SERMON

VIGNETTES FROM THE VINEYARD

The personhood of Jesus Christ reveals the very essence of stewardship and to obtain a clear, concise understanding of the two terms, one must look to the teachings of Jesus Christ. In the center

of His teaching is a value placed on the dignity of humankind. This

concept runs throughout the Bible. Note Leviticus 25; a theology of ecology and

service is there. It shows proper use of

the land, the proper conduct of relationships, proper banking procedures, and

the list goes on. This is applied

‘stewardship and service’ theology. From Christ’s example of stewardship and

service, we see that the use of talents, gifts, and resources, if correctly

understood, will lead to serving others.

In Deuteronomy 15; 23:15, 16, the concept of human dignity continues. In the New Testament it is again established

and undergirded by the teachings of Jesus Christ.



The shepherd was personally responsible for the stewardship and service of the sheep. If a sheep was lost, the shepherd must at least bring home the fleece to show how it had died.

Ivan

The lost sheep, the

lost coin, and the certain man that had two sons; in these parables of Luke 15,

the focus in each vignette is the value inherent in each individual who was

‘once lost but now is found.’ Every

effort is made to find the missing one.

The responsibility to find and restore was upon the shepherd, the woman,

and the father respectively. All of

humankind is represented at one time or another in this trilogy.



For example, the

shepherd was personally responsible for the stewardship and service of the

sheep. If a sheep was lost, the shepherd

must at least bring home the fleece to show how it had died. The shepherds were experts at tracking and

could follow the straying sheep’s footprints for miles over the hills. Talk about forensics—, the shepherd was

sharp.



The woman of the

next story was also relentless in her search.

With limited light she searched and searched until the coin was found

and restored. The father’s daily routine

in the third story, included waiting and looking out for his son. Finally on that happy day he saw him, and

restored him.



This searching for

‘the lost’ did not go over well with the strict Jews. The Pharisees termed

people who did not keep the law the “People of the Land.” One would imagine that these religious

leaders did not sing the song about, “ there is more joy in Heaven over one

sinner who repents,” but that they rather enjoyed the thought of that one

sinner being obliterated from the book of life.  In many ways we do not use or apply our

stewardship to servicing those living and dying in urban villages. Various structures and the lack of

infrastructure keep people in poverty, born and dying in inhuman conditions,

with no help. The theology of ecology,

the theology of stewardship and service, if correctly understood and applied,

would make major differences in our urban communities.   Once again the applied theology of the

stewardship of service is seen in the fact that every kind act done to the least

of them, i.e. the widows, the fatherless, those without family, the poor, the

hungry and the thirsty, the prisoners, the pimps and prostitutes, in the name

of Jesus, is received by Him as if it were done to Himself, for He identifies

His interest with that of suffering humanity. He has entrusted to His church

the grand work of ministering to Jesus

by helping and blessing the needy and suffering

(Counsels on Stewardship, p. 164).

In Matthew 20:1-16

Jesus tells the parable of the vineyard.

In Palestine the grapes ripen in late September. The harvest time calls for many workers to

gather the grapes before the rain comes.



The pay in Christ’s

day was a denarius for a day’s work. Not

much money for the lowest of the working class.

These men were waiting like men in the parking lot of Home Depot. In Palestine the market place was the

equivalent of the labor exchange. A man

came there first thing in the morning, carrying his tools, and waited until

someone came and hired him. These ‘men

in the market-place’ were not gossiping idlers, they were waiting for work, and

the fact that some of them waited until five o’clock showed how desperately

they wanted work.



In the parable, the

householder went to this labor-exchange early morning and reached an agreement

with the workers that they would work for nine pence a day. Into the vineyard they went and started to

work. Around 9 a.m. he went back to the

site and hired more workers. He returned

around 12 noon to hire more, back again around 3 p.m. He made one more trip close to 5 p.m. He found still more workers. “Why are you still here?” he asked them. They replied, “No one has hired us.” So he told them go to the vineyard.



When quitting time

arrived, the paymaster began to pay them the nine pence, which was agreed

upon. The workers who had started

earlier grumbled when they saw that those who had come later and worked less,

received the same pay. It was explained

to them that they agreed to the wage, and furthermore it was the right of the

owner of the vineyard to do with his money whatever pleased him. He had not cheated or robbed them.



The original lesson

of this parable may be this: Those who

come to the Kingdom early in life, or those who come late, all humankind— no

matter when they come, are equally precious and valuable to God. Some people think that because they have been

members in the church for a long time, they practically own the church and they

can dictate how it is run and control its policies. These members resent new members. The truth is, however, that in the church,

seniority does not necessarily mean that greater honor is due. In this parable there is warning to the

Pharisees as well as to us in the church today.

The Jews looked down upon the Gentiles.

They felt that they were the chosen people, not the Gentiles. If the Gentiles were to be allowed into the

church, they must come in as inferiors.

In God’s social economy, there is no such thing as favoritism among

nations. There is no master race.



The vignettes of comfort from God are that no

matter when a person enters the church, whether it be late or early in life,

even up until the shadows are lengthening, they are precious to God.

The vignettes of the compassion of God are that He cannot bear to see these workers in the market place

with no work, no honest way to feed and care for their families.



This parable states

implicitly two great truths foundational to the fabric of human dignity for the

working man: The right of every man to work, and the right of every person to a

living wage for his work.



The vignettes of the generosity

of God
are that just as the men did not all do the

same work, but they did receive the same pay, we ought to find two great

lessons. Firstly, all service ranks the

same with God. It is not the amount of

service given but the amount of love in which it is given which matters. The

second lesson is that all which God gives is given as grace. We cannot earn what God gives us. It is given out of the goodness of His

heart. What God gives is not payment but

a gift, not a reward, but grace.



Finally, we need to clarify in what spirit is the work done? “God loveth a cheerful giver,” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Crushed spirits and

broken wings exist in this world because the stewardship of service is not realized

by God’s people. Unfulfilled lives are wasted stewardship and service. The applied theology of the stewardship of

service will stand strong on these quotations:



“God's word

sanctions no policy that will enrich one class by the oppression and suffering

of another. In all our business transactions it teaches us to put ourselves in

the place of those with whom we are dealing, to look not only on our own

things, but also on the things of others. He who would take advantage of

another's misfortunes in order to benefit himself, or who seeks to profit

himself through another's weakness or incompetence, is a transgressor both of

the principles and of the precepts of the word of God” (Ministry of

Healing
, 187).



“In the kingdoms of

the world, position meant self-aggrandizement. The people were supposed to

exist for the benefit of the ruling classes. Influence, wealth, education, were

so many means of gaining control of the masses for the use of the leaders. The

higher classes were to think, decide, enjoy, and rule; the lower were to obey

and serve. Religion, like all things else, was a matter of authority. The

people were expected to believe and practice as their superiors directed. The

right of man as man, to think and act for himself, was wholly unrecognized” (The Desire

of Ages
, 550). These surely depict the true application of the principles of the stewardship of service. Amen!

Ivan L. Warden

Associate Director, E.G. White Estate

Dr. Warden

is a theologian and counselor. His dynamic career dedicated to God's church and

its educational institutions has also found him well published and a well-known

producer and host for both radio and television, including the Hope Channel. He

has earned rewards and citations for his contributions in various areas.   He is married to Jean Warden and they have two grown daughters. During their 40 years

of marriage, Drs. Gaspar and May-Ellen Colon have served the Adventist Church

in pastoral ministry, departmental leadership, and as missionaries in Africa

and the former Soviet Union.

'+element.CommentMessage+'