Matthew 20:1-16

Here’s a text based on Matthew 20:1-16, called “God Keeps Inviting” (Before you read this article, grab a Bible and read Matthew 20:1-16.) I get irritated when I have to do something over and over again. The insurmountable pile of laundry, the ever-multiplying stack of dishes, the resurgence of dust, that constant need to do yard-work. It never stops! I’d like for there to be some way to do something once and have my responsibilities cease. And sometimes I feel that way in relationships too. I have to constantly reconnect with loved ones – by phone, by mail, by text, by arriving in person – the beautiful burden of having friends and family is that you are constantly having to reconnect with them, to go out and find them and renew your life with them. I could give that up, but that would also mean giving up everything meaningful in my life. In Matthew 20:1-16, what we call the “Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard”, Jesus tells a parable about the kingdom of heaven that you may have heard before. And much has been said about the wages the workers received, the idea of fairness and God’s grace, the idea of grumbling when God is gracious to those who come after us. But right now, all I can see is the landowner who keeps going out looking for laborers. Over and over again, hour after hour he goes out, hiring the willing and the unwilling, seeking them out and giving them purpose. Even to the last hour of the day, he is seeking and connecting with his workers. This is the kingdom of heaven: God never stops inviting us in. Now some of us have just been waiting for the invitation. And God sees us - God invites in those who seek Him. I met my friend Joel during college and we were in several plays together. He is a wonderful man – kind, generous, smart – and he is also a rabidly devoted Star Wars fan. Like, owns collector’s edition toys (still in the box), dresses in Star Wars costumes for charity, makes Fan Films that I may or may not be in, devoted. When Episode 1 came out in 1999, he and his friends CAMPED out in lines outside the movie theatre for two days to make sure they got into the first showing. Before Episode 2 came out, they waited in line for 2 WEEKS and for episode 3 they waited for 1 week. They were more than just excited about being a part of this historic moment – they were COMMITTED. I’m not sure how they felt AFTER the movies were over, though. The scene we have in scripture is both familiar and a bit foreign to us. The landowner goes out into the public square to hire day laborers – a scene that many of us have seen or taken part in at Home Depot or Lowe’s parking lots. And these first hired are eager – it’s pretty early in the morning and the laborers are looking for work so they can provide for their families. It’s not easy or clean work, but that wasn’t really important. And the landowner doesn’t have to look very hard to find these guys – they are ready and willing to be a part of the work of the vineyard, even if they’re only going to be paid a denarius for the day’s work. That was good money, but it wasn’t great. They were like my friend Joel, already anticipating being a part of the work of the day. And some of us have faith stories like that – we’ve been waiting at the door or even inside the building just anticipating God’s call. We know that there is work to be done, some of it messy, most of it achingly difficult, all of it kingdom-purposed, but that difficulty is not important. And many of us do it without pay, or with very little, just ready to start when God calls. And God does call. The vineyard of the kingdom of God does need tending to, and I’m sure that God is overjoyed to welcome us in as workers. Even if sometimes we are eager for the wrong reasons, with the wrong intentions or the wrong preconceived notions of what that work will entail. But in our readiness to jump in, we also have to remember that we’re not going to be the only workers – in fact, we might resent God and his choices in terms of some of the people we end up working alongside with. Though many of us have been eager to be a part of what God is doing, we’re not the norm. Many times God is seeking out the skeptical. You see, God invites in those who are unsure of Him. Though I very much enjoy the process of voting, I’ve grown to loath election season. All I hear is overblown rhetoric, finger pointing and cynical political prophecy and it makes me want to shriek. Especially irritating – the discussion of the almost mythical “independent voter”, the elusively unaffiliated American citizen who refuses to be pinned down politically. Politicians are always trying to attract these “independents”, just sure that their support will assure election victory. And understandably, these voters (if they’re even real) are non-committal to an extreme – they are unsure about the issues, they are unsure about the candidates, they are unsure that choosing a side will even make a difference. Why choose? Why even show up? In our parable, the hours of the workday pass, but the landowner is not done with his hiring. He continues to head out into the town square looking for workers, hour after hour, hiring more. These are the workers who are not as eager to get involved, to get their hands dirty. They are likely sitting around, talking, knowing they should get busy but unable to will themselves to do so. And the landowner unabashedly walks up to them, hour after hour, and calls them to work. Maybe the harvest is especially big – we don’t know. Maybe the season is close to over – we don’t know. Maybe these workers need the money very badly – we don’t know. All we know is that the landowner continues to give places to all the people he can find, even the ones who are not as eager to work as the first were. This apprehension of involvement, this learned apathy towards being a part of something, this also manifests itself in our faith practices. Far from being excited about being a part of God’s kingdom work, some of us have faith stories that look a lot more complicated. Maybe you were burned by church as a child or teen. Maybe you have always been curious but turned off by dogmatic pronouncements. Whatever the case though, it was hard to get excited about anything that had to do with church. But like those slow to get to work in our parable, God searched you out. And God is still searching, going out into the marketplaces, the homes, the lives of the unsure and giving them a place in his vineyard, a purpose in his kingdom. And we have a responsibility to welcome them in – to gently apologize for how they have been mistreated, to strongly encourage the deepening of their own faiths, to unabashedly make room for them in our hearts and church. And while we usually have few protests about welcoming the unsure within our midst, it is much more difficult to accept those who have made it their practice to avoid God entirely. God is brave enough, though, to not only seek out the willing and the unsure, but to approach the completely disinterested. God invites in those who do not seek Him. Though I’ve worked in retail jobs before, I never had to do “cold sales” or “cold calling.” You may not have heard about this type of sales before, but I guarantee that you’ve seen it before. Like when little kids (or adults) come door-to-door selling goods. Or when you walk through the mall and a man or woman jumps in front of you and tries to get you to sample their lotion. Or when you get a phone call from a company you’ve never heard of asking you to buy their product. That’s cold sales – and cold selling is DIFFICULT. People are skeptical of your intent, often irritated by the intrusion, and unlikely to participate. The landowner in our parable is not afraid of the cold sale. He approaches workers at the very last hour of the day, and even though they give him excuses as to why they haven’t begun to work, he still invites them into the vineyard. And let’s be honest – these are excuses. If they had really needed the work, they would have connected with our landowner much earlier in the day. How could they have missed him at 6, 9, 12, and 3 o’clock? But their own dubious reasons for staying idle do not dismay our landowner – instead he very simply tells them – “You also go into the vineyard.” Isn’t that just like our God – continually calling his people to work despite their best (or worst) excuses? This is our God – the Christ who welcomes in the eager, the apprehensive and the outright dismissive. The Christ who seeks out workers in every state of life, who cares not for excuses or skeptical aloofness. This is our God – who approaches us no matter our state in life, looks us straight in the eye and says “Go into the vineyard.” Whether you have been waiting to serve God all your life or skeptical of God and his claims all your life, God is still calling us in, bringing us into the work of his kingdom on this earth and beyond it. I don’t know about you, but I am comforted and challenged by the fact that God looks around at the motley crew of his church and determinedly heads back out into the world to fill in the gaps that only he knows are gaping. I am learning to eagerly anticipate the new and unexpected workers that he is inviting in to work alongside us all in the business of Jesus Christ. I am ready to be amazed at the miracle of God’s spirit moving in the people who have only ever rejected the church and God’s kingdom. Are you? In this parable, Jesus teaches us many things about grace, about our own natures and about God’s character in action. And this is our God – a God continually opening his own doors to welcome in the familiar and the stranger, a God continually calling on the likely and most unlikely to be his workers. A God who expects us to faithfully get on board with his unorthodox hiring practices. This is our God, and I am thankful because - God never stops inviting us in. Blessings, Rev. Elizabeth Grasham-Reeves