First Congregational Church
(United Church of Christ)
Neil H. Wilson, Pastor

101 State Street
Charlevoix, MI 49720
231-547-9122


Give Us This Day

“Give Us This Day”

Exodus 16:2-15   Matthew 20: 1-16

 

“Why didn’t God let us die in comfort in Egypt where we had lamb stew and all the bread we could eat? Moses, you and your brother Aaron brought us out into this wilderness to starve us to death . . .” whined the newly freed Hebrew people. They had hardly set their feet on the other side of the Red Sea.

God seems to say pretty much, “Okay, Moses, I tell you what, you go and tell those people, I’m going to rain bread down from the skies for you. They can go out and gather each day’s ration. But it will be a test to see if they’ll live according to my teaching or not.  And make sure they understand that on the sixth day, when they prepare what they have gathered, it will turn out to be twice as much as their daily ration.”    

The expression “manna from heaven” has come to mean anything that may come to us unexpected and is beneficial to us.  But in the original case “manna” was nothing fancy or luxurious; it was basic sustenance, “daily bread.”  But most importantly, manna was a gift that was not to be hoarded; in fact it could not be hoarded.  When the people try to gather more than their share, or hold onto it longer than they needed to the manna becomes worm ridden and a foul-smelling mess as one will find if you read on in chapter 16 v. 20.

With manna everyone has plenty, but no one has too much.

The leaders and the servants receive the same amount. 

The people who work all day and the people who have little to do, receive the same amount.

The able and the disabled, receive the same amount: plenty, but not too much,

    and it is all a gift!  

Jesus encapsulated this gifting grace in the prayer he taught his disciples: “Give us this day our daily bread.”  He reenacts it when in the wilderness he feeds thousands with just a few loaves and a couple of fish, and everyone has plenty and no one has too much.

And then Jesus teaches his disciples through parable that the reign of God is like “laborers in the vineyard.”  Now many people read this parable as a story of “salvation” that whether you are a lifelong Christian and disciple of Jesus or a death bed confession believer you will be welcomed in “heaven.”  Nothing wrong with such an interpretation I just feel it is incomplete.  Whenever Jesus spoke of the reign or kingdom of God he always represented it as a present and coming reality.  He taught that, “The Reign of God is among you, . . . within you, . . .  in your midst.”

In the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, Jesus is saying that the reign of God is not going to be based on old catagories of the current world order: rich and poor, superior and inferior, clean and unclean, acceptable and unacceptable.  It is not necessarily a “first come first served” ethic, but “the last shall be first and first shall be last” ethic. 

Through this parable Jesus attempts to help his disciples break through the old presumptions and create the possibility of something new.  Through this odd and unsettling story, Jesus both envisions the new order of God and unmasks the deadly spirits of the old order.

Jesus presents the reign of God in the church as the heart of this new reality.  In the church, the world is to see an “alternative household of God’s kingdom.”  In this vineyard, this wilderness, everyone receives the necessary “daily bread.”  Not trying to be too obvious but this is where there is a tie in to Stewardship.

So it is a parable about grace (God’s grace toward us.)

A parable about grace (human to human grace.)

A parable about generosity (God’s toward us.)

A parable about knowing how much is enough.

A parable about TRUST . . . trusting God to provide for our needs not our wants.

Manna for the wandering Israelites . . . wages for the vineyard laborers.

And to this Jesus teaches in the prayer we will say in a bit,

     “Give us this day our daily bread.”  

It is not as the world might teach us to pray:  “Give me this day my daily bread.”

 

There is an underside to this parable that I believe speaks to us, (at least it speaks to me) as one of the privileged in our society, as one of those has had the opportunity to work, if not from the beginning of the day, at least starting in the second or even third shift.  I’m referring to the comment made by those who began laboring first in the vineyard when they found they weren’t getting more than what the last hired were given, “These last have only worked one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.”    

I’m reminded of the grumbling of Israel in the wilderness.  The laborers complaint does not simply concern money or fair wages even; it goes much deeper, to what money, wages represents.  The real issue is superiority: “you have made them equal to us.” 

Work becomes not simply the means for earning daily bread, but a source of division and competition, a means of reinforcing the categories of winners and losers, superior and inferior, those of value and those of lesser value to society. 

Work often plays this role in contemporary society.  When people are out of work, they often feel inferior, even worthless, like the workers in the parable who waited all day in the marketplace: “. . . no one has hired us,” they poignantly tell the landowner. 

Also in today’s overstressed workforce many people including pastors will often brag about their long hours of work, as a way of feeling self-important and superior to those with less demanding work.

Of course, the money earned from work is itself closely connected to status, often functioning as much to achieve superiority over others as it is to secure the necessities of daily life.

The complaint of the daylong workers – “you have made them equal to us” – takes some of us including modern day preachers to some deep places.  It takes us beneath mere economics to the spirit that underlies so much economic competition – a spirit that is shaped by the metaphors of winners and losers, superior and inferior, of important and less important.   

Now this is not to say that competition in business is not a good thing, it is and can be very good for the consumer.  But it is to say that when society uses the results of such competition to divide us and separate us and to put others in a place of less value as children of God, that is wrong!

As some of you know, I am a fan of certain professional sports teams, but when I consider the ridiculous salaries they command and I consider their real value to our society say as compared to a school teacher or a first responder.  I am troubled by the values this conveys to our young people and what it says about our society as a whole!   The same for many CEOs.  

Jesus clearly says speaking through the words of the parable’s landowner (God),

“Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?  So the last will be first and the first will be last.”

The Greek there says “is your eye evil because I am good?”  

The message of this parable seems to me is comes to us on two fronts. 

First, the lesson of God’s grace and generosity.  And our response to such grace and generosity is to extend the same to all others.  

The second message perhaps is the more difficult for us to swallow and that is how in the reign of God, God’s generosity to us is not based on any supposed superiority we may feel we have and others do not have.  But is bestowed upon us all, equally, without any thought to humanly contrived merit.  We are all equally children of God in the Reign of God. 

And as the body of Christ, the church’s mission assisted by the Holy Spirit is to usher in more and more evidence of this reign which while in our midst is not yet fully realized.

May it be so starting with us.

Listen to Pastor Neil Wilson share this Sermon by double clicking on  “Download File” below.  Enjoy.

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