First Lesson: Exodus 16: 2-15
Responsive Reading: Psalm 105: 1-6, 37-45
Second Lesson: Philippians 1: 21-30
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 20: 1-16
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let us begin this morning by considering a hypothetical scenario, imagine your first day in heaven. At first everything seems to be going well, weather is nice, food is good, and everybody seems to be nice. This whole heaven thing is setting up to be pretty good. Then out of the corner of your eye much to your surprise, you see Him! Him could be your old high school bully; Him could be your hothead boss; Him could be your neighbor who was always fighting with his wife, and spent more than one night passed out on his lawn. You never expected to see Him here! Seeing Him here is the one thing about the Kingdom of God that you just don’t understand. We’ll get back to your arch-enemy, your worst person in the world in a little bit.
Today’s Gospel lesson comes to us from Matthew the 20th Chapter. Let us reflect on a modern retelling of it as told by Robert Farar Capon.
There was a man named Robert, who owned a vineyard. The weather for the past month or so had been perfect for growing grapes, the harvest was setting up beautifully, yet bad news was on the horizon. The weather was about to turn cold in two days times; the grapes needed to harvest fast, or else ruined would be the whole crop.
So Robert goes down to the local hiring hall first thing on Monday morning at 6 AM to be exact.
Now people that tend to be down at the hiring hall at 6 AM are quite ambitious. The workers that gathered at 6 AM were the cream of the crop, the straight A students, the ones with goals and a plan for their life. The 6 AM crowd was full of hard workers who had no problem getting a little dirty in a vineyard.
These workers were in demand as all the other vineyard owners around wanted to hire them. So Robert decided that he was going to be generous in his offer. Whereas the going rate for a day’s work in a vineyard was two-hundred dollars, Robert was going to double it to attract the best workers, and pay four-hundred dollars for a day’s work. The workers were thrilled to receive such a generous offer; they began to daydream how they were going to spend their bounty at the end of the day, and off to Robert’s vineyard they went.
Around 9 AM, Robert receives word that the weather forecast had changed once again. So Robert decides that he needs more workers and fast. Robert makes another trip down to the local hiring hall, only this time he finds good workers, but not great workers looking for a day’s wages. Robert found the B-students, the ones who liked to sleep in a little bit, the ones who would be content with just a nice steady-life. Robert found the workers who preferred a nine to five rather than a six to six pace.
Yet by noon, even more workers were required. So Robert decides to go back to the hiring hall. The type of people there at noon had more of a work to live, rather than a live to work mindset. The type of people that would only work if nothing better came along, yet Robert hired them by promising them top dollar for their time.
3 PM the hours were winding down in the day. Robert was just going to hire anyone that might be standing around. By this point, Robert didn’t care if they were lazy, he didn’t care if they would sneak a grape to eat now and then.
5 PM the hiring hall was empty, but Robert needed still more help. So Robert walked around the streets outside. Robert saw kids whose pants barely hung above their knees, kids who seemed incapable of proper English with every adjective being a cuss word, kids whose clothes were producing a funky smell, and kids who even Robert knew would be of little use in a harvest yet by 5 PM Robert would hire them anyway. The kids went along figuring an hour’s work would give them a little more cash for the evening’s party.
As each new group of workers got to the Vineyard, they did what every human being would do. They asked about the pay. Word quickly spread that Robert was paying four hundred dollars for a day’s work. New workers kept dividing the hours worked figure into 400 and thought that it still sounded pretty good.
As the day ends, Robert is in a good mood. The grape harvest is a great success. Robert is a rich man, so Robert decides that he is going to be exceptionally generous when issuing payments. Robert calls over his manager instructing him to conduct an odd way of paying the workers. Robert commands him to pay the last hired workers first; this was an odd form of payment as managers normally wanted to see the most valuable workers taken care of first.
So the first guy walks up to the Manager, this guy was a real piece of work, ripped jeans, spiked blue hair, and a nose ring that looked like it belonged on a bull.
The manager knew that this guy contributed next to nothing to the project, yet he handed him an envelope with eight crisp fifty dollar bills. Spikey blue hair walks away as fast as he can hoping the manager wouldn’t notice the error, only to afterwards be astonished when his equally unproductive friends received the same reward for one hour of work in eight crisp fifty dollar bills. Word of Robert’s foolish generosity quickly spread, so much so that the when the first workers heard about it they were eager with anticipation. Their brows were filled with sweat, their hands were beaten, their legs were tired from hours upon hours of standing, they wanted nothing more than a shower, yet they felt like they were about to win the lottery. They figure if the worthless workers had been gifted four-hundred dollars then their payment would be in the thousands of dollars. Yet these workers were in for a shock as they approached the manager only to be handed an envelope with eight fifty dollar bills. The hard workers faces at this moment looked like the kid whose Christmas dreams have just been crushed. They were going to give Robert a piece of their mind about the unfairness of his payment plan. Yet as Robert heard them begin to whine, Robert was getting annoyed, he was being exceedingly generous to all his workers. “So what if he made the last first and the first last.”
Robert had been more generous than anyone could have ever imagined. Robert really didn’t care if the angry workers wanted to go to the local watering hole to talk about the unfairness of their boss. Robert was going to do things his way, because it was his business and nobody else’s.
The story of Robert and the vineyard workers is a modern retelling of the Parable of the Vineyard. This parable is a double-edged sword.
It’s a parable that provides grace to some, and judgment unto others. Judgment falls against those who can’t accept Robert’s foolish generosity, whereas grace is given to those who can’t believe Robert’s generosity.
The thing about grace is that it isn’t merely about bettering our situation a little bit here and there, God’s grace centers on bringing the dead back to life. There is no such thing as just a little dead; there is not anybody in need of a little less or little more Resurrection than anybody else. Our evidence of God’s grace never failing us or letting us go was made known on a cross.
A key tenant about Jesus’ parables is that he takes the notions of first and last and turns them right around. Think back to the story of Zacchaeus, Zacchaeus was thought to be a complete loser in the ways of God, yet Jesus comes into his life and reverses this outcome. The thing to understand about Jesus’ ministry is that the last are often made first, and the first are often made last. We often can’t grasp that slackers like Spikey McBlueHair could be given such a generous gift.
Our parable for today comes right after Jesus encounters a rich young ruler. This young ruler felt that he deserved eternal life because he had kept the commandments, similar to how the Vineyard workers thought they deserved more money, yet the thing about grace is that we don’t deserve anything, yet God gives it to us anyways. Jesus’ ministry is all about turning the world upside down as he promises that the exalted will be humbled and the humble will be exalted.
Today’s parable is a parable about everyday life. It’s a parable for the guys who sit around the bar night after night complaining about how professional baseball players make too much money; it’s a parable that seeks to point us back instead towards a reminder of all the gifts that God gives to us. It’s a parable that reminds us how God’s grace is so great that we don’t know how to respond to it, so we seek to place conditions upon it.
Last weekend, I was in Hawley, Minnesota attending a theological conference put on by a friend of mine named Tom Olson. Tom used to be a missionary in Africa, Tom spent many a day over there drinking and self-loathing. Tom’s mom would worry about him every night turning into nothing more than a lonely, alcoholic pastor. Tom over there meets a woman named Eunice, they get married, yet Tom develops an annoying habit within the marriage. Tom would put himself down at every opportunity till finally his wife snaps as she says “Why won’t you just let me love you without conditions.”
This story and this parable is a reminder of the nature of God’s love for us.
The Parable of the Vineyard is parable about the Kingdom of Heaven it’s a parable that reminds us that on the first day in Heaven there will be all kinds of people there. There will be the seemingly religious success stories: the ministers, the choir boys, the little old ladies who attended every Bible-study for seventy-five years along with those whose presence might shock us, even dare offend us. You might see your neighbor there who ranted whenever you brought up the church, you might see the kids who drove by your house always blaring obnoxious music, and you might even see the worst person in the world.
I remember one time in Seminary talking to John Rasmussen who is a preaching professor at the ILT when we were reflecting upon the age-old question of “If Baptism is so great what about those really despicable people who were baptized?” To which John simply said “I guess if you see them in heaven, then get upset, then YOU could always leave.” This is the Parable of the Vineyard. Amen
 Capon tells this story on pages 391-397 of Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Eerdman’s Publishing. Grand Rapids, MI. 2002. Print. Additional creative license is taken with Capon’s original version.
 Luke 19:1-10
 Zimmerman, Aaron. “Winners, Losers, Zuccotti Park, and Jesus of Nazareth”. Mockingbird Ministries. Mbird.com Christ Episcopal Church. Charlottesville, VA. 9. Dec.2011. Web. Sept.16.2014.
 Matthew 19:16-22
 Matthew 23:12, Luke 14:11