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12th August 2001

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Scripture Reference

Matthew 20:1-16

All of the old hymnbooks included hymns about work. Such as "Work for time is flying, work with hearts sin-cere" and "Work for the night is coming, work through the sunny noon, Fill brightest hours with labour, rest comes sure and soon." Our parents worked 48 hours a week, worked on Saturdays, planted vegetables in their garden, did everything by hand, walked to church three times a Sunday and sang "Work For the Night is coming." Today people work part time, half of us have our incomes provided by the Government, we drive everywhere, go to church only occasionally, watch much television and sing, "Art Thou weary, art thou languid." It seems that our fathers and mothers were not afraid to work, but we are more concerned about conditions and quality time. Perhaps the old Protestant Work Ethic, which built empires and civilizations, is dying. 

At Wesley Mission we are concerned that all who want to work are adequately skilled and enabled to get work. To help people get into jobs we employ 350 staff in 70 sites, use more than 50 cars, have over 400 computers and spend annually $30 million to help the unemployed. Our results are dramatic. We have assisted this year over 25,000 individuals get into jobs or further training. Wesley Mission is also a leading trainer of people for work in the aged care, social welfare, creative arts, disabilities, childcare, homeless and many other industries. Many people think only of our training of counselors at Life Line, or the 1,500 students in School For Seniors, or our students at Wesley Institute For Ministry and the Arts, or our own staff training programs where every year over 1000 staff complete courses. 

But one of our most effectives areas of work is Wesley Learning and Development. This work has offices in 26 O'Connell St City and at Fairfield. We train people in literacy and numeracy, office administration, tourism sales, hospitality, childcare, horticulture, landscaping, nursing and many other courses. Our graduates move easily into the work force. Twenty who graduated this week, as assistants in nursing were all successful in gaining employment. This year we trained 118 people as assistants in nursing and 90% are employed. I have a vision of Wesley Mission Sydney training people for all Uniting Church aged care centres and Synod offices throughout Australia. Our work alone has quality accreditation and a takeup rate that is among the best in the nation, which places us ahead of every other church training program. 

We earn income by training at commercial rates, staff from some of Australia's most prestigious employers. We are the national trainers for staff for Swiss Air and Down Town Duty Free. Our manager Joanna Halioris, recently won a $95,000 contract to extend training programs among urban indigenous people. Her training programs of Aboriginal childcarers were remarkably successful. At a graduation in Wesley Centre I was deeply moved as I heard of these previously unemployed people tell of how they are now in demand. Our manager Kevin Bird in Nambucca Heads employs nine Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as full time employment consultants. We are the highest performer in assisting Aboriginal people obtain sustainable and long term, non-welfare based employment in Australia! We pray for jobs, and then help people get them!

There is a changing face to employment in Australia  more part time work, more women in the work force, more demand for skills, more concern about employee entitlements, longer working hours for executives, a shift from blue collar work to white collar work and so on. Manufacturing, agriculture and mining industries are declining, while service industries and information technology are increasing. Older people stay in employment longer. We help people into work. The best way to help people out of welfare dependency and low selfesteem is to train them and help them get jobs.

Last month there was a dramatic increase of 66,600 part time workers, and a fall of 79,200 full time jobs. This doesn't mean that 79,200 full time workers were sacked and 66,600 part-time workers were hired. But rather the numbers of hours worked by staff have been reduced to where they are no longer full-time. The Australian unemployment rate is a steady 6.9% but more people worked part-time and more people worked longer hours. People in work, especially in senior positions are working much longer hours. Most executives work at least 60 hours a week. There is a changing face to work. In one of Jesus' most amazing parables He is as modern as the front page of tomorrow's "Daily Telegraph"! The Parable of the Vineyard does not sit easily with some of us. What Jesus teaches turns our normal reactions upside down. We have a strong sense of our own rights  watch what happens when a late comer wants to push in ahead of a queue, or a car rushes up on the closed inside lane and then tries to force in before the others at the tollgate. We believe first come, first served. We are shocked when someone suggests equal pay for unequal work but Jesus does! 

On a social level people need to work for the status, significance, satisfaction and income work provides. Un-employment has devastating consequences. The value of working, earning, saving and spending your own money is central to your sense of self-worth. Jesus saw the value of initiative and independence obtained by earning your way through life instead of depending upon others. 

Jesus believed everyone has a right to work. He worked as a carpenter to keep his widowed mother, four younger brothers and an unknown number of sisters in the home at Nazareth, from the time He was a teenager. Matt 13:55. He saw the unemployed hanging round the marketplace as they hang round shopping malls today. He knew the cancerous effects of idleness. But people need someone who will give them the opportunity to work. Jesus pictured God like a kindly owner of a vineyard: v1-7"For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the market place doing nothing. He told them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' So they went. "He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, 'Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?' "'Because no one has hired us,' they answered. "He said to them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard.'" Jesus taught that people had a right to work and a right to fair pay for their work.

Jesus believed everyone has a right to adequate pay. The owner negotiated with the first people employed to be paid the right rate for a full day's work. Then He insisted that everyone who worked be given a day's pay even if they had worked for much less. That is the standard practise today in many industries, where a person on call is paid regardless of the hours actually worked. "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.' "The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 'These men 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.' "But he answered one of them, 'Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?"' Of course they were envious!

At grape harvest, storms could ruin the crop; so everyone would be hired. The working hours are right, from dawn to sunset. The wage is right for a full day's unskilled labour. The unemployment background is right. The market place was the equivalent to attending a Job Centre. The payment of the labour force at the end of the day was normal, lest the workingman should go home with no money for the evening meal. (Dr Michael Green) 

This employer sees the one-hour workers would have not enough money for their evening meal. So he gives them what they need. God cares for the unemployed. He seeks them out. He wants them to have work. Jesus says people to have a right to work and to pay. We may be peeved that latecomers are also paid at the flat rate, but many unions now insist this is fair! 

On a spiritual level Jesus wants us to understand that being in the Kingdom of God - whether early arrivals or late - is solely because of the grace of God. "Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous? So the last will be first, and the first will be last." Jesus says there is no way any of us can enter the Kingdom of God by human merit. We enter the Kingdom of God by the sheer unmerited favour of God. Any good works we do, are responsive, grateful behaviour, appreciative of God's generosity. Paul put it clearly: "But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions??it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Eph 2:4-10. 

Everything depends upon God's grace. Our status in the church, our length of membership and long hours of toil in the heat of the day constitute no claim on God and are no reason why God should not be generous to others who have done less. In the light of history all of us are newcomers. Grace, amazing grace, is the heart of this story. All of us are equally undeserving of so large a blessing. All of us are equal in the Kingdom of God. No study we have done, no achievements we have obtained, no status we have accomplished makes us one bit more acceptable in the eyes of God. And no former sin, no previous wickedness, no earlier lapse, now repented of and forgiven, pushes us one inch away from Him. Grace! Amazing grace!

If you are an employer, God is your model. Treat your employees with equity. Ensure they get their entitlements. Pay them a just wage. Be generous. If you are unemployed, go to the market, the place you can get a job. Seek a Wesley Employment consultant who, without charge, will help you. Go to work, even it is not your first preference. Go to work even if it is part time. Then work honestly. God rewards and blesses us on the basis of our motives, desires, spirit, attitude, love, faith and prayer in proportion to our capacity. None of us can claim we deserve to be in His Kingdom. There is no room for pride, for peevishness or jealousy of others. Our relationship with God is based upon the quality of our relationship with Him not the quantity of it. That is good news! Jesus is so practical and yet so absolutely fundamental. Get right with God in a changing world, and let Him change you!

Rev Dr Gordon Moyes


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