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Sunday 20th September 2020
Leader: We are not called to be fearful;
ALL: we are called to love
Leader: We are not called to be perfect;
ALL: we are called to be faithful
Leader: We are not called to be all-knowing;
ALL: we are called to believe.
Prayer of Approach, confession and renewal
we gather as your people
at this time, at home, online, in person.
We give thanks for our history,
for our faith and our freedom to practice it.
We rejoice in your unfolding story
and we pray that you will give us
words to praise and words to share,
as we continue to learn more of our faith,
and journey together.
We give thanks that we can open
our hearts and minds to you,
share our deepest thoughts
and innermost concerns,
giving thanks for the joys we experience
and the sorrows the journey with us.
For you can see into the light and dark corners
and are always there,
standing by us,
ready to listen.
We bring our doubts and our faith,
our Fears and our trust,
we bring all that harms us, and all that weighs us down.
Pardon us Lord, for agreements abandoned
forgive us Lord, for promises broken
renew us Lord, for friendships dissolved,
make us new Lord, when our faith is starved.
Help us to be truthful to ourselves to you,
and so may we discover your renewing love,
as clear as the morning sunrise
and as fresh as water hewn from rock.
In your name, the one who created us,
the God of all creation,
we offer our prayers,
and our worship today.
all in Jesus name.
Reading : Matthew 20:1-16 & Exodus 16:2-12
Ruth Bader Ginsburg who died this weekend was one of America’s top legal minds and sat as a US Supreme Court Justice. She has been known throughout her long career for her advocacy of gender equality, famously noting at one point her own struggles. When graduating from university, despite being top of her class she didn’t receive a single job offer, because not only was she female, she was Jewish and a mother. Equality and dignity are very much hallmarks of our passages today.
The last will be first, and the first will be last. This passage from Matthew is not one for the human relations department; this is a reading for each one of us who is a disciple of Jesus Christ. In the preceding verses Jesus has told the rich young ruler that as well as keeping the commandments he needs to give up everything that he has, give his money to the poor, sell his possessions, then he will have treasure in heaven. Peter asks: ‘what about us, we’ve given up everything for you, what will we have?’ And Jesus tells the parable of the workers in the vineyard. This isn’t about equality pay scales for farm workers, this is about our expectations and the way that we live as followers of Jesus.
God created people to live together in community, not to be isolated individuals. Both readings call into question much of the way that we live. The people of Israel had been happy and willing to follow Moses, to leave the oppression of the Egyptians. They had seen the plagues, daubed their doorposts with blood, and left quickly on the night of the Exodus. They had walked through the Red Sea by a miraculous dry path of land, with the Egyptians following close behind.
They travelled the land and the hardships of the present became more real than the hardships of the past. The people complained to Moses and Aaron saying: why did you bring us out of Egypt, we are about to die here in the desert, why not let us die in Egypt, where at least we had food to eat. They were hungry and thirsty, they had forgotten the oppression of Egypt, and were struggling to believe the promise of God.
But God was not building a new Egypt; the people that God had liberated were to become a new nation, a nation that followed God’s ways, a nation that trusted God; a nation that was guided by God; a nation that relied on God.
Bringing about change in a community is never easy. Often when we decide to make a change in our life, whether it is changing our diet and exercise habits, moving to a new place, taking up a new job, there comes a rough patch where it just all seems too hard, where we just want to go back to the way things were. We forget about those moments of inspiration or frustration that led us to making those changes, all we can see is the difficulty. The people of Israel were in the wilderness for 40 years, and were a new generation by the time they got to the Promised Land. In that time the people had learnt to trust God, for safety, for food, for water, for guidance.
The Bible can be comforting, but also challenging, we mustn’t let ourselves be lulled by the warming passages and miss hearing the radical call to live a life where everyone is valued; not only the rich, the powerful, the healthy, everyone. The manna that was provided in the story from Exodus was enough for each family for the day. In the parable, the amount given to each worker was enough for their daily needs. When this parable was written, day labourers would go and wait at the marketplace each morning, hoping someone would offer them a day’s work, because the wage for one day’s work was a denarius and that is what it would cost to feed a family of the day. As happens today the fittest and strongest get chosen first, and the others get left behind and will be unable to provide what their family needs.
When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we say “give us this day our daily bread.” Yet for many of us, only one day’s food in the cupboard would be stressful. How can we work towards everyone having enough?
In the parable there is an expectation that those who have laboured longest will get a greater reward, and once again Jesus turned everything upside down and says the reward that awaits you is not about how long you’ve served or how faithful a disciple you’ve been. The reward you receive from God is about the generosity and open heartedness of God. Even if you have spent every day worshipping God, never missed a Sunday at church, spent your life working with and behalf of the poor, teaching the bible, and working in underprivileged places, your reward is no more and no less than anyone else’s reward. And sometimes that seems unfair. But I wonder how would we feel if God treated us as we deserve?
Discipleship is not about earning God’s favour; it’s not doing what we have to do, so that God will bless us. Discipleship is our response to God’s generosity, forgiveness, grace, new life, transformation and hope.
And discipleship implies that we work together, with each other and with God. These stories aren’t just about us as individuals, they are about community. In the book of Exodus, community is being formed, a community that will become a nation. The parable in Matthew is about people having what they need, of people not being envious or jealous, but each having enough, and each recognising God’s miraculous and outrageous provision.
We can’t earn what God offers us, we can’t pay for it, we don’t deserve it. But we can respond to it. Discipleship is our response to God’s outrageous generosity, how will we respond today. Amen
Questions for Reflection
The story of the vineyard workers often seems unjust, how would you have felt as a worker; as the owner; or a disciple hearing the story for the first time?
The Israelites had travelled for many years, and were forming a new community. What are the hallmarks of community; hope, love, sharing, equality? What do you think? And can these be applied to church communities today?
Prayer of intercession
God of all creation
who called every being into life
who is mindful of humankind in all its diversity
who embodies us with dignity
who opens the way for us to live lives of integrity,
granting different gifts and talents to shape life in this world.
We ask for your Spirit to unite us and guide us
where we face lack of understanding and disunity
in our communities, in our countries, between neighbours and family
We ask for your Spirit to unite us
in the face of the conflicts, and challenges of life
experienced in so many regions of the earth
and in prayer we bring to you the pain of the victims,
We pray for communities of people
forced to flee across borders and waters,
placing their lives in danger.
We pray for those offering aid and help.
We ask for your Spirit to unite us
wherever fear prevents us from caring for our neighbour,
from meeting people of different ethnicities, cultures
and faith communities with respect
for courage to walk with dignity and promote equality for all,
for the wisdom to create fresh expressions of faith community
to meet today’s needs and not yesterdays,
and in prayer we bring to you the brokenness of human relationships.
We pray for communities
where all can live lives of integrity and love,
and our politics around the world
will aim to support one another for the greater good.
(moment of quiet)
God of all creation,
in Christ we are reconciled,
and so we ask for your uniting Spirit
to help us to overcome all our divisions
that we may live in peace,
and work together in caring and healing your planet
Through all of our prayers
we pray for integrity of life and faith,
in ourselves and those we love.
Our Father in heaven
Hallowed be your name
your kingdom come
your will be done
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil
For the kingdom, the power
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
Benediction and Amen
Send us Lord,
nourished in faith,
encouraged with hope,
fed with your good news,
Thank you for joining with me for this time of worship.
and the blessing of God Almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be with you this day and everyday. Amen