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Let’s imagine together that we are standing in a market place in 32 CE. Markets were a big mess of things. There are carts – some with spices, with fabrics, with sweet foods. There are other carts with other kinds of food – some fruits, some veggies – some whole animals hanging upside down or tossed on top of a pile. There are lots of people. They’re pushing by you – jostling you in the crowd – trying to get in front of you to pick the best produce. Trying to get through to wherever they need to go – and clearly very willing to step on you to do it. Off to the side there’s someone playing some kind of instrument – making far too much noise – and that noise is ringing over the sound of hundreds of voices. Every once in a while you get a whiff of some kind of animal – or something the animal left behind. You’re hot. There’s dirt – and sand – all over your feet. And it’s not helping the smell that all of these other sweaty people are constantly bumping into you. There’s a fortune teller – trying to get you to come over and give him some money. But you don’t have any money to give – because you’re poor – and the panic of that – is causing you to be even more frustrated by all the people – and all the noise than you normally would be.
You’re only in the marketplace because you’re looking for work. You got out the door late, though – because your child was sick. And it’s well after noon. You’d never have been this late if your child hadn’t been sick. No one ever gets hired this late. And without getting hired to go work – you won’t have money to buy bread to feed your sick child. Everyone will be hungry again tonight. Just like last night. And so you stand – frozen – in the midst of this huge crowd – looking around – feeling trapped. Helpless. Alone. Frustrated you take a few steps away from the crowd. Kick some of the dirt. And figure you ought to just go home.
And then – someone taps you on the shoulder. You’re ready to tell the fortune teller that you’re really okay – you know what life has in store for you. But it’s not the fortune teller.
The landowner hires you.
And at the end of the day – much to your surprise – you are paid as if you’d worked a whole day.
In the market place of our lives – there are a lot of distractions. There are many people – all clambering over us – sometimes to get in front of us – sometimes because they want something from us. For all of us – there’s a lot of noise – and a lot of other things we could be distracted by. Sometimes it’s easy to be distracted by the beauty - and that's not always a bad thing. Sometimes it’s hard not to feel crushed by the pressure – by the circus of it all. We all have things in our lives that distract us – whether it’s work, or friends, or family – health problems, money problems, insecurities – or fear. And some of these things – like those animals – occasionally give off smells (or signs, if you’d rather) that are really hard to ignore. Really hard to get past. But in the midst of all this – God comes into our lives. Into the marketplace of our lives – and taps us on the shoulder. And suddenly – life is different.
The landowner in the parable sends workers out into the vineyard. To pick fruit. If we continue the metaphor – with you as the workers – you’re sent out into the world to bear good fruit. To work. To tend to the other plants and trees – and to bring back that which is useable, that which is ripe – or perhaps to tend to that which might be ripe soon.
One of the parts I love most about this parable – is that the landowner sends everyone. It doesn’t matter how late you get out into the vineyard – there’s still work to do. It doesn’t matter the reason you’re late – or what it was that distracted you – or even if the day is even mostly over. There is work to be done – work just for you.
The end of the parable, though, gets into jealousy a bit. The folks who worked all day are jealous that the others – who didn’t work all day – were paid as much as they were. The landowner responds saying that they’d gotten what they agreed to so – no harm, no foul, right?
Well, think about it. If you were up for a promotion at work – and you worked really hard – and someone else got the promotion instead of you – even though you did all the work… You’d be pretty upset, right? This is where the metaphor falls apart a bit. Because God’s economy is not our economy. In our economy – that promotion means more money – to meet your needs – maybe more leadership opportunities, more _____ whatever it is. And without the promotion – none of that happens.
But God’s economy is entirely different. Grace doesn’t work like that. It can’t be tallied. Or numbered. Or even compared from one to the other. In Christ, we are all equal – and so we all get the same – because there is always enough to go around. There is no reality in which the share we get from God is ever not enough.
So everyone that hears God’s voice through the marketplace of their lives – feels that tap on their shoulder – can be sent out into the vineyard. And this earns us the same share of inheritance – the same share of grace – as everyone else.
And instead of feeling badly for ourselves – those of us that might have worked a little longer – we kind of have to think of it as a party, I think. When folks come late to a party – the party is still going. There’s still food to be had and people to talk to. But they’ve missed some of the joy – some of the fun and the memories that only happened for the folks who were in the room at the beginning of the party. I don’t know about you – but I don’t want to miss any of the party. I want to be there at the beginning – and enjoy the people I’m with all the way until the end.
But the point is – no matter when it is that we finally hear God’s voice over the crowd – no matter how late – or why we were distracted – God still comes to us – and picks us up out of the mess of our lives – and sends us into the vineyard – to work for the kingdom.
And because God is faithful – and loving – and true – God will go back and back and back again into the marketplace. Tapping on shoulders. Hiring laborers. Picking us up and taking us out of the mess we find ourselves in – and asking us to refocus on what’s really important.
The kingdom of heaven.
This Gospel begins with “Jesus said, ‘the kingdom of heaven is like…” The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner. That’s right – not the laborers.The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who goes out early – and then again and again and again – looking for each one of us. The Kingdom of Heaven reflects the God who created it –The God who goes out looking for us - Who calls to us above all the noise - And reaches into the mess – sending Jesus Christ – into the mess – Sending the Spirit into the mess – to tap us on the shoulder. And call us each by name. Because there is a place saved for each of us.
The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who gathers as many of us in as possible. Who calls us – each one by name– over and over again. Who – even when we leave the vineyard behind for a while – will go back into the marketplace to collect us. To remind us. To love us. You also go into the vineyard. You also go into the vineyard. You also go into the vineyard. To each one of us God sings this chorus – over and over again – until the work is done. Until the landowner – until God – is satisfied with the work done in the vineyard – with the building and gathering of the kingdom of heaven. Until all of creation is gathered up into heaven.
Where in your own life is God calling your name above the fray? Have you heard God ask you – Why are you standing idle? None of us who call ourselves Christian can say that no one has hired us. Because each of us who choose to bear – to take on the name – of Christian – is sent this day and every day by this parable – into the vineyard to work. If we think there isn’t work for us to do – we fool ourselves – and we cheat the kingdom of heaven. We miss out on the party – on some of the fun – and the joy – that we can only experience by being there. By choosing to be there.
Consider well which part of the vineyard God is sending you to this year – what new work – what new learning – what new joy – is God hoping you will experience this year – in this place – with this community?
Because there simply isn’t a single one of us for whom God does not have work to do – in the vineyard – for the kingdom.