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Grace

Jesus came to inaugurate, declare, and establish God’s Kingdom. He came as the King. And as he did so, he wanted, through his words and his actions, to both proclaim and demonstrate what that Kingdom is like. To do this he used parables, multi-layered stories that were designed to shock or jar with the listener. “If you want to know what the Kingdom of God is like? Well, let me tell you a story…” Each parable is like a window onto the nature of God’s Kingdom. Each parable lets us see something about the Kingdom of God. And so we come to this parable found in Matthew 20:1-16, The parable of the vineyard workers, and it is a parable about God’s Kingdom Values versus Human Kingdom Values.

The parable is primarily about grace. It is a lesson about God’s economy. You see, human economy – the way of humans – is that we get rewarded based on merit. Our society is based on behaviour and reward. If you work hard at school then you get awarded your exam grades. People get what they deserve. If you eat all your vegetables then you can have dessert! However, God’s economy is different. In God’s economy we are rewarded with the gift of ‘life in all its fullness’ and it is not based on what we do. It is not based on how hard we work, nor is it based on how long we work. You cannot earn God’s favour. And yet we try do we not? We try and apply our human economy to God’s economy. And this is what the groups that Jesus was talking to were doing. One of those groups was the pharisees. The pharisees were saying, “If only you were holy enough then God’s Kingdom – the Messiah – would come”. But Jesus extended God’s grace to everyone and made a point of including those who were marginalised, lost, and undeserving. Those who thought they were not ‘in’ but ‘out’. This is grace.

The attitude of the vineyard workers was that they grumbled and had, what is termed, ‘the evil eye’. That is a Greek idiom and it is an expression that means to be jealous, and from an earthy perspective they have every right to be! However, the vineyard owner gently admonishes those workers, highlighting their error of attitude with a question which they can choose one of two answers. Are they angry because the vineyard owner was: a) Allowed to do as he chooses, or b) generous?

It is a rhetorical question; a question that doesn’t need to be answered. A question that shines a light on wrong attitudes and wrong behaviour. Why? Because a) God is free to do as God chooses, and b) God is generous to all.

Therefore, the attitude of the vineyard workers should be the opposite. They should be thankful and rejoice. Be thankful that they were counted as welcomed into God’s kingdom and rejoice that God lets in whomever God chooses  — that God is generous.

In the Gospel accounts Jesus often wrangles with the Pharisees who seem obsessed with who is ‘in’and who is ‘out’. However, the first will be last and the last will be first. Jesus said that the drunks, the prostitutes, the criminals, the poor, the broken, and the marginalised – THE UNDESERVING — they were first. No wonder it made the Pharisees mad!

Well, this parable got me thinking. Our church strapline is, “Not just a church but a family.” Therefore, when we gather for worship do we want toddlers screaming at the back? Do we want scruffy, homeless people coming in the door? Do we want same sex couples sitting in the pews together? Do we want people with criminal records on our welcome team? My God, yes we do!

What if we shaped our worship, our gatherings, our meetings, to make it accessible for ‘the last and the least’ or those that have suffered or been marginalised by society? What if we modelled the Kingdom economy — extended grace — and shaped ourselves for the undeserving? What if the church exists not for its members but for its non-members? How will it make us feel?

Imagine if someone said, “I have worshipped in St. Mark’s my whole life, along with my parents, and my grandparents, and Father Gavin, you’re making changes that are for those that have only just stepped in the door, or have not even found Jesus yet?” Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to make anyone feel uncomfortable, nor has anyone I have encountered said such things! Far from it. But you see, if we relate this story to our church then you are the faithful. You are the labourers who have worked in the vineyard for the whole day, and the vineyard owner thinks you are precious and has needed you! You are vital to the mission and ministry of God in this place and at this time. The vines would not have been picked without the workers that were there all day. St. Mark’s would not be here without the faithful, hard work, time, money, labour, commitment, and sweat of generations of Christians — many of whom are here today. God needs you. St. Mark’s needs you. I need you. Your church council needs you. And we give thanks for you! Because, as we are, “not just a church but a family” and because a family does not leave anyone behind, we are not going to leave anyone behind.

Your vestry chose me to lead the church, not to do maintenance, but to do mission. Yes, my role is to ensure we are all loved, supported, maintained, and spiritually fed and watered – but it is also to mobilise, to empower, and to drive so we can be salt and light and extend God’s grace to a hurting world. Your heart is for the lost, and together, we are going to make developments to the way we do things, as we have done already – to be generous and to extend God’s grace. Therefore, commit to us being a church that shapes itself to reach the marginalised, the lost, and those on the edge; to connect with families no matter how they are made up – single mums, single dads, young people, children, and toddlers; to connect with those who have felt that they are lost or ‘out’ — the broken, the marginalised, and the messed up. It is going to be an exciting adventure and it is a journey we are all on together.

Will we, like the vineyard workers that had laboured all day, grumble and have the ‘evil eye’, or will be thankful that we are part of God’s family (and the family of St. Mark’s) and rejoice that God and the church are welcoming and extending God’s grace to the undeserving? Will we have an earthly perspective or a heavenly perspective? A Human economy or God’s economy?

Let me leave you with the lyrics of this song:

Only by grace can we enter

Only by grace can we stand

Not by our human endeavour

But by the blood of the Lamb

Into Your presence You call us, You call us to come

Into Your presence You draw us

And now by Your grace we come

Now by Your grace we come

Amen.