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Sermon for 24 September 2017

 
 

Jonah 3:10-4:11, Matthew 20:1-16 

Have you got any photos of yourself as a teenager? You know the ones that you look at with a horrible, rising feeling of embarrassment? The photo of you, dressed up to the nines and with that look on your face that says -‘I am the business!’ The kind of photo you look at now with a sinking feeling, as you realise that those yellow leather trousers, that jaunty hat, that hair - none of it was ever cool. Not then. Not now. The kind of photo that reveals the honest truth….you looked absolutely shocking. Anyone got any of those photos?

Jesus’ parable of the kingdom, which we heard just now is meant to be like those photos. It reveals to us that what we thought was cool; what we thought was the way to do things, actually isn’t. The parable shows us the truth.

And it shows us the whole truth. It shows us the truth about our inner life and our outer life; the need for God’s saving grace, and the need for economic justice. 


Inner life first. This is a parable that gets to the very heart of what it’s like to be human. Why is it that we - who are amongst the most privileged people on the planet - are so often full of anxiety? How come that when we live in unbelievable beauty, with people to love, and people who love us, with skills and gifts to use - how come we spend so much time being worried?

Jesus answer is that we don’t truly believe. We don’t have faith. We don’t really trust God.

Let me explain. The parable tells the story of a landowner who hires people to pick his grapes. It is clear that he is a fair man. He agrees a fair wage with each of those he hires, and he pays it fully and on time. And yet, come the end of the day, the ones who were hired first are unhappy with the deal. It was a fair deal when they started work, but when they see others who had worked less than them being paid the same, suddenly what was fair seems unfair. 

Suddenly, rather than gratitude at receiving the good wage they expected, they are unhappy about the extra wage they never expected and were never promised. Envy and anxiety have kicked in. Now, instead of being content with what they have, they are envious of what they don’t have.

It’s this that the story of Adam and Eve suggests is at the very heart of the fallenness of humanity. Here they are, living in the midst of overwhelming abundance of the Garden of Eden, overflowing with food and beauty, and with everything they need and more. And there’s just one tree that they can’t have - just one thing in the whole of creation. And they’re doing just fine until the serpent comes along and whispers to them - ‘Are you sure you’ve got enough? What about the tree you can’t have. Why shouldn’t you have that too? Until you’ve tried it, you’ll never know - go on, try that one too’ And now, instead of being content with the abundance they’ve been given, they are anxious that they don’t have enough. And you know how that goes for them.

And that’s the story of our lives isn’t it? We live with a terrible fear of scarcity; that what we have isn’t enough, and that there’s always more that we could have… or should have…or need to have. More stuff, more love, more inner peace, more, more, more. Enough is never enough.

But Jesus says - ‘enough is enough’. He says, here’s the deal - I will give you all you need, and more. All the love, all the attention, all the availability, all the grace you could need, your job is to notice that it’s enough. To trust me. Like the labourers who started in the morning, we are given enough. All of us have enough. God’s into abundance not scarcity. Faith is knowing that God is enough.

And when we know that we’ve got enough, we don’t need to worry about what other people have got. We don’t get into competition anxiety. We can rest, step off the treadmill of checking everyone else out. We’ve got enough, and enough is enough.

It’s a lesson St Paul learnt when he heard Jesus saying to him ‘My grace is sufficient’. God’s abundant grace is what’s on offer - not the crumbs off the floor, but grace upon grace. An abundance that Paul longed for us to know and trust. He put it like this I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. There is enough. Enough is enough.

At the first level, this is a story that tells us that, in God’s kingdom, where we are called to live, there is plenty for everyone. No one will miss out. No one will go short. 


And there’s a second level as well. This is about economics and money and the things we need in order to live. Jesus is massively concerned that we know He loves us abundantly and overflowingly and that there is plenty of his grace, and he longs for everyone to know that love - but of course he’s also desperately aware of the real issues that we physical human beings face; the need for food, shelter and warmth. Of course Jesus teaches about salvation, but he also heals and restores people whose day to day lives are damaged by illness, poverty and economic deprivation. Let’s remember that Jesus said he came as ‘Good news to the poor’ - and ask someone who is poor what good news looks like, and it’s likely to be very practical and very real. 

The point of the incarnation is that God became human - really human, as an expression of his total concern with our lives as a whole, including our bodies and our bank accounts. And so when Jesus tells a story about the kind of wages dispossessed labourers are paid, we should read it as a story about the divine attitude to economics, as well as a story about divine love. 

The labourers standing by the side of the road would have been the very poorest of the poor. With no land, in an agricultural economy, they had no way to earn a living, other than through the first century version of the Gig economy. With no guarantee of work and a family to feed, these labourers lived close to the edge of survival. And those hired last of all, must have been the least of the least. They were the ones everyone avoided and chose not to employ; the weakest perhaps, the least skilled, the most difficult to work with. But still, they were paid - and paid in full. They were given what they needed. They were given enough.

And the parable challenges us to ask, who are those in our communities who are left at the side of life’s road at the end of the day? Who are the ones that never get invited in, never get the break they need, never get enough? Even amongst the comfort of our communities, they’re here. They’re part of us. And remember how the parable ends? The last will be first, and the first will be last. Which are we right now? Where does that suggest we might end up?

There is a call being made to us in this church at the moment I believe, to step up. To be more aware of the lost, the least and last who are part of our communities. Those who are left by the side of the road at the end of the day. We are being called to get to know them. To find creative ways to help them to discover their value and worth in God’s eyes and to help them earn a good wage, to meet their practical needs. To let them know - in every sense - that there is enough.

And some of us, as we sense that call, want to do something about it. We don’t really know what, but we know we have to do it, and we are ready to step out in faith to do so - and if you would like to be involved, or to share your thoughts and ideas, please, please, talk to me or to Ali Williams after the service. 

Jesus wants us to tell people that his grace is sufficient, and he also wants us to make sure people have a living wage. Both matter. Both are good news.

This parable, like that embarrassing photo of you as a teenager, shows us the truth; that we spend so much time failing to trust God’s abundance, not believing that enough is enough, checking out what everyone else has got, and failing to notice that we have received the ‘enough’ of God’s abundant grace. Grace upon grace. And it shows us the truth about how we treat those who have nothing, how we pass them by and fail to notice their needs.

And in doing so, the parable does one more thing - it calls us to action. It calls us to follow Jesus and to get out there to show people that there is enough; to share his abundant love and to provide a fair wage to all those who have nothing. 

Enough is enough says Jesus.  Enough is enough

Amen

 

Going deeper

  1. Have you got any photos of yourself as a teenager that you would prefer others didn't see? Are you brave enough to describe them? Or even share them?
  2. Re-read Matthew 20:1-16 together. Choose someone to read it aloud, and to do so slowly. As you listen, as God to show you the truth that he wants you to hear. It might be a word, or a phrase or an image. Share what God gives you with each other.
  3. Talk together about a time when you have trusted God, and have known that 'his grace is sufficient'
  4. Are there areas of your life where you worry that you don't have 'enough'? Pray together that God will show you that He offers 'enough' of everything you need.
  5. What do you think 'Good news to the poor' means? 
  6. How could you individually, or your group, or the whole church be 'good news to the poor'?
  7. Finish by reading Ephesians 1:18 together and by praying for each other to have the 'power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God'
Posted: 24-09-2017 at 16:20
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