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  • By Mike "Doc" Emrick

    A message by Hockey Hall of Fame Announcer, Mike 'Doc' Emrick, based on Matthew 20: 1-16. Preached in his home church, First United Methodist, St. Clair, Michigan

    Mike Ilitch does not own a vineyard.  He DOES own a pizza empire, the Detroit Tigers, and the Detroit Red Wings. The last time his hockey team won the Stanley Cup was 7 seasons ago.  The players opened training camp in September and won the championship in June. That year, in February, a player named Brad Stuart joined the workforce in a trade with Los Angeles. When the playoff money was divided up, everyone got the same amount.  Even Brad.  And, no one on the team complained.

    The vineyard owner in the passage, Matthew 20:1-16, had a different experience with HIS workforce, especially those working the longest.  Their gripe?  WE did more and THEY got the same we did. We human beings have this almost instinctive notion that life should be fair. It sure didn't seem fair to the 12-hour workers in the vineyard. And, as we  just read in Job chapter 30, it didn't seem fair to Job.  At the height of his frustration, we heard him complain to God, "when I pray, you pay no attention.  You are treating me cruelly, you persecute me with all of your power." That was Job in Chapter 30.  In Job, Chapter 42--the last chapter--Job learned that God was in the process all the way.

    Yet, there are those moments when there is that nudging of human nature...that we should have a better deal--because WE did more than THEY did.

    My first boss in radio was a big, bombastic man. He was not known by any of us as a Christian. When he died from cancer, the family asked that I speak at the funeral. Before the service began, I spoke with the minister in charge.  "Did you know my boss?," I asked.

    "I sure did," he replied.  "Did he know the Lord?"
    "He was a very unconventional Christian," he chuckled.  "But, at the end, he did."

    That made me feel good--so good that I included this salvation fact in my remarks. The looks I got back from some of the 150 in attendance could best be described as shock--and disdain. These looks seemed to say, "wait a minute...for years, we've sung in the choir, served as ushers, taught the Sunday School classes, served on committees, and kept the church functioning...and this guy, lying on his back with meds dripping into his system--becomes a believer--and he gets in? He gets in.  The same silver coin.

    Our human comparisons are there--and they are not new. 2000 years ago, you heard THIS one read earlier too, from Luke 9:46-48..that the disciples got into an argument.  "An argument about which one of them was the greatest."  Jesus had to step in. They were behaving like the workers in the vineyard...and well-dressed Hoosiers at a funeral. Comparisons can go the other way, too.

    Over the 50 years since I began broadcasting, I have met some memorable people.  One of them, a devout human being, was adopted as a 6-week old baby by a couple in Ohio. At 2 years, he had a mysterious illness.  The doctor told the parents the child would live maybe six months. The parents kept looking for help.  The search took them to Boston Children's Hospital where they heard the words anxious parents dream of: "We've seen this before.  Proper nutrition and exercise and he'll be okay." So, they began the exercise part by taking him to a nearby ice rink.

    What followed?

    A total of 8 national and international championships and a gold medal in Olympic figure skating. And then cancer. And after that, a brain tumor. But, now, he is fine...a walking, enthusiastic, hilarious disciple named Scott Hamilton. We DID have a discussion about the trials of Job. By comparison, how can most of us possibly be in the same league as Scott?  I know how I see it--I feel lucky.  By comparison, a one-hour worker who still gets paid. Fortunately, for us, our human standards of fairness and how we stack up don't register with God.

    You remember this parable began..."The Kingdom of Heaven is like this..."  And, you long ago figured out that the vineyard owner is God and the workers are the rest of us. The parable isn't about grapes.  It's about grace. God is gracious to Billy Graham who recently turned 96.  He made a choice at 16.   A believer for 80 years. God is gracious to a certain thief, hanging on a cross 20 centuries ago, who received paradise very close to drawing his last breath. God is gracious to us.  We did not earn this forever gift.

    So what do we do?

    Well, we are thankful that God is generous and forgiving and welcoming beyond our wildest imagination. And, so we come up these sidewalks to worship him, to express thanks, to sing songs of praise as we have done this morning.

    But what else?

    The story goes, they were a family of 3--the young father Joseph, the young mother Rebecca, and the 5-year-old daughter Elizabeth.  They were poor.  Joseph did not have regular work. Late afternoon had become evening, and Joseph was not home.  He had gone out early to look for work.  Rebecca was worried.  "Has something happened," she wondered "or is he ashamed to come home empty handed again?" Little Elizabeth broke the silence asking, "Mama, where is Daddy?  Why hasn't he come home yet?  Is he bringing us something to eat?  I'm hungry Mama." Just then the door burst open.  Joseph.  Big smile.  "Hello, Little Liz.  Hello, Rebecca.  Prepare the table.  We have a feast.  Look, I have bread and cheese, I have figs, and for the two women in my life--I have a little bit of honey." He continued.  "The most amazing day.  I was standing in the marketplace waiting for someone to hire me.  It was getting late and many had given up.  I just couldn't come home empty handed again." "Around the 11th hour, a man came up and asked why we weren't working.  I said 'no one hired us.' and he said, 'come with me.  There's work in the vineyard.'" "It seemed to me that even a few pennies would be better than nothing.  So I worked an hour." "And here's the best part!  At the end of the day, the landowner came, he paid us first, and I got a full day's wage--a silver coin.  What generosity!" "I couldn't wait to get home and spread this feast.  And I hope its all right, I remembered the widow Sarah who just lost her husband and had so little, so I stopped by and left her some of the bread and cheese." And then the family of 3 gave thanks.  I believe I mentioned they were poor--so to speak. What generosity!  And coming with the territory of the gift...as Joseph did...sharing the gift.

    How do we share?

    First, BEFORE we leave here.  This is a place we can easily take for granted.  Ministries to us, to the youth, ministries of music--offered by people who care very much about the quality of the work they do.  How can we do less than support them with our encouragement and our gifts? But, then there comes the time to leave here--to go back down those sidewalks to a world that cannot be confused with heaven.

    How do we share with the world outside these Gothic walls?

    In one of Paul's letters to Timothy (1 Tim. 4:12), he says, "to be an example in speech...conduct...love...faith...and purity."  Be an example. It was St. Francis of Assisi who said, "the deeds you do may be the only sermon some persons will hear." He also said..."preach the gospel at all times and when necessary, use words." To me, inside this place, it seems important to mention something one more time. When we wonder how on earth we can make a difference...even if we are very ill, how can we have a witness...and then we remember one of our number--Bob Tassie--who despite an illness that claimed him from THIS life, was here even at the worst times, a smile on his face--a witness without words.

    The last words on this come from Jesus, Matthew, chapter 5..."your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven." Before we go, one last song of praise to our Father in heaven. 

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