Call to Worship
Come and worship,
you who woke early and you who slept late;
you who come often, and you who don’t.
Whether we are first or last or somewhere in between,
there is room for all of us in God’s kingdom,
and more than enough grace to go around.
Let’s worship God together!
Hymn 214 – New every morning
Prayers of Approach and Confession
God of all creation,
you open the world around us and fill it with creatures of your love and purpose. The wonder of each creature declares your praise –
the mountains state your majesty;
the ripened field, your generosity;
the oceans your power and the skies your grandeur.
Birds flying aloft sing of your freedom;
the tiny ant works with your persistence.
And what do we declare about you in our lives?
We pray that our work will honour your justice and mercy; and our relationships speak of your love and compassion.
So may we praise you, O God, not just in this hour of worship, but in all our waking and our working.
May we live your praise and promise
through Christ, our Living Lord.
Patient one, we praise you. For not giving up on us.
For promising never to leave us. For loving us, for better or worse. Forgive us for the divisions between us,
the grudges we cling to, the hurts we cherish,
and the harm we have done in your name.
Shake us from our lazy assumptions and lame excuses.
Help us to heal broken friendships, and all we have neglected to tend or repair. May we love one another, as you have loved us.
The mercy of our God is from everlasting to everlasting. Believe the Good News! In Jesus Christ, God’s generous love reaches out to embrace us. In Christ, we are forgiven and set free to begin again. Thanks be to God!
Readings – Philippians 1:21-30;
Hymn 619/20 – Spirit of the living God
Everlasting God, you do everything possible for our spiritual growth and well-being. Help us to be generous in all our service and as we prepare for the week to come, enable us to echo the words of Paul who could say "for me to live is Christ." Amen
the sun rising,
the heat swelling,
looking around at expectant faces,
waiting on work,
waiting on a wage, waiting … waiting …
A truck pulls up,
the foreman jumps down,
looks along the line,
points, you, you, you … but not me.
the sun beating,
uncertainty gaining ground, waiting … waiting …
A minibus pulls over,
and from our ranks goes another group of workers,
their day’s uncertainty over, but not me.
a vision of empty bowls in front of hungry children,
The foreman is back, needing more hands,
you, you, you … but still not me.
but what else to do?
the sun going down,
the day almost over,
waiting … waiting … for a job that will never come.
The sound of tyres on gravel,
a fleeting hope,
a finger pointing at me,
beckoning me over –
it is me, finally chosen!
An overwhelming relief flooding through my body:
a wage to come,
food on the table,
And then the waiting will begin again,
next sunrise. (Peter Johnston STB)
That’s the scene from our Gospel reading today, but it is also the scene from Africa and even the Arab villages in the North of Israel. Workers hoping someone will come along and hire them for the day, so that there would be enough food to put on the table for their families in the evening. It is a precarious kind of existence. Hoping you look fit enough for the work, hoping you will be lucky.
Most of the parables Jesus told make us feel good. There are characters we can relate to, like the father in the Prodigal Son (sons?). They can be heartwarming, when the unexpected happens, as when the Samaritan helps the injured man on the road and takes him to the inn and even pays for his recuperation there. But this parable we read today somehow offends our idea of fairness. It just doesn’t seem fair that those who have worked the whole day should be paid the same as those who only worked a short time at the end. But that is exactly what happens in Jesus’ story. We expect there to be a sliding scale, where the ones who laboured through the heat of the day are rewarded more than the johnny-come-latelies. But in Jesus parable all are paid the same. It is as if the landowner is saying, ‘We agreed a wage, and you got that wage. It is my money – what is it to you that I should be generous with my own money’.
The parable is not really about the workers, but about the generosity of God, about the grace of God, which is overwhelming and all embracing. And sometimes love in the form of grace trumps justice. Scholars think Matthew includes this story in his gospel to reflect the early church. There were those who had been in the church from the start and who had sacrificed a lot to follow Christ, while others, maybe slaves, came to Christ later in their lives. Those who had been in the church for a long time would understandably see themselves as first in line for the seat in Christ’s kingdom. But Jesus is saying that God loves everyone and regards everyone as the same. We may have been in the church from the year dot, made countless sandwiches and cups of tea, read the lessons, even been elders, but God’s grace is overwhelming and everyone is precious. I can show my dog collar, my certificates from new College even my Kiltwalk medals – but they are not my entry ticket into heaven. I think we are all in for a big surprise. Remember how the mother of James and John pleaded with Jesus for special positions for her boys. It was a mother’s love that drove her, but Jesus kindly but firmly put her in her place. There is no favouritism. And so it should be in the church as well.
But I think this parable also shows the landowner helping those who were left behind, those who didn’t appear so strong, the undervalued and those with no sense of worth, and that reflects God’s love as well. The Gospel has a bias to the poor and to the vulnerable. God wants them in the Vineyard, such is the generosity of grace. As the Church, we have to embody that. One way is to be conscious of so many in our world working for minimal wages, and the importance of ensuring a fair wage and by supporting Fairtrade and agencies like Christian Aid, empowering the disadvantaged. Christian Aid has the slogan ‘Life before Death’. In Philippians we read how Paul expressed the wish that he could die and be with Christ in the Kingdom of heaven, such was his faith – ‘for me to live is Christ, to die is gain’, but there was still work to be done on earth, and Jesus called him to continue to work building the Kingdom as a place where all are welcome and accepted, regardless of background or pedigree.
God’s generosity abounds, his grace is amazing, and we too must live out that generosity in our lives and show something of God’s grace.
Hymn 607 – The bright wind is blowing
Prayers of Dedication and Intercession
Generous God, you are the source of all good things, of life itself and all that sustains it. Bless the gifts we offer. By your Spirit, multiply their impact to support your purposes in the world you love in the name of Christ, our Saviour and Friend. Amen.
God of mystery and wonder,
We look around at the beauty of the world
and sense that you have given each precious thing its place and a way of sustaining itself.
Thank you for your attention to the details of creation.
Yet we also see an aching world and sense that many precious things are under threat. Bless the work of faithful people everywhere to care for the climate and environment. Show us how we can protect what is at risk for the health of your whole creation.
God of energy and life,
We look around at the peoples of this world
and see your imagination and dignity in every variety of face and culture. Thank you for the gifts you plant at the heart of humanity.
Yet we also see the aching of the hungry and hurting, and hear the groans of parents whose children die in their arms and the cries of children who fear tomorrow.
Bless the various outreach and agencies of our church across our country and around the world that bring healing and hope to lives at risk.
God of promise and possibility,
We look around at the places where people collide with each other and hear the grumbling of nations locked into old rivalries and new grievances. We watch the jousting of leaders impressed more by polls than effective policies. We worry about the future of our communities and our children.
Thank you for the witness for justice and peace we make together in Jesus’ name.
God of faithfulness and surprise,
We look at ourselves and sometimes doubt we can make a difference or have an impact. Challenge us to recognise the kinds of power we do have:
The love and compassion,
The courage and commitment,
The laughter and friendship,
The generosity and mercy.
In all of these gifts we know your power at work within us and among us.
Call us to keep serving together,
trusting you can do more than we can ask or imagine
through, our congregation, and our own lives,
blessed by the grace of Jesus Christ
Hymn 476 – Mine eyes have seen the glory
Go out from here as workers in God’s upside-down kingdom, where the last are first and the first are last,
where needs are met in miraculous ways, and there is grace enough for all! And may the blessing of God,
the love of Jesus Christ, and the presence of the Holy Spirit surround you and sustain you in the coming days.