Scripture Lessons: Deuteronomy 26: 1-11, and Matthew 20:1-16
Why do we give? I’m not asking what we give- in time or talent, or treasure; or how we give – with money, pennies, cheques, par, seeing where there is a need and offering our time, knowing we have a gift to share; I’m not asking how much we give. I’m asking why we give; why do we contribute to the work of the church in whatever way we contribute.
The scripture from Deuteronomy legislates thanksgiving. By the grace of God, the Israelites had escaped slavery, eventually found their way through the desert, and were about to enter into the new land, displacing the people who had lived there for generations. This was going to be their homeland, but God wanted them to remember their history, and to give thanks for the dwelling they were about to have. From that act of giving thanks the priests, the people who were not Israelite but who lived among them, the orphans, and the widows were provided for. The thank offering was ritualized within worship, so that it was tied to God, what God had done, and what God continued to do for them.
In a lot of ways it is not unlike our ritualized thanksgiving when we take time to collect and pray for our offering. The big differences are that in our denomination, we do not mandate what to give, how much to give, or why we give. We might offer suggestions, we absolutely teach that it is important to give, but the what, how much, how, and why are up to each one of us.
Let’s stick with the why. Why do I give? I give because it was the church that invested in me. At a time when I felt particularly vulnerable and worthless, the faith communities I was part of helped me to see that I had gifts to share. Not only did they help me to see that I had value, they took the time to teach me, they invested their time and talent to encourage me in my development as a person and as a leader. As this leadership grew into a call to ministry, that investment grew beyond time and talent and I got some monetary support too. What’s more – I regularly see the difference that the church makes in people’s lives. I see how we as church help to feed a hunger, be it physical or spiritual. I see how we support each other and those who are outside of our community, but may still come to us seeking support. I see that without the church, our community and our world would be a very different place, and so I give, because giving allows me the chance to create a space where someone else might be able to find that they are valued and loved, when they feel unloveable and worthless; it creates the space for someone to develop a new part of their lives surrounded by grace; it creates the space to gently surround people with faith and hope when they might feel like all they have are doubts.
That for me, is what living my faith is all about. After all, Jesus helped people to find a place in their communities when they had been shoved to the side, Jesus taught people about the grace of God, and Christ shows us that there is hope even in the bleakest of moments.
We see some of that in the gospel today, where the generous landowner hires workers to work in his vineyard. He goes to the marketplace, looking for some workers, finds some and they agree on a wage. Later, he goes back and finds more, and again, and again, and again – each time agreeing on a fair wage. That last time he finally asks, “why are you standing here idle all day?” They reply, “because no one has hired us.” Often we look at this gospel and point to these ones saying that they must have dallied on their way to the marketplace. They must have done something wrong to not get hired. These were not the ones who were lazing about all day only to just show up near day’s end to find a bit of money to get some food. These were the ones that no one would hire. The ones who, in our own culture, have their resumes ready, who are looking for jobs, but whether they do not have the right look, or whether they are differently abled, whether they do not have the right connections, whatever the reason or reasons they cannot find a job. So the wealthy landowner invites them to come and contribute what they are able to the work he needs done.
This last group didn’t agree on a wage. The first group agreed on the usual daily wage, the next ones agreed on a wage that was right, but that was up to the landowner’s discretion, this last group didn’t agree on a wage. There is something about being able to participate in community that goes deeper than the compensation that might be given. At the end of the day, all of the workers got the same pay.
It really doesn’t seem like justice at all – considering all that the workers who had been there from the beginning gave. But then, we have to wonder, is grace just? It certainly isn’t equal, because we need differing amounts of grace – each of us. Some days, we need more than others. However, at the end of the day, we are each given a measure of grace from God – and it is up to God to determine what that measure is.
What gets me with this parable, is that even nearing the end of the day, the generous landowner made space for everyone to contribute. The landowner made space for each person to find value in themselves because they were able to contribute that day.
God is like that landowner, inviting us to participate in whatever way we can. We are like the workers, some of us give more, some of us give less, but we all give in the ways that we are able. Our abilities change over time, sometimes growing, sometimes diminishing. Our wages change, and so do our expenses. Nevertheless, we are, each of us, valuable and valued. We are each of us God’s children, and each of us blessed.
There are many of near and far away who need an extra measure of grace, kindness, mercy, or space today. God has blessed us and equipped us as a congregation to help share God’s generous gift of grace. God has empowered us to be generous, caring, and life-changing, but it is up to us.*
Thanks be to God for this congregation, for one another, and for our ministry together. Amen.
*Final paragraph from We Sing Thanksgiving: Called to Be The Church Congregational GIving Program 2017-2018 by The United Church of Canada.