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Labor Day -Noah Built Boats, Paul Made Tents, and Jesus Was a Carpenter by The Rev. William E. Exner

The gospel lesson that you just heard was vintage Jesus Christ – pure faith and pure, hopeful truth , yet a teaching with rhythms alien to our ears –( a phrase Robert Frost liked to employ) - especially this year when 34 states miraculously seem to have cosmically converged on the idea that punishing, not rewarding workers – that curbing, not encouraging the right for workers to organize for living wages and safe conditions is the right thing to do… those are the sour notes assaulting our ears and souring souls in these times – a far cry from the harmonious note of honoring labor and life sounded by Jesus Christ.   

   Of all the bible studies and Bible chats and reflections I have led over the last 30 years, this parable of the Laborers in God’s Vineyard tends to spark the strongest reaction.

+“Why would Jesus want to pay the workers who put in the least amount of hours the same as those who showed up in the morning on time?” many people have asked.  “I don’t like this one, this teaching,” others have said.

+ “Why should the guys who stood around until noon get the same reward as the guys who worked all day?”  “That’s no way to run a business – it would never fly in the world I live in every day.”  I have heard those critiques on several occasions over the years.   Could it be that Jesus was advocating for a living wage for all workers?  Not a minimum wage, a living wage.

  In New Hampshire a living wage calculates to almost $18.00 an hour for a 40 hour week. That calculation is based on what it would cost a couple with one child to maintain a very basic apartment, lean diet, a used car, and no frills clothing on their backs without going into debt. (No eating out, no movies, no cable.) Just getting by, by barely getting by requires a Living Wage of almost $18.00 an hour in a frugal NH household this year.)  So, yes, I think Jesus was advocating for the basic human right for a worker’s work to be able to sustain a frugal household. I do. I’d love to see our own economy based on such a strong moral premise. And though I live in hope, such a wholesome approach is not in the cards any time soon – certainly not just now – but one day I pray. Remember, in the bible Noah built boats, St. Paul was a tentmaker, the disciples were fishermen and Jesus was a carpenter.

   So what was Jesus getting at with his teaching that no matter how late you are hired – no matter how late in the game you roll up your sleeves and get to work  your reward will great , just like those who got in the game earlier , before you?  Well, for one thing Jesus was teaching about the Kingdom of God in today’s teaching from the Holy Bible.  He was talking about the Kingdom of God.  

+ And when Jesus speaks of God’s Kingdom He often enjoyed saying, ‘The Kingdom of God is LIKE … something earthly that we can recognize easily and learn a heavenly lesson from.  So today Jesus responds to the request we all have, “Tell us about the Kingdom of God – tell us how God wants things to come out in the end, how God wants things to evolve over time through our faithful partnership with the Holy as people of faith – through our work with God whose will is to see us all one day fulfilled and thriving, fed and safe.”  AND TO THAT REQUEST JESUS RESPONDED WITH THE PARABLE OF THE LABORERS IN GOD’S VINEYARD. The Kingdom of God is like… a vineyard, a household, a business, a state, a nation … a local church where even late in the game,  even the man or woman or teenager who, when asked why they are not in there working for the Kingdom or business or state or church replied, “because no one is hiring… that’s why we’re stuck here standing around” --- THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS LIKE THE BUSINESS OR CHURCH THAT SAYS TO THEM, “Come on board now –NOW- even late in the day – even late in your life- and, at the end of the day – toward the end of your life -because you worked for the Kingdom to the end, no matter how long, your reward will be full. God is hiring today, and if you show up for God, for life, for good effort, compassionate service to others THEN you will receive a living wage of life eternal and endless blessing, says the Lord. THAT’S WHAT THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS LIKE MY FRIENDS. 

     The Kingdom of God honors and upholds those who labor for love. God is the responsible boss who sees the well being of those who serve him as important as the final product. In truth the two must go together, we’re not put on this earth so we can live to work, we are here that our work might support our living and loving.

   These are indeed rhythms alien to modern ears in a time when the gap between richest and middle class is higher than any time in the last 50 years and the gap between rich and poor is greater even than the civil rights era of the 1950’s and 60’s.

  + The Kingdom of God is NOT like the way things are trending right now in terms of honoring human labor and the desire of every soul to work, to contribute, to share in the abundance God has provided. We have a long way to go, but we have the teaching and example of Jesus, and the guidance and promise of God to serve as our corrective and inspiration, that each of us might be willing to labor for God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven – that each of us might give our best efforts where we work because we honor life and work, whether at home, at school, in our businesses, or our volunteer efforts. As the bible says, “the harvest is plentiful”, so let’s fill out the labor force by answering God’s call to love life, to work for a just and fulfilling society, to take hope and courage in the knowledge that in God’s eyes, your reward is great the minute you get in the game for real and answer this call to work in the vineyard for God, the caring CFO (Compassionate Faith Officer).  Amen