Pastoral Relief and Retreat

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Wethersfield, CT, United States
I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Narrow Gate

            “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.   Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
            “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
            “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
(Matthew 7:12-21 ESV)

The Sermon on the Mount takes up three “chapters” of Matthew’s gospel.  Of course, there were no chapter divisions in the original.  There were no verse numbers.  There weren’t even paragraph breaks.  Why?  Because papyrus was quite expensive, and if you were writing something down, you used every last square inch you could.   More than that, Jesus probably never delivered these lines one after another.  These are much more likely a collection of the sayings of Jesus – kind of like a candidate on a whistle stop campaign – these are things Jesus said to the crowds. 

If you subscribe to this thinking about how the Sermon was assembled, it makes much more sense out of the choppiness of the delivery.  Mind you, I’m not saying you have to think this way about the Sermon.  We’ll never know, this side of Glory, whether Jesus actually stood on a hillside and delivered this as one long sermon or not.  But do not mistake: there is no disputing that these are genuine words of Jesus. 

This particular passage is begins with what we usually call “The Golden Rule.”  Matthew has grouped several things Jesus said on the same subject together, all having to do with the inner life that generates the outer actions.  We are to make it a practice that what our inside thinks, our outside does. 

I wish inwardly that I’d be treated a certain way.  I outwardly treat others that way.   It isn’t easy, but it is right.  That’s a picture of wisdom.

I inwardly determine I’m going to enter by the narrow gate.  It won’t do for me to just go in via any gate.  I have to go to the trouble of finding the narrow one.  This was a very potent visual for anyone who knew Jerusalem (or any other walled city, for that matter).  Jerusalem had many gates on its perimeter.  One apocryphal story says there was even a gate so narrow it was called The Eye of the Needle, and was used as a kind of “back door” for night travelers.  Still, the idea of taking the extra time to walk all the way around a walled city in order to find the narrowest gate is a picture of taking the utmost care to be sure you’ve thought of all the angles before jumping into a course of action.  That’s a picture of wisdom.

 I should be careful not to simply take the words of a person claiming to be a prophet at face value.  I need to take the time to evaluate him and his message carefully to see if he has integrity.  This too is a picture of wisdom.

I need to evaluate an orchard to see which trees are healthy and which are diseased.  I won’t be able to tell at a distance.  I have to get up close and really look and do some testing.  This is a picture of wisdom.

So it is with people who call Jesus Lord.  You simply can’t tell the genuine from the fake at a distance.  You have to get up close and personal.  At another point Jesus recommends we let the weeds grow up alongside the good plants.  Why?  Because that’s the only way you’ll ever see which ones you want to pluck up and throw into the fire. 

The church is always going to have imposters and wolves running around in it.  It is natural.  Our job as members of the Body (and especially those of us who are pastors) is NOT to figure out whose faith is genuine.  Our job is to love as Jesus loved, and let God sort out the rest.  We cannot be the Evangelical Police, chasing after everyone to see if they are carrying their Jesus card.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Lord's Day Message: Kingdom Economics 101: Process

Matthew 21:23-32  Kingdom Economics 101: Process

23 Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”
24 Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 25 John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or from men?”
They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From men’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”
27 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”
Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
29 “ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

I think I was about ten years old when my mother took my sister and I to see the World’s Fair in New York City.  Though we lived less than thirty miles from the site of the fair, the trip into Queens was a big deal.  Mom wasn’t comfortable driving in cities, and these were congested roads that she had never been on before. 

We left early on a Wednesday morning because Mom rightly figured that the crowds would be lighter mid-week.  She drove down the Connecticut Turnpike, which did not yet bear an interstate number, and soon we crossed into New York.  We were welcomed by a sign announcing we were on the Governor Thomas E. Dewey Thruway.   We paid the 40 cent toll, which my mother groused about, and continued until we reached the Bronx, where we switched over to the lower end of the Hutchinson River Parkway. 

The really interesting sign to my 10 year old brain was the one at the west end of the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge.  I knew that was the name of the bridge, but the sign read, “Triboro Bridge and Tunnel Authority,” and I remember thinking the sign must be wrong.  It was years later, after the advent of the Internet, that I finally got the answer to the question that plagued me all the way to Flushing Meadows:  All of the processes of the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge were being operated by an authority that wasn’t in the Bronx, nor was it located in Whitestone, Queens.  The authority that runs the toll booths, manages the traffic, paints the lines, repairs the road surface, maintains the girders – in short, the authority that is responsible for the entire 3,770 feet of the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge is located in an office building at number 2 Broadway, in lower Manhattan. 

But even that isn’t the end of the story of the authority that runs the bridge.  The Triboro Bridge and Tunnel Authority in fact is responsible for all the processes of seven bridges and two tunnels along the East River in New York.  But before you jump to the conclusion that a ten year old boy might – before you begin to think that the person in the office at #2 Broadway, New York must be a very, very powerful man indeed, you have to know that the Triboro Bridge and Tunnel Authority is itself a division of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, and they, in turn, are part of the city government of New York City.   

That might lead you to believe that Mayor Michael Bloomberg is a very powerful person, particularly if you want to cross the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge.  If he is the ultimate authority behind the operating process of the bridge, then before you approach the toll booth, you’d better think about getting express written consent from Mayor Bloomberg. 

But we all know that Mayor Bloomberg himself is a man under authority.  He, and every department of the city he runs, receives his commission from the people of New York every fall when they are elected to their various posts.  So really, the authority that runs the processes of the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge is the voters of the City of New York.   And because that is the case, I have a suggestion for Mr. Bloomberg: be afraid of the authority that is over you.  Be very afraid indeed.

Let’s pray, and then let’s look at the Word of God. 

Series Review
These past couple of weeks we’ve been studying Kingdom Economics, and we’ve begun to see that the way the Kingdom of God operates is vastly different from how the kingdoms of this world operates.   The world’s economics operate on a strict system of payment.   And world religions, politics, and economics generally boil down to appeasement. 

Kingdom Economics tells us the price has already been paid and that you and I owe nothing.  We are not trying to appease an angry god.  We are deeply loved by a God whose greatest pleasure is relationship.  The world’s economics are based on personal profit, whether they state it in terms of self-interest or whether they state it in more seemingly noble terms.  In the world you are either trying to profit yourself or prevent another from profiting. 

Kingdom Economics says that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”  In Kingdom Economics we win by losing.  The ultimate victory came wrapped in the ultimate defeat. 
Process and Authority
There is also a process in Kingdom Economics that we need to pay attention to.   If Jesus meant us to take the things he did and said as our marching orders and not simply as metaphor; if Jesus actually meant what he said and if Jesus actually expects us to do as he did, we have to ask the question, “How is that practical?”  If all the world around us is working one way, then either the way of Jesus is impossible here and will leave us no where other than frustrated, or else it is possible, but in order to actually live the processes of the Kingdom, we have to first come under a different authority. 

When we talk about the processes of the Kingdom we are talking about processes that only operate as they do beginning with the recognition of Kingdom Authority.  Just as the bridges of New York City couldn’t operate effectively if they were run by the City Housing Authority, the people of the Kingdom of God cannot live the process of the Kingdom if they live under the Authority of the kingdoms of this world.

Turn to Matthew 21, verse 23, if you’re not already there.  In the first paragraph Jesus addresses the question of Kingdom Authority: 

“23 Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”
24 Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 25 John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or from men?”
They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From men’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”
27 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”
Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

There are two things Jesus says about Kingdom Authority that we need to pay attention to.  First, Kingdom Authority is never by force or coercion.  When asked by what authority Jesus is doing what he does, Jesus immediately brings up John’s baptism.  When John went to the Jordan River to baptize, it was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin.  People came in droves, not to follow John but to place themselves under the authority of God; their declaration as they went under the water was a voluntary turning from their own authority and from all other authorities they had placed themselves under, and a turning to the authority of God himself, the only one who could forgive sin.   They came voluntarily.   They came with abandon.  They came because in repentance there is true freedom. 

That’s why first John and then Jesus were so dangerous to the religious authorities of Israel and the secular authorities of the Empire.  Those authorities all operated on the principle that people need to be made to obey; that laws are the basis for that obedience, and if you don’t follow the laws the authority exists to punish you. 

Second, Kingdom Authority is never by fear.    The discussion the chief priests and elders had among themselves demonstrates how they were operating.  If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From men’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”  There is an old saying that politics is the art of the possible.  What they really mean when they say that is that politics is the art of doing anything the people will tolerate short of revolution.  The point at which politics fail every time is the point at which the people rise up and say “No, you cannot do that.”   I wasn’t just kidding when I said that Mayor Bloomberg needs to be afraid of the people who elected him.  The most effective politicians are the ones who are the most in touch with the people – the ones who are the most afraid of the people. 

When John was baptizing at the Jordan he received all who came to him, except the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  He saw them coming and said, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” 

John saw them as politicians who were coming, not because they wanted to repent, but because they wanted to retain their positions and they saw this as a good political move.  They were coming out of fear.  All the people were coming for baptism – the people regarded John as a prophet – therefore we should go for baptism because it will look good to the people.  

If you are under the authority of this world you need to be afraid.  You need to be very afraid. 

Jesus goes on to tell them a parable about two sons and their reactions when asked to go out and work in the family vineyard.   Notice that in the story it is not a King who demands that his subjects work the vineyard as an act of obedience.  Notice that in the story it is not a Priest demanding an act of worship to placate a god.  It is a father asking his sons to help support the family as an act of love.  The Authority of the Kingdom is an authority of Family, and authority in the family is passed from parent to child.  A slave has no option – he must work for the master of the house.    But a child, because he or she is the heir, already has the authority within him, and so cannot be forced to work.  He also must not work out of fear, or the whole family system is sick and ultimately falls apart.  The child who works has realized his relationship to his father is more important than his comfort.  The child who works has realized his relationship to his father is more important than his own will.  He didn’t want to go, but because he loved his father, he went anyway.

The Authority of the Kingdom is also an authority of Fruit.  It is no accident that the story Jesus constructed shows a family that owns a vineyard.  The processes of the Kingdom: a father asking his children to work in the vineyard; the children of the Kingdom tending the vineyard under the authority of the father; the vineyard producing good fruit in its season is all critical to us grasping how Kingdom process works.  Jesus could have cast the father as a fisherman or a hunter.  But in the Kingdom of God nothing has to die in order that I might live.  He could have cast the father as a businessman.  But in the Kingdom of God no one has to lose in order that I might win.  The process of Kingdom Authority is the process of a Father imparting authority from generation to generation.  And the purpose of the process is in the fruit. 

That’s why Jesus said, in John 15:8, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”  And that’s why Jesus’ parting words to his disciples were about Kingdom Authority.  In Matthew 28:18-20 – the final verses of Matthew’s gospel – Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  This is not a new law being laid down for us by a King.  The Great Commission is family authority being passed on from Father to Son to Sons. 

There’s a problem with accepting this kind of authority, an authority that is not by force, an authority that is not by fear, an authority that is an authority of family.  With this kind of authority comes responsibility.   Take a quick look, if you can get there without losing your place in Matthew, at Ezekiel 18, the passage Jama read for us earlier.   Look at how it begins.  In Ezekiel 18:1 he makes this really challenging statement:  “The word of the LORD came to me: “What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge’? As I live, declares the Lord GOD, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.”

I’m sure at least some of you raised your eyebrow as Ezekiel went on to explain the problem with the proverb.  And let’s get this right: Ezekiel is not focusing on any specific death here.  He’s very clear about that at the end of the passage.  This is not God threatening us if we don’t obey because God takes no pleasure in the death of anyone.  In fact, quite the opposite, this is God holding out to us the pleasure of responsibility.   The proverb is based on the old idea that, in a family, the sins and responsibilities of the father are passed on to the children.  If your father left a massive debt when he died, as his heir, the debt is yours now and you must pay it.  The fathers ate sour grapes (notice again the vineyard illustration), and so the children’s teeth are set on edge. 

What Ezekiel is telling us, and what Jesus affirmed in everything he did and said is that the responsibility for your sin is yours, not your parents.  We are not victims who are doomed to act as we do because our First Parents sinned in the garden.  Each and every one of us would have made the same choice.  That’s the point of Ezekiel 18.  Presented with the forbidden fruit in our own private Eden, every man and woman, boy and girl on the planet would forsake an eternity of fellowship with a loving God in order to have one selfish taste.   And God told Adam and Eve in the garden, “On the day you eat of it, you will surely die.” 

The son in Matthew 21 who told his dad that he would work and then didn’t go into the vineyard chose the way of death.  It didn’t make him any less a son.  It didn’t mean that the father didn’t love him any more.  But in an agrarian society, a person who will not work will not eat, and a person who will not eat has set himself on a track to die. 

It is not my parent’s fault that I am a sinner.  I am a sinner because I choose to sin. 

Now I have to insert a word here, just to make sure no one walks away this morning misunderstanding: I am not saying that when an authority over you abuses his position of authority you are not a victim.  Our mass media culture has done one thing right.  It has brought to light the abuse of power.  But power and authority are two different things.  Power IS the abuse of authority.  I know that there are some in this room right now who have suffered abuse at some point in your lives at the hands of someone who should have been your protector.   That was an abuse of authority, and what you are suffering today is the result of their sin, not yours.  You were not responsible for what was done to you.  That’s in a whole other category from what we’ve been talking about this morning. 

But when family authority is rightly exercised, when Kingdom Authority is rightly passed on, there is no abuse of power.  Rather, Kingdom Authority is never about force, Kingdom Authority is never about fear, and the processes of Kingdom Authority are the processes of a loving, safe, secure family that labors together to bear fruit.

At the end of the parable Jesus says to the chief priests and elders who were in his audience, “John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.”  The way of righteousness is the process of  Kingdom Economics.  That’s why the most unlikely people are the ones who tend to “get it” first.  Jesus isn’t saying that a priest or an elder can’t ever be part of the Kingdom of God.  He’s simply saying that people in need who realize they are in need without ever being shown their need are much more well-prepared to accept the invitation of the Kingdom than are those who believe they have already arrived. 

You may not have been a tax collector or a prostitute.   But Jesus is inviting you to see yourself rightly, maybe for the first time in your life.  The way of righteousness is not about how good you are, it is about how good God is.  The way of righteousness is not about you paying the toll so you can cross the Bridge.  The way of righteousness is not about you getting anything – not even heaven – as profit for your loss.  The way of righteousness is about you seeing how good God is and running first into your father’s arms and then running out into the vineyard in joyful love because that’s where you experience your relationship with him the best.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Lord's Day Message: Kingdom Economics 101: Profit

Matthew 20:1-16  Kingdom Economics 101: Profit

Throughout the Roman Empire it began, as it had by now for centuries, at sunrise, with the sounding of a bell.  Every city, and many villages had such a bell.  Ships at sea also used the bell as a way of marking out their day.  It was regular.  It was disciplined.  It was modern.  In Rome, it was even considered stylish to observe the bells. 

By the time of what we now call the First Century AD, Roman citizens of a certain social strata had begun to use the bell to demonstrate their power and influence.  These businessmen got up early, to be sure.  But they weren’t really working at much of anything. 

The poet Marcus Valerius Martialis, who lived in Rome at the time gives a somewhat cynical assessment of the schedule for a typical Roman workday:

The first and second hours cause those involved in the salutatio to rub shoulders, 

The third sees lawyers active, 

Rome extends its labors into the fifth hour, 

The sixth will be a respite for the weary, the seventh, the end of labor. 

The eighth and part of the ninth hour is sufficient for the sleek exercise rooms, 

The ninth commands people to wear out couches piled up with pillows...

What he’s talking about is this.  The first bell rang at 6 in the morning, and was called Prime, meaning “the first hour”.  At that time men of influence and those who ran businesses were up and about doing one of two things. 

The first activity brought upper and lower classes together and was a greeting ritual called the salutatio.  This ritual was the outward sign of the close bond that worked for the benefit of both the lower class client and his upper class patron. 

Take note that the word patron is derived from pater, "father".  When a client went to visit his patron at his house early every morning, he was acknowledging his dependency on the patron and in turn received a basket of food called a sportula or in its place. a small payment of money. An invitation to dinner was another typical gift.  For many poor unemployed Romans, this was their only income.  The father gave his people their daily bread. 

The other activity these upper class patrons might engage in was to go to the public square or send their foremen on their behalf, and hire day laborers, promising them either food or a coin with which they might buy food at the end of the day.  

So the first bell, prime, did not signal work so much as it signaled organization. 

The next bell, called Terce, because it signaled the third hour of the day, rang roughly at 9 am.  The actual times were relative and were based on the circuit of the sun.  The time between the beginning and end of the day was longer in the summer and shorter in the winter, and the bells were calculated to fit into the time between sun-up and sun-down.  The 9 am bell in Rome and other large cities was the time for convening the courts and doing public business.  The time between the Salutatio at Prime and the opening of the court at Terce didn’t leave those of the upper class much time to do actual business, and so the upper class had become divided into two: those who worked in politics and the law and those who were strictly businessmen.  While the businessmen weren’t held in quite the same regard as the men of the Roman Senate, it was they, and not the Senators who were making most of the money in the empire, and so they were very important to the system. 

After the three hours of either business or court work, the bell rang again.  This was called Sext, and it told everyone the lunch break had finally arrived.  But this wasn’t like our lunch hour today, though if you’ve ever travelled in European countries, vestiges of the tradition are still alive.  The Spanish speaking countries call it Siesta.  It begins with a meal, usually the large meal of the day, and because it is the heat of the day and not a great time for work, especially in Southern Europe, everyone goes home and takes a two to three hour nap. 

None and Vespers
None, the ninth hour bell rings around 3 pm, calling everyone back to the most productive and uninterrupted part of the day, and finally the Vespers bell rings at 6 pm signaling that evening has arrived.

Prime… Terce… Sext… None… Vespers. 

There.  That’s the typical Roman workday.  

The Jews and the Roman Workday
Because Israel and Judea were now part of the Roman Empire, they too had adopted, or been forced to adopt, the same schedule.  This discipline of the work day was very important to the ordering of Roman society, and all of the provinces that belonged to the Empire would follow the same schedule. 

Prime… Terce… Sext… None… Vespers. 

The Jews had cleverly figured out how to make the pattern work for them.  Their day began at sundown, not at sunrise.  So Vespers was the signal for the call to evening prayers, a meal, and then sleep.  Prime was a call to work, and certainly no Jew had the time or inclination to be saluting any patron.  Besides, for the Jews the only proper salute was to God.   But Jesus had called God by a new name.  Father.  Pater in latin.  He was to be our patron from whom we received our daily bread. 

So when Jesus taught the disciples The Lord’s Prayer, he was really turning Roman society, Roman discipline, and Roman secularism upside down.  When you pray, Jesus said, pray like this:  “Pater noster…” “Our Father…”  At six in the morning when you’re waiting in the public square in the half light of early dawn to see if anyone will hire you for the day, you have a choice.  You can salute every patron who comes by with the offer of a meal and a coin or you can trust God.  The bell rings.  The sun rises.  The workday begins.  Our Patron, in heaven.  You are set apart.  Let your kingdom come here, in this square, in the half light.  Let your will be done as I trust you for a job and food to feed my family. 

The bell rang.  The people gathered in the square hoping for work.  6 am.  Prime.

The Jews also had a regular time of prayer and sacrifice at mid-morning.  In Jerusalem all work stopped and those near enough to the temple climbed to the top of Zion and prayed.  It interrupted the work day, but the prayer at Terce was very important to keeping their faith in order.  In places where the people couldn’t get to the Temple, and certainly at times when the Temple had fallen into disrepair, the synagogue system had begun to take over.  This time was now used for what was being called a “sacrifice of praise,” instead of a sacrifice of animals.

            Praise the LORD!
            Praise God in his sanctuary;
                        praise him in his mighty heavens!
            Praise him for his mighty deeds;
                        praise him according to his excellent greatness!
            Praise him with trumpet sound;
                        praise him with lute and harp!
            Praise him with tambourine and dance;
                        praise him with strings and pipe!
            Praise him with sounding cymbals;
                        praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
            Let everything that has breath praise the LORD!
            Praise the LORD!
(Psalm 150 ESV)

The bell rang.  Work stopped.  The people gathered.  The people prayed.  Terce.

By the time the sun was high over head, especially in summer, workers had been hard at labor for about five hours if you include the organizing time before they started and the mid-morning prayer break – we in the modern world use the time to worship coffee or cigarettes instead of the Lord.  But by noon everyone was ready for some real down time.  In the Jewish world as well as the Roman, when the None bell rang, all work ceased.  Those who could, went home.  Others had lunch brought to them.  Still others simply sat down where they were and rested.  It was understood though, that from the Senators in Rome to the simplest slave in the field, all work was to be suspended until the next bell.

The bell rang.  Work stopped.  The people rested.  Sext.

Sometime around 3 pm, depending on the season, everyone picked up where they had left off. 

The bell rang.  Work resumed.  None.  The ninth hour.  Jesus was crucified along with the third hour bell.  He hung on the cross beginning at Terce and spoke most of the seven last words between then and Sext.  Scripture records that the sun was darkened in a great eclipse from Sext to None, the period of time when no work was to be done.  Even as he died, Jesus observed the pattern of the day.  And with the None bell, at 3 pm, he died. 


The way the Roman day was balanced, the shorter afternoon working period could easily be the most productive three hours.  Workers were well rested, they were able to get a fresh start on their projects, and there were few distractions.  Those at home would now turn their attention to producing an evening meal and preparing for evening prayer.  But the worker in the field had the challenge of finishing one set of tasks and then making sure he had everything where it needed to be by the end of the day.  The bells were inflexible, and especially so for a Jew, because on Shabbat in particular, all work needed to be finished by sundown.  And so the pattern of the bells was helpful and each day became as all the others; a great push to make sure you got all your work done by the end of the day. 

The bell rang.  Work stopped.  The people gathered in their homes.  The people prayed and ate together and gave thanks for God’s provision for the day that had just begun.  Remember, in a Jewish home, the old day had ended at sundown.  They were not looking back and giving thanks for what God HAD done.  They were looking ahead and giving thanks for provision they knew would come.  Sometimes they sang folk songs and psalms.  Vespers.   

Prime… Terce… Sext… None… Vespers. 

The Parable of the Vineyard Owner
Now turn in your Bible to Matthew, chapter 20, beginning at verse 1. 

1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard.   
            The Landowner was observing the ritual of salutatio at Prime.  It was six in the morning.
2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
            As part of salutatio, the landowner rightly offered each worker he hired a denarius – a coin equal in value to the accepted rate for a day laborer throughout the empire for one day of work. 
3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing.
            It was 9 in the morning.  If we accept that the people Jesus is talking about in this story are all Jews, the question we ought to be asking is, “Why were these people standing about in the town square doing nothing when those who cared at all would have been in the Synagogue at prayer?”  Still, there they were.  The landowner makes no comment about their absence from worship – he is absent too. 
4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’
5 So they went.
            Notice the landowner never says how much he will pay these workers.  He simply says he’ll make it right at the end of the day.
   “He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing.
            Interestingly, in Jesus’ story, the Landowner finds workers out in the square hoping for jobs at the beginning of Siesta.  These must have been desperate men to continue to stand there searching for work at the time when every job of any sort would have shut down for three hours.  The ones he hired at three were probably such poor workers that  no one had picked them up and they had stood there all day,
6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
   “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
            It is only the workers the Landowner hires at 5 pm that he asks any question of.  He says what they all know is true.  These are completely shiftless men who really didn’t care to work.  He says, “Why have you been standing here all day doing nothing?  But instead of judging them for their indolence, the Landowner accepts their lame excuse, takes pity on them, shows compassion, and hires them.  He is gracious to the end, whether they deserve it or not.  Once again, he never indicates how much he will pay them.  He doesn’t even promise to pay them fairly.  He simply gives them something to do for an hour.
8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’
9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius.
            Imagine their surprise.   These shiftless workers had just won the lottery.   Even if we accept a more gracious reading of the story and suggest that these were able-bodied workers who really wanted to work and there simply wasn’t enough work for them, which seems unlikely in the context of Jesus’ teaching, this was still a windfall by any measure.

10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius.
11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner.
12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?
14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you.

Now imagine the surprise of the faithful.  Here they had put in a days work and received the promised pay.  In the Jewish world thanksgiving was for future provision, not for past compensation.  They are not thrilled that God has supplied all that they need for tomorrow.  They are grumbling because they feel cheated by today.

15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Kingdom Profit
Here then is the question.  If my purpose is to profit from my workers, why would I give them all the same pay?  The answer is that, for the Landowner in the story and for the God we serve, profit is not marked in dollars and cents.  Kingdom Economics 101: The God we serve marks profit in souls, not in cents.  And he will gather the hard working, he will gather the irreligious, he will gather those at rest, he will gather the idle and the indolent.  The God who is Pater Noster, God our Father will have us, as C.S. Lewis says,

“God is not proud...He will have us even though we have shown that we prefer everything else to Him.”

The bells ring.  God is faithful.  Come to Jesus at six.  Come to him at nine.  Come to him at three.  Come to him at five.  He will have you, because God counts profit in souls.