Homily – Taking work (and liturgy) seriously

St. Matthew 21:33-42; 1 Corinthians 16:13-24

Stop what you are doing –
it’s time to work!


Work: A Homily for Labor Day Weekend

This week’s epistle reading is a wonderful reminder 
that no parish exists in isolation (any more than Christians exist in isolation), and that the bonds between our parishes should be strengthened and cherished. I strongly encourage everyone to visit other parishes, especially on their feast days and when you find yourself away from here on Sunday. Something special happens when we do this. You see it on the faces and in the joy of people who visit here: be that source of joy and encouragement to others when you travel!

In this week’s Gospel, Christ is warning the people to take their work seriously. In the parable, the landowner had grown weary of the way the vinedressers had misappropriated his vineyard and how they had treated his representatives. Now he had sent his own son to correct them. This was their last chance to repent of their behavior and see themselves as stewards and servants of God’s will – and of his son. The warning to the Jews was clear: they had ignored God’s instructions and they had ignored the corrections offered by the prophets. At the time of this Gospel proclamation, God had sent his own son. If they ignored him and his instructions – worse yet, if they killed him and tried to set themselves up in his place, not only would the vineyard finally be taken away from them, they would be punished according to the wickedness of their deeds.

But this warning was not just for the religious leaders of yesterday, it is a warning to us now as well. With this parable, Christ is reminding us of the terms of the contract when it comes to our own parish: he has not given us this parish. We do not own it to do with it as we want. He is simply leasing it to us. It is not ours by right, but by his own good will. And if we do not run things according to his desire, then we separate ourselves from his grace. He will send us warnings to get us back on track, but if we ignore those as well, he will find others to take our place and we ourselves will suffer according to own own wickedness.

I don’t want to take this metaphor too far, but in what way does God send his son to us to ensure that we are doing things according to his will? There are at least three ways:

Wherever two or more are gathered in his name, he is there (St. Matthew 18:20). His spirit guides those who work in his name. The leaders of this parish are given a blessing to manifest his will in a special way, but this is something that we are all called to participate in. Because God’s son is in and amongst us, we monitor and police ourselves.

He sends us sojourners, people in need of a home, people in need of spiritual food and drink, people in need of love. Whatever we do for “the least of these”, we do for him as well (St. Matthew 25:40). These are a continual check on our management of this parish.

He is manifested most clearly in his living Body and Blood at the Holy Eucharist. The way we approach this mystery demonstrates our love of Christ and service to His Father.

So, in the light of today’s parable, we have to ask ourselves, how are we doing? Have we done what the vinedressers did; have we thought of this parish as our own? How have we treated those he has sent us to instruct us? How have we treated him as he manifests himself among us? Is everything we do here done to glorify him and and spread the good news of salvation through his son?

On this Labor Day weekend, let us rededicate ourselves to Christ and his work. We know what happens outside these doors when people refuse to work. What it does to their own souls, what it does to our economy, and what it does to our culture. And please don’t misunderstand me, I am not talking about official unemployment – many of the supposedly “unemployed” work really hard and many people who are drawing a paycheck are complete shirkers. The simple fact is that when people outside these doors refuse to work, everyone is affected.

How much more true is that of what happens inside these doors, in the life of the church. We are the body of Christ in this world. We are called to do his work, to transform the world according to his will. When we refuse to work, when we shirk our duties, everyone is affected. It is too bad that we think of Sunday as a day off – it isn’t. It is the culmination of all we do. The work we do here is so important that we are forbidden to do any other work on this day.

We call what we do together the “liturgy”; this literally means “the work of the people.” Why do we so often treat this work as if it were unimportant? People who would never dream of showing up late to their jobs – much less skipping it entirely – think very little of doing this very same on Sunday. We know better; it isn’t right.

Outside these doors, very few people have the kind of jobs that allow them to see how much their efforts contribute to the health of our society; for people like farmers and nurses, the contribution is obvious, but for others it is much more abstract. I want you to know that what you do here, what we all do here together, is making a real difference. The changes Christ is making to this world through his church are profound. Occasionally we get to see glimpses.

You can see it in the healing that goes on among those of us who have been hurt (the example of the recently widowed priest in our community, a man who is struggling with the most profound grief and heartache, but who even know – at this very moment – is being healed through his service to the Church); you can see it in the joy that the we share when we gather and fellowship together; you can see it in the awe that grows among us during our celebrations; you can see it in the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation that is practiced through confession here; and you can see it in our communal participation in Christ’s Body and Blood.

Let me leave you with one final thought: Virtuous people do not work to make money or because they enjoy their jobs (although this is welcome when it comes). They work because they are good and work is what good people do. The Liturgy on Sunday and Feast days is this kind of work. It is what good people do. It is what God’s people do. When people “out there” work, they become better and the economy and the culture flourish. This is good, but it is a pale reflection of what happens here. Because the work we do here is done in Christ, we don’t just become better – we are perfected; and through this labor, the world doesn’t just flourish – it is recreated in Glory.

Let’s rededicate ourselves to Christ and his work.


  1. You made some good points there. I did a search on the topic and found most people will agree with your blog.

  2. I liked what you said about how we don’t own this vineyard, or this world, or the parish. Thank you for your statement. What a beautiful ending: recreation. I’ll be back.


  1. […] We begin this podcast with a talk about Taking Work Seriously. […]