Sunday March 5, 2023 – Lent 2
We turn to walk the inward way,
Where meeting Christ, our guide and light, we live in hope till Easter Day.
© 1993 Hope Publishing Company. All rights reserved. Used by permission. LicenSingOnline#605486
Acknowledging the Territory
Once again, we acknowledge that the land upon which we live, work and worship is the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. We offer our deep gratitude for this land and we commit ourselves to use and share it wisely.
Call to Worship
We gather to worship the One who has promised to care for all our need.
But sometimes it is hard for us to distinguish between what we want and what we need.
And so, as we gather, we turn over all our wants, our dreams, our desires and our needs,
Trusting that the One we worship will sort them all out.
Service of Lenten Candles
During Advent we light candles each week as we prepare with joy and excitement to welcome the one born to bring God’s light into the world. During Lent we prepare ourselves with quiet contemplation for the day when that light was extinguished. The six purple candles represent the six weeks of Lent, while the white candle, our Christ Candle continues to burn reminding us who it is that we journey with during this season of Lent.
Lent calls us to a time of gratitude and generosity.
We remember how many blessings we have to be grateful for.
We remember how often we are jealous of the blessings of others.
We remember our tendency to judge who is worthy of God’s generosity.
We remember that God’s generosity is not always the same as ours.
As we extinguish this candle, we offer our Lenten Prayer.
Let us Pray
Generous One, so often we judge you by the standards of our own world. We do not understand that your generosity goes far beyond anything we can imagine. We confuse free blessings with earned rewards. Forgive us and open us to a new understanding of what it means to be truly generous in your name. Amen.
Gift of Music Now Thank We All Our God #236
Our scripture reading today is a story of generosity. But all too often when we read this story we hear, not the generosity but the apparent lack of fairness. We struggle against our own ideas of what is fair and just and we fail to see the grace.
Matthew 20:1-16 Good News Translation
“The Kingdom of heaven is like this. Once there was a man who went out early in the morning to hire some men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them the regular wage, a silver coin a day, and sent them to work in his vineyard. He went out again to the marketplace at nine o’clock and saw some men standing there doing nothing, so he told them, ‘You also go and work in the vineyard, and I will pay you a fair wage.’ So they went. Then at twelve o’clock and again at three o’clock he did the same thing.
It was nearly five o’clock when he went to the marketplace and saw some other men still standing there. ‘Why are you wasting the whole day here doing nothing?’ he asked them. ‘No one hired us,’ they answered. ‘Well, then, you go and work in the vineyard,’ he told them.
“When evening came, the owner told his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, starting with those who were hired last and ending with those who were hired first.’ The men who had begun to work at five o’clock were paid a silver coin each. So when the men who were the first to be hired came to be paid, they thought they would get more; but they too were given a silver coin each. They took their money and started grumbling against the employer. ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘while we put up with a whole day’s work in the hot sun—yet you paid them the same as you paid us!’ ‘Listen, friend,’ the owner answered one of them, ‘I have not cheated you. After all, you agreed to do a day’s work for one silver coin. Now take your pay and go home. I want to give this man who was hired last as much as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do as I wish with my own money? Or are you jealous because I am generous?’”
And Jesus concluded, “So those who are last will be first, and those who are first will be last.”
Favorite Hymn Request The Old Rugged Cross
A fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work. This tends to be the principle by which most of us live. You have to put in the effort to get the reward. You have to earn your pay, and if you work hard enough, you will be rewarded.
But how would you feel if you put in a full day’s work, 8 to 10 hours of heavy labour and, at the end of the day, you were paid exactly the same as someone who came in and worked for less than an hour? This is the question raised by the parable of the laborers in the Vineyard, yet Jesus begins this parable by saying, “The Kingdom of heaven is like this.”
The story of the workers in the vineyard tends to challenge our idea of what we think is fair. We think, “Well if the labourer worked for 8 hours, he should get paid for 8 hours and if he only worked for 2 hours he should be paid for 2 hours.” But this is not what happens. In this story every worker gets paid exactly the same regardless of how long he worked. To us, this tends to seem exceedingly unfair.
When questioned about it the land owner simply says, “I have not cheated you. After all, you agreed to do a day’s work for one silver coin … Don’t I have the right to do as I wish with my own money?” He never explains his decision or gives any reason for it. And the truth is that, like those workers who put in a full day’s labour, we grumble and question the fairness of this. We are left wondering how this can possibly be interpreted as a story symbolic of “heaven” or of a God of love, justice and mercy.
Perhaps the problem is that we are reading this story from the prospective of what we consider fair rather than looking at needs being met. At the time this story was told, the world was very different from what we experience in Canada today. There was no unemployment insurance or social assistance. People lived from day to day and if they didn’t have their own land or work on a regular basis for someone who did own land, they had to hire themselves out one day at a time. In order to do this, those who were looking for work would gather at a specific spot in the market place and those looking for laborers would come choose who they would hire. Those who were not chosen, would likely go hungry that day.
In Jesus’ parable, the owner of the vineyard goes to the market place early in the morning to hire workers for the day. He agrees to pay them a reasonable daily wage, which would be enough to buy food or whatever else they might need for that day. Later on, he goes out again and sees others standing around and hires them. This happens three more times. Each time, the landowner goes into the market, he finds more labourer’s waiting and hires them. There is no indication that any of these labourer’s were there earlier in the day. It seems like each time he goes to the marketplace, he hires whoever is there.
At the end of the day, the owner gathers all the workers together and pays each of them exactly the same amount, regardless of how long they may have worked, and our instinctive response is, “But that’s not fair!” The thing is that it is not a question of fairness, but a question of need. Just because the worker wasn’t hired until near the end of the day, doesn’t mean that he needs any less than the worker who was hired at dawn. He still needs to feed himself and his family, and it will still cost him the same regardless of whether he has worked one hour or ten.
We might be tempted to say, “Well he should have been out there looking for work earlier”, but perhaps he was. Perhaps he had worked somewhere else the day before and gone back there to see if he would be hired for another day. Perhaps he had been out knocking on doors, trying to find work. Or he may have been ill or dealing with a family emergency. We simply don’t know why those who were hired later in the day were not there first thing in the morning. What we do know is that, regardless of why they were not there and regardless of when they finally did get hired, their needs for that day would be no less than the needs of those who were in the right place at the right time in order to get the available jobs.
The owner of the vineyard is not judging the workers by how long or how hard they have worked but rather by what they need. He is providing each worker with enough to get them through that one day. It is this image that speaks through the parable and gives us a glimpse of what Jesus was talking about when he said, “The Kingdom of heaven is like this.” There is enough for all.
In the Revised Common Lectionary, when we read this story from the Gospel According to Matthew, it is always paired with the story of the Israelites gathering Manna in the wilderness. We are told that no matter how hard the people worked or how much manna they managed to gathered, when it was measured out, each family had only what they needed for that one day. Those who gathered a lot did not have too much, and those who did not gather as much, still had enough. But it was only enough for that one day and the people were told not save any of it but to trust that more would be provided for the next day.
When we read the story of the Manna in the wilderness, we don’t tend to think of it as unfair, yet is it very similar to the story of the workers in the vineyard. No matter how hard the people worked to gather the Manna, at the end of the day, they had only what they needed for that one day. When the workers gathered to collect their wages at the end of the day, they were given only what they needed for that one day.
We however, live in a world where we are constantly being warned to save for the future. We are advised to have two to three months’ worth of mortgage and bill payments saved up in case we lose our job or have some sort of medical emergency. We are warned that if we don’t have enough investments or RRSPs by the time we plan to retire, we may have to continue working much longer than we would like. And we are also told that we can’t rely on social security, because with all of the baby boomers reaching retirement age at the same time, there might not be enough for all of us.
Perhaps this is why we find the parable of the workers in the vineyard so challenging. We expect people to be compensated according to the amount of work they actually do. We want people to be able to build up their savings so that if they come upon hard times or when they decide they want to retire they do not become a burden to us or to others. It all makes perfect sense. And yet it seems like this is the exact opposite of what this scripture is telling us.
Imagine what it would be like if it were impossible for anyone to hoard wealth or possessions. Imagine what the world would look like if each person had exactly what they needed for that one day… nothing more … nothing less.
Would it really be fair if the person who worked long hard hours was given exactly the same as the person who chose to do nothing? No, certainly not by our standards. But can we honestly say that the richest people in our world have worked harder to get where they are than the common labourer who puts in long hours and makes only enough to get by? That’s not fair either. But we are not talking about what we think is fair. We are talking about Divine generosity and Divine grace.
Jesus said, “The Kingdom of heaven is like this.” But we need to remember that when Jesus talked about the kingdom of heaven he was not talking about some wondrous place that we go after we die. Jesus was talking about the ideal of what could be, if all people were to live with the love, the care, the generosity, and the grace that is the Divine image we see in Jesus himself.
When we pray, “Thy kingdom come”, we are not praying for death. We are praying that people will come to believe that the “kingdom”, the “reign” or the ideal of the Divine way of being, could actually exist on earth, if not in our own lives, than at some time in the future. We are praying that earth will become a heavenly kingdom in which all people are loved, cared for, appreciated and be truly content with what they have and who they were created to be.
If this day is ever to come, if “the kingdom” is ever to come, then, at the end of the day, each one of us will have, not what we have earned or what we have managed to store up for ourselves, but what we have needed… no more … no less. Amen.
Gift of Music Homeless People, Will You Listen #696
We Offer Our Gifts
No matter how much or how little we have, we all have something to offer. It may be our financial gifts or our non-financial gifts. Here at Beacon, we do not pass our offering plates. Instead, we place our financial gifts on the offering plates in the entryway. And so, as we bring those gifts forward, let us sing our offertory response.
Offertory Response # 542
We give you but your own, what-e’er the gift may be;
All that we have is yours alone, we give it gratefully.
©William Walsham How 1858. Used with permission. OneLicense.net#A-723756
We Offer Our Prayers
Minute for Mission
Prayers of the People
Divine Source, you love us without limitation. You give us more than we could ever earn or deserve. Yet all too often we look around and see others who have so much more than we do and we ask why. What have they done to deserve what they have? Don’t we deserve just as much? Then we look around and see others who have nothing and we begin to feel guilty that we have so much. It all just seem so unfair.
But you remind us that your love is so much more than just fair. You offer each and every one of us a special kind of love and caring that is tailored just for our own personal size, shape and needs, no matter what wealth, blessings or fame others may have. Your love offers us so much more than we could ever ask and it comes to us completely unearned.
We thank you, for always giving us much more than we can earn or ever deserve.
Contrasted with our own, often calculated way of doing business with one another,
your love towards us seems reckless, extravagant, and unbelievable gracious.
Forgive us when we consider all of this our right rather than as your gift …
Forgive us when we have resented the love you show towards others who do not see as deserving it, measuring their worth rather than rejoiced in your mercy …
Remind us that each of us has our own life to live and our own work to do. Remind us that you have called us to the work of being your disciples, to reach out to others bringing your healing, your gentle touch, and your embracing love to all. Remind us that we work, not for recognition or for the promise of personal reward but for the joy of seeing your vision of what life could be, fulfilled. Empower us as individuals and as a church to be the people you created us to be, following the example of Christ. And so as we gather all our prayer together, we offer them with the words we have been taught to say together … Our Father … Amen
Gift of Music Spirit, Open My Heart MV#79
Go out from here with a generous heart, knowing that you have been richly blessed. Go out from here to become a blessing to others. Go out from here believing that the one who calls you our leads you, that the example of Christ shows you the way, and that the Spirit walks with you and within you, now and always. Go with God.
Choral Blessing #298
When you walk from here, when you walk from here,
Walk with justice, walk with mercy, and with God’s humble care.
© 1993 Hope Publishing Company. All rights reserved. Used by permission. LicenSingOnline#605486