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Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Proper 25, Year A

In Giving We Receive

Readings: Exodus 16:2-15; Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45; Philippians 1:21-30; Matthew 20:1-6

Today is a wonderful celebration at St. Francis. We are honouring all of you who volunteer your time, your talents, your treasure to support our amazing parish family. When we started to consider whom we should thank we realized that this event needed to include the whole congregation. It takes all of you, the whole body of Christ, to make this church thrive. Every one of you deserves a thank you.

Thankfulness is an important trait, yet a very difficult one to nurture. We live in a society that is never satisfied with its lot in life. How much is enough? When do we consider ourselves to have enough food, money, or clothing? When do we have enough strength, courage, hope or grace? That is the theme that I see running throughout the readings today. It is a theme that resonates strongly with the world in which we live, a world that thinks that life is totally unfair. Isn’t that a sentiment that comes easily to our lips? If you have teenagers living in your home you hear it all the time. And you are certainly not alone.

Consider the Israelites. They are living a nomadic life in the wilderness. It is not a pleasant time. Their lives are out of control. Plans are not working out. They have more questions than answers. They look for someone to blame. It is Moses who bears the brunt of their ire. “We’d be better off as slaves in Egypt than starving to death out here in the wilderness,” they rail at him. The security of Egypt looks attractive when viewed from the insecurity of hunger. The past looks rosy.

We hear such sentiments all the time as people yearn for what once was, at least in their memories. “Remember the good old days!” they will say. “Life was so good. The pace was slower. Kids behaved themselves better. There was no violence. Why we could leave our doors open without worrying for our safety! Remember when we had two hundred children in our Sunday School? Remember when our church was full every Sunday? Remember when there was no Sunday shopping, when people went to church instead of the mall?” We yearn for times when Christian values meant something.

Jesus tells a parable that resonates with that feeling that life is unfair. A certain landowner goes out early in the morning to hire people to work in the vineyard. They agree on a wage, the usual daily wage, and begin to work, happy to have found good employment. Later on the landowner goes out again and hires more people, once again agreeing on their wage. Towards the end of the day he needs to hire more people. The cynic in me wonders if those early workers slacked off and did not get the work done. Perhaps there is just too much work. The harvest is ripe. It is important to get the crops in. It must be done. Once again those hired later in the day agree with the owner for a reasonable wage.

When the time comes to pay them, he pays everyone a full day’s wage, and what is more, he pays the last ones first. You might ask, “Why does he allow the last to receive a full day’s pay for just an hour of work? How fair is that? Is it injustice? Caprice? A generous whim?

I go and talk to the workers who have been toiling all day. “How can he treat us this way?” one man says to me. “It isn’t fair. I feel so angry. After all, I worked hard today out in the hot sun during the hottest time of the day.” The others chime in, “Yes! We all worked hard the whole day. We should get more than these other people for our work.”

I make my way over to the group that started work a little late. “I don’t know what to think,” one of them tells me. “We got more than we expected, but you know, we worked harder than others who got just as much. We are lucky, but not as lucky as we could have been. I guess I feel a little guilty.”

Then I talk to those who worked only an hour. “We got more than we could possibly have hoped for,” they share with me. “I tried all day to find work,” one man says. “It was not until late in the day that I got hired. I worked for an hour and then got paid first, even before those who worked all day. I can hardly look them in the eye. But let me tell you. I am so grateful. My children will be fed tonight. I was worried that they might go to bed hungry again. My wife and I will not have to hear their cries.”

This is a kingdom turned upside down. Individuality, self-worth and deals do not work. What we do does not get us into the kingdom. The generosity of God does. Justice is love expressed in terms of the sheer human needs that we all share. Who comes first in the kingdom of heaven? It is those who simply fall through the cracks, the old, the disadvantaged, the sick, the poor. Those are the ones who are privileged in God’s community. They come first.

It is after all about leaving behind the world’s assumptions. The Christian message is about changing. It is about living our lives differently. And it truly is a contemporary message. No one needs to hear these readings, really hear them and take them in, more than we do. We live in a selfish society. We want everything that is coming to us and more. We bring up our children to expect the best of everything. Gratitude is almost a lost art.

That is why today is so important. As Christians we choose to live our lives differently. We choose to give of our time, talents and treasure to help transform our society. We give freely not expecting to get anything back for our efforts, but knowing that we will. All of us know the joy of giving. We know that it is in giving that we receive. We know that as we offer ourselves to God we are blessed. We know that it does not mean that we are all going to suddenly find ourselves rich beyond imagination. We are not all going win a lottery. It is after all about how much is enough! It is about being thankful for everything that God has provided. Most of all it is about allowing God to change and transform our lives. That is how it all comes back to us.

It reminds me of an old song by Donovan, “Happiness Runs”.
“Happiness runs in a circular motion
Thought is like a little boat upon the sea.
Everybody is a part of everything anyway,
You can have everything if you let yourself be.”

We are so privileged to be the people of God. God has chosen us, you and me, to work in the vineyard, to offer our time, our talents, our treasure. Maybe God chose you when you were a child. Then you have worked your whole life to further God’s kingdom. Or you may have just recently begun that spiritual journey. Wherever you are, let it be transformative in your life. Jesus gave everything for us. Let us rejoice that we are able to give ourselves. As we share in the body and blood of Christ let us know that we are blessed.
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