Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 26 September 2023.
• First Reading: Exodus 16: 2-16 (The glory of the Lord appeared in a cloud in the desert)
• Epistle: Philippians 1: 21-30 (Desire to depart and be with the Lord; desire to continue in the body to be with the people)
• Gospel: Matthew 20: 1-16 (Parable of the workers in the vineyard. Are you envious because I am generous?)
One of the pleasures of sailing around the Firth of Clyde is the number of places where you can stop overnight. Pick up a visitors’ mooring, go into a marina or anchor in a quiet and sheltered spot.
For the children of Israel, escapees from slavery in Egypt and wander around Sinai, this was less of a holiday jaunt. More an endurance test.
Not just looking for water for themselves and pasture for their flocks, but maintaining the hope of the Promised Land. Would that hope last out? Would they continue to trust Moses and Aaron and critically, would they continue in faith in the Lord?
They had seen the wonder of the their deliverance at the first Passover, and their further rescue from Pharoah’s army in the Red Sea.
But now they were living from day to day, trying to keep their routines, in the midst of a rather dreary landscape, and in a sense of lost or at least failing wonderment.
There was a ‘Same old, same old’ about it. And now they were running short of food. It was getting dangerous for Moses and Aaron, even as they assembled a team of helpers around themselves.
And the grumbling grew louder and went on longer. It was becoming sarcastic and bitter. Morale was sinking. And they were now pressing in on Moses and Aaron.
At first they shrugged it off. These things would pass. Eventually they took the matter to the Lord. He might have said something on the lines of ‘About time too’ or ‘I’ve been waiting for you’ but what we are told is that He listened to their plea and was ready to answer.
When Moses and Aaron had come to the end of their resources, they turned to God. And yes, it sounds very familiar because we do exactly the same.
This was the opening that the Lord was waiting for. To act sooner would have overruled the peoples’ free will and yet there He was, ready and waiting for the pleas of Moses and Aaron.
Next came His response. Not only in the provision of the Manna in the desert, or the quails to provide meat.
There was something more for He also revealed Himself, as the radiance of His glory shone out in the desert.
The people only had to look and they would see. There it was, being revealed to them so that they would not lose heart or hope for their final deliverance to the Promised Land.
The gospel gives us the parable of the workers in the vineyard.
The parallels are fairly clear to follow: the vineyard owner is The Lord, and the vineyard is the world into which His workers are sent.
In its way the parable anticipates Jesus’ Great Commission which Matthew relates at the end of the gospel.
And the vineyard owner goes out looking for workers throughout the day and keeps finding them and sends them into the vineyard.
Some are recruited before the day’s work has begun and others are found when the working day is almost spent, but there is still an opportunity for them to do some good.
The point comes at the end of the working day when the workers are paid. All get the same wage: the normal daily rate goes to those who have worked through the heat of the day as well as those who were able to work during the cooler hours of approaching evening.
Some have laboured long and hard, others scarcely at all. All however are rewarded.
Jesus makes the point that salvation is open to all who will hear the Lord’s call and accept it. There is no bonus in the area of salvation for having given a lifetime of faith, over the one who comes to faith on their deathbed. Salvation is salvation.
More to the point perhaps is the resentment of some that people who have come to faith late in life seem to be rewarded with prominence and acclaim. They are known and feted. People respect them and are eager for their opinions.
Indeed there have been people who openly proclaim how they were sinners until the Lord found them and turned them around. These may be clever and resourceful; articulate and persuasive. Looking good on television and sought after for interviews.
And what do they know of the ridicule of the school playground or the university debating circles? Have they really been in want or in fear? What about standing for their faith at work?
But Jesus says very clearly, that He is entitled to be generous to whom He will. Not every church fellowship is going to be like Holy Trinity, Brompton or All Souls, Langham Place in London.
Many will be like St Columba’s Clydebank, or Holy Cross Knightswood or St Mungo’s Alexandria. Some will have struggled and failed. Others may be working hard to keep going like ourselves.
But the Lord will definitely meet us and reward us as He wills. And equally, all who have accepted His call are promised that they are His and no one takes them out of His hand.