St. Mary Nanoose Bay

September 20, 2020

Exodus 16:2-15 & Matthew 20:1-16  

Loving God, we give thanks for the gift of life. Amen.  

In our first reading from Exodus today we hear – “The Lord spoke to Moses and said, “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.” Exodus 16:2-15 And, sure enough, that evening Israelites receive meat in the form of quails and bread in the form of manna in the next morning.”

These are the people that God has led out of slavery and is delivering into freedom. But how quickly they revert to their complaining ways. They seem to prefer the predictability of their lives in slavery to the process, the journey, towards freedom.

This is also true for us. Instead of accepting the outstretched hand of God and all the gifts offered, we complain about our situation as if we would or could know what is best for us. Our gift is life; not the life we think we deserve or the life we want, but simply, life itself.

We strive to arrive at a place of comfort, a static place where everything is how we want it. We forget that life is a journey and it’s all a mystery. But the one thing for sure, which people always seem to want to argue about, is that we cannot fathom that mystery, it’s larger than we are. We are not in control. If we open our hearts, minds, eyes and ears we discover we have a guide and sustainer if we have but have faith and trust.

Each one of us is being called into freedom but for most, if we can’t see it, we don’t trust the journey. We dig into our small world view and judge everything around us from our puny perspective on life. And we complain.

In the gospel reading from Matthew, we have a story which has come to be called “The Parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard,” which is so typical of us, to put ourselves, as humans, at the centre of the story. I think it would be better called “God’s Abundant Nature.”

In today’s story, we have a landowner who needs help on the vineyard.  The fruit, the grapes, are ripe and need to be harvested. He goes out to find day labourers and hires the ones who are up early looking for work. Once they agree on a wage, he sends them into the vineyard.

Mid morning he realizes he needs more workers so goes out and hires people who have nothing to do and are hanging out in the market. In this instance, he says, “I will pay you what is right,” and they seem to trust him because they go into the vineyard to work. He goes out 2 more times - at noon and mid afternoon. At 5pm, for some reason, he goes out again and finds more people standing around with seemingly nothing to do and hires them as well.

When evening comes the landowner prepares to pay all the workers. Up to this point, the scenario seems straightforward. It’s harvest time, the landowner needs to complete the harvest in a short time and so brings in a lot of workers. But now comes the part we have trouble with: the landowner pays everyone exactly the same amount of money. Whether they laboured 12 hours or one hour, they are paid the same.

“It’s not fair” the ones who started early in the morning grumble. The ones who agreed to the wage they would be paid. “We worked all day in the scorching heat!” they protest. “Those guys came in at the last moment and only did an hour’s work; in the cool of the day no less! It’s not fair!”

This development, which Jesus compares to “the kingdom of heaven” shakes us up.

The landowner says “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me: Or are you envious because I am generous?” Let’s move past equating this parable with the need to pay people fair wages.

Let’s look at the 10th commandment: You shall not covet. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s”  (including your neighbour’s salary or wealth.) (Ex  20:17).

In none of the commandments do we hear anything about fairness. We do are instructed, however, not to compare our situation to others. Why? Because our view of fairness is not the heavenly view. And it is spiritual work to move past the human view of fairness into a place of gratitude for who we are and what we are given.  

Think about it. Comparing ourselves to others goes nowhere good. If you look at what you don’t have, well, there are people a lot worse off than you. Why wouldn’t you look at what you do have, and wonder why it is that you are this fortunate?

One of my teachers used to say, “Why compare yourself to your neighbour? Why not to Einstein or Bach? If you’re going to play the comparing game, why stop short? Go all the way and make yourself feel really bad!”

Conversely, why don’t we compare ourselves to those who are born into poverty, abuse, neglect, or into times of war, famine, depression, etc., and feel guilty, responsible or ashamed??

If we see ourselves as better or worse off, we miss the gift. And how does that help? We’ve been given life and our choice is to live it fully, or let it pass us by.

Gratitude takes us a long way towards relieving our preoccupation with this seeming imbalance.

The prayer we pray many Sundays is Hear O’Israel. It clearly instructs us to love God, and love our neighbour as ourselves. In other words to enter the realm of love and live out of that place. It doesn’t say to get involved with determining what’s fair, or to spend our time trying to unravel the mystery of life. No, it tells us to enter the mysterious relationship with God and neighbour in a way that allows us to receive, enjoy and share love.

Some of us wake up to the knowledge that we are loved and have been since the beginning. That we have purpose in life and that purpose is to serve.

Others of us have been deeply hurt or neglected and have a story going that we have ben deserted and always will be and that our being here has no effect or purpose.

Whatever the reason, we are invited to stop standing around aimlessly and to engage with God in the harvest of God’s planting. Our lives have purpose and we all have something to contribute. Don’t worry about someone else’s ability or willingness to contribute. This isn’t about fairness. This life is about being grateful for being able to give back - to be able to say, “God, thank you for this life,” and to find ways to serve.

Everyone’s life is a gift and everyone is different. Some folk have a lot to give and can enjoy giving back; others have limited energy and resources and give in whatever way they are able; others still, feel they are owed something and have not found a way yet to freely and joyfully give.

But the truth is that we are all recipients of life. In this each one of us is the same. We have been created. And each one of us is valuable for that fact alone.

We are all borne into different circumstances. Some of us have known God and about Jesus since the beginning, with our mother's milk; others of us come to learn about God and Jesus sometime along the way; and others, come to see the truth on their death bed.

It’s not our business how these things come to be. Our business, once we receive or acknowledge the good news, is to share our joy, our resources, our time in the vineyard. Our business is to help harvest the riches of creation/ the good fruit so all can rejoice in the drinking of the wine, realizing and giving thanks for our life together that is gifted to us God.

Why deny or resent others the abundance of God’s love? Who cares when folks come to the truth, to the light, into God’s embrace? Let’s celebrate that another has been found, another has found the way, another has tasted freedom and found the promised land.

Can we let go of our tight fisted ways of looking at work, and who deserves what? Can we genuinely give thanks for the opportunity to serve?

After all, who likes to stand idle? No, come and help with the harvest. Come and drink the wine of the harvest, and eat the bread that comes from God's creation. Come, give thanks and be nourished.

Then go out into the world, inviting others to the harvest. Celebrate together this one precious life we’ve been given.

You won’t be thinking who was first or worrying if you’ll be last, we will celebrating with our arms around each other, enjoying the dance that we all invited into, and singing songs of praise.