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A Day in the Life of Vineyard Workers

The following sermon was preached by The Rev. Daniel B. Ward, M.Div. LSTC Class of 1978, Pastor, St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church, 55 Wilbur Blvd., Poughkeepsie, NY 12603, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Thursday, October 9, 2008.


Matthew 20: 1-16

(On the occasion of our 30 Year Class Reunion at LSTC.)

Grace to you and peace…
Perhaps it all comes down to this:
the owner of the vineyard and vineyard workers. 
Some start off at the first hour of a long hot day
working the vineyard.
Others are selected at noon, some at 3 PM, and still others
as late as one hour before calling it quits for the day.

The preaching theme from the Gospel passages
over the past few weeks has dominated our mindset
with images of the vineyard,
in which Jesus lifts up various scenarios
between owner and workers. 

For today’s devotions, I ask Jessica (Nipp, our LSTC sponsor) for the favor
of returning to Matthew’s Gospel passage on September 21
with the owner of the vineyard sweeping workers off the streets
at all hours of the work day and putting them to work.
The context reminded me of this seminary setting,
particularly in the gathering of people hired to work
at various times of the day in the parable.
It reminds me of ways that have radically changed
since we LSTC anniversary returnees graduated 30 years ago.

Back then, the vast majority of us were pipeliners.
Many of us came directly from our undergraduate degrees
straight into seminary life
for another four-year-academic sentence
before the faculty and administration had had enough of us
and sent us on our ways.
Seriously, looking back, the seminarian years were the best
and most exciting of my academic years. 

But my understanding now of the majority of seminarians
fits this parable setting much more,
in which ministerial vineyard workers come here
after two or perhaps three previous careers.

My perception is that a goodly number
of present day seminarians on their ministerial tracks
are pulled off the street to work the vineyard
at the sixth, ninth or even eleventh hour of their working life,
looking at a pastoral career of ten or twenty years max
before normal retirement age.
Thanks be to God for every seminarian,
for they are answering the Owner’s call
to work in the vineyard, regardless of the hour of the day.

Truth is, when all is said and done,
as in this parable, it really doesn’t diminish one iota
what the owner of the vineyard intends for all the workers.
This is the using of their God-given gifts for however long
to tend the vineyard
so that the harvest is plentiful for all of God’s people,
so that all get to share in the goodness of the harvest.

This vineyard image invites us to look explore,
to ask ourselves what a week of days
in the life of a pastoral vineyard worker looks like.

I believe my week of days probably looked a lot like yours.
What is a typical week of days in the vineyards
looking like now a days, be we serving in congregations
or in specialized ministries like campus ministry?
Regardless of what you’re paid by the end of the day,
what is a week of day in the life of a vineyard worker
looking like, nowadays?

I’ll share with you what mine looked like last week
as an example of “a week of days for a vineyard tenant.”
Monday in the vineyard included a couple of
essential meetings with lay leaders.
One included nurturing the process
of planning for a possible sabbatical in 2010.

We spent 2 ½ hours going over the steps we need to take
before the upcoming Annual meeting in January.
Late afternoon, before heading home, the phone rings.
It’s the office secretary telling me Dawn has just called,
the granddaughter of a homebound member named Anna.
A homebound vineyard worker, Anna,
was at Vassar Hospital and was loosing ground
at the age of 85 with diminishing health.

No one including me knew she was in the hospital,
had actually been there almost a month,
hidden under the Hippa radar screen,
a relatively recent installation in the life of the vineyard.
Of course, no one from the family informed us she was in.
Osmosis fails again.

A trip up to the hospital, a despondent Anna,
no family around to ask questions
and a few cryptic comments from the nurse
indicating she was struggling with pneumonia.

A second meeting, this one on Monday night
allowing me to touch base with the youth ministry MT
to talk about the Confirmation class about to affirm their baptism on October 26.

Tuesday call to work the vineyards starts at the usual 9 AM,
leading to the usual staff meeting at noon,
preceded by a weekly meeting
with the youth leader an hour before
and a quick review of the upcoming Sunday’s bulletin.

The demands of the vineyard led me out in the afternoon
to the local nursing home and a visit with a recent arrival 
of a member who needed physical therapy for a few weeks.
She is offered and accepts a free meal,
a chance to have the Eucharist.
Time with her is followed by visits with a couple more
long-term homebound vineyard workers in semi-retirement.

Wednesday starts off hoping to catch up with emails
from the two days before.
Final plans are made for the Wed. night class,
where we are watching segments of the movie, Luther,
following materials provided by Thrivent Financial
that had been hiding  in my closet
for a couple of years or more.  Great stuff!

Before I can head for home, the phone rings at 4 PM.
Two hours before vineyard quitting time,
Granddaughter, Dawn calls, informing me her grandmother,
was now close to death in the local hospital.
Could I come up?  
Of course I will, knowing for 30 years now,
that vineyard rates of pay never include overtime. 

I arrive anticipating and witnessing a family in crisis,
none of them really believing she might be this close to death,
including a 92 year-old husband of 65 years,
coming out of total denial to the dreadful realization
that this day would undoubtedly be her last on earth.

A couple of hours later,
another saint of God’s own claiming dies,
surrounded by the deep love of the Owner and her family.
We gather around Anna’s bed, sharing in
The Service of Commendation from the Occasional Services.
Wednesday night’s Luther class follows
forty-five minutes after leaving the hospital.

Back to the vineyard Thursday morning,
hoping for a shot at Sunday’s sermon
if a day off from the vineyard on Friday goes off as planned.
The weekly meeting with another
management vineyard worker, the Music Director,
is used up to select hymns for a few upcoming weeks.
This is followed by some necessary phone calls
to the grieving family making funeral home arrangements, securing Saturday afternoon for the funeral.

After hours on Thursday night in the vineyard
requires putting the final touches on a funeral sermon
for Anna, after meeting with the family.
Thank goodness the timing worked so that my wife,
Susan and I could watch the Vice President’s debate.

In my neck of the vineyard woods,
Fridays attempt to be a day off in the week.
This means running around doing the things
you never have time to do the rest of the week,
home projects completed, well at least a couple - not bad.
Saturday morning gathers in my office
with a group of people looking for new employment
in the vineyard, attending a fall discipleship class session. 
A meeting with one of the vineyard-workers-in-training,
a confirmand who needs to complete this one more step
before the cock crows on October 26.

2 PM:  vineyard workers gather in the center of the vineyard
to commend Anna to God’s eternal care and love,
one more saint now receiving full retirement benefits
after a life of working for the owner of the vineyard.

Sunday morning calls even more vineyard workers together,
where the free meal  of God’s grace is provided for all,
the specially-arranged weekly visit
with the Son of the Owner freely given
regardless of seniority or experience.

This time, a new vineyard worker is hired on,
an infant by the name of Reese Mary,
permanently employed through the waters of Holy Baptism.
Looking into those young eyes as water is poured over her,
you see the fullness of Vineyard life come alive.

Following the image of the vineyard tenants theme,
I publicly thank God for another new worker in the vineyard. For the first time since I began to work in the vineyard,
as I carry her into the center of the congregation
I draw attention to her baptismal gown and
announce that she has her working clothes on.
Reese Mary visibly reminds us anew 
what we are all called by God to be about
in the vineyard reign of God’s kingdom in Christ.

So, this is my version of a week of days
of a typical vineyard worker, people like you and me,
and what it has probably been like for the past thirty years.

I estimate we have another ten or so good years left in us.
Like the past thirty, so it will be with the next ten,
utterly dependent on the grace of the Owner of the Vineyard,
the abiding presence and love of the Son of the Owner.

Christ crucified, Christ risen, Christ abiding with us every day,
how we are truly blessed to live out our ordination vows
through the days, months and years of God’s vineyard kingdom of life.

By the way, if you hear of anyone getting overtime, let me know.  Amen

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