Home Service Sunday 24th September 2023

Prayers of Approach

God of amazing boundless grace, we come together to praise you. God of inexhaustible compassion, we come together to pray to you. God of perfect justice, we come together to be guided by you.

Outrageous God, you do not treat us as we deserve, but so much better. You do not give us what we deserve, but so much more. You do not limit your generosity, but give to all. You are just beyond our understanding, merciful beyond our imagining, and so we worship you. Even when your justice seems to us unfair and your generosity misplaced, we worship you – for you are holy, gracious and wise.

Loving God, your generosity is as vast as the sky, as deep as the ocean, as stunning as a sunset, as beautiful as a smile, as mysterious as silence, as profound as birdsong, as unique as love. We can only stand in awe and ask that you help us become more like you: more generous, more compassionate, more just.

We praise and worship you, in Jesus name,


Hymn Great is thy faithfulness (R&S 96)

Readings: Jonah 3:10 – 4:11

Matthew 20:1-16


Jonah was angry about God’s merciful response to the people of Nineveh. Did he resent the God of Israel’s concern for their Assyrian enemies, or did he doubt the genuineness of their repentance? Whatever Jonah may have felt the story ends with God’s compassion for them.

Jesus tells a parable about the owner of a vineyard. The owner is concerned to hire as many workers as possible, all through the day, and then pays all his workers the same, irrespective of when they started work. The kingdom of heaven is like this; no one gets more or less than anyone else, everyone belongs and receives in equal measure.

Starting with a story that Jesus told about the relationship between a landowner and his employees and the prophet Jonah complaining about the injustice of God forgiving the people of Nineveh, we are encouraged to think about the fairness or lack of it in the world we know.

Hymn O Lord all the world belongs to you (R&S 90) or For the fruits of all creation (R&S 42)


You’ve probably seen some of those ads on television for recruitment agencies where you can upload your CV and they will send it on to potential employers and contact you when a position comes up. It wasn’t so simple when I, and probably most of you, were looking for a job. It would have entailed scouring the newspapers’ situations vacant columns, sending off letters to companies ‘on spec’ or maybe regular visits to the job centre to study their notice boards.

For agricultural workers right up until the early 20th century one way for them to find employment was to go to a ‘hiring fair’ where farmers and landowners would come to hire workers for the season or sometimes the year. Those who weren’t lucky enough to get a steady job would have to hope that they could pick up casual daily work by going to the market place early in the morning where employers would hire extra workers by the day. It was a system which had existed for centuries, which we read about in our Gospel reading, and which still exists in some cultures today. It’s a practice which could be compared to that of people on ‘zero hours’ contracts and the poor conditions for casual work that still persist now.

Jesus’ parable captures the insecurity of life unfamiliar to so many of us: the life of the day labourer. It’s easy to forget the uncertainty of life experienced by workers in cultures across the world, turning up early at the hiring point, and then waiting and waiting, hoping that they’ll be one of the chosen ones who will be paid that day. The parable was aimed at the legally minded Pharisees who criticised Jesus for associating with ‘sinners’, the poor and the social outcasts of the day, reminding us that the kingdom of heaven is a ’gift’ not a right, something we do not deserve or ‘earn’ no matter how long we work for it. It also reflects concerns about equality in the Early Church where there would have been Jews, brought up according to the Law, together with Gentile newcomers. It declares that even those who have come late to the faith should be treated exactly the same, they are equally precious in the eyes of God.

In many ways however this parable goes against our sense of natural justice, or ‘equal pay for equal work’. Just as God’s forgiveness and compassion for the people of Nineveh, the enemies of God’s people, went against Jonah’s sense of justice, it seems unfair to us that the people who worked longest and hardest get only the same reward as everyone else. But we might ask the question, ‘Why are the men in the marketplace idle, unemployed?’ Idle is an emotive word. It can sometimes imply ‘laziness’, people who are ‘undeserving’. But in Jesus’ story, it is more likely that the landowner simply could not guarantee enough work early in the day.

Whatever the reason, there is a dignity in work that was denied to these left ‘idle’. They were eager to work later, even though the implication was less pay. Those who worked all day may have grumbled about the owner’s generosity, but the latecomers had spent most of the day in uncertainty, not knowing whether there would be any work, wages or food for them at all. Are we too ready to stigmatise as lazy or undeserving those who struggle to get a foothold in society? Is God’s love and generosity unfair or is it simply going beyond our human understanding of fairness? What is the difference between being fair and being generous?

Jesus’ story is not about wages; it is about grace. The workers feel that their fair and honest wages have been diminished by others receiving the same. But they have lost sight of the fact that their need was just as great as the others’. The morning workers negotiated a deal with the owner: the usual daily wage. Perhaps they were pleased not to have been hired on the cheap. All day long they could look forward to a guaranteed wage. The last group hired never asked about wages. They simply put in their hour, and waited to receive whatever the owner would give them. It is a powerful reminder of the generous love of God and his compassion for the poor and outcast which promises that everyone can gain the fulness of the gifts of the kingdom of heaven.

Hymn For the healing of the nations (R&S 620)

Prayers of Intercession

All seeing God, as the landowner gave work to all those who needed it, so you give grace and we thank you, so you give strength and we thank you, so you give hope and we thank you, so you give purpose and we thank you, so you give life and we thank you. We thank you for all your love and care for every single one of us.

Eternal, ever-living, ever-present God, in the struggles and joys of this day, we pray:

For those who are overburdened, weighed down, demoralised, fearful or desolate because of what life has thrown at them…

God, be with them.

For those engulfed in pain and anguish, facing illness and death…

God, be with them.

For those troubled in mind and spirit, who find no peace or calm…

God, be with them.

For those alone and lonely, without friend or comfort…

God, be with them.

For those frightened and bewildered, who see no direction or purpose in their lives…

God, be with them.

Eternal, ever-living God, bless them all in this and every hour, in this and every step of life’s journey. Amen.

Hymn The kingdom of God is justice and joy (R&S 200)


God, send us out as workers in your vineyard, to do whatever you call us to do, to do it fairly and without favour, so that all may share in your harvest of generosity. Amen.

Prayers and other material (adapted) © Roots for Churches Ltd. Used by permission.

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