challenge and where do we begin? COVID 19, death of many black men and women, and all the horrible fires have had a lasting effect on us and how much we can accomplish. We find it more difficult to bring social justice into our community.
Currently our church doors have been closed, even to us. The sanctuary is empty except for a few service participants each Sunday. Many services are still recorded and many are streamed live. I pray this will be enough to sustain us. The Palestine men stood idle each day; waiting to work. We are waiting to serve and yet find ourselves standing idle. Sharing the Gospel with others is primarily done via online programs. Better that way than nothing at all. Moving forward can be a challenge.
The vineyard owner’s compassion led him to give the men work at the last hours of the day. His heart was touched by God; he felt compassion for those standing idle and he reached out to them; offering no reward. They were eager just to have the work. During this difficult time as we stand idle; what is our God asking of us?
Will we step forward with generosity to help those who have lost so much – possibly everything they ever owned? Consider where you might give some of your time, talent and treasure. How best can we be generous to those who have lost so much? The generosity of God is real in this parable.
God invites us into many opportunities of service; each ranks the same with God. Here are two lessons to think about:
#1 ---The first lesson is not the amount of work or service given. It is the love in which it is given that matters. If our service is all that we have to give, then it ranks the same with God.
#2 ---The second lesson is even greater---All that God gives is of grace. We cannot earn what God gives us.
In the parable, the master went beyond justice to give all that he had to give. His love radiated to the men who only worked a few hours yet received the same pay for their work.
There are two great truths:
The first is the character of a working man.
The second is the right of every man to have a living wage for his work.
The Kingdom of God extends to everyone by invitation; the opportunity to serve; whether we are equal and deserving or underserving. The reward for everyone is equal. In Matt 5:45 God “sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”
The Supreme Lesson of this parable is: “…the whole point of work is the spirit in which it is given and the spirit in which it is done.” The last hired were willing to leave the reward to the master.
Compassion for others by a landowner or boss is essential. However, it may not exist in today’s world. As a Christian we work for God, for the joy of serving God. Our reward comes purely from God’s grace and our place in the Kingdom of God does not matter. It is God’s gift to us. The Good News in this passage is that God’s compassion and love are always faithful. It is the paradox of the Christian life that, those who aim at reward lose reward, and those who forget reward find reward.
God promises and delivers but one reward for all---represented by a single denarius (basically enough for one’s “daily bread,” Matt 6:11. In the Lord’s Prayer we say, “…give US our daily bread…” God’s compassion provides equally for all of us! Reminding us, “The first will be last and the last will be first.”