God, who in generous mercy sent the Holy Spirit upon your Church in the burning fire of your love: grant that your people may be fervent in the fellowship of the gospel that, always abiding in you, they may be found steadfast in faith and active in service; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Lord God, defend your Church from all false teaching and give to your people knowledge of your truth, that we may enjoy eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Keep, O Lord, your Church, with your perpetual mercy; and, because without you our human frailty cannot but fall, keep us ever by your help from all things hurtful, and lead us to all things profitable to our salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.
Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.’ So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, ‘In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?’ And Moses said, ‘When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.’
Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, “Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.” ’ And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked towards the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. The Lord spoke to Moses and said, ‘I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, “At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.” ’
In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.
1 O give thanks to the Lord and call upon his name;
make known his deeds among the peoples.
2 Sing to him, sing praises,
and tell of all his marvellous works.
3 Rejoice in the praise of his holy name;
let the hearts of them rejoice who seek the Lord.
4 Seek the Lord and his strength;
seek his face continually.
5 Remember the marvels he has done,
his wonders and the judgements of his mouth,
6 O seed of Abraham his servant,
O children of Jacob his chosen.
For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labour for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.
Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well— since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the market-place; and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.” When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the labourers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.” When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’
Sermon on Sunday, Trinity 15
‘Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?”
What do you think when the landowner says this to those who are grumbling round about him? I think Jesus is challenging us to change the whole of the world order. He wants us to base the whole of our lives on generosity, an attitude which encourages us to divest ourselves of possessions. Envy does exactly the opposite – envy is grasping. It resents the state of affairs that it does not control. You can look at history as the playing out of the control in life. Sometimes it is a very greedy control, sometimes it is a laissez faire attitude.
The 1970’s exhibited a very generous attitude, with John Lennon’s “Let it be” as the theme tune of the period. It was a period when none of the hippies wanted to “take control” and anarchists were the biggest threat at the time to ordinary people and those wanting to control everyone and everything around them.
I think all those protests in the US pointed to this fact, and when you look at the reactions to the protests, you have to admit that control was foremost in some minds. Sending in the army to break up protests was the clearest indication of this. The most poignant example was the killing of students at Kent State.
But what were the protests about? It had to be that “letting be”. The giving up of control over others, had to be at the front of everyone’s minds who agreed with such heavy-handed tactics. One of the protests wide-spread through the United States was that of civil rights, and a more gentle movement you would never find.
A protest which was based on civil disobedience and passive resistance could never be threatening. Standing on the street singing gospel songs of liberation in the hope that all would become brothers and sisters – is that the sort of thing which should promote the very harsh reaction of arrests and baton charges?
The spiritual “We shall overcome,” sounded in the ears of everyone before the cracking of skulls and the screams of pain and fear. The hope of the gospel was the basis for that period of our lives, when we hoped that salvation would be universal and that hate and envy would melt away.
Isn’t this the vision Jesus offers in this parable of the landowner? He will hire anyone and pay them a fair price for their labour. The contract was for work and a day’s wages. Everything was tacitly agreed.
Everyone will have a living wage (that is what I reckon a day’s wages means) and no one will go without – I imagine that is what the notion of the welfare state means. The landowner is living out that ideal. By paying people a day’s wages whether they worked one or ten hours he is providing something other bosses don’t. Isn’t he being generous to everyone who had faith in him, that he would not short-change them? How many places have you worked that gave you that confidence? I know that I haven’t had many bosses who were that gracious.
But this is not a critique of the socio- economic system. Rather, I am exploring the attitudes of people in the system. I want to see how these words illuminate the gospel of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the world, in our lives. How do they expose Jesus Christ to us today, here and now?
Today we are speaking about spiritual properties which impact how we interact with one another. Today we are making observations on morality, on love. Steve Taylor sent a note to me about his thoughts on last week’s reading which said in part, “There is a balance to be struck between individual liberty and corporate responsibility.” What is the balance Jesus sets up? I wonder: could it be that Jesus taking a moral stand against greed here? Is he castigating the envy people have toward the lucky people among them like the jackpot millionaire who appears in our midst? After all they have not toiled for their fortune like the rest of us who have scraped together what little we have. We are envious, aren’t we? Years ago there was an extensive discussion of the politics of envy at a time when there was so much industrial unrest.
The landowner’s questions call into question the everyday attitude which accepts that the reason for any activity is self-interest. Everyone – that ubiquitous and anonymous “they” – says, “I am doing this for myself.” That is a very different attitude from what the landowner’s questions suggest. The landowner wants to do things for others. The questions exhibit Jesus’ selflessness. Generosity turns our usual attitude on its head, doesn’t it? After all, in business bosses want to keep everything for themselves, that profit motive. And on the shop floor, the workers are wanting more and more all the time because that is what their bosses do. Whenever anyone in the supply chain is generous, when people don’t worry about “profit”, the system shakes to its foundations and could finally collapse, don’t you think?
The landowner talks of “possessions”. What is it that belongs to him? The landowner is letting go of things here, isn’t he? He wants to be generous with “his possessions”. Who can prescribe what one ought to do with what has come into our personal care? Only the individual can do that. The consuming passion toward possession is enflamed in our economic system and culture, for example by the ads in the media and the pronouncements of our politicians. That passion permeates the whole of life.
But this is not a seminar on the capitalist system. I know a lot of things go through my mind when I think over the landowner’s words. There are a great many aspects to the questions he asks. From the very prosaic and selfish attitude, “Can’t I pay a man what I want to?” to the very complicated marxist critique of the capitalist system. – “A worker is entitled to a living wage and decent treatment because he has agreed to work for you. He is not merely a means of production. You don’t own the worker.”
These are very political statements and that is not the reason I am standing here, although the gospel does have an active, even a political, dimension. There are strands of Christian Theology which have their expression in active politics. They appeared in Europe with Marxist Theology and in South America with Liberation Theology. There are even strands of Existentialist Theology which impel us towards action. I think all the landowner is doing in his gracious generosity is just what Paul says, “Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”