For much of the summer, we have been sitting with the Apostle Paul and wrestling with his letter to the Romans. But as fall approaches – and boy does it feel like fall out there! – we are turning our eyes back to Jesus for a while.
We will watch him confront the religious establishment.
And once again, we will hear the good news of salvation.
Over and over again as I read these gospel passages, I am struck by the simple fact that God’s ways are not our ways… and that God for that.
Will you pray with me?
God’s ways are NOT our ways… and that is apparent in our two stories from scripture for this morning.
In the other, a story about work and labor, all were paid the same for their work in the vineyard, even though some had been out in the sun all day long and others had been in the fields for only an hour.
Complainers being rewarded?
A tenth of the work and equal pay?
Don’t these stories just make you squirm around in your seats a little bit and want to shout out: But that’s not fair!!!
It’s not fair.
We like a well ordered society, one with liberty and justice for all.
We believe everyone has a shot at the American Dream.
We want the playing field to be level and we search out those who are cheating and throw them out of the game.
We want everyone to have an equal chance at greatness.
We want to be able to start at a place of fairness… and then the chips fall where they may.
Those who exceed expectations or break records or make billions have our attention. They have worked for it. They have earned it. They deserve it.
After all, we have worked hard for the things we have, just the same.
And when someone comes around who does little to no work whatsoever and gets paid the same as us…. Or when someone who has made millions does so by cheating the system… or when we lose our jobs because someone somewhere else is trying to save a little bit more money for themselves – then we start to feel that maybe situation isn’t fair again.
Jesus has been talking with his disciples about what it takes to get into the kingdom of heaven. And he sits them all down to tell a little story.
A wealthy man had a vineyard and needed workers. So he did what all landowners did: he went down to the town square to hire some laborers for the day.
Now, all of these day laborers started out with an even playing field. All of them were without work for the day. All of them were willing to work and so they headed into the town square at the break of dawn to seek employment.
But you see, the problem was, there were always more people looking for a fair day’s work than there were jobs to go around.
If you got lucky, you would expect to work for 12 back breaking hours out in a field for minimal wages. You got to go home with your hands dirty, your head held high, and with bread for supper tonight.
But if you weren’t so lucky… then you went home to your family empty handed. You would have spent the entire day standing in the hot sun in the town square, waiting for work, and you would have nothing to show for it.
This was a time without government help.
These were days without unemployment benefits.
No COBRA, or food stamps, or welfare.
No matter what you think about how our government today responds to the needs of the unemployed, the poor, the disabled, and yes, sometimes the lazy and the freeloader, that doesn’t change the fact that in the day and time of Jesus – if you did not get hired for the day, then you would not have money for that day’s food. It was as simple as that.
There was no safety net.
The laws of fairness would say – well, that’s the way the cookie crumbles. No work, no pay. Little work, little pay.
But as we heard in the gospel reading… that is not how this story goes. God’s ways are NOT our ways.
Our landowner goes to town to hire and some are chosen first thing in the morning. They are eager to get to work and head out in the fields for their 12 hour shift.
But the work is great and so the landowner keeps going back in to town to hire more people. Some at 9, some at noon, some at 3, and the last group gets hired just an hour before quitting time at 6pm.
And then they all get lined up to come forward and receive their daily wages.
Those poor souls who were hired for just an hour went into the fields because they were desperate for work. A few bucks would help buy a loaf of bread for dinner, if nothing else. But as they were called up, they found themselves being paid the full wages for an entire days worth of work!
Well, the rest of the workers were simple peasants, but they could do basic math. And if they had worked for twice as long, they expected twice as much! Can you imagine how the mouths of those who had been working for 12 full hours watered?!
But as each group came forward to receive there wages… each one received a full days worth of pay.
Oh, boy… were they mad!
“It’s not fair!” those workers cried.
And they were right. It wasn’t fair.
But as the landowner spoke, do you remember what he said? “Can’t I do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”
Jesus tells us a story about an extravagantly generous and unfair landowner… but to what end?
Was he teaching us about work? Was he teaching us about our money and how we use it?
But we have to remember, this whole story is told in the context of people asking questions about the kingdom of God.
I truly believe that at its core, this is a story about daily bread.
About who has enough to eat for the day.
About who has enough to live on.
This is a story about life and death.
This is a story about salvation.
Our culture tells us that if we work hard enough and we are good boys and girls and if we are generous with our time and our money that we will be rewarded. If we keep our noses clean, there is a place waiting for us somewhere in heaven. A place we earned by our actions.
It’s all about us.
But remember… God’s ways are NOT our ways.
And God says, no… it has nothing to do with you. It is all about me.
Life depends on God.
Salvation depends God.
Freedom depends on God.
Daily bread depends on God.
Every breath that you take depends upon the God who created you.
That is the message we heard from Exodus this morning.
Those Israelites had be saved from the oppressive hand of Pharoah… they had been led to freedom through the sea… they had been guided day and night by the very presence of God… None of that they could have done on their own. It was all God. It was all grace.
But, like us, the Israelites are human. And they started thinking back to the days when they weren’t dependent upon God. When their honest days labor earned them some bread. When they were stuck in a system of injustice, but at least they knew what to expect. When they were dependent upon no one but the work of their own hands.
They found themselves in the middle of nowhere, utterly dependent upon God, and it kind of terrified them.
But that is precisely when God steps in and reminds them… I am enough. I will provide.
And just like the rain gently fell this morning, bread rained down from heaven.
Pulled away from their jobs and the rat race and the competition and the battle to get what was theirs, the Israelites were being taught that in the end, everything depends on God.
It is all grace.
From the rising of the sun to the rain that falls… it is all grace.
From the bread on the table to the money in our pockets… it is all grace.
We don’t deserve any of it.
We didn’t earn any of it.
None of it was ours to begin with.
That is a very different mindset from a world that tells you to work hard to earn what is yours and then do everything in your power to hang onto it.
But then God reaches out to us and says, come my children. Come and walk with me. Come and work with me. Come and be a part of what I am doing.
God came into some of our lives a long time ago. As children we accepted the grace of God and found life eternal.
Some of us found God as teenagers, or adults, or older adults.
Some of us don’t find the gift of God until the very end of our lives.
But no matter when we find it – it is all a gift. It is all grace.
It’s not fair. But it is good.