It's Not Fair

Sermon by Emma Swarbrick

Philippians 1:21-end

Matthew 20:1-16

It’s not fair!

How often have you heard that? I’m sure those of you who are parents have heard those three words countless times, and probably used them a lot when you were a child too – I know they were favourites of mine when I was younger.

  • It’s not fair – why does my brother get to go to bed later than me?

  • It’s not fair – why can’t I go to the party?

  • It’s not fair – my friends are allowed chocolate before bedtime.

It’s not fair!

It’s not fair usually means “Why can’t I have my own way?!” But as you and I know, it was totally fair for my brother to stay up longer than me – he was older! It was totally fair that I couldn’t go to the party – it would finish way past my bedtime, besides which it was a party for grown-ups and I would be bored witless. It was completely reasonable that I wasn’t allowed chocolate before bedtime – my parents were caring for my health.

It wouldn’t have been in my interest to have had what I was sure I deserved.

The workers in the vineyard in today’s parable object to the injustice of the situation – it is so unfair! Why should they be paid the same wage for working a whole day as those who barely worked an hour? It seems like a reasonable complaint doesn’t it – I don’t think I would be too chuffed for getting paid the same as someone else when I’d done ten times the amount of work! But of course it is totally fair. The workers were paid the same wage that they agreed before their work began! They can hardly argue with that, even if the employer is employing a rather peculiar pay scale.

Life can seem so unfair can’t it? There are times when we just can’t understand why life has handed us lemons; everything seems to go pear shaped and we cannot understand why. We have been hearing from Elizabeth this morning, who is amongst people on a daily basis for whom life has very definitely handed out lemons; people who have every right to ask, “Why me?” and to declare “Life is so unfair.” And I expect there will be moments when Elizabeth can only say, “You’re right, it doesn’t seem fair, does it?” We give thanks for Elizabeth and for those in such demanding, caring jobs who walk alongside people at the darkest times in their life and at life’s end. When life seems least fair, we are thankful that there are people who are able to lighten that burden and make those situations a little easier to bear. Next Friday, Angela Crook is hosting a Macmillan coffee morning in the hall. Macmillan do an amazing job, supporting those who have had a cancer diagnosis and their families and friends, raising money and enabling people to talk about cancer. We give thanks for them because Macmillan are there to make the situation a little easier to bear for those going through some really dark days, when life seems really unfair.

For us, end of life can be a really frightening time. We worry not only about what will lie before us, but also about what we will leave behind. For Paul, in this morning’s first reading, the end of life doesn’t seem quite so scary. In one of the more familiar sentences from this reading, and also a pretty strange one, Paul says, “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.” Neither living nor dying were frightening for him, both were a gift to be cherished, in fact he seems strangely quite torn about which he would rather have! We might read that and think, “How ridiculous!” or even, “How insensitive!” but yet how amazing would it be to be with Jesus? I think there is great joy in the hope of meeting Jesus and even looking forward to that moment. Just as Paul was looking forward to being with Christ, even as we live and breathe and enjoy life on earth, we too can look forward to being with Jesus.

In the meantime, as we walk this earth, let us “live our lives in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” as Paul instructs the Philippians, by “standing firm in one spirit”, “striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel” and “not being intimidated by our opponents”. When life is unfair, take courage. When life is unfair, stand firm. And as we stand firm, we stand together, we help each other, we share encouragement. Fortunately, life tends not to throw us all lemons all at the same time, so when we are going through tough times we can rely on our friends to help hold us up. And when our friends are going through tough times, we can be the ones supporting. Supporting each other is to be community and we are called to be community together. I know that our community here at Christ Church is strong and I have felt supported when I have found things tough. I am confident that the same is true for many of us here this morning. As a shared community of believers, as well as offering practical support, we can pray for one another and know that we are being prayed for. God hears our prayers and he longs for us to draw closer to him and share with him our fears and our hopes.

Life can seem pretty unfair. But like in Jesus’ parable of the labourers in the vineyard, we must trust in the landowner. The kingdom of heaven is like this: God is generous. Our very life is a great gift to be cherished. We cannot compare our lot with one another, but give thanks for the generosity of the life we have been given.

When children complain that “It’s just not fair”, in the most part it really is fair. When a teacher gives one child a little money for toast because they haven’t had any breakfast, to another child that might seem unfair, but to an adult it seems like compassion. As that child grows up, they will see that they were treated with great fairness after all.

In our lives, things can seem unfair. But now we see life only through the lens of living on this earth. Maybe one day we will be able to see with a heavenly perspective, that the last will be first, and the first will be last. And in the meantime, let us live and work with great love and compassion, making the most of the great gift of life that God has given us.

Amen.

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