It’s not fair

PHILIPPIANS 1:21-30

21For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. 23I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; 24but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. 25Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, 26so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.
27Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, 28and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. 29For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well — 30since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

MATTHEW 20:1-16

1“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6And 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?’ 7They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 8When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Working nine to five what a way to make a living
Barely getting by it’s all taking and no giving
They just use your mind and they never give you credit
It’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it
Nine to five for service and devotion
You would think that I would deserve a fair promotion
Want to move ahead but the boss won’t seem to let me
I swear sometimes that boss is out to get me
 So sang Dolly Parton about the whole rat race called work.
Listen to some of the words.
“Barely getting by”  “It’s all taking and no giving”
“Want to move ahead”
“The boss is out to get me”
“I deserve more”
I’ll add another one that she doesn’t say, but does imply “It’s not fair.”
 Work. Employment.
It is a rat race.
It isn’t fair. It is crazy out there.
I know a lady, a single mom who works three jobs over 60 hours a week and still lives in subsidized housing because she can barely make enough to support herself and her two kids.
And yet a met a fellow who had just come back from three months near Fort McMurray as a labourer, with just high school education and he had brought home after taxes and living expenses thirty thousand dollars.
He had come home with thirty thousand dollars in his pocket.
Minimum wage. Can a person actually afford to live on minimum wage.
Compare that with the average salary of a chief executive officer for one of the 500 largest publicly traded companies in North America.
They average over ten million dollars a year.
Or the average salary of an Edmonton oilers hockey player is just over 2.5 million dollars
But compare that with the world and you will find that over 1 billion people make less than a dollar a day and over 2.5 billion make less than two dollars a day.
That is well over a third of the world’s population.
The unemployment rates are soaring in the United States nearing ten percent.
Unemployment here is around 8.1 percent which is a far cry from a high of around 13 percent about 35 years ago, but has risen quite a bit from4 percent ten years ago.
 So it is a rat race, working.
And the one thing you could say, it doesn’t seem fair.
And so said the workers in the vineyard when they got the end of the day after putting in a full days work.
They worked a full eight hours work for which they received their minimum wage of a denarius for the day
“It isn’t fair,” they said when they saw other workers who worked half a day, and some workers who only worked an hour get the same pay…one denarius.
 It isn’t fair that someone who worked only an hour get the same pay as we who worked all day.
 It isn’t fair.
Of course this didn’t really happen. There wasn’t a real vineyard.
Jesus just told a story about a vineyard.
And in his story he has the owner go out to the Farm Labour pool and hire some people to work in the vineyard. And he agrees with them for (lets say) 200 dollars a day. He agrees with them. It is a good day’s pay.
And at noon hour he goes back and get some more labourers.
And he says to them. Don’t worry, I’ll pay you fairly.
And at three in the afternoon, he goes back and hires some more and at five o’clock does the same thing.
Saying to both these groups the same thing. Don’t worry, I’ll pay you fairly.
And quitting time comes at six o’clock.
And it is time to pay up.
The owner comes in and decides to arrange things so that the labourers who worked all day would be paid last and the ones who only worked an hour get paid first.
And the ones who only worked an hour get 200 dollars. They can hardly believe it.
The ones who work three hours are next. They get 200 dollars for three hours work.
The ones who worked half a day, 6 hours come next.
They get  You guessed it …$200 smackeroos.
And finally the ones who worked all day…. 12 hours…they come and get their pay. It is good pay for a day. And they get $200 and they are right cheesed off.
“What do you mean?” they say giving the owner the third degree. “This isn’t fair.” We worked 12 hours and only got 200 dollars.
Those pikers over there did sod all…worked an hour and got 200 dollars….
  It isn’t fair.
No it isn’t.
And in real life it wouldn’t happen.
No farmer is going to hire labourers and pay $200 for one hour if they will work for 15 dollars an hour.
Now traditionally, at least in the reformed tradition the church has handled the story of Jesus by saying it isn’t about money and it isn’t about a vineyard and it is about the church and it is about salvation.
And the interpretation has been that it doesn’t matter when you become a Christian, you get all the same pay, and that pay is the reward of heaven.
And sometimes the old thief on the cross story is trotted out…
Hey, hey…the thief on the cross repents on the cross and makes it to heaven that day.
Doesn’t matter he was a thief and a layabout.
He says “Hey Jesus” a few minutes before he kicks the bucket and he gets a first class ticket to heaven.
And while that interpretation has some appeal, I really don’t think that was what Jesus was primarily getting at, although I do acknowledge that parables often have layers of meaning.
You see, Jesus very seldom talked about heaven, and certainly his primary message was not about getting to heaven.
It is sometimes unfortunate that the term “Kingdom of Heaven” is used.
Luke says, “Kingdom of God” but Matthew is such a good Jew that he doesn’t like to use the word “God” so he comes up with a euphemism for God and calls it heaven
 The kingdom of heaven is not referring to heaven. The Kingdom of heaven refers to the Kingdom of God which is the place where God is ruling; and if you give your heart to God, then the kingdom is here and now and happening.
When Jesus talks about the Kingdom he is not referring to the future after we die. He is telling us what this world would be like and what our lives would be like… now… if we let God be King.
If we let Jesus be Lord… If we let the Spirit move our lives…
So if this is not primarily about what happens after we die, what is it about…?
 Well one thing this is probably about is actual workers working. The rich owners exploiting the workers is not just a today story.
It was very real and present in Jesus day. No unions, no strikes, no government regulations.
The rich people had the poor people pretty much at their mercy and people were so desperate for work that any pay was decent pay.
Back in the thirties here in the prairies it was not uncommon for people to hire themselves out for no pay.
All you had to do was feed them and let them sleep in the barn or give them a roof and they would work for nothing.
That’s how tough it was.
Some people joined the army back in 1939 not because they were patriotic but because they were promised three square meals a day.
Times were tough..
And they were tough in Jesus’ day and the rich had no problem getting workers…
And they didn’t pay them well.
And here in Jesus story the rich farmer goes out of his way to pay extra to people, to make sure that everybody showed up got a full days’ wage and so would have enough to feed his family when he got home.
The owner was not about maximizing profit.
The owner was about maximizing employment.
The owner was about being generous and spreading the wealth among the workers.
At his expense.
And so I think on the first level we have a bit of social commentary that would not be missed on the people who first heard Jesus.
 If Jesus were in charge. If God were ruling things then it would be not about maximizing profit but about maximizing employment.
God would be trying to see that as many people as possible could go home with enough income to feed and clothe their families and have the basic necessities of life.
 So…. is that what you think about when you go to work…thinking about how everybody can have enough, or do you think just about what is in it for you?
 But Jesus is more than just a social reformer, he is also interested in the inner person, your heart and your soul.
He is interested in transforming your inner person to be more like him.
 So in what ways are you like the people in the story? How does your inner person relate or identify with the characters in the story?
 Let’s start with those who get the worst press in the story. The ones who worked all day and got $200 and were upset.
 They were upset because somebody got more.
They were envious of those who got more.
I can relate to that.
 I know what it is like to compare my life and what I have to those who have more…
To those who have more money or fame or free time…
To those who have nicer cars and gadgets and ipads and things
To those who nicer properties in Palm Springs, Mexico, Hawaii or Vancouver island…
 To those who have more, but are no smarter, nicer or more deserving that I and my loved ones…
I know what it is like to envy and desire and be jealous and to covet and to want and to dream for more…
And I sure know how to grumble about a hockey player who makes 3 million dollars and coughs up the puck more than a baby burps.
 There is a part in all of us, a part of us that knows these feelings of jealousy, or envy, of feeling that we have been done to, that life is not fair because others who are not deserving have so much more…
 Come on, several years ago they put a bunch of young people from Jersey on television who don’t work, who don’t act, who aren’t that nice to each other sometimes, who aren’t role models or at least they shouldn’t be, who have names like “Snooky” and “the Situation” and they made hundreds of thousands of dollars for just letting people film their lives.
 They called it “Jersey Shore” and I rest my case when it comes to life not being fair.
 We know what it is like to be the ones who make enough to get by but to envy the others who seemingly get a better deal in life.
 And yet we are also the ones who receive. The ones who have received so much…
When I look at my life, when I look at my place in the world in the whole scheme of things, I realize that maybe I am more like the workers who worked an hour and got a whole day’s pay.
Because goodness and generosity and grace has been given to me on so many levels.
I have so many friends all over this country, and in other countries as well who have graced me with friendship and gifts.
I have four wonderful kids and I am so blessed that they even like me and don’t mind doing things with their old man.
I have a wonderful wife who is faithful and generous and always thinking about others, especially her children, who would do without to give…
I have a dog that drive me crazy some days but she has a lot of love and is a lot of fun.
I have cars and gadgets and tvs and computers and whole bunch of different boxes from ikea…(I like boxes)… so much stuff that when we move houses Fiona and I will have to sell or give a whole bunch away.
Why should I worry about what I don’t have? I have too much.
And when I compare myself to the rest of the world. Education, health,  family.
I work at a great place, and my coworkers are friendly and loving and each week I get to sit alone and ponder just how much God loves us and how God makes a difference in human lives.
And every week I get to tell people, it is all about love.
And I have this divine spirit living in me, touching me, changing me, speaking to me, this same divine spirit who lives in you and connects us all together…

I don’t need to win the lottery. I have won it.

I have received more than my share…. And I am grateful…
We have received more that our share…and we our grateful.
But we are also the owner of the vineyard of my lives. We have things to give and things to share.
We have resources and talents.
We have opportunities to give, to reach out to others, to share what we have with others.
Financially, emotionally, spiritually,
Share fun, friendship,
Share God, share a relationship.
Share knowledge, share music and dance and food.
To serve those who need help.
To share purpose and meaning and direction.
I know what it is like to give. To give generously. To give of myself. To bare my soul, to be vulnerable, to lose for someone else’s sake…
And so do you….
God calls us to work in the vineyard…
I think he means us to see this world as a vineyard.
A place where everyone had enough to get by.
That everyone receives and there is none that goes without.
To be workers in the vineyard that know how to give of themselves and worry less about what they get, and more about what others receive…
 And God calls us to turn the grapes into wine…
The wine of love …and sharing …and joy …and justice.
 You know over the years I have ministered in small churches in agricultural areas.
And when in those farming communities I often would take a day in the week and go out to the fields and the farms to help farmers.
I have some good stories from those days..
Like the time I was on top of the hay wagon throwing down hay bales to the farmer who was stacking them nice and neatly in the barn..
I had some gloves on and the bales were probably 50 to seventy five pounds with plastic baler twine around them, and one time when I grabbed a bale and threw it down, my hands did not release because the baler twine was fairly tight, and since my hands didn’t release the bale went flying over the wagon ten feet up in the air with me attached to it and I landed on the bale on the floor a little shook up.
The good thing was that the bale broke my fall.
 Now I didn’t go work with those farmers for money or reward, although just to get the supper meal after was often worth it especially the home made pie after supper.
I worked for something else, to build relationships, and some of those relationships I built with those farm families are some of the best memories, some of the most rewarding times I have had in ministry.
I gave but I also received.
That is what I think God is calling us to do, to get out there in the vineyard and build relationships.
 Some workers see it as “us” and “them.” What am I getting? How much are they getting? It’s not fair.
 That’s one way to look at life I suppose. I suppose Christ on the cross could have yelled out; “It’s not fair.”  “It’s not fair.”
…but his thoughts were of others, of us… “Father, forgive them.”
He died to bring us together as a family in love.
Jesus didn’t do it for a reward. And anybody who knows Jesus, knows that working in the vineyard is reward enough…
Helping others, giving to others, ministering to others, building relationships, sharing love and grace…
Is reward enough…      Amen.