Workers in the Vineyard, A Sermon by the Rev. Bob Wohlfort, September 24, 2017

This sermon was preached by the Rev. Bob Wohlfort on September 24, 2017.  The Gospel reading was Matthew 20:1-16

Some of you know that we ought not be here today. Some of you know that the world was supposed to end yesterday. David Meade, a self-described astronomer and Biblical numerologist, gathered together some Biblical numbers, referenced the Book of Revelation, the recent solar eclipse and a non-existent planet named Nibiru or Planet X to state that sometime before midnight last night our world was to end. Nibiru was to collide with or drastically alter our planet earth and you and I were to be toast.

Ironically, a producer at a Montreal radio station tried to book an interview with Meade last week. He responded that he was unavailable last week and but he would be  available for the show this week.

So, I am quite tired this morning. I set my alarm for 12:02 AM. Waking up in our still intact bedroom I astutely assumed that if I and our home was standing and Doris and our cat, Minerva, were sharing the bed with me, then it was a safe assumption that: OSLC remained intact; that you would be here; and I really did need to prepare a sermon.

It seems that, somehow, Mr. Meade didn’t remember the message from our Lord in Matthew 24: “No one knows the day or the hour when these things will happen…not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.”

Thankfully I do remember these words. I was soundly asleep at 12:02… (along with Doris and Minerva) having spent a good deal of time this past week with today’s lessons and recalling that we have been regaled with a wonderful abundance of the Gospel…an abundance of very Good News…during the last few weeks…The good news from last week of:

  • Joseph forgiving his brothers for what they had done to him.
  • Paul affirming the equality of those who eat anything and those who are vegetarians; those who consider one day better than another and those who love all the days.
  • Peter being instructed that forgiveness is to be unlimitedespecially to those in the community of the church. “How oftenshall I forgive? 7 times?”
  • The story of the slave who owed his master 10,000 years of salary and that impossible debt is cancelled!

And now, this week.

  • Jonah is all worked up over the fact that his shade bush…which he did not plant; did not water; did not weed…died. “Jonah,” says God, “Jonah should I not be concerned about 120,000 persons in Nineveh (along with their animals)…persons who do not knowtheir left hand for their right?!”

Jonah is a Jew and he really is furious with God that God has relented from destroying the 120,000 Assyrians. Jonah’s prophetic mission to call the Assyrians to repentance succeeded! He is enraged that God has granted forgiveness to these non Jews who persecuted the Jews!

  • Forget the big fish…at one time or another we are all Jonah…upset with God’s abundant goodness. We are the older brother in the prodigal son story. “ Someone is receiving a better deal than I am receiving…not fair!”

And…today’s reading from Matthew! Wow!

Remember this is a story… a parable.  It is the story of “The Kingdom of Heaven” On the 30th of July, in my sermon here at OSLC, I stated that The Kingdom of Heaven is not a place; it is not a noun. The Kingdom of heaven is a verb; it is action; it is dynamic; The Kingdom of Heaven is motion and engagement. The Kingdom of Heaven is radically alternative. The Kingdom of Heaven is potent and vibrating and alluringly mysterious and often upsetting.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like no other concept. Many norms by which we tend and think we must live by not only do not apply they are replaced by the outrageous words, and, above all, the life and the stories of Jesus the Christ.

The Kingdom of Heaven is poetry, not prose. The Kingdom of Heaven stirs our imagination to think outrageous and wild ways and even illegal actions of alternative living.

The Kingdom of Heaven is something like John Lennon’s 1971 ballad, Imagine:

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
imagine all the people living life in peace, you

You may say I am a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world, you

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine…Jesus calls us today to imagine…to imagine via a man who owned a vineyard and needed some day laborers. He knew where to find them. It was 6:00 a.m. and the deal was struck…a day’s labor for the daily wage which was enough pay to feed a large peasant family for a full day… very specific.

Three hours later and again at 12:00 noon and at 3:00 p.m. he needs more workers, finds them and is non-specific. “I will pay you what is right.”

The story now turns on an interesting axis. At 5:00 p.m. (not much daylight left) the landowner returns to the marketplace, sees a few others “standing around.” “Why are you idle?” “`No one has hired us.” “Go to the vineyard.” (no pay rate, specific or non specific is mentioned.)

Evening arrives; it is time to quit work; Levitical and Deuteronomic law require the owner to pay the workers at the end of the day…now…not tomorrow.

You know the rest of the story. “Not fair!!! We worked 12 hours and they for 9, and 6 and 3 and 1…1 measly hour and we all receive equal pay! What kind of an employer are you?!” Indeed what kind of an employer, what kind of God is God?

And our Lord responds to them and to us. “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?”

You know the joke about heaven. Pick your denomination. Peter is leading a tour for the new arrivals and in the ambling about the luxurious landscape of perfect weather one of the arrivals notices a high walled area from which is emanating beautiful hymns sung with great joy. “What’s with the high wall?” Peter stops the tour, gathers the newbies around him and states, “Well, those are the very conservative Calvinists who believe deeply in predestination. They are sure they are the only ones here.”

Our Lord’s culture and economy are so different from so many of the norms by which we live. The story of the landowner is radical! It is radical Good News. It is hard Good News. It is challenging Good News.

The landowner story has many, many nuances. “I will pay you what is right.” “I will pay you what is right.” Our Lord/the Owner of the vineyard is calling for trust from some of the workers…the ones with whom He did not state a specific wage. That trust was vindicated. The Lord/the Owner of the vineyard is radically generous. The Lord/the Owner of the vineyard knows the deep and critical needs of these day workers and he pays generously “because it is right.” The Lord/Owner of the vineyard is full, full of grace and love.

This is one nuance of The Kingdom of Heaven … “because it is right.”

How does “Because it is right” show up in our lives, now, now?

The issue of undocumented women, children and men is headline news. This news is not only “out there somewhere.”

  • Undocumented teens and young adults are students at Dartmouth…OSLC is Our Savior Lutheran Church and Campus Ministry.
  • There are a number of Indonesian majority Lutheran Churches in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. At least one of these congregations is set to be decimated. As required, the undocumented Indonesians (and others) show up at the Federal Building in Manchester for their required check-in.

All has been well with them for years. In the last 2 months many have been told to show up in a month with airplane tickets in hand to return to Indonesia. These Indonesian Christian children, women and men face persecution from fleeing their country… many decades ago… because they are Christians in a Muslim dominated nation. The radical Islamic fringe is set to strike.

It is true…the women and children and men; the families old and young are undocumented. The law is on the side of ICE…The Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Deportation is the law. It is lawful to deport.  It is lawful…but is this “The Kingdom of Heaven?”

No, it is not. Kingdom of Heaven often sees beyond the law. The Kingdom of Heaven sees frightened children crying as they stand in line in Manchester; The Kingdom of Heaven sees sorrowful and helpless mothers and fathers and others who have established solid ties to communities and forged businesses. The Kingdom of Heaven affirms those words carved into the granite of the Statue of Liberty.

The Kingdom of Heaven is this little red notice on our lobby bulletin board calling for us to go to the Federal Building in Manchester and stand for what is legally unfair…the love of God which provides a safe home.

In today’s political climate our Lord would be indicted for unfair labor practices…same wage for 1 hour’s work and 12 hours of work. Let us stand shoulder to shoulder with Him and always stand for The Kingdom of Heaven.

Amen.

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