Time after Pentecost #25 (A)
After I graduated from college I moved into my first apartment. I really couldn’t afford it. I worked in the same town in which my dad lived and I probably should have moved in him for a while so I could build up a little bit of a bank account, but I was fresh out of college and the thought of moving in with my dad was just too much. So I borrowed some money for the deposit and first month’s rent and moved my piano and a couple book shelves into a cute little two bedroom in downtown Salem. I was a typical musician. Broke. I had two continuous music jobs and I played every wedding, funeral, or accompanying job that came my way. Nonetheless, I never could quite make ends meet. I was lucky, after paying the bills, to have $100 for the month to cover food and gas for my car. Thankfully, it was 1995 and gas was still under $3 a gallon and I drove a car that got about 40 miles to the gallon. A friend stopped by one day and told my mom that he was a little worried about me because all that I had in my refrigerator was a brick of cheese and some boxed wine, but I usually had plenty to eat—he just caught me between trips to the grocery store. In general, though, I had a good life. I was playing for a church and teaching at a church school, I was making good choices and trying to be an upstanding young Christian woman. I was serving God with the gifts I had been given, and I was happy.
Everything was fine until I began to notice something. I began to see the people around me who seemed to be making more money and buying nicer things and going on fun vacations and driving nicer cars. And in my opinion, they weren’t doing very good things with their lives. They were making very poor choices about their lifestyle and acting in pretty questionable ways. And in my heart I began to keep score. How was it that I was living a good, moral, upstanding life and could barely afford to live and other people who didn’t give a care towards “right” living seemed to be rolling in clover?
I was a little confused. I thought that I was serving God with my life because that is what I was supposed to do. It was what I needed to do so that I could go to heaven. And I thought it meant that God would reward me for doing the right things and making the right choices. And of course, by reward, I mean I would get my heart’s desires. That didn’t seem to be how things were playing out.
It is an easy trap to fall into: comparing our own situation to our neighbor’s. We are a people dedicated to keeping score. We keep sport scores, test scores, intelligence scores. We monitor income levels, number of vacation and sick days we are entitled to, how successful the harvest is, how many new tractors or trucks or snowmobiles can be bought. We judge success by the numbers. Winner versus loser, superior versus inferior. We want to know where we stand…are we a success or a failure?
Those measurements become very important to us when we begin to think about our lives as Christians. If we dedicate our lives to the service of God, shouldn’t our lives be just a little bit better, shouldn’t we have just a few more blessings than those other people who only seem to sort of serve God?
Jesus says to us, “Get over it.” Jesus is talking to people just like us, people who are busy keeping score and measuring where they stand in the kingdom of God and he does what he does best: he tells a story that turns everything upside down. He takes our assumptions about God and grace and work and justice and tosses them aside so that he can help us re-imagine the kingdom. He says, “Let me tell you a story that will help you understand the truth about the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is like a landowner who hires people the work in his vineyard. He hires some first thing in the morning and promises to pay them a day’s wage. Throughout the day he hires more and more people to work. At the end of the day he pays everyone a day’s wage, whether they worked all day or just an hour.” There are a couple things in this story to pay attention to. First, nobody got cheated. Those who were hired first thing in the morning agreed to work all day for a day’s wage. And they did work all day and were paid the agreed upon amount. Those who came in to work later in the day were not promised anything, they just agreed to work, not knowing what they were going to get paid. Secondly, those who worked all day didn’t complain about the amount of money, instead, their words were, “You have made them equal to us.” In other words, they couldn’t keep score anymore. There was no way to tell who was more successful than another. There was no winner or loser. Everybody was equal in their earning potential and everyone got what they needed: a day’s wage.
There’s another part to this parable. Think about the landowner. Why didn’t he just hire everyone he needed first thing in the morning? Here is verse 6: “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.’” The landowner is motivated by their need to work not his own need of labor. The workers needed to work. It was for their benefit that they were hired. The landowner probably didn’t need more people to come in for just an hour of work at the end of the day. But he knew that they needed a chance to work in the vineyard.
Paul writes in today’s text from Philippians of the privilege of believing in Christ. What if we looked on our work and service to God as a gift that we have been blessed with rather than what we do in hope of a reward? That we are privileged to serve God with our lives. God invites us to work for the kingdom because God knows we need to. It is what gives our lives purpose.
When we see begin to see ourselves as privileged to serve God, we begin to live as grateful people; grateful for the chance to be God’s people in the world, grateful that God has given us an opportunity to serve, grateful that God’s grace is given to everyone, particularly in those times when we find ourselves as the ones who show up late to the vineyard.
Pastor Charlane Lines
418 W. Main St.
Sidney, MT 59270