(The following sermon is designed to be interactive with members of the congregation participating in a reenactment of Jesus.)
Each week as a congregation we prayer in the words of the Lord’s Prayer, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”.
I often wonder what it is we are praying for when we pray these words and whether or not we can actually say them with the sincerity with which we ought.
I imagine you have idyllic images of what heaven is floating around in your head – what image comes as strongest to you.
Angels with harps on fluffy clouds. Re-union with loved ones who have gone before. A place where there is no suffering or sickness.
Jesus tells many stories about what the kingdom of heaven is like and I want to retell one today with your help.
Jesus says the kingdom of heaven “is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.”
This is one of those situations where a little congregation involvement might help us understand.
If we could have a group of prospective workers to come and wait here – image you are waiting in the village square for a day’s work.
And here now comes a landowner, a vine grower, looking for workers.
Now if you were the vine grower selecting workers at the break of day who are you going to choose?
They agree to the pay for the day’s work.
I wonder how those who are left over feel. What do you think happens if these people don’t get work?
A few hours later the landowner returns, it’s about 9 in the morning now. He chooses yet more workers to go and labour in the field.
Who will you choose this time? Why?
How do those who are left feel now?
Hours pass again and at midday the landowner returns.
Again more are chosen.
Then once more at three o’clock the landowner comes.
I wonder how it would feel it face the prospect of a day without any income, a day without money for the household.
How do you who are left feel?
Then just before the end of the day the landowner returns one more time.
It is 5 o’clock with barely any hours left to work.
What sort of people do you think might have been left over? Who would it be that were refused work by the local landholders? What type of people might be left?
Yet the landowner makes a decision to give them work too.
Now before I push on into the story how are we feeling about this landowner at the moment.
Let’s ask those who have been given work.
The thing that strikes me is that even at the end of the day the landowner is willing to take workers on, workers whom when ask tell the landowner no one else had given them work.
There is a generosity and persistence in the landowner who comes again and again to seek workers.
So what is the kingdom of heaven like?
It is a place in which God persists in generosity seeking people to be included and to get involved in the work of the kingdom.
So far, so good?
But now it is time to line up and receive your pay for the day’s work.
Can we have you in order from those who began last to those who started early in the morning.
Now the agreed days wage was this amount. (money?)
How do those who have worked just a little while feel about this?
What might those who have worked longer expect?
So let’s pay everybody else.
Now how do those feel who have worked the whole day and been given the same.
(Upset, as if they have been done an injustice.)
Jesus tells us that the landowner said
‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
So we pray for the coming of the kingdom of heaven a place where all share in the generosity of God regardless of the effort they have put in.
Whilst we might sit fairly comfortably with the idea that the kingdom of heaven is like the landowner who keep returning to seek workers and give them a go, I suspect most of us would struggle with the idea of the equality of reward at the end.
How many of us consider those words “Well done good and faithful servant.” As an indicator of long service and commitment to God – this is service which deserves recognition.
But the parable tells us it is not about how much we have done but about God’s choosing.
How many of us think that “A fair days work for a fair days pay is how the world should be.” But do we really live that. Consider for a moment where so much of what we buy in Australia comes from. Consider who makes and how poorly they are paid. We all know about the issues of child labour, even slavery, in some industries. We know about how much of our manufacturing industry has been taken offshore.
The kingdom of heaven is like this – all are rewarded, given the dignity of work, rewarded with life and hope, rewarded with a future, rewarded for a great effort or a little labour at the 11th hour. Who are we to be envious?
We pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. Heaven, God’s rule, is a rule that promises generosity in life that for us living in a market driven world is almost unfathomable – yet this is the kingdom we pray for. A kingdom in which the priority is provision for the lives of all people with no distinction as to how much we think people have offered.