Sermon delivered at St Paul's Cathedral on September 18, 2005
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Sermon preached by
The Rev. Ethan Cole
September 18, 2005
Friday night we had a few of the youth group kids at the church for an
evening event. We had supper and played some games, and got to talking
about this gospel passage that we just heard. We had a great discussion,
and I think the guys showed a lot of insight into this passage. I told
them I'd give them credit for helping me shape my sermon - so thanks to
you guys who were here. This is one of those parables that catches our
attention because it seems so unfair. The youth group guys were quick
to pick up on the strange economics in this passage. One young man even
proposed that the parable should be revised where the workers are paid
not a daily wage, but by how much they reap - one penny for every grape
It is exactly the startling unfairness of this story that grabs our attention. What is Jesus trying to say? It is I think, very important to interpreting this passage to recall the first words: "the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner " This is a metaphor. This is a parable. Jesus is not here making statements about how employees or day laborers ought to be compensated, but is rather using the oddness of the way the story plays out to call our attention to something. I can almost hear Jesus saying, "The kingdom of heaven is not what you expect. Let me tell you a story "
To me, this is a story about God's profound graciousness and generosity towards us. This is the kind of story that the Pharisees and scribes would dislike and the sinners and tax collectors would like. I can understand why the Pharisees always got mad at Jesus. They were the keepers of the traditions. They worked hard to make sure that they were honoring God as best they could. They were toiling in the field from the first. Then these others, they come in later in the day, and Jesus says God is going to treat the upstarts just as well as he is going to treat them. Where is the justice in that? What is God up to that he treats the upstarts as graciously as he treats the holy ones?
But I am grateful that this is the kind of God we have. His generosity and his justice go hand in hand. Those who sign up at the beginning of the day get what they bargained for - a full days wage - and those who like me tend to be more of a sinner than a saint are enveloped in God's generosity. What inspires jealousy in those who worked hard from the start inspires gratitude in those of us who know that we have to rely on the everlasting arms of God's mercy and grace just to make our way through each day that God blesses us with.
We see the generosity of God clearly in the Old Testament lesson for today. The grumbling of the newly rescued Israelites almost seems comical through the book of Exodus. God accomplishes one saving wonder after another and yet still they gripe - and God hears their cries and pours even more wonders on them. The story of manna that we hear today is a perfect example of God's gracious generosity. God feeds his hungry people in the wilderness. If there is a more apt story to inform the Christian view of our eucharistic feast, I cannot think of it. God feeds his hungry people in the wilderness.
Despite the fact that most of us are collectively or individually wandering in our own wilderness, God has given us this mystical pledge of his love for us and his presence with us in the sacrament of Holy Communion. The very words we use when we distribute the bread draw our minds back to this story from Exodus: "The Body of Christ - the bread of heaven."
My invitation to you today is for you to give thanks for the generosity of God - that he loves his creation so much that he will treat us tax collectors and sinners in the same way as he will treat the holy ones if we just answer his call to come labor in his vineyard. And I invite you as you labor in the vineyard to be nourished richly with the manna he has provided for us in our days of wilderness. And if you should find that you have toiled harder than some who comes in after you - don't begrudge them the equal favor that God will display. Rather, rejoice with them that you both have benefited from God's generosity. Amen.
©2005 St. Paul's Cathedral, Buffalo New York