This is the worship service for September 20, 2020, the 16th Sunday after Pentecost.
You can find the worship bulletin here. It will have all the words of the liturgy, the hymn numbers, and the full sermon (which is also found below the video).
To have a fuller worship experience, please have a bowl of water, something small to eat and drink, and a lit candle in your space. It is the hope that these elements will aid in your ability to see and feel God present in your midst.
May your time of worship be fulfilling and fruitful!
Gracious God, your Word surprises us. It challenges us, upsets us, overturns our way of seeing and thinking. Come and find us today, that by the power of your Spirit we may see as you see and catch a glimpse of your coming kingdom, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
What on earth is going on, on earth? It’s like the modern day version of the 10 Plagues, we have fires, a pandemic that has gone on way too long, social uprising, more fires that are now still lingering in the air, and to top it all off, this mothpocalypse that has these nasty things flying around everywhere. Things are so bad right now that I almost feel guilty complaining about the car troubles that I’ve had in the past couple weeks. Well, it’s actually just car trouble, there is just one problem but it’s been a couple weeks and I still can’t figure it out. And since our being at home most of the time negated the need for two cars, my car being the less family-orientated got its insurance cancelled, so I can’t even take the thing to the shop to get it fixed. So it’s up to me and my internet wizardry to figure out the problem, and it’s been weighing on me quite a bit.
Now, if you aren’t shaking your head at me right at this moment, let me introduce to you the term, “first world problems”. Perhaps you’ve heard of it, perhaps you’ve used it, perhaps you recognised my car issues as exactly that, a first world problem. In that it isn’t really a problem. It’s just some spoiled and privileged clued out dork like myself complaining about something that I’m quite privileged to have, like a second vehicle, while ignoring the real problems of the world, like these plagues that are plaguing us right now. So basically they are called first world problems because only in the first world would it be deemed as a problem whereas everywhere else they’d be calling us lucky.
Problems like “my second car that we really don’t need right now is making a funny noise” or “my Amazon Prime order arrived at my door a little later than they promised” or “I forgot I was wearing my new Jordans and I crouched down and left a crease in the leather”. These aren’t even made up either, these are actual complaints that I’ve experienced.
Or what could be classified as first world problems could be a bit more subtle and go under the radar. Things like “my kid didn’t make valedictorian out of the 5 students they considered” or “my doctor made me wait for 30 minutes for my no apparent-cost-to-me appointment” or “these immigrants are taking all our jobs and now I can’t seem to find one that I’m not overqualified for and will pay me what I’m worth”. Don’t get me wrong, these can be real problems, but each one of them comes from a place of privilege.
This is what happened in the parable that Jesus tells his disciples in today’s gospel reading. If I’m being honest here, I never really liked this parable whenever I heard it when I was growing up, because I always sided with those who worked the whole day. To me, it made sense that they should be paid more because they worked more. To me, it was only fair to pay what is fair. To me, those who were chosen last were super lucky and those lazy butts would probably take advantage of the situation and never learn the value of hard work.
And perhaps you feel the same way when you hear the parable. Perhaps you feel like the landowner has wronged those who worked hard for him for longest hours. Perhaps you would complain as well, if this had happened to you. I know I would. In fact, I know I do (not at this job of course, I am very happy with my salary and would very much like to keep my job, thank you).
But really, this story really is unfair. I mean, it’s unfair if all things were equal, which they aren’t. If this story were comparing apples to apples with the first workers and the last, then it would definitely be unjust, but it isn’t. If this story were to take place today then the union and labour board or whatever would be contacted and we would get what is right, but it didn’t. See, if we put this story in context and understand the landscape in which Jesus is sharing this, then we’d get a better idea of what is really going on.
In those days, a day labourer is basically someone who doesn’t have a regular job. They don’t have a consistent 9-5, they don’t have an education or a degree, they don’t belong to any trade or guild or wear a fancy class ring. All they can do is stand in the marketplace and hope that someone is looking for a casual worker that can do menial tasks for a period of time. And if hired, then that single day’s wage would help them buy food, shelter, and support their family. The day labourer lived day to day, cheque to cheque, denarii to denarii, hoping that they would be picked to work and be able to survive one more day. This was normal practice back then, and it is something that worked for the many people who found themselves uneducated, unemployed, and for various reasons unconnected to the professional world.
That is, it worked for those who it worked for. This system didn’t really work out for those who it didn’t.
I mean if you were looking for a day labourer, what kind of person would you hire? If you needed someone to lift heavy things, push or pull big things, or carry lots of things for a relatively good distance, what kind of body type would you keep your eye out for? If you want help to bang some nails and raise some walls and had a short time frame, who would you get?
I think you know what I’m getting at here. Only the strongest, most muscular, perhaps best looking people would get hired (in other words, I’d thrive in that kind of environment). But those who would get looked over would be the elderly, the physically weak, or those who clearly would not be able to get the job done for whatever reason. Maybe due to a handicap, or an injured or deformed limb, or some kind of disability. Those are the ones who would be left behind, unchosen, and thus unable to earn any kind of money to buy food, shelter, or really even to survive. They aren’t left unpicked because they’re lazy, but because they are deemed incapable, and thus unworthy.
But the landowner chose them. He didn’t choose them first, yes, but perhaps that was intentional and maybe even merciful as he might know that they would only be physically able to work for so long. And while they didn’t work as long as those who were physically able to work long hours, they were paid just as much. In other words, those who were deemed unworthy by the world were made to be just as worthy by the landowner’s grace.
And that, right there, is God present in the world. That is what the kingdom is like. That is how God regards all people, regardless of ethnicity, gender, and social class, and teaches us to do the same.
But those who were hired first of course complain. They feel like they have been wronged because they weren’t paid more than those who worked only a fraction of the time. And I get their anger, but that truly is a “first world problem.” Because while they didn’t get paid more money, they have been privileged with a strong, healthy body and the ability to do this work. While they weren’t paid better, they would have been just treated better by society because of their privilege. While they weren’t seen as special through their pay, they were special enough and privileged to be picked first.
And I get that we might still not like how this story unfolds. We might still think that it’s unfair and unjust. We might still relate to the anger of those chosen first, thinking that we would never stand for this nonsense, that we would stand up for what is right for us. But the problem with that is that we probably aren’t those chosen first. We might think we should be, but we aren’t. We might think we’ve earned it, but we didn’t. We might even think we are capable enough to be first, but the fact is that we’d be wrong as it isn’t until God’s grace is bestowed upon us that we are truly worthy, truly capable, truly deserving of all that God blesses us with through God’s love and mercy through Jesus Christ. And the sad byproduct of this is that there probably are people out there complaining about us.
And I know this is a tough pill to swallow. This might be a blow to our egos and our privilege. It isn’t easy to see and recognise how we are poor in spirit, but then we are blessed anyway by God’s grace.
So in seeing ourselves as actually those who are chosen last, we see how this parable reveals the kingdom of God. While we might understand Jonah’s anger toward God’s salvation of the Ninevites, we can also now share in and relate with the Ninevites’ joy of being welcomed by the gospel in spite of shortcomings. And perhaps then we can name our own privilege and be able to see the value and worth in those who don’t have or cannot share in that privilege and rejoice with them, for them, and because of them and the value and worth put on them by God’s unending love and mercy.
The last will be first and the first will be last is just a confusing way of telling us that we are all equally valuable, first world or not. We are all loved, regardless of our ability levels. We are all God’s children, regardless of privilege, power, or personality, or the lack thereof.
In this season after Pentecost, let us embrace our diverse brothers and sisters around the world, that while we aren’t the same in so many respect, we know that we are the same in that we are all sinners saved by God’s loving grace and mercy. Thanks be to God. Amen.