The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams
I remember when I was being interviewed for graduate jobs in Engineering. I had thought through and planned my answers to all the predictable questions. Ways of demonstrating that I had the skills they were looking for, without the most obvious sources of experience. Team working being demonstrated through sporting - rowing - that was the obvious one. But I also remember enthusiastically explaining how giving tours during a summer holiday was an example of how I could communicate and even respond to those to whom I was presenting.
In fact, having different skills and backgrounds. Different perspectives, is good for business. Airbus took that view on it’s European approach. At its best the different nationalities represented brought greater creativity and better solutions.
Team St John’s certainly benefits from the diversity this congregation and the community we live among. Starting from the breadth of people we have in the office allowing us to better connect with the variety of people sat in the seats in front of me. People from all walks of life working together, welcoming others in, offering hospitality, supporting our worship with music, leading processions, offering governance and oversight, teaching and inspiring our children and just being with each other. Where else would you see secondary school students working alongside bakers and bankers? Or octogenarians sitting alongside primary school children they aren’t related to.
Last week we were reminded by Peter Murphy about how St John’s has in it’s blood a love for the whole community. He talked of the incarnational gospel which Cuthbert Scott worked from - that is a recognising that Christ was incarnate - God made man - and so all of creation is worthy of God. That incarnational Gospel, drives the church to cherishes the world around it - the horses, local business, everything going on in this place.
It’s a cliche to say that the Church needs to learn from business. To say the church is out of touch, wasteful, inefficient, rudderless. But then part of the problem is that the Church isn’t always good at communicating what it has to offer to the world.
Back at Airbus, doing Business and Management training, I did a group project where we advised the business that to tackle attrition of staff it should make its variable pay and its pay rises transparent, so people will feel valued for the work they do when they see where their rewards fit into the spectrum. It would also challenge and force the individual managers to balance their own judgements on their staff, to make them more fair.
This morning’s Gospel seems to be a direct challenge on the principles behind my group’s recommendations. Jesus is telling of the Kingdom of Heaven being like a landowner who employs a number of people to go and work in his vineyard. He hires some in the morning, some in the mid-morning, some in the middle of the day, some in the middle of the afternoon, and even some in the late afternoon. When evening comes he pays them, in reverse order to when they started, and he gives them all the same pay. It might not be the best way to run a vineyard, but that is kind of the point - the Kingdom of Heaven isn’t meant to be a vineyard. The landowner employs the very transparency we recommended to Airbus about pay. But seemingly none of the fairness. Or does he. Because where business falls down, where the world goes wrong, is not that it values the work done by the person, but that we too often value a person purely by their work.
I’ve been struck again and again by how people tell me they come to St John’s for the sense of Community. For the sense that they can show up and be part of the community. Regardless of where they are from, or what they’ve done wrong, or what situation their life is in. If they are new, they will be welcomed in and introduced to people. If they are in need of support, they’ll find somebody at least willing to listen to their tale of woe.
And fundamental to that is not just that we are each welcomed in as part of that community, we actively welcome and include others. This isn't some 21st century re-imagining of how we can be church - being a community where all are welcomed, loved, cared for, regardless of who they are is embedded in the Good News Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel. It is fundamental to what Christ is, to who God is. Because even if we forget somebody’s name, even if we forget the contribution they have made to our community, even if we don’t appreciate their effort, even if we don’t really want to include the person on the other side of the aisle from us in our lives, even if we aren’t keen to love them, or to welcome them.
What we are reminded in today’s Gospel, as with the parable of the prodigal son, whose return is rejoiced at by his father, God values us each for who we are, God cherishes our flourishing, our living life to the full. God loves it when we access and use our creativity. But most of all We are loved because we are. We haven’t earned it. Others may be annoyed that I’m loved by God as much as they are, But we are all loved. And as a church, that is what we are called to do… To love one another so that anybody who walks through those doors will know it. they will know this is a community that loves one another, and that this is a community that will love them.