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    Sep 24, 2017

    Proper 20A, September 23/24, 2017

    Preacher: The Rev. Ted Foley Deacon

    Series: Deacons

    Category: Weekly Sermon


        Earlier this week, when I told someone that I was preaching this weekend, she asked, ‘What’s the Gospel reading?’ When I told her that it’s the parable of the workers in the vineyard, she said, “Oh yeah. That’s my “favorite” reading – and the emphasis was on the air-quotes around the word “favorite”.

        Its not her favorite reading. In fact, I’ve talked to people over the years, and this parable might be one of the least favorite parables in Jesus’ arsenal of teachings. I know that I’ve struggled with it myself.

        So, I thought that maybe it would be useful for us today to do a little work and try to insert ourselves into the parable and put ourselves into the shoes of its characters. Maybe this will lead to a greater understanding of just what Jesus is trying to teach us. So, first let’s put ourselves in the shoes of one of the workers who gets hired in the morning and works all day.

        Imagine yourself today. You’ve been working at your job for a few years and have become quite good at it. You’re happy with the work and feel that you are being compensated fairly by your boss.

        So, on the last day of the month, the boss comes up to you with a new employee – let’s name him Paul. This is Paul’s first day so, you spend the afternoon training Paul in his job.

        At the end of the day, the boss comes around with the monthly pay checks. You open your check and see that no mistakes were made and you’re happy. However, when you notice that Paul has also received a pay check and you glance over his shoulder and see that, for his 4 hours of work, Paul was paid exactly the same as you for the entire month.

        So, how would you feel about that? You probably feel cheated. I know that I would. I think I would feel just like those workers in the parable hired early in the day.

        There is no way that I can stand here and convince you that this is a just and fair situation. From a human standpoint, in our society today and in the time of Jesus, this is not fair.

        And I think that is why Jesus has told this parable. It certainly gets our attention!

        So, we’ve put ourselves in the shoes of those hired early in the day but we haven’t really gotten to the point of Jesus’ story. To do that, I think we need to put ourselves into Paul’s shoes – Paul the new employee.

        It turns out that Paul has a history. As Paul was applying for the job, the boss finds out that Paul had spent some time in prison. And, this history had some pretty severe consequences. Paul, apparently, has had a lot of difficulty finding a job. No one wants to hire a convicted felon even though he had completed his sentence and paid his debt to society. And because of this history, Paul was unable to feed his family.

        So, remember, you are in Paul’s shoes. Really struggling with life. When you open your pay check and see that you received a whole month’s salary for four hours of work, how do you feel? When you consider that you can now feed your family, how do you feel? When you consider that you now have a compassionate boss, how do you feel? Do you feel joy? Do you feel gratitude?

        I think that many of us struggle with this parable because, most of time, we can easily identify with the workers who start early in the morning and how they might feel cheated. However, it’s harder for us to remember that there have been times in our life when we too have made mistakes and need the generosity of a compassionate boss – or, in this case, a compassionate God.

        Of course, this parable is not about some new theory of economics. In fact, it has nothing to do with economics or a fair wage for a fair day’s work. It’s all about the kingdom of God. How can we be right with God – particularly after making some mistakes in our life – mistakes that we call ‘sin’?

        This parable reminds us that we can’t make ourselves right with God by working harder, or smarter, or longer. In the same way that Paul could do nothing to erase his past prison record.

        No, Jesus is telling us that, in the kingdom of God, we become right with God, not because we’ve earned it but because of GRACE. We become right with God because we have a loving and gracious God who desires, above all else, to have a loving relationship with each of us.

        When Jesus was telling this parable, I imagine that he had two audiences. He had the Pharisees who believed that, the only way to be right with God was to follow the rules to the ‘letter of the law’. Even if those rules led you to some absurd situations, you needed to follow the rules. The Pharisees could easily identify with those hired early in the day. The Pharisees believed that the kingdom of God is something that is earned.

        But Jesus had another audience. An audience more like us. An audience that knows that we aren’t perfect. We all make mistakes. An audience that confesses every Sunday that we have sinned – by things that we have “done and things left undone”.  

        We all know that, being Christian doesn’t make us perfect. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Part of being a Christian is admitting that we are not perfect. Admitting those times when we have hurt people, or turned our back against God. Just like Paul in this story, we too have made mistakes.

        But being Christian also means that we believe in the good news - we believe that we are forgiven for our mistakes. That our God is a compassionate God – and as it says in Exodus, full of grace and mercy, abounding in steadfast love for us, forgiving all our sins.

        And, this is such good news to us – all of us. When Paul opened that pay check, he knew that his boss had forgiven all the mistakes of his past. We too can be assured that we are forgiven of our sins and are again, right with God.

        A couple of weeks ago I attended a worship service at another church and all of the hymns, and all of the scripture readings, and the entire sermon was about God’s unending grace – or as Twila Paris sings, God’s, “Unending Fountain of Grace”.

        It was amazing as I looked around the church and saw the joy in the congregation as they celebrated God’s grace. I saw them raise their voices with “Amens” and “Alleluias”, and raise their hands to the Lord, and literally dancing with joy celebrating the grace that God has shown them.

        For myself, when I think of the mistakes of my past and how God has been so gracious with me, I have a different reaction. I wonder, “How can God love me this much?” My reaction is joy, but sometimes tears of joy.

        At different times in our lives, I think that any of us are like the workers that come to the vineyard late in the day needing God’s grace and forgiveness. So, let us celebrate – whether it’s shouts of “Alleluias” or whether it’s tears of joy – let us celebrate God’s grace in our lives.