Based on Philippians 1:21–30 and Matthew 20:1–16
This year — and this weekend, especially — we celebrate an amazing milestone in the church:
200 years as a faithful congregation!
I see, and have seen, the faces of so many people who have been a part of this church — from those who have been steadfast in their attendance and participation in this body, to those I maybe only see once or twice a year.
And from those who have worked faithfully in this church but have since been called to work elsewhere, to those who were called home and are now seen only in all the old black-and-white pictures in placed in scrapbooks and hung in photo frames.
But as I look at each of them, do you know what I notice most?
Their hands, our hands.
Because our hands don’t lie.
They are like our resumes, and they are like our timelines.
Have you ever felt the calloused hands of a field worker?
They’re big, leathery, strong and stained from years of hard work.
Or have you held the soft hands of a child?
No wrinkles, perfectly tight skin, soft, and having never been exposed to such hard things.
A guitarist, you can always tell, from their thickly calloused fingers.
A dancer, by the graceful lilt of her hand gestures.
A fighter by his misshapen and bulging knuckles.
Hands don’t lie.
I was thinking about all of this as I was preparing for today,
because I cannot help but to look all around this place and see those very hands, and the fingerprints and the proof of building up the kingdom of God that has happened here at Trinity and in this community in the past two centuries.
It’s really not fair that after all of this amazing and blessed time, I — who have been here as pastor just over two years — have somehow been given the opportunity to speak to the press for multiple stories, receive proclamations and letters from our political leaders near and far, be congratulated even for the work that this church has done, as if I was the one who had been laboring in the hot sun all these 200 years.
I am but a day laborer who was brought into this abundant vineyard late in the day to work alongside those who have been toiling in these fields since sunrise.
And, like Jesus tells us in this parable of The Laborers in the Vineyard, I receive the same reward as those who worked much longer and harder.
Working in the Vineyard
We read two pieces of Scripture today — one, from the letter of Paul to the church in Philippi and a parable told by Jesus and recorded in Matthew’s Gospel.
Both have to do with work, don’t they?
In the first reading, Paul is longing for that great rest from his labors as Jesus promises eternal life, but he also believes that the longer he is laboring here on earth — even suffering in prison and writing letters to fledgling and wandering churches, he is helping expand the kingdom here on earth.
Paul writes in Verse 21: “For to me, living is Christ, and dying is gain.”
The latter seems more attractive to Paul.
In other words, our lives point to Christ in all that we do.
That takes work.
But someday, we will receive that much-needed rest from those labors.
In the second reading, though, Jesus tells us that a landowner needed some help in the vineyard and went on a few recruiting runs through the day.
The landowner finds a group ready and eager to labor for a day’s wage, and gets them working in his vineyard.
But at midday, the landowner spots another group of day workers with their hands stuffed in their pockets.
He calls them to also work in the vineyard, and so they go.
And toward the end of the workday, there’s a last group of day laborers with nothing to do.
They are called into the vineyard as well, each with a promise to be paid fairly for their work.
These are day laborers — if they don’t work, they don’t eat.
When the sun drops, the landowner settles up, and he pays each of the workers the same amount regardless of how long they worked.
That didn’t sit well with those workers who toiled in the hot sun hours more than those who showed up to work in the last hour of the day.
And that wouldn’t sit very well with us today, either, would it?
But the landowner says “I did nothing wrong, and I can do with my money whatever I want to.”
A question of fairness?
In our lives, we might have a problem with this.
Although it’s true: We can’t tell someone how to spend their own money.
It’s just that it doesn’t really seem fair to us.
Yet if we reframe that a little, we can see that any amount of work in the vineyard makes the vineyard greater, more fruitful.
I can’t help but think of all those people around the world who work in the social service sectors.
They work just as hard as anyone else — if not harder — for much, much less.
Yet the work that they do is making the world a better place.
Not just for those who receive their services; but for all of us.
See, Jesus challenges the ideas of our culture.
He did then, and his words still speak to us today.
We can’t possibly expect that God’s economy runs the same as ours, or that our ideas of production are similar to God’s.
We can’t expect God to adhere to our standards…
It’s the other way around.
Instead, the fruit of our labor comes by God’s invitation to be able to participate in expanding the kingdom.
Does that make it better only for God?
No, it makes it better for us, and all of our brothers and sisters here and all around the world.
To carry the metaphor forward, expanding the kingdom — this vineyard and even this church — we are making a better world for everyone.
Our fruits are joy, peace, goodness, justice and love.
Or what we love to say in the United Methodist Church: “transforming the world.”
That sounds a whole lot more important than simply earning a day’s wages, doesn’t it?
That’s the Big Picture Jesus is showing us here in this vineyard parable.
Paul knows he must be an active part of this labor force, too.
And the fact that he may be sitting in a prison cell writing this letter to the Philippians doesn’t remove him from the labor rolls.
In fact, it makes him want to work all the harder.
Now, this story may be prompting you to be thinking that I’m telling you that you need to work harder for the church — this vineyard — and working for the church means being in the church here each and every Sunday.
Not gonna lie: I would love nothing more.
Because if this and any church that worships Jesus Christ is the vineyard — and it certainly is — then we could all use a few more hands.
“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” Matthew 9.37.
Today, we’re here amidst hands passed who’ve cleared and cultivated this vineyard.
And we’re among hands that continue to care for and even expand this place.
They are hands — all of our hands — that have had a hand extended to them in warm, loving and generous invitation.
They are hands that have received.
And they are hands that clasped together, hope.
They are hands that pass peace.
The evidence is all around us, and those hands simply don’t lie.
When we work in the vineyard, the vineyard expands, the kingdom advances.
So what does this vineyard look like?
It is important to be here, with all of these coworkers in this labor force who are working together to advance the kingdom.
But when we say the vineyard is the church, what we are NOT saying is that the vineyard is the bricks and mortar and steel and stained glass and wooden pews and pipe organ.
The vineyard is all of these hands, the entire body of Christ who calls us to reach into every corner of this community and this world and work for light and justice and love.
That means worshipping together, certainly.
And it means listening to and learning the word.
It means spending time in prayer — laboring on our knees to be able to know God’s will for our lives and for this people we call the church.
But it also means living our lives as a response to God’s love and mercy and grace, and so we wear these company uniforms with great pride.
So that anyone we run into in this whole wide world knows exactly where our place of employment is — that we work in the vineyard!
Otherwise, we’re just a bunch of directionless people standing on a street corner, our hands stuffed in our pockets, waiting for something — anything — to happen.
And it so often does.
And so often, it’s not good.
So often it’s the first thing that comes along to lure us from being available for vineyard work.
So many distractions in our lives…
As a church, we are called to point one another back to the vineyard.
Doesn’t matter how skilled you are.
Doesn’t matter what’s on your resume.
If your hands are hard, soft, shaking or stained.
Doesn’t matter if you’ve started at the ground level or transferred over from a corner office.
And the Boss doesn’t care if you came to the job as the shadows of the day grow long.
The first will be last, the last will be first, Jesus says.
No, when we look at all that God has done by extending a hand to us these last 200 years at Trinity Bellefonte, it’s because of God’s great love and desire for us and all God’s children to know true joy.
A speck, multiplied
In the scheme of things, maybe two-hundred years is merely a speck in time.
In our economy, maybe we see it that way.
In God’s economy?
It’s expanded greatly.
Each and every day, we are given the agency to make this decision:
Go stand on the street corner and wait with our hands in our pockets for the truck to come by and pick us up…
… or stay in bed.
…Be distracted y something else.
But the truck always comes by.
Maybe we miss the first two shifts, but it always comes by.
There’s always work to be done in the vineyard.
Work that is paid fairly.
So we can be eat and be fed.
So we can feed others.
And bring joy.
We’ll get our rest — don’t you worry about that.
Come to the vineyard
God calls us to be active participants — workers — in advancing the kingdom.
We have an opportunity to do just that each and every day.
To make the world better.
To bring Joy.
To eradicate suffering.
To unite all of God’s children.
To use the gifts and talents and abilities we all have and make this world a better place.
As it should be.
This is the fruit of the vineyard.
This is where transformation happens.
For two-hundred years, this church — this body, these hands — have faithfully joined together in work, in prayer, in peace and in thanks for such a profound gift.
Today, as we turn yet another page, let us always hear God’s invitation into the vineyard.
Side by side with our brothers and sisters.
To be ready and excited when that Good Hand reaches to us and invites us into this vineyard.
And to celebrate each day in the eternal generosity of God’s abundant love.