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 Disclaimer: The sermon below is what was prepared and sat on the pulpit; it may not be what was heard.  

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Pastor Buck during Joys and Concerns

GOSPEL:  Matthew 20:1-16

1. `Now the kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner going out at daybreak to hire workers for his vineyard. 2. He made an agreement with the workers for one denarius a day and sent them to his vineyard. 3. Going out at about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place and said to them, `You go to my vineyard too and I will give you a fair wage.’ 5. So they went. At about the sixth hour and again at about the ninth hour, he went out and did the same. 6. Then at about the eleventh hour he went out and found more men standing around, and he said to them, `Why have you been standing here idle all day?’ 7. `Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. He said to them, “`You go into my vineyard too.’

8. In the evening, the owner of the vineyard said to his bailiff, `Call the workers and pay them their wages, starting with the last arrivals and ending with the first.’ 9. So those who were hired at about the eleventh hour came forward and received one denarius each. 10. When the first came, they expected to get more, but they too received one denarius each. 11. They took it, but grumbled at the landowner saying, 12. `The men who came last have done only one hour, and you have treated them the same as us, though we have done a heavy day's work in all the heat.’ 13. He answered one of them and said, `My friend, I am not being unjust to you; did we not agree on one denarius? 14. Take your earnings and go. I choose to pay the last comer as much as I pay you. 15. Have I no right to do what I like with my own? Why should you be envious because I am generous?’ 16. Thus the last will be first, and the first, last.”

Sermon for Sunday, September 24, 2017

This morning’s scripture follows directly on the heels of the story of a rich young man who came to Jesus asking what good deed he must do to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, to which Jesus replied, “Why do you say good? There is none Good, except the Father in Heaven.  Then, ultimately Jesus told him, “Go, sell all you have and follow me!”  But, because the young man was very wealthy, he was unable to part with his wealth, and so he went away sad.

Jesus then turned to the apostles saying, “It’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” That statement astounded everyone, for in those days, as it often is now, wealth was considered a sign of God’ favor.  That scripture ended as Jesus said, “Many who are first will be last and the last will be first.”

It’s so easy us to understand why those who worked the longer hours during the heat of the day would naturally expect more.  It’s even easy to feel that they were cheated.

They weren’t, however. 

Even though the Gospel stories portray life, the lesson to look for is always spiritual, for it’s spiritual lessons that Jesus taught. Jesus was teaching how to live in the material world as life is lived in the mansion world—the Kingdom of God.  They’re almost always at odds.

If the lesson were about material fairness, then the workers have a right to feel cheated.

The priests, scribes and Pharisees believed they were closer to God because of both wealth and status—and that they would receive a greater reward.  In their minds they have worked in God’s fields most, if not all of their lives, simply by obeying The Law.  I suspect today that many pastors and priests feel the same way, but they’re wrong.  Everyone receives the same reward—grace that takes us to eternity.

Almost all of Jesus’ stories have a double meaning: one of which is easily recognized by the worldly mind; and one of which requires a spiritized mind to ferret out the spiritual meaning that the world cannot grasp; simply cannot understand.

In this story, the Market Place represents the world; the landowner represents God.  Those called to work are working in the fields of the world, but for God.  Those who hired on early will not receive anymore than those who hire on late in life.  All receive the same wage: grace.

What the story is telling us is that some come into the fields of God late in life—the 11th hour, whereas some have worked all their lives.  Regardless, the reward is the same: eternity.

Now, let’s clarify ‘working’.  What it does not mean is becoming a pastor, or Sunday School teacher, or missionary, or church secretary, or whatever.  What it means is giving your life to God by following the teachings of Jesus—which is nothing more than a life of caring about others, and the world while under the direction of God the Father.

Does anyone know when they’re being directed by God?  No.  We just go through life, praying for direction, doing the best we can, but often feeling lost.  I’m reminded of the 16th century Carmelite nun, Theresa of Avila.  One day, on one of her many journeys for Jesus, she became hopelessly mired in the mud. She cried out: “If this is the way you treat your friends, no wonder you don’t have many!”  Working for God can sometimes be frustrating.

Worldly values are skewed; a person’s worth or value is seen in monetary value; how much a person make, how much they have. But the Kingdom of God is not about wages; it’s about service, where to be “the greatest of all is to be the servant of all.” Nobody gets paid more, nobody gets paid less; it’s all about service. Regardless, nobody escapes travail—not even saints—hence Theresa’s unsaintly outburst.

What service?  Sharing of your gifts—your talents—whatever it is you are good at.  In this regard, think of Yogi Berra.  Once, after renewing his baseball contract with the Yankees, a reporter asked him about it—wanting to know how much he was being paid.  Yogi said, “They’re going to let me play again.  And not only that, but they’re going to pay me too.”  Yogi was also a master of paradoxical statements, such, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” And, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

All Jesus was saying when H said to the rich young man, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is one alone who is good,” was that none of us are perfect.  Paul’s put it this way, “We all sin and fall short of God’s glory.  We’re human beings.  The best we can hope for is to improve as we age in spiritual maturity.  And frankly, I believe that what delights God the most—not how good we are, but how much we improve.  And, when we back-slide, He smiles, thinking to Himself, “I knew you would... pick yourself up and keep trying.”

The reason is that God’s love is for everyone, because we’re His creation; His children.

Quite a few years back I read Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life. He began the first chapter with, “It’s not about you,” which was contrary to every self-help book I’d ever read—which all said, “It is about me.”  Think and Grow Rich!  Do what you want and the Money Will Follow!  The Power of Positive Thinking.  How to Win Friends and Influence People!  What do you mean, it’s not about me?

I instantly disagreed with Rick Warren, though I understood what he meant.  You see, Jesus came so you might have life and have it more abundantly.  But, in order to understand that, we have to understand what abundant life is—which has nothing to do with money or prestige.

Instead, it has everything to do w/eternal life and learning the ways of the kingdom so we will fit in; how we live is our passport; out citizenship papers.

What Rick Warren was saying is that we were created for God’s pleasure, which can only be understood by realizing that we are the children of God.  God delights in us as we delight in our own children.  When they were babies and growing, we were so enamored with them—which is the way God is w/us. God wants to be delighted and receive pleasure from the things we do.  Think back on our own children, how when they were babies, how much pleasure we took from them.  How much we loved them.  When they became teenagers, the delight and pleasure was often admixed with anger.  “Where have you been?”  “Have you been drinking?”

I know my children didn’t think of themselves as “my children.” They thought of themselves as individuals in their own right, with minds and wills of their own.  But, they were still my children, whether I was angry or delighted.

We are God’s children.  The Bible tells us we were known and planned aeons before we were born. Our life was planned, no matter how far we may have deviated from it, because God knew what our potential was.  It’s still there for us to get back to. When our life is on track, everyone receives the same wage: God’s acceptance and love which we experience as grace.

In the Kingdom of God, everyone receives the same wage. It’s called Grace!