The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s058g08 Sunday 25 21/9/08
'I choose to give .. the same' Matthew 20.14
One of the constant things in this life is to get some advantage over others and one of the easiest ways is to get in first. The classic example of this is the pyramid schemes whereby those (few) in the upper echelons benefit from the many on the lower levels. But this is all pervasive, and the hierarchy of the church is no different. Those who have been in the system longer have risen higher and exert authority over the newer and less experienced players. In the congregation those who have been there for a long time resist any changes that new members might suggest citing the dictum we don't do things **that way** here! I once recall a parish meeting chaired by an Archdeacon. A person who considered (and called) herself the matriarch of the parish, introduced herself as such before making her contribution. He immediately retorted: 'Oh is that an elected or a self appointed position'? I wish I had this sort of wit sometimes!
Timing is everything just consider the workings of the stock market. Insider trading is all about knowing something before everyone else and being able to capitalize on that knowledge. Just think of the advantages of knowing the date and time of the end of the world knowing just how much we could get away with before repenting in the nick of time! This is, as an aside, a major argument against the traditional view of repenting being sorry for our sins. In this old view, sins are when we enjoy ourselves, so any form of repenting is essentially a sham. And God knows how much of a sham it is! We are really only 'repenting' out of self-interest. We want to continue to enjoy ourselves. Real repentance rejoicing that others are included lacks this element of self-interest.
Most often this parable has been interpreted as the vineyard being the Church, and so the message is that early Christians are treated the same as late Christians, but I would point out that this logically implies that Christianity is a way of getting, perhaps inadvertently, advantage over others. God chooses to give the same reward to all Christians but chooses to give nothing whatsoever to Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Moslems, humanitarian atheists. In essence this means that this parable doesn't apply to Christians it really only speaks to others to enter sometime, preferably soon, but ultimately it doesn't matter when. It is not a parable to do anything, indeed it could almost be a parable to do nothing!
Now I have great difficulty with dismissing the words of the Bible because having become a Christian, it no longer has any relevance, except that we must accept that others are equal to us. We are in essence saying to God that God doesn't choose to give the same renumeration to all because we are Christians God will give us more?!? But God chooses to renumerate workers equally it is a foundational saying in our gospel.
I would also point out that the thinking that some are 'in' and some are 'out' is not essentially different from the outlook of those who had Jesus killed. It was precisely those who loved God with all their heart and soul (or thought they did) who had Jesus killed. So there is something radically different about Jesus. Jesus did not provide an alternative to the God of the Old Covenant, but Jesus showed what the God of the Old Covenant was really like. And as I have said often enough, it is about accepting others.
So the vineyard cannot have boundaries. So there is not God's vineyard, and Buddha's vineyard, and Jesus' vineyard and Allah's vineyard, and Shiva's vineyard and the one without an owner for the atheists. It is not a matter of choosing the right vineyard. The whole world is God's vineyard, and we are invited to work in that vineyard.
Now the parable invites us as Christians to truly acknowledge and proclaim a God who chooses to renumerate all people equally. It invites us to work for the betterment of society as a whole, not for the advancement of our religion, denomination, or whatever, over others. It invites us to work for equality on the grounds of religion as well as race, colour, gender or with whom one relates intimately.
When I was in a parish and teaching the Catechism to confirmation candidates, one of the first lessons was about our status as Christians. The Catechism states that when we are baptised we are members of Christ, children of God and heirs of the kingdom of heaven, and I used to say to the candidates that you can't be anything more than this. The Pope in Rome, the Archbishop of Canterbury, your favourite saint, is also only a member of Christ, a child of God and an heir of the kingdom of heaven. And we are already these things by virtue of our baptism, which for most of us was soon after we were born. So we don't have to strive to be these things it has already been given! There is nothing else to be given. Each and every child of God is as important to God as any other. Actually I wouldn't worship a god who singled out those who are baptised for salvation and condemned everyone else to damnation so baptism is into the human family not out of it.
Baptism is into the death of Jesus, so it is a death to all distinctions between people. Those who had Jesus killed wanted to maintain distinctions between people, and especially the distinction between them and the tax collectors and sinners.
So Christian life starts by inviting us into the human race. The one lost sheep is that which separates itself off from the other ninety-nine it wants to be special and different from the rest of humanity, but Jesus seeks it out and brings it back into the fold of humanity, where all are loved as they are.
And if the Church follows her Saviour and does proclaim a God who gives equally to all, I suspect that the Church would not be in quite the parlous situation that she finds herself in. Or, to put it the other way around, the parlous state the church finds herself in is God saying that the divine is found elsewhere, as the divine always was, is and ever shall be.
And I would want to finish by saying that this is rather different from be 'liberal'. One can dismiss 'liberals', there is no point in having them killed. Jesus proclaimed a message that completely cut away the foundation of the faith of the religious that they were better than others, that God was not one who gave equally to everyone - that they were going to be given more. This is the scandal that led to the Cross, and the resurrection is the assurance that God was not thwarted. Thanks be to God!
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