Kilmorack and Erchless Church

Sunday 24th September



Creator, Provider, Sustainer, the one eternal being whom we glimpse as a Father, a Son,

a Holy Spirit.  Before the timelessness of your eternal power we are humble, before the limitless nature of your mercy we are thankful, before the depth of your mysterious love we can only bow and wait.  For we are reminded here of who we are, and we are reminded here of who you are, and we remember that you alone are worthy of the best that we can offer.

We confess that we have put so many things before you.  We have put our trust in things that do not deserve it, we have put our hopes in things which can offer us so little, we have assumed that we know so much more than we really do.  Forgive us, for only living such narrow lives  and only thinking such small thoughts.  Forgive us for missing out on the glory that you have implanted in life, and for settling for so much less than you want us to have.

Restore in us a vision of the kind of love you have for us and the kind of faith you have in us.  And let our lives, our thoughts, our words, reflect that love and that faith, as we offer them back to you with glad and thankful hearts.  Amen

Introductory Story

What I’m going to tell you about happened many years ago.  One of my friends, quite unexpectedly, had to go to jail.  He insisted that it wasn’t fair that he did not deserve to go to jail.  He really wasn’t happy and he made a real fuss about it, but of course nothing changed, he was told that he had to go to jail.  Sadly, his unhappiness made him behave rather badly.  He refused all offers of food and drink, spat and swore at anyone who came near him, he kept on and on complaining that it wasn’t fair.  He made such a fuss that after that, we never played Monopoly with him again.

We all know what it is like to feel that something is unfair.  It starts early on, it is one of the most common complaints we hear from children, so the sense of justice and fairness must be fairly deep set within us.  It’s not fair, is a common complaint throughout life, and not just in games.  So we might like to think that when we come before God, we will have no such complaints.

We might like to think that that in our faith at least everything is fair, everything is just.  But then again, it is fair that if you land on “Go To Jail” then you have to go, those are the rules and they apply to everyone.  It might be fair that if we do anything wrong in life then we should be punished, and I’m not sure many of us would really be up for that level of fairness when we come to stand before our maker.  After all, how do we know what is wrong and how can we know if we have done everything well enough.

That kind of justice might be a rather frightening prospect.  Perhaps what we hope for in God is something more than our sense of fairness.  If that is the case, then our gospel story might be of particular interest.

 Bible Readings

In these verses, the Apostle Paul is writing to the Philippian church from his prison cell. Despite his challenging circumstances, he imparts wisdom, encouragement, and a deep sense of purpose to the Philippians, and by extension, to us today.  Paul's words are as relevant now as they were then,reminding us of the importance of our conduct as followers of Christ and the joy that can be found even in the midst of trials.

Philippians 1: 27 - 30

27 Now, the important thing is that your way of life should be as the gospel of Christ requires, so that, whether or not I am able to go and see you, I will hear that you are standing firm with one common purpose and that with only one desire you are fighting together for the faith of the gospel. 28 Don't be afraid of your enemies; always be courageous, and this will prove to them that they will lose and that you will win, because it is God who gives you the victory. 29 For you have been given the privilege of serving Christ, not only by believing in him, but also by suffering for him. 30 Now you can take part with me in the battle. It is the same battle you saw me fighting in the past, and as you hear, the one I am fighting still.

The setting of our gospel story today was not unusual.  Jesus is talking about the kingdom of heaven, but once again he speaks of it in very down to earth ways.

Matthew 20: 1 – 16

“The Kingdom of heaven is like this. Once there was a man who went out early in the morning to hire some men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them the regular wage, a silver coin a day, and sent them to work in his vineyard. He went out again to the marketplace at nine o'clock and saw some men standing there doing nothing, so he told them, ‘You also go and work in the vineyard, and I will pay you a fair wage.’ So they went. Then at twelve o'clock and again at three o'clock he did the same thing. It was nearly five o'clock when he went to the marketplace and saw some other men still standing there. ‘Why are you wasting the whole day here doing nothing?’ he asked them. ‘No one hired us,’ they answered. ‘Well, then, you go and work in the vineyard,’ he told them.

“When evening came, the owner told his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, starting with those who were hired last and ending with those who were hired first.’ The men who had begun to work at five o'clock were paid a silver coin each. 10 So when the men who were the first to be hired came to be paid, they thought they would get more; but they too were given a silver coin each. 11 They took their money and started grumbling against the employer. 12 ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘while we put up with a whole day's work in the hot sun—yet you paid them the same as you paid us!’ 13 ‘Listen, friend,’ the owner answered one of them, ‘I have not cheated you. After all, you agreed to do a day's work for one silver coin. 14 Now take your pay and go home. I want to give this man who was hired last as much as I gave you. 15 Don't I have the right to do as I wish with my own money? Or are you jealous because I am generous?’”  16 And Jesus concluded, “So those who are last will be first, and those who are first will be last.”



I really like the story from the gospel this morning.  I know that it is sort of unusual, and that from a business point of view the actions of the boss don’t make much sense.  I suspect that his wine business is going to struggle a bit once his workers realise that they can just turn up for work for the last hour and still get paid as much is if they had slaved away all day.   Can you imagine the queue trying to get into the staff car park at 4 o’clock every evening?  Well if Jesus had told a story about an owner of a vineyard who paid everyone the hourly rate for the work they had done, and every one had walked away without any complaints – well it wouldn’t really be much of a story, would it.  If Jesus had been telling a story to teach us about sound employment policies then this particular tale would do nothing for his reputation.  Of course that was not his purpose.  As always, he was addressing bigger issues and more important matters than that.

Here is where this parable fits into the big story of what Jesus was really trying to teach us about.  In the previous chapter in Matthew’s gospel we have been introduced to the man known only as a rich young ruler.  This man had asked Jesus what he needed to do to earn eternal life, but Jesus’ response about what would be needed to earn that had been so demanding that he decided to take his enquiry elsewhere.  He certainly wasn’t up for that.  So then we hear that Peter and the other disciples, who were a little shell shocked by Jesus’ reaction to that man, had come to him to seek some personal reassurance.  They remind Jesus that they certainly have made sacrifices for him, and tentatively check out if that is going to be enough, wanting to make sure that they are in line for a reward for all that they have done.  Jesus reassured them that they would indeed be rewarded, BUT, he wants them to know that they are really not thinking along the right lines.  If they are really going to trust God, they have to be ready for a few surprises.

So, he tells them a story, he tells them this story, introducing it with the words, ‘the Kingdom of Heaven is like this’…  Like a boss who keeps hiring men all day long, right up to the end; who repeatedly goes out looking for those no one else has wanted, people who are lost and struggling,

and gathers them all up and invites them all in to join his team.  Then, at the end of the day, when the work is complete, everyone is rewarded together.  Why?  Not because it is good for business, which it surely isn’t.  Not because any of them have done enough to deserve it, which they surely haven’t.  Simply because he cares about them, and because he has work for them to do.  The God who Jesus speaks of is like a boss who rewards people with far more than they could earn, who gives everyone what they need, who rejoices in being generous to those who did not expect such generosity.  So when we try to work out the reason for this boss behaving so strangely, and being so generous, we can find no reason, other than the sheer pleasure it gives him.

The story is introduced with the words “The Kingdom of Heaven is like this”, and it concludes with the words, “the first shall be last and the last shall be first”.  The kingdom of heaven is like that.  It is a place where grace is the deciding factor and unmerited generosity the outcome.  Peter and the other disciples were not used to that.  That was not the way people normally treated them, and it was not the way they normally treated others.  More to the point - we are not used to that. That is not normally the way people treat us, and it is not normally the way we treat one another.  We live by different values, where people are assessed and valued by what they do and how hard they work and how much they can contribute.

Jesus, in this story and with so many others, urges us to discover and to remember that God is not like us, that his thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways not our ways, and when we see what the world has become we can only thank God for that.  But how hard we find it to accept, how hard we find it to really believe, how hard we find it to trust in this grace filled nature of God.  Like Peter and the other disciples, we all tend to fall into the trap of believing deep down that we deserve God's grace, or that we can deserve God’s grace if we try hard enough, or that we should be able to earn God’s grace if we were good enough.

At the end of the day we have to accept that we are not going to work our way to the front of any queues.  In the divine economy, everyone is of equal value.  Our standing before our creator does not depend on the value of the work we have been able to do.  It depends on the way he chooses to love us, and he has already demonstrated the way he chooses to love us.  That’s why this story, despite all the moans and groans which come from the people who think they have been unfairly treated, is surely a story of good news.  It points us to an understanding that if we have worked hard to live out

the gospel and made real sacrifices in following Jesus, our efforts will be rewarded when we receive all that we need, all that we have been promised.  Everyone in the story got what they had been promised.  Yet more than that, even if we have done little of value,  even if we have often been misguided and made many mistakes, even if we look back on our days and feel we have done very little; we are still accepted and treated as valuable, still rewarded with all that we could want and more than we could ask for.  So be glad, and don’t question the fairness of it all too loudly.  Remember that we may find ourselves in position of the latecomers rather than the workers.

The kingdom of heaven is like this.  It is not about being rewarded for what we have done.  It is far more generous than that.  This is the good news which Jesus always sought to express and which the disciples always struggled to grasp, the good news which should free us from all our anxious fretting,

free us to live and love and treat one another with grace and generosity.  These are the values that we can celebrate amidst the self-centred greed of this world, allowing his thoughts to affect our thoughts and his ways to influence our ways.  These are the values that we are invited to demonstrate in the way we live, in his world, with his people, for his sake.

It won’t make sense to everyone, it never has and it never will.  It is unusual in the real sense that it is not the way we usually think.  But when we can discover it and trust it and believe it, it becomes the good news which sets us free.  It is not fair.  It is far better than that.  At the end of the day, it is this amazingly generous grace of God that we put our faith in.



God of overflowing grace, help us.  When we think we are worthless, remind us of the value we have in your eyes.  When we think others are worthless, remind us of the value they have in your eyes.

Creator, if the church is the field, and we are the workers, may we plant the seeds of your grace, that they may grow and flourish among us.  May we welcome each person as a gift, without judging, or weighing up the value of their contribution.  May we be out all day, looking for others who hurt and struggle that we might invite them to join us.  Bless all our labours, as we try to reflect your generosity in our life together.  May the grace of your kingdom inspire our living.

Creator, if the world is the field, and its leaders those whom you have called to work, spin among them the politics of grace.  May they learn to understand rather than to judge one another.  May they learn to appreciate their differences rather than resent them.  May they work to provide the same for all, irrespective of religion or nationality.  May the grace of your kingdom inspire our living.

Creator, if our community is the field, and the sick and the ill those we are called to work with, may your grace be a source of healing among us.  May it teach us how to support the grieving, bring peace to those who are anxious, serve those who are in need.  We pray particularly for those known to us to be facing difficult or trying times. May the grace of your kingdom inspire our living.

Almighty God, you created the heavens and the earth, and you made us in your image.  Teach us to discern your hand in all your works, and to serve you as citizens of your kingdom, with humble reverence and joyful thanksgiving, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen