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Bible Talks

Grace & Justice in the Kingdom (Matthew 20:1-16)

Rev. Alan ShawRev. Alan Shaw, September 21, 2014
Part of the Lectionary series, preached at a Lismore Sunday service

Mt 20:1-16 Grace & Justice in the Kingdom v2 – Rev Alan Shaw
PRAY!
INTRO = Most of us know what a working bee is. It’s when a FEW people turn up armed with tools to tackle a job – or lots of smaller jobs - that need to be done. Might be a local preschool – or Landcare group planting trees along the riverbank – or Clean Up Australia Day – or a church.
Imagine there was a working bee held somewhere & you were invited. The big carrot was a BBQ feast at the end of the day for the hungry workers . Cold beers & soft drink – good red wine – real coffee - steak sandwiches with egg & onion topped with BBQ sauce & yummy Thai salad.
YOU turn up at 7am along with the other early risers – you tool up & get stuck into it before the heat of the day.
Morning tea comes & goes – then lunch. Hot day, dirty work. Some extras rock up to help. Great! Afternoon tea & a few more show up. More the merrier!
As the afternoon shadows appear – you can smell Athol’s BBQ firing up – you’re hanging out for that cold beer or glass of red.
Along comes a couple of carloads of eager volunteers – just in time to help you put away the last of the tools & stand in line ahead of you for a feed.
Hang on! How do you feel about these latecomers? Shouldn’t you be in line ahead of them? Is there enough to go round?
When Jesus told the Parable of the Vineyard Workers – also called the Parable of the Latecomers – [Mt 20:1-16] – I bet the people who listened had similar questions & feelings of indignation.
?Who could blame them for thinking, ‘Hang on, mate! That’s not on! ?What happened to a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work?’
?What if our industrial awards & workplace agreements were set up like this?
People would start turning up for work just before knock-off time!! The system would collapse. Productivity would be out the window. Small business would be in even worse shape than it is. China & India would be laughing.
The employer in our story – the vineyard owner – makes a point of reminding the whingers who worked all day that – however justified they might feel about complaining - he has every right to pay ALL his workers a fair wage. By being extravagantly generous to those who turned up late - OUR sense of what’s fair is challenged.
Jesus told this story to illustrate something important about the Kingdom of God.
It’s human nature to think people who work long & hard are more valuable.
Truth is.....some people ARE more valued than others. Bonuses & incentives are often paid to those who are more productive. We call it reward for effort.
But those who earn less than those around them can – perhaps rightly - feel less valued. Women are still paid less than men in some industries in Australia today.
I worked over 15 years in the employment industry – helping disadvantaged people find work - people who were UNemployed – [& there were some who made it an art form] – but MOST people I came across genuinely wanted to work - but weren’t competitive.
There were also the UNDERemployed - those who HAD some work – few hrs/wk – not enough to meet needs – would work more if they could. The working poor. Many became disheartened - depressed – poor diet – weight & health problems – dental problems – sometimes led to substance abuse. It was a downward spiral.
People in this situation often feel judged by those who have jobs – & those who don’t know the full story.
Think about the latecomers in our parable. ?How did they feel?
? Did they look at their pay & think: ‘This idiot’s paid me too much! I’m out of here before he notices!” (Like when you get more change than you should have at the supermarket checkout)
? Or did they front up to the boss – very much aware of the grumbling from those who worked all day - & say, ‘Thanks, but I think you’ve overpaid me!’?
The employer in the story has every right to pay all his workers a fair wage – but Fair doesn’t always mean equal.
? What does this parable tell us about the Kingdom of God?
FIRST - The idea of reward-for-effort - so ingrained in us – doesn’t apply.
God wants us all in his vineyard & he wants everyone to feel valued. There are no front seats or corporate boxes - no tax system geared to favour the wealthy & powerful in the Kingdom of Heaven. No special consideration because you’ve been an Anglican all your life.
Think about the criminals who were crucified alongside Christ at Golgotha. Luke [23:39-43] tells how - in his dying moments – one of them acknowledges Jesus as the Christ & receives the promise of eternal life from Jesus himself. Now that’s GRACE!
Sometimes people die full of years with their life’s work completed.
Sometimes children & young people are called home when the door of life & achievement has barely opened. It’s natural to question what’s fair at these times..
But there is NO ‘too soon’ or ‘too late’ in the kingdom. God calls us home at the right time & with the same loving welcome – whatever the circumstances.
The parable also tells us something of God’s COMPASSION. That God is not only just but goes beyond justice to give us more than we deserve.
What God gives isn’t fair pay or reward for effort. It’s called GRACE. We don’t deserve it – we can’t earn it. But it’s freely offered. Ours if we want it it.

Underlying this story of GRACE is a human rights charter – that all should have the right to work & to receive a living wage.
The parable also reveals God’s GENEROSITY. That no matter who we are – no matter when we come - we are all welcome & we are all precious in his sight.
In the kingdom the whole point of work is our attitude - the spirit in which it’s done. When we offer what we have to God - no matter how great or small the gift – if it’s all we have to give - & we give it with a generous heart – with the right attitude - then it’s a worthy gift. Anything less & we are ripping off God & ourselves.
The Apostle Peter asked Jesus [Mt 19:27], “? What do WE get out of all this? We gave up everything to follow you! What’s in it for US?”
I imagine Jesus must have sighed when he heard this before replying: “But many who are first will be last, & many who are last will be first [Mt 19:30]
Many who are poor in wordly terms will be great in the kingdom because they offered themselves in service without counting the cost – their joy was their reward.

A beautiful song about God’s grace by an Australian songwriter Russell Fragar goes....
Nothing you can do can make him love you more.
Nothing that you’ve done can make him close the door.
Because of his great love he gave his only Son.
Everything was done so you would come to the Father.* That’s GRACE!

The heart of today’s parable is the invitation: You can almost hear Jesus saying: “Please come – I’ll find a place for you, I promise – I’ll reward you for just turning up.
Because I love you.”
There’s no catch. God loves us & WANTS us with him.
All we need to say is, ‘Here, I am Lord. Take me!’

* ‘So You Would Come’ (Luke 15:11-24) By Russell Fragar ©1996 Russell Fragar & Hillsongs Australia
Before the world began you were on His mind
And every tear you cry is precious in His eyes
Because of His great love He gave His only Son
Everything was done so you would come.

Nothing you can do can make Him love you more
And nothing that you’ve done could make Him close the door
Because of His great love He gave His only Son
Everything was done so you would come.

Come to the Father though your gift is small
Broken hearts, broken lives - He will take them all
The power of the Word - the power of His blood
Everything was done so you would come.
‘So You Would Come’ (Luke 15:11-24) By Russell Fragar ©1996 Russell Fragar & Hillsongs Australia
Pentecost 15A Sunday 21 September 2014
Eucharistic Preface?Lift up your hearts. We lift them to the Lord.?Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give our thanks and praise.??It is indeed right to give you our thanks and praise, O God,?for you provide for the needs of your people ?with a generosity beyond our understanding.??In the first of your mighty wonders you created the earth and filled it with good things.?When you led your people out of slavery, you heard their cries in the desert?and gave them food from heaven so that they might eat and give you thanks.??Now you feed us through your child, Jesus, the bread of heaven,?who came to nourish us and strengthen us in the faith.?Though he was killed, you raised him to life,?and he gives himself with scandalous extravagance to all who respond to his call,?the early birds and late comers alike.?So now for us, through your gracious gift of faith,?we live in Christ and he lives in us.?Therefore with .....??Declaration of Grace / Absolution?All who respond to God’s call are embraced in the generous mercy of God.?No matter when you responded to God’s call?God is gracious - forgiveness is yours, in Jesus Christ.??Commission & Benediction?Go out in the strength of God’s gracious gifts.?Live generous lives worthy of the gospel of Christ.?Stand firm in one spirit. Strive with one mind for the faith of the gospel.?And may the power and the presence of God the Father go with you.?May the call of Christ the Son lead you into fruitful work.?And may the Holy Spirit fill you with the joy of grace.
Other ideas for Parable of the Vineyard: theme = grace

Working Bee – early starters – some turn up at lunch time – some in time to put away the tools – who is more deserving of the BBQ feast afterwards?

Bus trip – last on board – no seats left – someone stands & offers the best seat at the front with the best view. Is it deserved?

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Matthew 20:1-16

1For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. 2And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. 5Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. 6And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? 7They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. 8So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. 9And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. 10But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. 11And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, 12Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. 13But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? 14Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. 15Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? 16So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen. (KJV)

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