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    • Sep26Tue

      What is right?

      A sermon on Matthew 20: the landowners and the vineyard labourers September 26, 2023 by Sebastian Meadows-Helmer
      Filed Under:
      Pr. Carey, Pr. Sebastian

      As I mentioned before, this is an edited version of Carey’s sermon for today.

      Often when we hear a parable, 

      we try to find where we fit into the story. 

      We may identify with different angles of the story, we may focus on different parts of the story

      which helps us to understand it

      Perhaps the situation of the early morning workers resonates with us.

      These early birds start with the sunrise, 

      working all day in the blistering sun and well into the evening. 

      They are the first to start and the last to end.  

      When time for payment comes they get the same as everyone else. 

      And it makes sense when they grumble against the landowner.  

      This might remind us of the story of the prodigal son, 

      Where the responsible, older brother is jealous because his father throws a lavish party for the foolish younger son who burned through his inheritance.

      Why is God so generous with those who don’t seem to deserve it, 

      we might wonder?

      Maybe you resonate with the workers who are idle in the marketplace until the landowner comes at 9 am, and then noon and then again at 3 o’clock. The landowner tells you to go into the vineyard. 

      You will be paid whatever is right.  

      But who determines what is right?

      Perhaps your work in the vineyard just started at 5 pm when the work is about to end.   

      The landowners’ question hits home: 

      Why have you been standing here idle all day?  

      “Because no one has hired us.’  

      Am I worthless that nobody wants me?

      The landowner says, ‘You go into the vineyard.   

      You experience abundant generosity.

      “Someone thinks I have value” you might ponder with a sigh of relief.

      As we hear, evening comes 

      and the labourers are paid for their work.  

      The first grumble at the unfairness 

      and the last are in awe of the generosity. 

      The kingdom of God is a realm where things are turned upside down. 

      The first will be last and the last will be first.   

      But where is the fairness in all of this?

      A good quote in Sundays and Seasons suggests:

      The lives of the characters in the parable are interconnected. 

      By paying all the workers one day’s wage, 

      the landowner ensures that all of them can meet their basic needs for today, 

      and that they are 

      in a better place for tomorrow.  

      The landowner’s generosity is not “fair” by society’s measure. 

      But it is abundant so that all will get their daily bread.

      Every worker gets enough for that day.

      The ones who are hard workers and have high value in society, 

      as well as those who through misfortune, illness or other reason, cannot find work or cannot work.

      All are connected through their common humanity, 

      their need for the daily necessities of life, 

      and their shared human desire to live meaningful and valued lives.

      Our well being is all linked together.  

      We need one another!

      We are all workers in the vineyard. 

      And we must rely on a common generosity of spirit and shared finances so that nobody gets left behind.

      We can see the interconnectedness of our lives particularly 

      when we turn to the issues of climate justice and food insecurity. 

      Food insecurity is on the radar here in Canada with requests to the major grocery companies by the government to work at stabilizing prices instead of over-profiting.  

      Apparently, an agreement has been made,

      but time will tell of its impact.

      On a larger scale, 

      the current estimates of global food insecurity are staggering.

      The World Food Programme estimates that since 2020, 

      the number of people globally facing high levels of food insecurity 

      is around 345 million people.  

      The estimate is that 70% of hungry people live in areas of conflict and many have been driven off the land through wars 

      and the impacts of climate change.   

      We are connected with these food-insecure millions: these people who are forgotten by the world until the evening of the day.

      (Adapted quote wfp)

      Together we all work in the vineyard, 

      Hopefully cultivating conditions for peace in the world,  

      adding our voice to speak up against injustice. 

      When the landowner says: “I will pay you whatever is right,”

      What is right, we may wonder? 

      There are vast opinions about what is a right, and fair and “living wage” for example.

      Who determines what is “right”?  

      Surely, it can’t be one voice only, but rather it should be a community of voices.

      Who determines what is the “right wage” for migrant farm workers, away from their families for long periods in sometimes brutal

       work conditions?  

      Who determines what is “right” for gender equality in wages?

      For many women, the glass ceiling of pay says what’s right is that men get paid more.  

      Some suggest this happens because men ask for more 

      Since they have more leverage. 

      These asks add up over time. 

      Women ask for less raises 

      and this also adds up.  

      Who determines what is “right” for the environment?

      If the environment is in tatters, then wages don't mean as much.  

      Those people living in poverty and near poverty are the first to suffer when the environment is degraded.

      That’s why the default position of God 

      is that of extravagant generosity.  

      The landowner’s generosity puts all the labourers into a better situation. 

      In the end, the goal of the kingdom is that everyone has enough. Those who fall far below are raised up 

      and the mountains are made level.

      God’s grace turns over tables. 

      God’s grace up-ends us.  

      It doesn’t matter what we do to for it 

      or whether we are worthy enough for it. 

      God’s grace is supplied in abundance even when we have not earned anything or are not worthy of such generosity. 

      We are all workers in God’s vineyard.

      Working together to usher in the already, and not yet,

      Working to touch the earth lightly,

      To uphold the Gospel that turns the world upside down. 

      For us that have more, it may sting with unfairness. 

      For those who are suffering, it is life. 

      And life (the life of Christ) is what connects us.

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