The music this week is from the Music Group. The Communications Team, AV Team, Music Group and Piggery Brae have all contributed greatly to the production of these videos. We hope you enjoy. Auto-generated Closed Captions are available.
Hello, I’m Peter Nimmo, the minster of the Parish of Cambuslang. Welcome to this Sunday’s church service. It’s great to have you join us, whether you’re watching on the internet, if you’re listening on CamGlen Radio, or if you are using our Dial-a-Service telephone service.
We are still offering this online service, even although we have restarted 10.30am Sunday services in our church building. If you want to join us in the building, you have to book a seat online, due to the necessity for social distancing. Visit our website for more information.
Today you’ll also hear music from our Worship Band. My wife, Katharina Nimmo, will read Scripture for us, and Deacon Karen Hamilton will lead us in our opening prayers of thanksgiving and intercession.
Everything was recorded with the appropriate social distancing.
Let us worship God.
The Workers in the Vineyard
20 “The Kingdom of heaven is like this. Once there was a man who went out early in the morning to hire some men to work in his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them the regular wage, a silver coin a day, and sent them to work in his vineyard. 3 He went out again to the marketplace at nine o’clock and saw some men standing there doing nothing, 4 so he told them, ‘You also go and work in the vineyard, and I will pay you a fair wage.’ 5 So they went. Then at twelve o’clock and again at three o’clock he did the same thing. 6 It was nearly five o’clock when he went to the marketplace and saw some other men still standing there. ‘Why are you wasting the whole day here doing nothing?’ he asked them. 7 ‘No one hired us,’ they answered. ‘Well, then, you go and work in the vineyard,’ he told them.
8 “When evening came, the owner told his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, starting with those who were hired last and ending with those who were hired first.’ 9 The men who had begun to work at five o’clock were paid a silver coin each. 10 So when the men who were the first to be hired came to be paid, they thought they would get more; but they too were given a silver coin each. 11 They took their money and started grumbling against the employer. 12 ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘while we put up with a whole day’s work in the hot sun—yet you paid them the same as you paid us!’ 13 ‘Listen, friend,’ the owner answered one of them, ‘I have not cheated you. After all, you agreed to do a day’s work for one silver coin. 14 Now take your pay and go home. I want to give this man who was hired last as much as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do as I wish with my own money? Or are you jealous because I am generous?’”
16 And Jesus concluded, “So those who are last will be first, and those who are first will be last.”
When I was a wee boy, we once took a school trip to Ayrshire, where we visited two famous houses.
Our first stop was Alloway, and the house in which the poet Robert Burns was born, in 1759. It’s one of the few preserved examples of the type of home which would have been very common at the time, a simple farm labourer’s cottage: one storey, whitewashed walls, thatched roof.
Inside, there is little decoration, and no fancy furniture, for a farmer such as Robert Burns’ father had few possessions. It was furnished with hard wooden chairs, and the basics- pots, pans and plates.
I remember being very struck by the fact that the farm animals lived under the same roof as the family. For this was a family which was constantly at work- in the fields, with the animals, churning the butter, baking bread. The family Bible was perhaps the most prized possession, and the folk tales and songs were an important part of life- and were to provide inspiration for the poet in the future.
And then, after lunch, we got in the bus and went off to another, quite different, 18th century house.
Perched on a specular clifftop, among extensive gardens, is Culzean Castle. Culzean was built during Robert Burns’ lifetime, to designs by the fashionable architect, Robert Adam, for David Kennedy, 10th Earl of Cassilis- the head of a spectacularly wealthy and politically powerful local family.
Culzean is a spectacular monument to wealth and privilege. The furniture is comfortable, and the walls are covered in works of art. And although it dominates a great farming estate, the farm animals were kept beyond of the boundaries of the extensive gardens and park, which was reserved as the pleasure grounds of the family and their guests.
Yet the success of a great estate like Culzean was down to the hard work of labourers who would have lived in cottages like the one Burns was born in. And the wealth that paid for Culzean came from further afield, too- from trading, and from plantations worked by slaves.
That the Kennedys could live in such luxury was not because they worked harder than the Burns. Rather, they had generations of privilege behind them- vast land holdings, political clout, cash to invest in trade and slave plantations. The Burns family did not have those opportunities. However, Robert’s father, William Burns, saw to it that his son had a good education. When Robert Burns became a fashionable poet, he was quite a hit in the drawing rooms of New Town Edinburgh, where people couldn’t quite believe that a mere ploughman could be a poetic genius.
That school trip to Ayrshire made quite an impression on my youthful imagination, because it was such a stark contrast of inequalities. We like to think we live in a more enlightened age. We imagine that, if you work hard, you can do well from a difficult start in life. But so often, the starting blocks are far apart. Still, today, who your ancestors were make can make a difference to your chances in life. Your life chances are affected by things that happened even before you were born.
Today, inequality seems to be getting worse instead of better, causing great tensions in nations and communities. So it is fascinating to come across a parable of Jesus which seems to be all about equality and inequality.
‘The Kingdom of heaven is like this…’ says Jesus. And, as so often, she pins a tale based on something which would have been very familiar to his listeners- a vineyard, a marketplace, the bargaining which went on between employers and potential employees, people’s sense of what is fair and unfair.
Jesus tells of landowner who hires men for the day to work in his vineyard. He goes to the marketplace early in the morning and hires some men for the day. And later in the day, he goes back and contracts more of them for work- at nine o’clock and twelve o’clock and three o’clock and even at five o’clock.
You might wonder why there are all these men standing around in the marketplace, waiting to be hired? Because Palestine in Jesus day was a poor country, and so this is perhaps what Jesus saw- unemployed agricultural labourers, waiting where employers would come to find them. For the landowners would hire men when they needed them. It’s time for the grape harvest, and so that’s the job needing done today.
If Robert Burns read this story in his family Bible, he might have been struck by how the same sort of system still prevailed in his day: workers employed just as and when the landowner needed thme. And in our own day, much of our food is still produced by agricultural workers employed on very short-term contracts. We tend not to notice them, unless they somehow make the news: like the 21 Chinese cockle collectors who died when they were swept away by the incoming tide in Morecambe Bay in 2004i; or when the Brexit discussions revealed that most of those who pick fruit on British farms are Eastern European workers who come here for the season. And in other industries, too, today, more and more people are finding that they have to take zero-hours contracts, in a ‘gig economy’ in which undercuts hard-fought for employment rights, not knowing whether they will have work or income from one day to the next.
So this parable is, in many ways, very realistic. The twist in the tale, however, is the unexpected generosity of this particular employer. Regardless of what time they started, the landowner pays each of them the same. In the evening, the men who started at five o’clock are paid a silver coin. And so is everyone else. Those who worked all day- from early in the morning- complain to the employer:
‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour’, they said, ‘while we put up with a whole day’s work in the hot sun- yet you paid them the same as you paid us!’Matthew 20:12
You can understand the justice of their complaint- why shouldn’t they get more for all the extra hours they did? But, like many people, they only complain about injustice because they think it is themselves who are being treated unfairly?
But Jesus had told us, at the start of the story, that, early in the morning, the landowner had agreed to pay the first workers ‘the regular wage’- the silver coin, the denarius, which was, if you like, the going rate for the job. He’s paying the fair wage, enough for the worker to feed his family that day. It’s also what he paid the others who came later. And so he can say to the grumblers,
‘Listen, friend… I have not cheated you. After all, you agreed to do a day’s work for one silver coin. Now take your pay and go home. I want to give this man who was hired last as much as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do as I wish with my own money? Or are you jealous because I am generous?’Matthew 20:13
Seen from that point of view, the landowner seems, indeed, generous. Everyone, no matter how hard they worked, got the fair wage, enough to live on. After all, it would have been really unjust had he paid those who came later, less. They wouldn’t have been paid enough to live on, even although they had waited all day to find a job.
‘The Kingdom of heaven is like this’, Jesus says, introducing this parable. It seems the kingdom of heaven is about fairness, where each is given what they need. And the story ends with a repeat of a saying which Jesus has used before:
‘So those who are last will be first, and those who are first will be last’Matthew 20:16
In a world of inequality, a world of built in unfairness, the Kingdom of God reminds us of how the world really ought to be. For God, all people are equal. Any status, wealth, power you might have been born with is irrelevant. I think this story was important to Matthew the Gospel writer, because there were people in his church who thought they were owed more from God.
But God’s grace is not given out in different quantities. And so there is no room for status in the Church- we are all, equally, children of God, for God makes no difference between us. It doesn’t matter if you came to faith yesterday, or have been a church member for years- we all know the same grace, and there is no hierarchy. It doesn’t matter if you were born in a palace or a cottage- God’s grace is a generous grace, more than enough for each of us.
And we can be sure that fairness is God’s plan for the future kingdom of which Jesus preached. The Bible is not an economics manual, but sometimes we encounter a story like today’s parable- a story about unemployment and work, fair wages, relationships between workers and employers. And as we see unemployment rising, and people in our own day struggling to earn a fair wage, and the gap between rich and poor not lessening, but increasing, we hear Jesus telling us in this parable that the values of the kingdom of God are values of radical equality, of justice, and of fairness.
Let us pray.
we thank you for your many gifts to us.
You give us the food and drink we need
and bless us with your grace.
Yet sometimes we find it hard to use your gifts properly.
We want to hold on to yesterday’s grace,
instead of seeking what gifts
you have for us today.
Help us to share what we have
with those who are poor and hungry.
Bless all agricultural workers
and those who bring our food to our tables.
Thank you who for those who work
for fair wages for those who do essential work.
make us generous too.
We pray for all who suffer around the world
because of the evil of others.
We think of all who are suffering the effects of climate change,
in the western United States, where forest fires rage,
in coastal areas, such as Bangladesh, threatened by rising sea levels
in parts of Africa where deserts are expanding.
Give us grace and generosity
to deal with tensions which our changing climate brings.
make us generous too.
Around the world,
we think of places where crisis is palpable:
in Belarus, and other lands where there is a struggle
to establish or maintain democracy;
in so many nations where already inadequate healthcare facilities
are now overwhelmed by Coronavirus;
and in our own country,
where political leaders struggling with the challenge of COVID,
are also wrestling Brexit, a crisis of their own making.
O God, we pray:
give us leaders of wisdom, discernment, and humanity
who value each person equally
can help us meet the challenges of these days
and create a more just society.
make us generous too.
we pray for those who feel
their lives have collapsed around them
due to illness, or any other kind of trouble.
We remember families
who laid to rest loved ones this week:
the families of Jean Armstrong and Isabel Crinean
We know how hard it has been
to be unable to say goodbye to those we love
in these times.
Grant, O God, your peace
all who mourn
and all who are sick or lonely today
all who need your presence,
including one each of us.
We remember in silence
those people and situations we are especially concerned for today.
make us generous too.
you fill Christian people with your Holy Spirit,
uniting them in love
and equipping them for the struggle,
sustaining us throughout our life’s journey.
We are living in times of great change
in nation, in our community, and in the church.
Help your Church to speak words
of wisdom, strength and hope
to lead your people through these times.
to share together with joy
in a common life of worship and service.
We pray clergy and other church leaders
for whom these last months have presented challenges
which we could not have been prepared for.
We pray for those hard working folk in our own congregation
especially those who are helping us get back into our buildings,
those who make our online services possible,
and those who are looking for solutions to our financial crisis.
Bless our elders, our Deacon Karen,
and all who caring for your people.
We pray for those who might consider themselves
not part of this or any church
or whose faith is fragile, or just starting to grow
but who may be watching or listening to this service;
may they know your generosity encompasses them, too.
make us generous too.
we thank you for the gift of yourself
in Jesus Christ
who came to share our humanity
that we might share in the riches of your love.
We offer our hands to do your work;
we offer our hearts to pray for your world;
we offer our gifts to be used in your service;
we offer our lives to be changed by your Spirit,
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and forever. Amen.
Thank you for joining us for worship today. Thanks to Deacon Karen Hamilton for the prayer, to Katharina Nimmo for the Bible reading, to our musicians, and to Fraser Hamilton for filming and editing.
Remember you can get in touch with me any time- for prayer, to have a chat, to ask questions about what you have heard today. My phone number is on the Cambuslang Parish Church website, or contact me via social media.