Welcome to the Church
Sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples.
For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised! (Chronicles 16:23-25a)
Prayers of adoration and confession
O God all-powerful, true and incomparable, we adore you.
How we marvel at the depth of your love.
How we wonder at the expanse of your grace.
We are in awe of the vastness of the universe.
We are privileged to be called your children:
Accepted and forgiven and embraced.
You are almighty, above and beyond everything.
You are victorious: Darkness, sin and death are under your feet.
You are all-powerful, true and incomparable, we praise and adore you.
Our prayer of confession this morning is psalm 51, one of the great psalms of confession, and written by King David – one of the great sinners. So let us pray, as God’s people have done for thousands of years…
Be merciful to us, O God, because of your constant love.
Because of your great mercy wipe away our sins!
Wash away all our evil and make us clean from our sin!
We recognize our faults; we are always conscious of our sins.
We have sinned against you – only against you – and done what you consider evil.
So you are right in judging us; you are justified in condemning us.
Sincerity and truth are what you require;
fill our minds with your wisdom.
Remove our sin, and we will be clean; wash us, and we will be whiter than snow.
Let us hear the sounds of joy and gladness;
Close your eyes to our sins and wipe out all our evil.
Create a pure heart in us, O God,
and put a new and loyal spirit in us.
Do not banish us from your presence;
do not take your holy spirit away from us.
Give us again the joy that comes from your salvation, and make us willing to obey you.
Spare our lives, O God, and save us, and we will gladly proclaim your righteousness.
Help us to speak, Lord, and we will praise you.
Our sacrifice is a humble spirit, O God;
you will not reject our humble and repentant hearts.
(from Psalm 51, Good News Bible)
Friends, God does not desire the death of a sinner, but rather that they should turn to him and live.
By his grace, in the death of Christ on the cross, once and for all,
…As far as the east is from the west, so far has God removed our sins from us.
Thanks be to God
Hymn: O worship the king, all glorious above
Before the readings ...
In many ways, my Christian journey began in 1971, when Mrs Dyson leant across the back fence of number 4 Yaralla Crescent, Thornleigh and asked my mother “Would Richie like to come to Sunday school?”
And I did, I went along to St Stephen’s Normanhurst wearing a clip on bow tie, sat on a very small chair, and learned to sing “Jesus loves the little children”. And I stayed and I grew up. In 1982 I was confirmed there.
In 1985 I did the HSC and I stopped going to church. And nothing much happened. No one seemed to care. I knew lots about Christianity, and lots of bible stories, but I wasn’t really a Christian.
Time passed, and in 1993 I met a wonderful young woman who was a keen churchgoer, and I started accompanying her to church. Church was important to her, and she was important to me. So I went with her – we even got to hold hands in Church.
Beth would go off once a week to bible study. Which was okay with me, but I wasn’t part of it, so I didn’t go. But I got to thinking if studying the bible was important to Beth, then I should probably learn a bit more of it… so I picked up my old Good News bible, opened it randomly, and started reading.
And then the next day, I read another bit and so on. And then one day, I opened my bible to Matthew 20, and read the parable of the workers in the vineyard. In my years of Sunday school and church, I’d never read it or heard it before. I read it for the first time. And I was staggered at the generosity of the landowner and really sympathetic to the workers who started in the early morning.
And then, a couple of days later, I went to church with Beth, and the reading was Matthew 20:1-16. I don’t remember much of the sermon that was preached, because my heart was doing somersaults. That was the moment that the Holy Spirit really opened my heart to the gospel of Jesus.
It wasn’t just the coincidence, but it was the parable itself: I, someone, who hadn’t been a Christian for 24 years, received the same grace from God as the people who had been slogging away following Jesus all their lives.
That’s getting ahead of things, though. But I wanted to introduce the readings with that background. On that occasion, I could, but most of the time today we don’t get to hear the parables as Jesus’ first listeners. They were strange stories, and they have unexpected twists.
Today, we know that the prodigal son’s father welcomes him back, that the traveller is rescued by the good Samaritan, and that the shepherd goes off in search of the lost sheep and so on, so we can’t really hear them like the original hearers did.
I imagine most of you will have heard the parable of the workers in the vineyard before. If you haven’t, fantastic. If you have, listen and read along, and try and put yourself in the place of the first listeners.
The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard
20 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.
“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’
9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.
27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.
Message: At the end of the day
My first permanent job was in 1986. I went to work for Australian National Industries which was a diversified industrial company. It owned several foundries, a train carriage manufacturer, a dockyard, a computer supplier, a steel manufacturer and several others. I was trainee accountant at head office. It was an old fashioned place to work. There was an executive dining room, and there were tea ladies who pushed trolleys between the desks.
Being an employee at head office, I was invited to the annual dinner, where speeches were made and long service awards given. At my first dinner, there were a handful of men who received 50 year service awards – they were all foundry workers, who’d somehow managed to get a job at the foundry in 1936 as fifteen year olds, and stayed there their whole lives. World War 2 had come along, but foundry workers were essential to the war effort, so theirs was a protected occupation. And they’d managed to survive 50 years of industrial accidents and 50 years of exposure to fumes.
They got a handshake, a gold watch, and company superannuation equivalent to 75% of their wage until they died – which, from the look of them, might not have been be too far off. They shook hands, nodded to whatever it was the managing director said to them and walked back to their table and sat down.
Of course, the Managing Director’s annual salary was worth more than all of them together would earn in a year. I’m pretty sure his expense account would have been greater than the take home pay of any single foundry worker. He’d only been there a couple of years and he’d never been exposed to the rigors and dangers of working in a foundry.
The foundry workers, of course, had some overtime. As did I, as a young wage earner. The harder we worked, the more we got paid. A ten hour day, meant two hours extra at time and a half. A full weekend’s work – which I did a few times meant two hours and time and a half and fourteen hours at double time! Wow!
Of course, the Managing Director didn’t get overtime... he got something even better: performance bonuses.
The harder we worked, the more we got paid. The longer we worked, the more we got paid. And we did work hard. Turning down overtime was frowned on. And those tea ladies plied the aisles so you didn’t even have to leave work to get yourself a cup of tea.
The that’s the way of the world, isn’t it? Executive salaries are many, many times the wages of most of the workers, and even among executives, only a few will be good enough to make it to the top. The harder you work, the longer you work, the more you get paid.
The way of the world.
And if you can’t work, or can’t work the long hours, or lack the skills, or have a disability, or have family to care for, or are sick, or don’t have access to education, or don’t have the connections… well, too bad. At the end of the day, you get nothing for nothing.
And then along comes Jesus and tells us about something different. Not about the way of the world, but about the kingdom of God.
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. (20:1)
The story begins not with the labourers, but with the landowner. He goes out to find the workers early in the morning – first light or close to it – and that would have meant going to the market place or the town square, where labourers would hire themselves out.
Now apparently, first century vineyards were not ideal workplaces. The vineyards themselves were on hillsides which were typically rocky, so they had to be improved by clearing rocks, and carrying good soil and fertiliser up to them. And there wasn’t any shade. Or any convenient water. And then there was the tending and pruning of the vines, and eventually the manual harvest and carrying baskets of grapes down the hill.
Nevertheless, it was work. And it paid. By working in vineyards, you could earn enough to live on – and even support a family.
So the landowner came to an agreement with the workers: to pay them a denarius – the usual daily wage.
So off they went to work, and the landowner went about his business.
And then we read that the landowner went back to the marketplace, about nine o’clock – so the first lot of workers would have had a couple of hours of hard work under their belts by then. And in the marketplace, the landowner finds other workers, and he recruits them, too. No negotiation this time, just an assurance that he would pay whatever was right. And so he hired them, and they went up the hillside to the vineyard too.
And the landowner repeats his visit at noon and three o’clock. Each time, he hires more and more workers. Each time, they go and join the other workers in the vineyard.
Finally, at about five o’clock he visits the marketplace for a fifth time, and finds more people standing around. So he’s been there at daybreak, nine, noon and three, and there’s still more people there. He asks them “Why are you standing idle all day?”
We read in verse 7 that they said to him “Because no one has hired us”. Which I guess is true… but maybe no one hired them because they weren’t there to be hired, and we have to wonder why they weren’t there to be hired. We don’t know. Maybe they were busy caring for families, or they were sick – or maybe they were just lazy.
But strangely, the landowner said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ Strangely, because there’s not a lot of light left, maybe a couple of hours of work only, but off they go and join all the others in the vineyard – those that have been there for a few hours, and those that would be well and truly into we might think of as overtime.
And then in verse 8, evening comes and the landowner asks his manager to call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.
You’d think, perhaps, that you’d pay those who’d been there since early morning first, but no – the last get paid first – and amazingly, they get a whole denarius. The usual daily wage, but for only an hour’s work. They would have been over the moon!
And seeing that, you can imagine that each of the other workers would be doing some mental arithmetic… if those later workers got a denarius, and you’ve been here for twice the time, well two denarii, and those who’ve been here since daybreak – well, they’ll probably be staggering home under the weight of all the coins they’re going to get.
But no, says Jesus, verse 10 tells us that each of them also received the usual daily wage.
They did more work, three, four, maybe ten or twelve times the work of those latecomers… and yet, they got the same. A denarius. A day’s wage.
This landowner is certainly not up with the ways of the world: The harder you work, the more you get. The longer you work, the more they get.
And being people of the world, the labourers weren’t happy – we read in verses 11 and 12 that when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’
It is not right. It is not fair. It just doesn’t make sense.
But verse 13 and 14 explain the landowner’s strange action: But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you.”
His actions may not seem fair or sensible, but the landowner hasn’t lied or misled or indeed underpaid anyone. He is the landowner, he has the money, why can’t he pay who he likes what he likes?
Those who signed on first thing in the morning said “Yes, we’ll work for you for the whole day for a denarius”, and that’s what the landowner gives them.
The money is the landowner’s to give.
And he asks the workers in verse 15, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?”
Of course, we’d all agree that it’s his money and he can do what he likes… up to a point. And we see it all the time in the world – people spending money in ways that we think are unwise – or on things that don’t meet our approval.
The landowner asks the disgruntled workers “…are you envious because I am generous?”
The literal translation from the original Greek is “is your eye evil because I am good?”
Do you see evil in this goodness?
But it envy, I think, that is key.
We criticise others because we are envious of them. They don’t spend their money wisely… we’d do a much better job.
And I think we see it in wider society. Don’t spend money on those things, spend it on these things that effect us!
Or perhaps even, don’t spend it on them. Spend it on us, instead.
We see it whenever a federal budget is handed down… people ask ‘but what’s in it for me?’ or maybe ‘what’s in it for my …’ whatever their favourite special interest group is.
We see it in some way at the moment with Covid restrictions – every day on the news there’s reports of people being upset because their particular circumstances don’t appear to have been considered by the rule makers.
Traditionally it’s been things like ‘crack down on welfare recipients, and give wage earners a tax cut’.
Or ‘Make them work for the dole. But keep the negative gearing allowance on our investment property in place’.
And so on it goes.
That’s the way of the world.
But it’s not the way of the kingdom of God.
God is the landowner, and God will take you into his kingdom in the morning, in the afternoon or late in the day. And the reward that God offers to each one of us through the death and resurrection of Jesus is the same. It is life with him.
In today’s terms, God is the employer that does not check whether his employees play video games, or Facebook, or surf the web on company time, even if he’d really prefer they didn’t. He doesn’t even ask them to finish their work before doing such things or to limit their activities and their time on such things.
There are no key performance indicators for members of the kingdom of God. You get the reward, no matter how badly – or how well – you’ve performed. The one thing that matters, the only thing that matters, is being there at the end of the day.
All the labourers in the vineyard were paid the same. No more, no less than anyone had agreed to or been promised. But only the labourers in the vineyard were paid. If they’d never gone to the marketplace and accepted the landowner’s offer and gone to the vineyard, there was no reward.
I reflect that as a young person, I’d wandered to the marketplace, I’d peered over the fence of the vineyard, and wandered off again. In 1993, I was in the marketplace and accepted the offer, and I joined the other workers in the vineyard – and I can tell you, that a few of the people who’d been there an awfully long time resented my arrival.
At the end of the day, though, we are all there together. The early arrivals, the late arrivals.
We need to be conscious of being envious of God’s generosity – and indeed being envious of the generosity of others.
We work for God not in order to earn his favour, we work for God – labour in his vineyard – because we have his favour.
So often though, it just doesn’t seem fair…
Are you envious because God is generous?
We need to step back, and not view things as the world views them… we need to step back and see God’s great generosity to us all.
And we need to think: Where will we be at the end of the day?
Hymn: Blessed assurance
Prayers of Intercession
God of everlasting love, who provides all things,
we pray for all people;
make your way known to them,
your saving power among all nations.
We pray for Christians in other countries, especially where there is suffering, danger and persecution; those sent out as missionaries.
Strengthen your people for their witness and work in the world.
We pray for the peoples of the world and their leaders;
the police and those who administer our laws; all men and women in their daily work.
Give wisdom to those in authority in every land,
and give to all peoples a desire for righteousness and peace,
and the will to work together in trust.
We pray for those who suffer;
the sick; the poor; the depressed; the lonely; the unloved; the persecuted; the unemployed;
those who grieve; and those who care for them.
Comfort and heal, merciful Father,
all who are in sorrow, need, sickness or any other trouble.
We pray especially for Bronwyn and Neil, as they progress through health issues, and we pray for those in care or shut in: Audrey, Luke, May, Pat and Sheila.
We praise you, Lord God,
for your faithful servants
and ask that we may share with them Christ’s resurrection glory,
through his death and rising again for our salvation.
Hear us, Father,
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever.
Hymn: And can it be?
Offering Prayer and Benediction
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,
where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal;
but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,
where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)
and we pray:
We thank you, Lord, for the gifts you have given each one of us, and all of us together. Help us to use them to glorify you, and to share the good news of your Son to the whole world.
So many things in life seem unfair. At the end of the day, though, we have been richly blessed by God, who has given us his Son, and as we read in the scriptures:
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”. (1 Corinthians 2:9)
And as we finish our worship together:
May God the Father make you holy in his love;
May God the Son enrich you with his grace;
May God the Holy Spirit strengthen you with joy;
And may the Lord bless you and keep you in eternal life.
Looking Out: Reopening the doors
Next week (27 September 2020):
Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16 or Psalm 25:1-9
Exodus 17:1-7 or Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
Psalm 25:1-9, Philippians 2:1-18
Theme: “Working out our salvation… together”