Stewardship Sermon

St. Peters Church Addingham

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Stewardship Sermon

Revd. Jill Perrett 21.09.14
Matthew 20 verses 1-16
‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard.
2After agreeing with the labourers 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 market-place;
 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 labourers 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.’
Don’t be fair!
That’s what the parable is saying surely… because it plainly wasn’t fair.
“That’s not fair!” How many times have you heard that from your children or grandchildren or other people’s children… or adults, even?
 Having four children, that certainly was a phrase that was heard on more than a few occasions in our household! How many of you have spent time carefully counting out sweets to make sure everyone has exactly the same number?  Or have divided a cake into equal portions, to the millimetre, whilst under the watch of eager eyes to make sure that everyone has the same sized piece? Or have you been challenged when others think you’re not being fair, or they’re not being treated fairly?
 So is this parable about fairness? Is the landowner of the vineyard being fair?
 Let’s look at the context in which this parable is set. Day labourers were hired at the start of the day when the sun first rises and were then paid at the end of the day – this was normal Jewish practice. And the pay… a denarius was a normal day’s pay.
 This would be a familiar situation for those listening to the parable, who would be have been used to this practice. But they would have found it bewildering that the landowner goes to market to do the hiring rather than sending his manager. He doesn’t make just one trip but goes several times.
When it comes to terms of hiring, only the first group are told their wages; the others are promised that they will get paid ‘whatever is right.’ These groups have to trust that the landowner will pay and reward them justly. Theirs is more a relationship of trust, that the landowner will do what is right.
 When it comes to the time to be paid…there is another surprising turn.
To begin with the order in which people are paid just doesn’t seem fair.
Why would those hired last, who had worked the least hours, be paid first; be paid before those who had slaved all day. And those who were hired first were paid last!
All ways round, what was fair?
 Those hired first would have overheard the wages given to those hired last and I wonder what they must have thought. Did they really think that they would be paid more than the agreement they had made? They thought they were being treated unfairly.
Yet they were paid what was agreed. Wasn’t that fair?
It only became unfair in their eyes when they heard how much others were being paid…
when they compared themselves with others.
 What the landowner says is true. What business was it of the labourers who was paid what?
He makes the point that he has the right to do what he likes with his own money.
 When we look at parables we can often look to the meaning and read them in an allegorical way, in other words look at who the characters in the stories could be.
We may think that the landowner is God and the payment the last judgement, when the final reward is given. Or could the story refer to God’s judgement now?
 If God is seen to be the Landowner,could we, therefore, be God’s workers.
And what is the nature of our work for God?
So who do you then identify yourself with the most?
With the foreman who gives out the wages, or with one set of the labourers; for all are working for the landowner, the vineyard owner.
Do you identify most with the labourers?
With those who have worked all day or those who have newly joined? And, if so, at which hour of the day?
 You could say that the landowner plainly isn’t being fair with the distribution of wages.
What is it, then, that the landowner is being? How would we describe his action?
He is showing grace, not paying according to what is earned but, more than that, he is being generous.
You see that Jesus makes no discrimination; which may seem unfair to those who have worked the longest. But what if you see the work as gift?
Then those who were hired first were the most blessed.
When we think of our own country today we look at how we might reduce unemployment.
Jesus probably used this parable to challenge those who criticized him for accepting publicans and sinners… the outcasts of society.
The Gospel writer, Matthew, uses this parable as a challenge to the Church not to compare themselves with others, not to be resentful, or envious. But rather to recognise that everything that they have is gift and grace; that all things belong to God. And as God is generous, so should the Church be generous too.
In Matthew’s gospel we can see this is an illustration of the Kingdom, forming one in the series of descriptions of what the Kingdom is like.
The Kingdom of heaven is a mystery and grace.
So, what are the qualifications to enter the kingdom? None
What do we have to do to deserve a place? Nothing.
The Kingdom of heaven is present whenever and wherever God’s will is being done.
God’s invitation is for us to enter the Kingdom of heaven – the Kingdom which is both within us and outside us.
And we get a clue how to do this from the story of the rich young man, in the Bible passage immediately preceding this one, where it shows that salvation is not something that you earn, but is received from God… God’s generous gift… God’s grace.
Grace is everything that God gives us for our good – mercy, forgiveness and unconditional love. Grace is the giving-ness of God, as Bishop James Jones phrases it. But who is grace for? Is it just for the select few – those who have earned it or deserve it?No.
Grace is for everyone.
There is only one condition to God’s grace – and that is that grace must be received.
St. Augustine said, ‘God gives where he finds empty hands’.
‘Grace is always gratuitous’, said author Malcolm Muggeridge. He used this word to describe God’s open-handed generosity, his crazy abundance, the extravagance of his abundance.
Just like in this parable – the landowner of the vineyard is not showing fairness, but is going beyond that, by showing grace and by being generous.
We are invited to live in the Kingdom, in Kingdom ways, where we give out of thankfulness for God’s giving to us.
The way the parish share is worked out is to be fair – to all – to give to the Diocese so that God’smission and ministry can take place in places where people simply haven’t the money to give. And many of us, in the church here, are generous.
We as a church, though, are depending on other’s generosity, on legacies given to the Church. For the truth of the matter is that without these legacies we would not be able to pay our parish share to the Diocese, which is our commitment and this has been the situation for the past few years.
 So, rather than avoiding this, we at St. Peter’s are having a stewardship focus on finances.
Each year to review our individual giving, is a good practice to do. Many are already being generous and give sacrificially, and those who have been involved in this Church know practically how to do this. There are others, though, who have come along more recently who may not know the practice here.
The Church’s awareness campaign therefore will be of great assistance, as it shows us how to give and why we give. God’s grace, his openhanded generosity, encourages us to be generous too;to give cheerfully and generously. In God’s Kingdom, it’s not about fairness; it’s about living in grace and with generosity to others.
So let’s not be like those who shout… “It’s not fair!”
but rather… Let’s be generous!
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To conclude the Collect for this day taken from prayers for Inclusive Church:
Generous God, whose gift defies the balance sheet of ownership and just reward:
Free our hearts and minds from the envy which enslaves us; shape our lives to show your
self-forgetting love; through Jesus Christ, the free gift of grace. Amen.
For details of the Stewardship Awareness, please see our information packs.