The chosen hymns for this week, Amazing Grace and 10,000 Blessings can be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.
Matthew 20: 1-16
Welcome to our time of reflection for Sunday for 20th September.
Today’s theme is very simple.
We all have a sense of justice.
I have a three year old granddaughter and already at that age she has a keen sense when things don’t seem
Why can’t she stay up when her cousin is allowed to stay up?
Why can’t she have those sweets when daddy seems to have as many sweets as he wants?
We don’t mind things not going well, as long as everybody else is in the same boat.
But when others seem to be taking advantage, when others seem to be getting away with stuff that we aren’t, well that raises our hackles up.
That seems unjust.
Let’s give you a hypothetical example.
The government tells us that we have to go into lockdown.
It’s a hard thing to do but we do it for the sake of the nation.
We are told if we break that rule then the government will be on us like a ton of bricks.
Then we find out a hypothetical government advisor travels hundreds of miles to say, test his eyesight, or check their second home. How would we feel?
Our sense of injustice is very real.
But here’s what I want to reflect on today.
What happens when we feel God is unfair?
That’s what Jesus is talking about in our reading today which will be given by Elaine
Elaine: Reading Matthew 20: 1-16
So...is it just me or does this instinctively feel unfair.
One of the wonderful things about Jesus as a storyteller is that he makes us really think.
In this case there is the story we think we are hearing and then there is the story that we need to hear.
Let’s start with the story we think we are hearing.
And the story we think we are hearing is our story; a story of life treating us unfairly.
We are the original workers. We are conscientious and thoughtful. We are there at the start of the day, up at the crack of dawn because we care about our family. We are dedicated to our family, and we know if we don’t get work then our family will be hungry.
So we are there ready to work and eager to work. And the farmer comes along and sees all those good qualities in us. And we work throughout the day.
As the day goes on we see the others join us; those that couldn’t be bothered getting up on time, the lazy workers, those workers that obviously don’t care about their family enough.
And then at the very end of the day, with only an hour to work, you see the wasters joining the group to get the very last gleanings from the harvest..
Then the sun sets and it time to be paid.
Those that came last get a full day’s wages.
You see this and wonder just how much more the farmer is going to reward you, and then to your shock you see that you also just get a full day’s wages.
You may have worked 10 hours in the field, some of those other workers only worked an hour, yet you get the same wages!!!
What is that about?
Does that seem fair?
Jesus told that parable because he wanted to bug us. And it does bug us.
It makes us think. Why would Jesus tell a story like that?
Instinctively we have a wee problem in our brain
And this problem is that deep down we think we are better than others, and because we are better than others we deserve to get more than others. It just makes sense.
I’m not getting at anyone here; I believe we are all like that; we all have that bias towards ourselves.
John Ortberg tells of a survey of 800,000 students who were asked whether they were above or below average in social skills. Now pure maths would say that 50% would be above average and 50% would be below average. 400,000 should say they are above average, 400,000 should say they are below average...if they are honest.
You know the percent that said they were below average? 0% no one thought they were below average; in fact 25% of students though they were in the top 1%.
They did a survey of people asking who they thought would get into heaven.
Remember O.J. Simpson, the man accused of killing his wife? Only 19% of people thought he would get into heaven.
An amazing 79% of people thought Mother Teresa would get into heaven.
There was one person who topped the polls, got 87%.
87% of the people surveyed thought this person had a greater chance of getting into heaven than Mother Teresa, above Billy Grahame, above any of the popes. Guess who it was...ourselves.
When they filled in the form the one section that got more ticks than any other was the section that said, ‘ME’.
Jesus knew what we are like.
We don’t deliberately see things in the wrong way, we just do.
Now he could have condemned us and attacked us, instead he tried to teach us. Force us to look at ourselves and consider something different.
Now I have heard it said that this story is not about what we do, because what we do would never be enough to win God’s generosity, instead it is about how God is generous to everyone. We are told that this is a story really about God’s grace, and how God’s grace is so generous.
Are you convinced by that?
No you’re not, are you? Deep down you still feel that nagging feeling that it doesn’t seem fair?
And I would suggest that is because there may be a tougher message that Jesus wants us to think about, a tougher message that we need to hear.
The original readers would have known more of the background.
The amount of money that the farmer was handing out would be enough to feed a family for the day.
When the farmer is offering work at the start of the day he isn’t offering the workers just money, he is offering the workers assurance;
assurance that that their children will be fed that night,
assurance that they don’t need to worry about their children being hungry that night,
assurance that all will be well.
What the farmer is giving all the workers that day, what Jesus is suggesting that God is giving us, is the same assurance. Everyone gets assurance.
Here’s the thing, once you have assurance, you don’t need any more.
Let me put it this way...
When money is all you have, you never have enough money.
When power is all you have, you never have enough power.
But that is not the same with other things, the things that God offers us.
When you have contentment, you are content, that is it, you can’t double your contentment.
When you are at peace, you can’t double your peace.
When someone loves you, you can’t double that love
The problem we have is that God offers us one thing, and we then try to add to it.
We want a feeling of peace and assurance in our lives. So we pray for that. And God offers us that. If we follow the path God wants us to follow then we will have a life of peace and assurance.
But we add a stage.
‘Yes God give us peace and assurance, but give us it in material things that let us know that we are doing Ok.’
And the trouble is that the things we want God to give us so that we will have assurance won’t give us the assurance that God offers us.
Let me give you a simple example.
About 8 years ago the General Assembly told us that in the future ministers would not be guaranteed a home when we retire. Now that was a shock to me because I believed that after living my life in a tied house the church would just give me another house when I retired.
I didn’t have that warm feeling of assurance.
But people told me what to do.
I needed to buy a house. The interest rates were low; the house prices weren’t too bad. I could buy a house now and pay it off over the years I was working and I would have a house when I retired, and what’s more I would have assurance. This house would give me assurance.
And the thought of that house did give me assurance...until I talked to other peo[ple.
‘Yes it is a good thing to buy a house now. Only remember that when you go to live in the house in 20 years time remember the house will be 20 years older. You may need to put in a new boiler, new kitchen units, new bathroom suite, maybe the roof will be rotten and you need to put on a new roof.’
Suddenly all my assurance was gone.
What would make us content, truly content?
That is what this parable is asking.
The farmer is offering assurance for that day, contentment that we have purpose and meaning and that we are being looked after and we have the chance to care for those we love. If they accept that then they are content because all they need is given to them.
If all they want is money then the money won’t make them content. They will be just be fixated on what everyone else is getting and how they compare.
We need to reflect on what will truly make us content.
God offers us life, life in all its fullness.
But that is not the same as the perfect house and the perfect car and the perfect bank balance.
What God offers is relationship, and a chance to share those relationships with others, with all the messiness and inconvenience and love and laughter and joy that comes with it.
If we truly had that, what more would we need?
Let us pray.
We chase the most stupidest of things.
A child that thinks that if they only had that one toy they would be happy.
And we don’t learn, we just chase different things.
That piece of jewellery, that car, that house, that job.
And sometimes we even manage to grab the thing we are chasing, and we are happy, for but a fleeting moment, then we start chasing the next thing.
And at the end of our lives we find our house full of things that nearly kept us happy.
Help us to seek the things that give us purpose and meaning.
Help us to seek the relationships that bring hope and joy and peace into our hearts.
Help us to seriously consider the life that you offer us.
This we ask in Jesus name
Until next time...
Remember the church is open for prayer on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 10am and 4pm
And Sundays between 6-8pm.
We will be celebrating Harvest next week so if anyone wants to hand in any donations which will be going to the local food-bank then you can do so when we are open for private prayer. They are especially looking for multipacks of sweets as a moral boost for children, and pet food so that families that suddenly find themselves struggling don’t need to give up the family pet.
May we see the Father in the generosity we share.
May we see the Son in the love that we share.
May we see the Spirit in the compassion that we share.
So may generosity, love and compassion fill our lives and make us whole.