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Sunday Service, 4th October 2020

This service was led by Paul Mitchell.

Part of this service has been recorded. You can hear it by clicking this link and pressing the ‘play’ symbol.

Welcome

Thank you to everyone joining us on Zoom. Do stay for a virtual coffee after the service!

We are hoping to be able to get worshippers in the Sanctuary from 18th October. Details will be in this week’s e-news.

During October our worship will be based on a parable, a different one each week.

Call to Worship, based on the Parable of the Vineyard

Come and worship,
you who woke early and you who slept late;
you who come often, and you who don’t.
Whether we are first or last or somewhere in between,
there is room for all of us in God’s kingdom,
and more than enough grace to go around.
Let’s worship God together!

Hymn 212 – Morning has broken. Listen here.       

Opening Prayer

Gracious and loving God, we come together this morning to worship you. We come before you, just as we are, knowing that we can bring everything to you, that you will hear us, even when perhaps we have been distant from you this past week, you are always loving, and ready to listen.

You smile upon us in welcome when you see us arrive. An invisible embrace envelops us and, because of this, we feel safe to come into your presence.

Father, we are in awe of your love and your grace, which surpasses all our understanding.

We know that at times we have fallen short of the way you would want us to live out our daily lives, sometimes knowingly, sometimes not.

We carry burdens that weigh upon us, regrets that are hard to carry and we find it hard to forgive ourselves, but we come knowing that you hear our prayers and that you see the goodness in us and you bless us – help us we pray to feel your forgiveness and reassurance.

Help us to come to the new week afresh, knowing that you call us by name that we may serve you honestly and with a willing heart.

These prayers we bring you, in and through the name of Jesus Christ our Saviour, the same Jesus that taught us to say together:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, The power, and the glory, For ever and ever. Amen.

Children’s talk by Mo Brand

I wonder who likes to play word games?

Maybe you enjoy scrabble or watching Countdown, perhaps you’re good at crosswords or like a good anagram?

This week we are thinking a little bit about harvest.

So I wonder if you look at the letters in the word HARVEST if you could rearrange them to make some new words?

What about a hot drink…

Or a part of your body…

Or little sparkles you see in the night sky…

There are two more ‘S’ words that can be found in HARVEST I wanted to tell you about: STARVE and SHARE.

They’re important when we think about harvest. Most of us are very lucky that we think about harvest as an abundance of food, so if we had to share it would feel easy – we may even be guilty of wasting food.

But we know that not everyone is the same; for many their reality is ‘starve’.

So I’ve brought an apple to help us think about these harvest words of ‘share’ and ‘starve’ a little more…

If the world was split into rich and poor yet everyone needed half an apple a day it would be pretty easy to share that evenly, but in our world the food is not split this way: it’s more like its split in three where the rich have two-thirds and the poor have just one – it doesn’t seem so bad until you’re reminded that everyone needs half an apple. So if we’re lucky to get two-thirds we have more than we need, yet lots of people all over the world only get one-third which is less than they need. (For those that have more it would only take six days to have a whole extra apple (three days for a day’s food).)

Our challenge is to ensure that ‘heart’ and ‘share’ are the key words for every harvest and there are lots of ways we can do this: being good stewards of the food we have, not wasting anything, cooking what we need, using up our leftovers.

To support all those who face the word ‘starve’ – that includes people here in our community as well as in countries further away donate to foodbanks – look for food that supports growers like Fairtrade.

Reading        

Matthew 20: 1–16 (NRSV)

‘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 this 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.’

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Sermon on the Parable of the Vineyard by Joint Session Clerk Paul Mitchell

I remember Rev. Peter Webster, minister of the church I previously attended, telling me once about a holiday of his. Spirits on the plane to the sunny destination were high and the mood light-hearted amongst the passengers until the subject of the cost of the holiday was raised.

Some on the plane had paid top dollar, booking as soon as the flight and holiday package was released. Others, though, had waited, made a late decision to travel and snapped up what looked like a bargain offer to travel – taking advantage of the fact that the package had not sold out and the vendor wanted to sell all places to maximise and make what profit they could despite the discount at the end.

This changed the mood, as some of those who’d paid full price were indignant that others would have been charged as little as half of what they’d paid. You think they had a point.

But then Peter posed the question – if everyone on that plane was happy prior to the discussion, knowing that what they paid they could afford, what was it to them that others had done the same? Why should the price that someone else paid affect your decision and your enjoyment of your choice of holiday?

I’ve long countered the picture that being a Christian is easy. Try and be nice, go to Church occasionally, say your prayers, take notice of the Bible and that’ll be that – at least some might think.

Sure, parts of the Bible are a joy to read, easy to understand and, in theory at least, easy to follow. But for me the Bible is real life and real life is complicated. Yes, there are the stark contrasts between right and wrong, black and white, as it’s often said. But, like life, shades of grey inhabit the colour spectrum – complexity and problems are everywhere.

The parables, in particular, can be challenging – I think that is why they are there. They contain not simple straightforward rules but complex issues – rules either are broken or not, more complicated matters require investigation and consideration.

Jesus’ parable for today presents a challenge. At face value, it is clearly unfair. Look at hours worked against money earned and it’s simply untenable. To use a modern term, that take is “Fake News”.

At this time of harvest, a vineyard owner is looking for workers to bring in his crops.  As Susan read, when it came to payment time it became, in best Scots terminology – a bit of a stushie.

Such was the volume of work, that the owner hired people at different times of day to try and get the job done, yet he chose to pay them the same. Those who worked all day were upset because, at the end of the day, they didn’t feel they got what they deserved – others who worked less were rewarded with the same wage.

It’s an easy parable to relate to – most of us know that feeling, don’t we?

I suggest there are few amongst us who haven’t felt slighted in our careers. You do the work, go the extra mile yet some ‘sloth’ or ‘flavour of the month’ comes along and gets a march on you. Such things are clearly injustices and people who are undeserving, at least in our eyes, get ahead.

We feel like the early workers – why bother working so hard and putting in so much time if in the end the system is rigged, the scales are tipped against you and so on. It is very human to feel like this, no matter how hard we try not to.

Jesus’ parable causes a reaction from us but like his disciples whom he told the story to, he wants us to look deeper.

“The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius.” That doesn’t seem fair, does it?

Certainly, those day-long workers thought so; so much so, in fact, that they staged a protest. They told the master he was wrong. With that system of reward why work 12 hours when I can work one and get the same pay? Whatever happened to hard, long, faithful, loyal labour?

The point that the workers missed in their argument, and often by us at face value, is a simple one – who were they to tell the owner what to pay people? The wages of the workers were not theirs to dispense, but to receive.

“Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money?” is the reply of the owner. The owner, the one who dispenses the wage, counters the workers with a simple statement – the ‘kill shot’ – “I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?” These day-long workers entered into the relationship with the master only on the basis of a negotiated agreement.

They were in a relationship for what they could get out of it. They got what they were willing to work for: contract fulfilled. They weren’t cheated.

One take-away from this parable is that we must be careful how we judge in our speed and depth. Who are we to judge the actions and generosity of others? What right do we have?

But it does leave questions for us to grapple with. So, let’s explore. One question would be: what does this parable tell us about the point of hard work? Were those hired first left thinking that tomorrow they would simply wait until later in the day to be hired? Get the same pay for less work, that’s how it is. Easy.

A friend of mine contacted me to say that he finds this parable difficult and I agreed that he was not alone in that thinking. He told me he can’t help but think about what happens the following day when the employer again seeks staff. It’s a great question.

Yes, those workers whose hands went up first could be last, leaving it late to volunteer their labour.

Will the employer again pay out in the same way? Will he employ the same hiring practices? Will the weather hold all day to allow the crop to be harvested or will storms come to curtail the work?

Would their willingness to work early previously and work hard all day yield a reward as yet unknown? Reward can come not only in completing a job but how we approach the job and the attitude and willingness we show.

Such are the joys of parables: that we learn from seeing into them, not just reading the text. Scholars and ministers with greater knowledge than me reveal that this parable has at its heart the subject of God’s grace.

Wouldn’t you have loved to have been in the huddle with the 12 disciplines as a parable was discussed after they heard it? The debate here would’ve been lively and I’ll bet many of the issues raised here would’ve been discussed.

However it went, Jesus would have ensured that his message got through. Jesus talks of how God is the head of the vineyard, the vineyard belongs to Him and therefore He has the right to do what He pleases, and to call whomever He wants whenever He wants, and to reward them whatever He determines.

Who are we to judge how and when God is gracious? God chooses to operate by his grace and treat all of us equally in his eyes. Everything depends, not on what we want or do, but solely on God’s grace.

As the passengers on the holiday plane proved, comparisons are unhelpful and we can let such things fester and spoil our own happiness.

What we can seek to do is to work on our own relationship with God and our service for Him. Our relationship with God is one to one, not one to ‘compare to others who we think are in similar circumstances’. That can be hard to remember. I’m as bad as anyone at forgetting this. It’s a challenge to us.

When the love that God has for us is at the core of our daily lives we are able to experience the fullness of life, not as compensation, but as a gift – a gift of grace.

Prayers of intercession by Susan Dyer

The stained glass in front of me was made for us, as you may know, by members at Garvald Edinburgh, an inspirational community which provides creative opportunities for adults with learning disabilities. Appropriately for us today it shows corn and grapes – representing our staple food and the fruits of the earth, which sustain and nourish our bodies but also remind us of our faith which sustains and nourishes our souls. Fitting symbols to see at the time of harvest, and also potent reminders of our obligation as Christians to carry on Christ’s work in the world.

So let us pray for the world:

As we give thanks for all the good fruits of the earth which we enjoy in such abundance, we pray for the millions across the globe who go hungry because the crops have failed through drought or flood, or because their land has been stolen, or because their access to food has been denied by violence or forced exile. God of justice and generosity, open the hearts of the powerful to find ways to live in harmony and equity, and shatter the armour of narrow self-interest which condemns others to suffer so that we may live in comfort.

God of compassion, hear our prayers for people who are ill and dying and for all those who care for them. We pray that illness and infirmity of all kinds will be met with kindness and compassion as well as skill and medical expertise. We pray especially for our friend Rosemary at this time. Lord support those who watch and wait – comfort them in their fears, and be very near those who mourn the passing of family and friends.

God of hope, we give thanks for the clarity and enthusiasm of our children and young people. Some of our own in the Saturday club have spoken of being grateful to be back at school, back to stimulating ways of learning and back with their friends – despite the unfamiliar early mornings, strict teachers, more homework and an awful lot of hand sanitiser! God, we pray that their resilience and humour will help them through whatever lies ahead, and that they will be well supported by their leaders, teachers and families. And we pray especially now for students trying to start or continue their further education in these very uncertain times. We fear for their mental and physical well-being, and pray that their particular needs are met with wisdom and tolerance.

And finally we pray for our church here in Wardie – our members, our organisations, our leaders, and the community around us of which we are a part. Help us to hold fast to our shared beliefs and sense of belonging even when we cannot physically meet together. Bless the nominating committee as it works to find the right person to lead us forward, and bless all our staff and members who keep contacts going by newsletters and phone calls, and virtual meetings like this shared service. God of the unexpected, lead us forward to meet new challenges in faith, and keep before us the certainty of your unfailing love in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen

Hymn 181 – For the Beauty of the Earth

Thank you for joining us today. We are in unusual times but it is good to gather together and worship together. My thanks to all involved in the service today, both seen and unseen.

If you can, please stay for a coffee (or tea), self-provided of course, and join in some conversation with friends.

 

Blessing

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields
and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand. Amen.