Welcome everyone to our time of gathering and reflection today. Let us continue to let ourselves be engaged with creation, whatever part of creation brings you comfort, peace or pleasure, keep that image tucked away in your mind and heart.
Acknowledgment OF God and Country.
Lord we come to you today from the wilderness of our lives. We come to you today to find comfort and connection. To draw down from you spiritual strength.
We acknowledge the Dharawal people the traditional custodians of this land and pay our respects to Elders past and present. We thank them for their courage, faith, spirit and graciousness. We thank them for their care and stewardship of this beautiful land.
The Lighting of a Candle
Call to Worship
Welcome friends let us continue to embrace our season of focus on creation
Let us set aside this day to look beyond ourselves
Let us set aside this day to reflect upon the grace, colour and grandeur of this amazing world,
Today let us learn what our attitude towards our world can teach us about ourselves, and how we conduct our lives
Come let us worship
Let us imagine a warm wind on our face
Let us visualise the beauty of red ground beneath a blue sky
Let us listen out for the call of the birds and animals of the outback
Let us imagine a rock, our rock to sit upon and contemplate in solitude
Let us deepen our spiritual connection to nature with the Lord our friend and guide
All creatures of our God and king
Lift up your voices and with us sing
Thou burning with golden beam
Thou silver moon with softer gleam
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia,
Thou rushing wind that art so strong
Ye clouds that sail in heaven a long
Thou rising morn in praise rejoice
Ye light of evening find a voice
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia,
Let all things their Creator bless
And worship him in humbleness
O praise him, alleluia
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son
And praise the Spirit, Three in One
O praise him, O praise him
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son
And praise the Spirit, Three in One
O praise him, O praise him
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
Lord of the wild and the tame
Creator God of this wonderful country Australia
Help us to remember that even when we are in solitude in a remote place
At the foot of a mountain, or resting by a tree
Or in our home
We are not alone
We are part of the landscape of this grand connected world
We are part of the tame and the wilderness
We are part of your great and wonderful creation
Prayer of Confession
Merciful God, we come to prayer in humility and with contrite hearts.
You might well ask us, “Are you envious because I am generous?”
Honestly, God, our answer too often is “yes”. We have a particular view of who is deserving and who is not. We get narky at newcomers who impinge on us.
We have things lined up in order according to our own list of priorities and values, and don’t want any Johnny-come-lately upsetting the apple cart. We want a queue to be a queue – for the first to be first, and we dislike queue jumpers.
We forget that this thinking leads to the exclusion of the poor and the disenfranchised. We have created a society that makes it hard for them to get anywhere near the front of the queue. Too often, we have an imperialist view of faith. We hold that the tradition we come from is the right one, purer and truer than the others. We want to be the granters of your mercy and the gatekeepers of your love. And then the realisation comes. We need to be the recipients of your mercy and love. Have mercy on us, we pray. Amen.
Words of Assurance
God is generous – full stop. No one comes too late to receive God’s mercy.
God does not withhold forgiveness or impart it to a select few. It is freely given to us all. Let this knowledge lift us from all our wrongdoings and transform our lives. Amen.
Bible Reading: Exodus 16, verses 2-15.
2 In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”
4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. 5 On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”
6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?” 8 Moses also said, “You will know that it was the Lord when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.”
9 Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’”
10 While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.
11 The Lord said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”
13 That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.
Moses said to them, “It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat.
Prayer of Affirmation
We are your creatures caught up in the web of creation that is nurtured by grace
Lord we will never escape your love, no matter how far we try to go
We are loved, supported and held in the family of all living things.
God challenges us to not seek ‘fairness’ as our idea of fairness is different to God’s
We are asked to seek justice, compassion, to be generous and to show mercy
Today’s Matthew reading will encourage us to put aside our idea of fairness much like in the parable of the Prodigal Son, let us exercise a generous nature and be willing to sacrifice for the rights of others
Bible Reading: Matthew 20 verses 1-16.
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.
“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ 7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’
9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 “So the last will be first & the first will be last.”
In this is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Reflection /Sermon Rev Paul Bartlett “Late-comers, welcome!!”
The very beginning of this parable would have been a setting and image familiar to those who became disciples of Jesus from the Jewish faith. Vineyards are referred to throughout the Old Testament as a sign of the bounty of God’s goodness in the land of Israel.
The image of Israel as a vineyard with God as the landowner isn’t directly made until the time of the Prophet Isaiah 700 years before Christ. In his writings and in many that follow, God is disappointed at the peoples’ lack of the fruit of Justice, compassion & righteousness. Fruitfulness is needed!
In Isaiah 5: 7 God leaves his people under no misunderstanding as to his disappointment at their lack of fruitfulness! “For the vineyard of the Lord Almighty, is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are the vines he delighted in. And he looked for justice but saw bloodshed, for righteousness but heard only cries of distress”.
In the Gospels Jesus takes this powerful image from Isaiah a step further and in John 15 says I AM the vine and you are the branches, branches that are called to bear fruit “worthy of repentance”.
Fruit that shows others that you are my disciples. Matt 3:8 & John 15:8
So his Jewish Christian listeners are now a little on edge, what is this parable going to say?
The image of a vineyard is still central, in fact the Kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early to find workers for his vineyard. In this parable there is no mention of fruit, except that it cannot be picked without labourers and that is a Calling in itself and a topic of deeper conversation for another day. But rather the focus is on WHO is invited to be part of His new Israel & how they’re received: and then the first puzzle. Why are the hours mentioned? Early in the morning; about 9am; about Noon; about 3pm, and about 5pm.
Why the specific times? Is it because our Lord knows that not all of us are morning people? Is our Lord just being kind not getting some of us up early, knowing that as he’ll be employing people throughout the day we can take time to have breakfast & that leisurely cuppa? It’s not the 1st priority of our day.
Is that sometimes the way you see your faith in Christ as not the 1st priority of your day or week?
Or would you be there before dawn in case there are only a few picked to work in his vineyard?
There are many people in our world who live by this ‘first in best dressed’ model of scarce resources, of limits, where only the most righteous, the most ‘prepared’ are welcomed and accepted.
But not in this story. There is room, for more and more ‘labourers’ to enter and to be gainfully employed (ie not idle) this is a great insight which echoes John 14’s ‘house of many rooms’.
And it isn’t just that the Lord is ‘hiring’ but that there is an agreement on ‘terms and conditions’ before they start. On all the occasions that Jesus invites people to follow him, he lays out what lies ahead openly and honestly, there is no hidden fine print to confuse you or to take advantage of you.
And with that, the resources he will provide for any journey we understand on his behalf.
This is refreshingly open and a matter of justice – you will be paid what has been agreed!
Over the past couple of years, too many organisations from the aged care sector to large supermarkets have discovered that they have ‘somehow’ underpaid their staff.
So already, in this story, there is Good News to share and celebrate in the way God engages with us.
The story also acknowledges the longing that the workers who arrived late, had in wanting to work.
To be not idle – without focus or purpose in life. This tells us that today there are people longing to find a focus and purpose in their life. It isn’t all about scamming Centrelink to avoid work whatever you may read and hear on the news. ALL people are made in God’s image, all long, even if they do not know it to be ‘gainfully employed’, we are called to never give up on finding them and ‘hiring them’.
And yet there are darker undercurrents to this story.
The first is that Matthew writes in the 80’s CE as the church is expanding across the world.
The first followers of Jesus are those who came out of the Jewish faith and whose dedication and sacrifice laid the foundation for all who were to follow. These can be equated to the “early morning” and “9am labourer’s”. They are the ones who have sweated and toiled the most, in this story, in the heat of the day. While those who had arrived by 3pm and 5pm did not experience this!
And we’re not just talking about manual labour, but people whose faith has come at great cost where families have been split, people imprisoned, tortured and killed for their faith. Do those who come later into the faith, after this tumult, should they receive the same reward? Jesus says, yes.
So whether you can trace your faith back to Moses and have lived this sacrificial life all your life or you have come to faith on your deathbed, ALL receive the same inheritance.
We too often look at ‘reward’ based on the way the world sees it or we may have experienced it in our working life: you work longer hours, you are responsible for more people, budgets or programs, you get paid more, nearly every job follows that rule; and the longer you ‘work’ the more super you accrue and all its associated benefits.
In the Methodist Church pre-Union a single Probationer or exit student was paid less than a married Probationer, a single Minister was paid less than a married Minister and then you add 5% per dependent child! As my Dad often commented, some went on to have large families!!
In the Salvation Army your progress from Lieutenant to Captain, to Major is based on automatic years of service. In Churches that have Deacons, Priests and Bishops, there is similarly an increasing salary.
But what about the parable of the Talents, to whom is given much, more is given, I hear you say!
That story is about our growth in faith, and no one parable can be a complete encompassing of the Gospel. Beware any who seek to ‘play off’ parable vs parable, looking for an escape clause.
When the UC came into being, the deliberate decision was made, that whether you be a Deacon or a Minister of the Word, 1st year out or have been serving in ministry for 40 years, you are all paid the same Stipend. Some parishes might choose to add 5% or 10% and some Presbytery, Synod and Assembly jobs do that too, but for all in parish ministry, it is the same. In 2017 Tammy in her 1st year in ministry at EUC received the same Stipend as I did in my then 35th year of ministry.
Those who suffer much for their faith, “lose family child & wife” to quote Martin Luther, serve as missionaries, are persecuted, imprisoned or their families killed…receive the same inheritance as those tucked up in bed confessing Christ the moment before they die!
And besides, we ALL fall short, you, me, those who’ve gone before.
It is only by grace we are received with the ‘well done good & faithful servant’ but in spite of all of this some of us still feel we’re ‘owed’ something extra for these long hours and costly discipleship. That we are better than some others. This spiritual pride is the lesson in this parable.
It’s the grumbling of those who were hired first.
WE ARE ALL ONE IN CHRIST. There is no hierarchy, no Penthouse, no sitting on Jesus’ left or right.
No, ‘better Christians’ and less deserving ones – all are welcome, equally. All have access to the same gifts and graces for blessing. It is Grace upon grace, agape love upon agape love, breathtaking & liberating, empowering and inclusive.
And your response to this parable?
To do our very best, with all that we are, as you would for someone you love so deeply.
Faith is that mustard seed - you either believe or you don’t. Some live out their faith for a time in some parts of their lives, some others do so over more of their daily life more of the time.
But it is God who hires, who invites, who includes and who equips.
We are called to do the same in all our relationships as we encourage each other ‘on the Way’ at the crack of dawn, in the heat of the midday sun and in the cool of the evening. Praise be to God. Amen.
Hymn – ‘A spendthrift lover is the Lord’ Try singing it to O little town of Bethlehem!
A spend-thrift lover is the Lord
Who never counts the cost
Or asks if heaven can afford
To woo a world that’s lost.
Our lover tosses coins of gold
Across the midnight skies
And stokes the sun against the cold
To warm us when we rise.
Still more is spent in blood and tears
To win the human heart
To overcome the violent fears
That drive the world apart.
Behold the bruised and thorn crowned face
Of one who bears our scars
And empties out the wealth of grace
That’s hinted by the stars.
How shall we love this heart-strong God
Who gives us everything
Whose ways to us are strange and odd
What can we give or bring?
Acceptance of the matchless gift
Is gift enough to give
The very act will shake and shift
The way we love and live.
Be eco-friendly is the cry
But how far do we go to achieve this goal?
Plastic, coal to name just two
These substances create much heartache so true
We say we recycle, reduce, reuse
Is this the truth or a little white lie?
Our earth burns our oceans choke
We shake our heads as we watch your creatures die
Lord for strength for courage we ask from you
To be your earthly warriors to make things new
Acknowledgement of Offering – we bring to you our offerings Lord and ask that you bless the fruits of our congregation’s generosity so that we may use these gifts to make a difference in this your world
Prayers of the People
Gracious creator God even as babies we could marvel at your wonderful world
As we grow older through the eyes of children we re-learn the majesty and wonder of insects to cuddly animals
You created this amazing world
We thank you for the joy that your creation brings to us in so many ways
Thank you for the peace and tranquillity that nature can bring to us when we experience uncertainty, anxiety and stress in our lives
Forgive us when we so often we do not care and respect your world
The Governor of California stood among burnt lands and uttered the words “this is the effect of climate change” as the world still argues, debates and wrestles with this issue, the world burns, or at the very least continues to get warmer,
Open the eyes of all world leaders may we all unite to work towards caring for your beautiful creation, and not ignoring what our current lifestyle is creating around us.
We pray for all churches here in Australia and around the world as they seek to find the best way to serve you in this everchanging world,
Lord we lift to you all those who have been affected by the pandemic, for the lost lives, the mourners, the doctors, nurses, researchers, scientists, in fact everyone,
We pray for our leaders, Lord, our national leaders, state leaders, local leaders. We pray for their focus to be on creating a healthy Australia, one that is just, compassionate, where all people no matter whatever their background may be, may have access to education, housing, medical services, where asylum seekers and refugees are welcomed not reviled,
We pray for ourselves, Engadine Uniting Church, our church community and put our trust in you as we plan for the future
We thank you for Paul’s message to us today and for his ongoing his grace and support of Engadine Uniting Church,
Creation narrative/music: “Our Earth, Our Home”
Rev Paul Bartlett