God provides. It seems clear that this is one of the messages from our texts this week. But it would also be clear that God provides for our needs in unusual and sometimes confusing ways. Whether it is manna and quail in the desert or a surprisingly generous but perhaps somewhat unfair payment for labor, God provides in ways that give us pause and, hopefully, make us think.
We also discover, when we look at the stories as well as our own lives, that God works in partnership to meet needs. Effort is required to gather the manna that forms each morning and to capture the quail that roost in the evening. Labor in the vineyard is a part of the covenant made with God as we claim the joy of belonging to the kin-dom. We aren’t passive recipients of God’s grace, but engaged in the process of discovery and acceptance. God provides, we gather, and we share. We are weeks past Labor Day in the US, but we can celebrate the efforts of the church to gather and share God’s bounty within the body and with the wider community as well. What manna ministry can we celebrate this week as we worship together?
There is also a hospitality issue in the gospel text. Who is welcome in our vineyard? What barriers or hierarchies get in the way of truly welcoming those who may not yet belong to the body? Do we go out of our way to include and incorporate even those who may look different from us, those who may respond differently from us? What ‘rights” do longer-term members feel they hold over those who may have joined more recently?
Does it seem odd to ask these questions in a space for worship planning? Well, worship is where we set the tone for the church. Who we are together is who we are as we worship. What can we do to make sure everyone feels included in the worship experience? Is there hidden language that only insiders know? Is there incomplete information that would preclude first-timers from fully participating? Are there unspoken expectations that might cause embarrassment for those not in the know? Paying attention to how we conduct our worship is important for the flow of worship, but also as an indicator of the nature of the body that gathers.
Another theme might be “sharing the load.” Who among us is carrying the “burden of the day,” as some of the workers in the vineyard complained? It is hard to maintain a spirit of service and commitment when some are feeling used or unappreciated or unseen. Worship can be a way of honoring those who labor in the church as well as being an encouragement to others to spend time gathering the manna. There is joy in service, even when it is hard work.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.