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Pentecost 15 Proper 20 A RCL September 21, 2014

Exodus 16:2-15
Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

In our first reading, we join God’s people on their journey. We’ve all been on journeys of one kind or another, perhaps a road trip or a hike, or a bike trip. Or we have begun a journey of another kind. We have gone into
therapy, or we have made a decision to recover from an addiction.

At first, it’s exciting and every day is an adventure, but gradually, it becomes a struggle. If we are on a hike, the mountain seems as though it’s straight up at a ninety-degree angle. If we are on a car trip, we wonder when we are going to get there. If we are doing hard internal spiritual work as in therapy or recovery, the first thrill of excitement is long gone and the work gets very difficult and we want to quit. Our brothers and sisters out in the wilderness are looking with fond nostalgia at their former life as slaves!

The journey of life, the journey with and toward God, can be a struggle at times. We complain. And God feeds us and gives us water and gives us strength to keep journeying. God is always there to help us.

In our epistle for today, Paul is writing to his beloved congregation at Philippi. Paul is in prison. He is suffering. His letter is so honest. He can’t travel around to visit all the congregations he has founded and wants to nurture. He writes, “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.” With the suffering he is enduring, the idea of dying is attractive to Paul. He would like to “depart and be with Christ.” But he feels deeply called to continue to stay alive in order to be with these beloved people and support them. He writes, “I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel.” Paul says that he knows that the people of the congregation are not intimidated by their opponents. We do not know exactly whom he meant, but these were times of persecution. Paul actually says that it is a privilege to suffer for Christ. In our own time, Christians are being persecuted. Paul is in a challenging time on his journey and he chooses to remain alive to continue his work of nurturing all the congregations he has planted around the Mediterranean Sea.

Our gospel for today is not about how to manage a business. It is about the kingdom, the shalom, of God.

Here is the context of this parable. Matthew’s congregation was growing. New people were coming in. Some had been there from the beginning. Some of the old-timers viewed the newcomers as second class citizens. How come these new people are greeted with all of God’s grace and love when I’ve been here slaving away for so long?

We are all familiar with this parable. The landowner goes out to hire workers for the vineyard. He goes out at six o’clock and hires a group of folks and agrees to pay them the usual wage for a day’s work. Then he goes out at nine and at noon at three and at five o’clock, he says he will pay those workers what is right.

The day ends, and the manager begins with those who were hired at five. That’s rather unusual. Something is different here. He gives these latecomers a full day’s wage. If I am back in line and I have worked since dawn, and I am sweaty and tired and hungry and ready to faint in the heat, and I see this, I can begin to think, Wow! He paid that guy a whole day’s wage. The pay scale has taken a leap! He’s going to pay me more. Maybe seven or eight or twelve times more. That guy started at 5 PM and I started at 6 AM. But when I get there, the manager pays me a day’s wage, too. Maybe I am a bit upset. The pay scale has not changed. The manager paid the latecomers a full wage. But he also paid me what we had agreed upon—also a full day’s wage. The owner has been fair to me and very generous to those who arrived late in the day.

If I can identify with the person who was hired at five PM, if I can think of a time when I couldn’t find a job or if I can think of the hundreds of kids today who have gone to college and can’t find a job in their field, so they are waiting on tables or bar tending or working some other minimum wage job and still living at home, if I can identify with the vulnerable side of myself, the part of me who is out there in the market place every day and has sent out hundreds of resumes and can’t even get a response, let alone an interview, then I am beginning to understand this parable.

Jesus is always looking for workers in his vineyard. And if you are there in the village square, if you show up, it doesn’t matter whether you have a Ph.D or a high school diploma or a third grade education, if you are willing to go out there and share his love with others, he has a job for you. If you are a little older and have a few aches and pains, if you can’t see as well as you once did, if you have a disability, he sees that as a strength. All you have to do is show up. He will welcome you with all the love and respect that he would give to any one of the twelve apostles. They were there at the beginning. We have joined the community two thousand years later.

That’s how his kingdom is, That’s his shalom of peace and harmony and wholeness and healing. Everyone is treated in the same way, with the infinite love and respect that our Lord has for every one of his children. No one is losing anything. It’s just that those who are more vulnerable, those who, for one reason or another didn’t get the good news as soon as some of the rest of us, get the same embrace with wide open arms of love that Jesus gives to Peter and James and John and Mary Magdalene and Martha and Mary and Lazarus and all those who were there at the very start of it all.

Before he tells this parable, Jesus tells us that the last will be first and the first will be last. He also says this at the end of the parable. And he is on his way to Jerusalem, so all of these discussions of grace and forgiveness are in the context of the cross.

May we hold fast to those things that shall endure—God’s grace and love, and the fellowship of the Body of Christ. Amen.

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