Service of the Word: Sunday 20th September

COLLECT

Almighty God, you have created the heavens and the earth, and ourselves in your image.  Teach us to discern your hand in all your works and to serve you with reverence and thanksgiving; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

GOSPEL READING

Matthew 20: 1 – 16

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the market-place; and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.” When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the labourers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.” When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And 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.” 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. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’

HOMILY

One of the things I really missed this year, due to the Covid19 pandemic, was the Wimbledon Championships in late June, early July.  And I’m sure I wasn’t alone in feeling as if a much-loved part of the British summer was missing. Every year that the Championships are on millions across the globe tune in to see the best tennis in the world and thousands upon thousands of people travel to Wimbledon to be there in person.  Every year there’s always at least one camera shot of the miles-long queue of people pitching their tents on the grass verge in Church Road to spend the night waiting for the gates to open in the morning, so that they can get in and buy a ticket to watch a few matches. Sometimes it looks great fun – with picnics and music – under the scorching summer sun.  Sometimes it looks absolutely awful – with cagools and wellies – in the pouring rain!  Whatever the weather, you’ve got to admire the dedication of the folk who queue there for hours and hours and hours!  It says a lot about their commitment to the sport. It requires much forethought, a lot of hard work, a great deal of effort.  

So you can imagine how put out these patient, overnight queuers must feel, after all that time and effort they’ve put in and the big sacrifices they’ve made, when, in the morning, the officials throw wide the gates of the All England Club and let some people in ahead of them; people who haven’t queued, people who’ve maybe had a good night’s sleep in the Dorchester and have just turned up, to be waved through and into the grounds without any of the inconveniences that they’ve had to endure. Sure, they know they’ll get a ticket alright, but I bet more than one or two of them think, either to themselves or very vocally out loud how unfair it all is, how mean and wrong it all is, that they’ve had to go through this ordeal when others can just turn up and swan in.

Let’s pan now from the queuers at Wimbledon to the workers in the vineyard!  Some of those workers have been there since early morning under the blistering sun bursting a gut for the agreed wage. Others get taken on at 9 am, some more get recruited at noon, some more at 3 and even more at 5, just a short while before the whistle blows to sound the end of the day! And when they all line up to get their pay – they all get the same!  Takes you right back to Wimbledon, doesn’t it?  You can hear the folk who’ve been hard at it all day moaning and complaining about the injustice of the vineyard owner giving the same wage to everybody irrespective of how long they’ve been toiling, how much effort they’ve been putting in!

I just love this parable of Jesus. It gets right to the heart of the ways of God’s kingdom; upside down and so contrary to the ways of the world.  And we get this parable from Jesus in direct response to a throw away, moany complaint from Peter in the chapter before when, as Peter so often is, rooted and ground in the ways of the world, he says to Jesus: “Look, we’ve left everything – absolutely everything – and we’ve followed you. And it’s not been easy. So, what are we going to get out of it!?  What’s in this for us?”  If there had been unions and shop stewards around in those days, Peter would probably have been knocking on their door!  Not for the first time, though, Peter has missed the point!  And the point is: that the kingdom of God is not somewhere that you can earn you way into.  Entry to the kingdom is the gracious gift of God and it is a gift offered to all alike regardless of what work they’ve done or what contribution they’ve made.  It’s a gift that is graciously bestowed to those who are baptised as babies as well as to those who become Christians very late in life.  As it says elsewhere: the last will be first. But, as it also says elsewhere: to everyone, justice will be done, nothing will be withheld that is promised. 

Now, I know it’s very easy to feel sorry for the patient queuers at Wimbledon and for the vineyard workers hired at the crack of dawn. We can all see where they’re coming from, because whether we like to admit to it or not, we are all prone to developing a sense of entitlement based on how much we’ve contributed to the life of a family, a firm, a congregation or how generous and sacrificial we’ve been with our time, money and talents to the maintenance and development of some organisation or other.  Then, out of the blue, along comes somebody, who’s maybe not done anything for the Church or for the group or even made anything much of their own life thus far and they get feted and welcomed and included and equally blessed and we, like wee Calimeros, get really miffed at what we see as the injustice of it all. 

I hear it all the time as I travel over the Diocese on behalf of the Bishop. Long serving members of congregations, who get irate when new attenders or new Christians get put straight onto reading and stewarding rotas. Or generous financial givers to the church, who get annoyed when, as a mission, growth and outreach venture, the setting up of a Friends Group is planned and all that an outsider needs to do to become a Friend is to pay £10, which gives them access to some reductions and fringe benefits in the church community which the big payers already get.   When I hear these kinds of complaints this parable always comes to mind, because that is the way it is in God’s upside-down kingdom.  We see it in the parable of the Prodigal Son, in which the Prodigal’s brother, who has stayed at home, and been a good and dutiful boy, and worked his wee socks off for his dad, has to stand there, nursing his wrath and watching as his wayward brother comes crawling back home after having had a right old debauched time of it, to get the fatted calf treatment and instant re-instatement into the family. We even see it on Calvary, when one of the criminals crucified beside Jesus turns to the Lord and says: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  Does Jesus look at that criminal from the cross and say: “You’ve got to be joking, chum!  There’s folk more entitled than you in the queue for heaven”?  No, he doesn’t. He says: “Truly, I tell you, this day you will be with me in paradise!” 

That’s the way the kingdom is because that is the way God has set it up.  People like us, heirs of the kingdom, are already assured of everything that God in Jesus has promised to us and it will surely come to us from our gracious and generous God at the end of the day. So, let’s always be thankful to God for that and, out of gratitude to God, let’s always try to extend that goodness to others. Whether we think they are entitled to it or not, God does.

In the name of our gracious and generous God… Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

INTERCESSIONS

Lord God, your Son Jesus Christ taught us to pray to you for the coming of your kingdom in every situation:

So, we hold before you places of conflict and war: The Yemen, Syria, Libya. We remember the people who suffer in these places, the people who cause the suffering and those who campaign to bring it to an end.  We pray for gentleness instead of violence, peace instead of war, justice instead of exploitation, sharing instead of stockpiling, that your upside down kingdom may penetrate and transform all the kingdoms of the earth.

Lord, hear us: Lord, graciously hear us.

We hold before you the Church throughout the world, here in Scotland, in our Diocese of Glasgow & Galloway and in this region of Lanarkshire.  We ask you to bless and strengthen Kevin our Bishop in his ministry.  In all our words spoken and deeds done in your son’s name, may the first be last and the last first, may the excluded be included, may any sense of entitlement become a desire to serve, that the church may model your upside kingdom and bring your love to all.

Lord, hear us: Lord, graciously hear us.

We remember our community, the people of Clydesdale, its homeless ones, its hungry ones, its fearful ones.  We remember too the people known to us who are sick or suffering at this time: Christine, Ian, Les, Sam, Olive, Chris, Bill, Ann, John, Avril, Helga, Colin and Margaret. We pray that the harmony and wholeness of your kingdom may show itself in the healing and reconciliation of their lives.

Lord, hear us: Lord, graciously hear us.

We remember with thanksgiving the lives of Babette Downing and Mollie Simson, whose years minds fall this coming week.  May their eternal resting place be with you, in the company of Christ, in the peace and joy of your everlasting kingdom.

Lord, hear us: Lord, graciously hear us.

Lord God, hear our prayers and open our hearts to the values of your kingdom, so that justice, love, peace and wholeness may increase in our world.  We ask this through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord.  Amen.

The Revd Canon Drew Sheridan