Sermons 2005
"The Last shall be first", Proper 20A, 18 September 2005, Matthew 20:1-16

Home | "The One who is coming after me", Advent 2B, 4 December 2005, Mark 1:1-8 | "Stay awake. Be alert" Advent 1B, 27 November 2005, Mark13:24-37 | "Black Hat vs White Hat" Proper 26A, 30 October 2005, Matthew 23:1-12 | "Sheep and Goats -- again!" Proper 29A, 20 November 2005, Matthew 25:31-46 | "The Greatest Commandment" Proper 25A, 23 October 2005 Matthew 22: 34-46 | God and Caesar, Proper 24A, 16 October 2005, Matthew 22:15-22 | The Wedding Banquet, Proper 23A, 9 October 2005, Matthew 22:1-14 | The Landlord and the Tenants, Proper 22A , 2 October 2005, Matthew 21:33-43 | "Who will go?" Proper 21A, 25 September 2005, Matthew 21:28-32 | "The Last shall be first", Proper 20A, 18 September 2005, Matthew 20:1-16 | "Forgiveness, grace, and mercy", Proper 19A, 11 September 2005, Matthew 18:21-35 | "But who do YOU say that I am?" Proper 16A, 21 August 2005, Matthew 16:13-20 | "O God, how can we sing to you...." Katrina Relief, 4 September 2005 | "The kingdom of heaven is like...." Proper 12A, 24 July 2005, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-49a | "The wheat and the tares", Proper 11A, 17 July 2005, Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43 | "Ears to listen", Proper 10A, 10 July 2005, Matthew 15:1-9, 18-23 | "A cup of cold water", Proper 8A, 26 June 2005, Matthew 10:34-42 | "Heseth: lovingkindness, not sacrifice", Proper 5A , 5 June 2005, Matthew 9:9-13; Hosea 6:6 | Trinity: A Theological Exploration, 22 May 2005, Matthew 28:16-20 | The Baptism of Parker Benjamin Throckmorton, Pentecost Sunday, 15 May 2005 | "Receive the Holy Spirit" Pentecost , 15 May 2005, John 20: 19-23 | "Unity or schism?" Easter 7A, 8 May 2005, John 17:1-11 | "Abide in me", Easter 6A, 1 May 2005, John 15:1-8 | "The Way, the Truth, and the Life", Easter 5A , 24 April 2005, John 14:1-14 | "Saint Thomas the Doubter", Easter 2A, 3 April 2005, John 20:19-31 | "The Lord is Risen Indeed!", Easter A , 27 March 2005, Matthew 28:1-10; John 20:1-18 | "The Shadow of the Cross", Passion Sunday A, 20 March 2005, Matthew 26:36-27:66 | Raising of Lazarus", Lent 5A, 13 March 2005, Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 11:1-44 | "Who are the blind?" Lent 4A, 6 March 2005, John 9:1-38 | "Water and Living Water", Lent 3A, 27 February 2005, John 4:5-42 | Baptized and Born Again", Lent 2A, 20 February 2005, John 3:1-17 | Temptation and the Kingdom of God, Lent 1A, 13 February 2005, Matthew 4:1-11 | "'Tis good to be here, " Epiphany Last A, 6 February 2005, Matthew 17:1-9 | "Follow me!" Epiphany 3A, 23 January 2005, Matthew 4:12-23 | "Come and See!" Epiphany 2A, 16 January 2005, John 1:29-41 | The Baptism of our Lord -- and Ours, Epiphany 1A, 9 January 2005, Matthew 3:13-17 | Christmas 2A: The Tsunami, God, and our Neighbor", Matthew 2, 2 January 2005 | Next Sunday to be posted soon

Proper 20A 2005 Matthew 20:1-16

An astute, wise, and witty observer once said that there are many basic and lasting truths about life that children learn on their own. Here are four of them:

No matter how hard you try, you can’t baptize cats.

When your mother is mad at your father, don’t let her brush your hair.

You can’t trust dogs to watch your food.

The best place to be when you’re sad is in your grandmother’s lap. (1)

One of the lessons of today’s parable is one that children of any age have a hard time learning: “So the last will be first and the first will be last.” Well, Jesus said it so we have to deal with it.

In 1844 Samuel F. B. Morse transmitted the first telegraph message between Baltimore and Washington. As settlement and railroads spread across the North American continent, the telegraph became the Internet of its day. This remarkable invention was capable of sending complex, encrypted messages all over the world in fractions of a second. Unlike the Internet, however, the telegraph was primarily an auditory instrument. Only a finely tuned ear could key into its lightning-fast code of dots and dashes to accurately interpret the sender's message.

Those who acquired this skill in the late 1800s could make a decent living as a Morse code operator. But the competition was fierce. The companies that paid well always had long lines of applicants waiting for a chance to prove their skills.

There's a story of one such company that had an opening for a Morse code operator. Because the company was a leader in its industry, it could afford to find and hire the best.
On the day that the position was announced, about 20 young men showed up at the huge, noisy office to be tested. On top of all the telegraphs operating in the background, there were several typists banging on their machines. The receptionist practically had to shout her instructions to the candidates. After filling out their applications, they were told to take a seat and wait to be called in for an interview.

Several hours passed, and no one was called in. At around noon, a latecomer approached the receptionist for an application. When he was about halfway through the form, he suddenly got up and told the receptionist that he had to speak to the hiring manager right away. Surprisingly, she let him in. The other candidates were dumbfounded. They had been there all morning - why did this man suddenly get an interview - he hadn't even completed his application!

If that wasn't bad enough, five minutes after the receptionist let the latecomer pass, she stood up to say that the position had been filled, and that they could all go home now. There would be no more interviews that day.

One of the rejected candidates stuck around to find out why this guy got the job when the others didn't even get a chance to display their skills. "But you did have the chance," replied the receptionist. "All the time you were sitting there, there was a telegraph behind me sending a message that said 'If you can understand this message, then tell the receptionist that you need to see the hiring manager right away. The job is yours.'" Only the latecomer had heard and understood the message. All the other candidates had missed it.

We all know the trials and tribulations of an awkward and unathletic child, how painful and humiliating it can be for them. One of the worst things that happens is when pickup softball games are being organized. Usually the two best athletes, whether in gym class or sand lot, would be the two team captains. And they begin taking turns, pointing at the rest and selecting who they wanted to have on their team. And those several very long minutes, while the teams were being picked, were difficult and embarrassing for the awkward and unathletic children because they are usually the last ones picked. Nobody wanted them on their team.

For someone who has the good fortune to be one of the first ones selected, your ego gets a boast and you feel special. But if you have the misfortune of being picked last, you have to endure the ridicule and shame of being someone who no one really wanted on their team.

Somehow this business about the last will be first isn’t very comforting.

Farmers of any kind, at least in the days of more labor intensive farming, can relate somewhat better to this business of the last being first and the first being last. Peach farmers especially. Peaches are very perishable, perhaps even more so than grapes, certainly more so than apples and oranges and limes and grapefruit. When peaches are ready to be picked, packed, and sent off in refrigerated cars to market, the window of opportunity for orchard to market is two days at most. And in areas where there were many other large peach farms, labor was at a premium when those two days began.

Peach growers go around to other orchard operations hoping to hire workers if and when their work was completed for the day. Hiring workers away was not uncommon, especially the more efficient and productive. Sometimes the workers went from orchard to orchard, packing shed to packing shed. And peach packing sheds ran into the wee hours of the morning until all the fruit was packed and loaded for transit. It was not surprising that those laborers late to the harvest or packing were paid more than the others for their time. Their individual wages were, for good reason, a closely guarded secret. Not a one of them wanted to upset the apple cart. And it kept the others from complaining, who themselves benefited from the same sort of arrangement from time to time.

One last story: In her memoir of growing up in rural Arkansas, Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now, poet Maya Angelou wrote about her grandmother, Annie Henderson. Annie Henderson ran a store. Any time a known whiner showed up, her grandmother would call little Maya to come inside. Then Grandmother would ask the customer, "How are you?" and the grumbler would launch into his or her list of complaints that day, be it the heat of the day or the plowing that needed to be done. As the complainer went on and on, Grandmother Annie would look at little Maya to make sure she was listening.

Angelou, now an accomplished writer, teacher, producer and director, recalls her grandmother's words after the customers left:

"Sister, there are people who went to sleep last night, poor and rich and white and black, but they will never wake again. And those dead folks would give anything at all for just five minutes of this weather or ten minutes of plowing. So you watch yourself about complaining. What you're supposed to do when you don't like a thing is change it. If you can't change it, change the way you think about it." (3)

The vineyard owner told the complainer, “Take what belongs to you and go.” And we have been given much. The parable is really mostly about God’s love, grace and mercy. And that is the very much that is always given to us.


1. Sunday Sermons, “Lasting Truth”, 19 September 1999.
2. Proclaim, 22 September 2002
3. As quoted in Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now, CONNECTIONS, Sept 2002

Wicomico Parish Church, Wicomico Church, Virginia 22579