18 September 2011/Proper 20 rcl -Ex 16:2-15/Phil 1:21-30/Matt 20: 1-6
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter's at Ellicott Mills, Maryland
Dying Is Gain
The Duke of Richmond, as a distant relation to the Royal Family, felt that whenever he was in London he would worship at St. Paul's Cathedral. And that when he was at St. Paul's he could worship in the royal box. And if he was in the Royal Box he felt he could worship as he pleased, so that when the priests would say, "Let us pray," the Duke would cry out, "Yes, let's, let's...!"
And when the priest read that the laborers hired at the end of the day received a full days wages, like the grumblers in the parable, the Duke cried out, "Too much, too much!"
It isn't fair! we cry! Yet, what is fair about the kingdom of heaven? Is there anything we can do, any one thing any individual can do, to deserve anything at all, let alone deserve more than any other single person on earth?
After all the Lord of the harvest is the same Lord Yahweh who all the way back in Exodus faced the same grumblers and whiners and sent them manna - loosely translated as, "Whatizit?" For they did not know what it was. We still don't. By which I mean, we still cannot get our heads around this most foundational and simple story of Biblical faith: each day there is to be enough bread for everyone, no one gets too much, and if you try to store it up, it sours.
After what has been called the single largest transfer of wealth in the history of mankind over the past 10 to 20 years, the results of "storing it up" are still coming in. Full economies of nation after nation in Western civilization are collapsing, drowning in debt, gasping for air, seeking a solution to the fruits of our own hubris. And yet, when our Lord Jesus, the Christ, the one whose name we take as our own, offers this parable depicting an unimaginable captain of agricultural industry making sure that each and every worker has enough bread, the same amount of bread, to take home to feed his family, our immediate impulse is to side with the grumblers and say it is not fair.
All the while, Paul still sits in a prison in Philippi reflecting on what it means to believe in the resurrection - how does the joy and agape love of resurrection look, taste and feel when one is in chains?
Simply put, "To me, living is Christ and dying is gain." As long as I live, says Paul, I can labor in the fields and bring in the sheaves. I am, however, hard pressed: to depart and be with Christ is far better, but to be here in the flesh is necessary for me and for you - "only live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ."
He was in jail for proclaiming Christ crucified and Christ raised from the dead. He was in jail for not refusing to bear witness, for refusing to cave in and adapt to the dominant culture. And by all accounts throughout this letter from a Philippian jail, he seems to be enjoying every minute of it.
Make no mistake - the citizens of Philippi were no different from any of us - they all wanted more. But along comes Paul who says, Jesus taught us to pray, and when we pray we are to pray to be satisfied with whatizit - manna - bread that is given daily. We are to find a daily portion of bread, His body, and wine, His blood, to be sufficient to labor in God's vineyard another day.
Paul urges us to "share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus." I will never forget the day I suggested to a congregation I was serving that we ought to be out in the world boasting in Christ Jesus, and the woman who on the way out of church said to me, "Our mother taught us not to speak to others about religion, money or politics." To which I could only reply, "I guess that means we cannot talk about the gospel of Jesus Christ."
Jesus and Paul are talking about religion - producing a harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God (Phil 1:11); money - making sure every worker gets "the usual daily wage" (Matthew 20:1-16); and politics - "so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; and most to the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear." (Phil 1:13-14)
"To me, living is Christ and dying is gain." How odd that sounds to modern ears. Yet, last evening the Baltimore Symphony played the Mahler Second Symphony - Resurrection. It includes this text by Freidrich Gottlieb Klopstock sung boldly by the mezzo-soprano, "You are sown so that you may bloom again! The Lord of the Harvest goes and gathers sheaves - us, who died!"
Thus casting a very different meaning out of our gospel for today. For we are the harvest. We are to be the grapes or grain that die in the field of God's mission to this world. We, who do good works not for the merit, for what can we merit? We are indebted to God for all the good works we do, and not he to us, since it is he who Paul says "works in us both to will and do according to his good pleasure." (Phil 2:13)
We are all called to live in Christ - the Christ who advocates a living wage for all workers no matter how long they work in the field - and we will all one day die in Christ - to whom be glory forever and ever. In God's kingdom, is there anything we can do, any one thing any individual can do, to deserve anything at all, let alone deserve more than any other single person on earth?
May our prayer be: Please, dear Lord, hire enough laborers as late in the day as possible that I too may be harvested into your kingdom. That I too may be one of the sheaves born into your storehouse. Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out more and more laborers into the field that we may all be gathered into one storehouse, one harvest, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism. May each laborer be given the usual daily wage. May we pray for daily bread and mean it. Dear God, give us a little light that will lead the way to eternal blessed life. Amen.
Can't you hear my Savior callin'
Sayin' who will come and work today
The fields are ripe and the harvest waitin'
Who will bear the sheaves away
Here I am , O Lord send me (4X)
If you cannot sing like angels
If you cannot preach like Paul
Tell everyone of the love of Jesus
You can say that he died for us all
For an alternate take see Sermons That Work