Vineyard Work. Focus on Gratitude!

Sunday, March 5, 2023
Pastor Bonnie Lomen

Matthew 20:1-16

Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The parable of the landowner is a familiar text to most of us. Many conversations can be sparked by the tale.  We wonder aloud why a landowner would be the one recruiting workers and why he didn’t know how many workers he needed.

We also spend time thinking about the workers and their reactions to the generosity of the landowner. One part of the story shows us the reaction period when the last are rewarded generously and the first expect a bonus for their extra time working.  That period is short lived as the first find out they will get what was decided on…..without a bonus.

Most commentators agree God is the landowner and we are the workers.  This week I struggled to figure out how to hear the story without having our knowledge or experiences of wages and work be such a strong component.  This is not a literal vineyard any more than being a ‘fisher-of-men-‘ had the disciples fishing.  Maybe Matt. 9 helps define what we are harvesting. Jesus talks about harvest in  Matthew 9:35-38:

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. …

The harvest of the kingdom is souls. It involves teaching, proclaiming, healing and the like.

I came to see the denarius as God’s provision of all we need for the day. God sees each of us, knows us and provides what is needed.  Sometimes the need is met through the community. We find two sets of people before us:

  • -those who have received the gift of forgiveness and life (even eternal life)
  • And those who are harassed, helpless, standing around the square waiting for in invitation and a purpose in the kingdom

Work in the kingdom of a generous God, asks us move past thoughts of cash earned. I believe working for God’s kingdom  is an inviting others to know the Savior and for us personally to have assurance God provides what is needed for the day. As we work for the kingdom, we tell others of the availability of strength to endure worldly trials in this life. Trials are met in the hope given through the cross and resurrection. We also receive eternal life which we live in now, day-to-day.  When we labor for the kingdom we:

  • are “living out our gratitude to a gracious God who has provided everything.
  • we do this through service to others.
  • We invite others into the kingdom-introducing them to the leader who gives purpose and life. The new workers come alongside us in gratitude to God, serving others.

In the kingdom of God, we acknowledge God will be ‘right’ righteous toward us.  We can trust we will receive what we need for the day and will receive a final gift of eternal-life-at-God’s side. We are then freed of fear and allowed to serve in the gratitude of people who have everything in Christ. God knows each of us and our special needs.

That may seem as clear as mud.  So here is the passage using kingdom language: Let’s focus-

20 “In God’s kingdom,  God Himself goes out early in the morning to hire workers for His world. Many are in need of the things of life, and of purpose. 2 He promises He will provide what each would need for the day and sends them to work with the people.   3 “About nine in the morning He went out and saw others standing in the marketplace unknowing, in need of help. 4 He told them, ‘also go and work in my vineyard, and I will be righteous in dealing with you.’ 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 bewildered and without purpose?”

7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard. I will deal righteously with you.”

8 “When evening came, God has helpers gather all the workers. 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 what was needed. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. Certainly since they had been workers in the kingdom so much longer, there would be an additional reward! But each one of them also received as the others had; what they needed and the promise of new life

 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against God. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only a short time,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day for much longer.”

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for ENOUGH to fill your needs, along with life and purpose? 14 Accept what you have received 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 all that is mine? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last. I have indeed invited you into an equality with your neighbor.  All will have life from me, for it is mine to give as I wish.  I wish all to be taken care of in this life and the next.”

The parable names our flaws.  We don’t want equality. We receive gifts and soon we feel entitled.  We take for granted the gift and forget to focus on gratitude as we look forward.

Our nature is explained in this story:  A man came into a lot of money. He want to share.  Each Monday he would walk down a certain block. He stopped at the first house and explained he wished to share this gift.  He then gave the homeowner a crisp $100 bill.  The next three Mondays he did the same thing; a crisp $100 bill.  When the next month came around, he walked the same block.  But he went past the first house and knocked on the door of the second home.  He gave the owner a crisp $100 bill.  Suddenly the man in the first house stuck his head out and yelled, “Hey where is MY $100!!”

Gratitude for the gift was gone.  It was now expected by the first homeowner.

God invites those with need, into the kingdom where He will righteously provide what is needed for this life, renew purpose, and will ultimately take the worker to live with Himself……just as He promised us.

Kingdom work and ‘payment’ have no economic battle to solve.  We earn nothing.  It is all a gift. God’s kingdom is involved with people (good or bad) receiving the gifts of God.  In becoming part of God’s plan; (hired). We are asked to TRUST IN GOD, and FAITHFULLY service as thanksgiving for what we have received. Our service/work as gratitude.

Perhaps gratitude (along with the forgiveness mentioned last week) can be our focus in these few weeks. When focusing on the gifts we have received-not earned- and God’s outrageously generous nature, we won’t have time to complain it is NOT ENOUGH. Our reward will be in helping others, for we will experience true life in God’s vineyard.

But, there is a sort of ‘maddening equality’ in the body of Christ.  We cannot claim MORE because we were baptized, invited into the kingdom and worked hard to 35,46 or 50 years.  We receive what is promised just like the newcomers.

In my situation of moving from ministry to cancer patient, I could complain I had travelled a long road to ordination and I was ‘put out’ to have that change. Maybe I believed my reward for kingdom work was to avoid cancer.  God could have done that. But He didn’t.

Instead, He asks my gratitude for all I had travelled and what was provided in my everyday.  I was assured the promise He made to me had not changed.  It was just carried out differently.

Comparison is the thief of joy.

The migrants flooding our borders may show more trust in God as they live in the kingdom of God’s promises. Many are Christians coming with the hope

The thief on the cross receives the same reward as the disciples who had walked with Him for three years. He barely had time to know Jesus, and finds himself EQUAL in kingdom rewards.

In God’s kingdom there is not the exclusion of someone because of their color, gender, sexuality or nationality. People may live in ghettos or mansions.  This is not because they are loved more or less by God.  It is a worldly choice being made by or for others.

Yet, God’s workers have this maddening equality that the people in the parable noticed.

We need an imagination for the holy if we are to even begin the lives of gratitude we are offered.  God will surprise us. He will give provisions beyond what we expect or sometimes withhold from us what we expect and open new worlds in new ways.

As we find in the parable, things get turned upside down.  We suddenly don’t have to avoid conversations about religion, money and politics at the gatherings.  (Yes, there are things beside sports to be discussed.)  Faithful conversations are possible.

I wonder if God sat on our councils, if He would fully fund mission trips and do fundraisers to pay gas bills.  He is outrageous in generosity, beyond our thoughts in every instance.

Perhaps trusting His nature and faithfulness to us is the first of things we can focus on with gratitude!  As all eyes turn to His salvation and glory God’s people say…………… Amen.

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