“Always Remain Centered”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – September 24, 2017

Centenary United Methodist Church

Philippians 1:21-30, Matthew 20:1-16

    This morning we are going to consider a parable that is quite different. What Jesus was trying to do with his storytelling was to teach his listeners what the Kingdom of God is like.  What makes his parable different from all the others about The Kingdom is that Jesus used an absurd illustration that he knew would evoke the passions of even the most faithful of his listeners. 

    Paying laborers the same wage when they were hired at different times during the day is a sure way to create hostility.  After hearing complaints about how unfair it was to pay all the workers equally, their vineyard owner addressed their complaints in this manner:

I have not cheated any of 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?

    A large class-action law suit is being brought against Google regarding wage differences that are paid to women who are doing the same jobs as men. The documentation presented by the plaintiffs clearly demonstrates what Google has consistently denied -- unequal pay to engineers for the same task. The pay scale favors men over women. So, the drama in Jesus' parable is quite timely even for our day.  

    Jesus certainly chose a magnificent illustration to point out how fragile people are when it comes to matters of their wages. In this respect, the values of people have not changed.  Rather than having gratitude for a silver coin at the end of the day, most of the laborers expressed just the opposite.     

    If we believe we are totally in charge of our lives, our thoughts and our emotions, why would we grumble?  Why allow what someone else gets paid to excite our passions?  The answer is simple.  There was no justice when a man who worked eight hours should be paid the same as the one who worked only one hour.  However, were any of these men actually cheated?

    What other responses could these disgruntled men have made?  They could have been grateful to the man for hiring them.  They could have walked away knowing they had a silver coin that they did not have the day before.  They could have decided never to work again for someone with such an unjust pay scale.       

    Think of the reaction in a Court of Law if Google's management used Jesus' logic in their defense:

These women who applied to work at Google accepted the salary packages that we offered them. If they are not happy working for us, they can go to work for another company. If we choose to pay our engineers different amounts, don't we have the right to do that with our own money? Or, are these women jealous because we are more generous to some of our engineers?

    Jesus struck a nerve by his illustration.  All the symbolism in Jesus' parable, however, makes a lot more sense when we realize that he was teaching what life is like in heaven.  When people remain centered with their lives, little bothers them in the external world.          

    Albert Einstein was invited to deliver a series of lectures at a very prestigious university for which he was paid quite handsomely.  He would have delivered his lectures without receiving a monetary thank you because of his passion and love for teaching.

    When Einstein died, his family members discovered that he had been using a $10,000 check from that university as a bookmark in a text he had been reading. Einstein would have passed the test that Jesus was using to challenge his listeners.

    Some years ago, there was a survey that was taken among thousands of women that focused on what they most desired when looking for a potential life-partner. Their list of values was quite extensive.      

    Here are some of their desires: Women wanted their potential life-partner to exhibit kindness, a sense of humor, inner confidence, being a good listener, being sensitive to their needs, not taking themselves too seriously, warm and loving attitudes, being flexible, opinions that are lighthearted, visionary, and imaginative, an interest in their own health, taking responsibility for the spirit by which they live, being alert, centered and optimistic while still holding on to a degree of mystery about who they are, being able to take risks and the ability to smile every day.

    Jesus was talking about what heaven is like.  Most of the qualities identified in that survey could easily be applied to both men and women.  They also represent attitudes and values that would prove very useful after they leave this world.  Notice that all the qualities that surfaced from these women were coming from a person's spirit. These qualities add an emotional and spiritual value to a relationship.  Could anyone put a monetary value on any of them? 

    People who are highly evolved spiritually and display these qualities in their lives probably would not be disturbed by God's love being bestowed equally on newcomers.  Here is Jesus' point -- God is like this vineyard owner who was handing out one silver coin to all the workers at the end of the day.  Would we really be satisfied with God's generosity? Think about your answer.  

    How far would we go in loving our enemies in heaven if we were unable to accept them and live with them in peace while in this world?  I am always reminded of an interesting poem that illustrates this point:

I was shocked, confused and bewildered as I entered Heaven’s door, not by the beauty of it all, nor the grandeur of its décor. But it was the folks in Heaven who made me sputter and gasp – the thieves, the liars, the sinners, the alcoholics and the trash. 


There stood the kid from seventh grade who swiped my lunch money twice. Next to him was my old neighbor who never said anything nice. Herb, whom I always thought was rotting in Hell, was looking remarkably well.


I asked Jesus, ‘What’s the deal? I would love to hear your take. How did all these horrible people get up here? God must have made a mistake.  And why is everyone so quiet and somber – give me a clue.’ Jesus said, ‘They, too, are all in shock.  No one thought they would be seeing you.’

    This kind of response strikes at the heart of where most of us live. We allow people to agitate us because of their political positions, because of their negative attitudes and because their character on every level is highly questionable. 

    How would we respond if we discovered that Adolph Hitler, suicide bombers, hate mongers, scam artists and other scoundrels were in heaven because God's loving forgiveness has no limits?   How would we feel if God did absolutely nothing about people who never spiritually awakened while on earth?

    What if King Solomon was right when he wrote:

The wise can see where they are going and fools cannot. But I also know that the same fate is waiting for all of us. We must all die -- the wise and foolish alike. What have I gained from being wise? Nothing!  In the days to come both the wise and the foolish will be forgotten. (Ecclesiastes 2:9-17)

    King Solomon, as wise as he was, could not experience the value of living a life where all his physical needs were met and where he had plenty of assets to share with all the people in his kingdom. 

    Solomon was filled with regret because he thought that criminals and wise teachers shared the same fate.  Even if they do, why would he sabotage his thinking instead of enjoying how his life had turned out?  Like all the earlier wage earners in Jesus' parable, Solomon was using his imagination to compare himself to others.

    This was the point of Jesus' parable.  Are we able to accept life as it comes while exhibiting all those qualities that were mentioned in the women's survey?  We will never understand what God has in mind for other people.  Why go there in our thinking?  Why even ask the question? 

    We are in charge of only one life, our own.  Everything around us will test us to see how centered and committed we are to this one task.  The workers in Jesus' parable were highly distracted by how unfair the vineyard owner appeared to be by treating everyone with the same compassion, generosity and love.  The rub for us is that Jesus used money to make his point.  Remember Jesus' words, "Where your treasure is, there will your hearts be also." (Matthew 6:21)

    Life is not fair.  We were not created with the same abilities.   Most people in our world were not born in a culture that supports the growth of sound values and attitudes. There are no guarantees of what will come up for us during our journey on earth. Our task is to remain centered regardless of what happens. Every day is a gem that only we can polish with our compassionate attitudes.

    Someone sent me an email that ended with these words that provide a good summary of the point Jesus was making about life in heaven:  "Work like you don't need money.  Love like no one has ever hurt you. Dance like no one is watching.  Sing like no one is listening.  Live now like you will in heaven."  

    When we remain centered, we can celebrate our lives by receiving our one silver coin with gratitude regardless of what other people have been given. Life is good everyday for those of us who are happy being who we are. 



Gracious and ever-present God, we thank you for the magnificence and bounty of our physical world.  We confess how easy it is to allow our senses to guide our appreciation. Often, we do not pursue with equal enthusiasm what heals our spirits, what mends our broken dreams and what deepens our understanding of life’s cyclical frustrations.  How often we need to be reminded that, "To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, and to be certain of the things we cannot see."  Teach us, O God, to bring peacefulness into every realm of our living.  Amen.



Ever faithful God, we enter this place eager to find the peace that will still our spirits.  The highways of our minds so often seemed clogged with traffic of our own design.  There are times we must face experiences we have labeled as unpleasant and we face them with dread.  There are moments when the list of our necessary chores appears as a mountain, and our desire to climb it is not there.

And yet, O God, how often do we find ourselves being lifted by your felt presence and those mysterious unseen hands?  How often during a moment of doubt, have we heard you whisper within us, "Trust me, we can do this together"?  How many times have we been in the midst of fragile moments when someone has appeared to help us?  There have been moments of a sudden insight where we have found the ability to navigate in troubled waters. When we move away from being preoccupied with ourselves, your guidance is clear.  Your love is overwhelming.

Today, as world politics preys on our minds, we ask that you inspire us to become eager teachers, diplomats, and peacemakers in our communities as more national boundaries become blurred.  We know that reconciliation needs to exist everywhere for all of us. Help each of us to remain examples of what it looks like to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .