The Dark Corner of the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16)

It was a dark time in my life at a certain point in the past. A time when pastoral ministry did not seem to be going well by certain commonly-used measurable standards. A parishioner visited with me to explain exactly how I was a loser and that I should please, please quit and go away. Even if I did not agree with the premise of the argument, it seemed like good advice; and I was glad to do it if only I had any conviction that God wanted me to go pick grapes somewhere else in the vineyard.

That same evening a very distant acquaintance emailed me with an invite to get together later that week, as he was passing through the area. Since he was a seminary prof, our breakfast talk turned to ministry and how it was going at the church. I told him of my recent meeting and said I was thinking maybe I should consider quitting … to which he simply replied, “Have you read my book?”

I did not know he had written a book, but he gave me a copy of it. The big idea metaphor was to talk about spiritually being on the “night shift.” The verbal picture was upon the graveyard shift that exists in many industries. Few people know or care that someone is there at that time, but it is important to the well-being of the organization. There is no glory or praise for those working it.

I worked the night shift in college for several evenings a week. My college was in downtown Philadelphia and I was a security guard who had to man the desk from 12:00 to 6:00 a.m., also making rounds every other hour throughout the building. I could go the entire evening, perhaps only ever seeing one other human being … like a homeless drunk who might be sleeping in the dumpster. I would have to rouse him and force him to move, out of fear the garage truck would pick him up and literally eat him. It was not a glorious job, but it had to be done by someone. The pay at that time was $1.80 per hour.

The premise of the book was to talk about how sometimes in ministry and life we get assigned to the night shift when serving the Lord. We are at corners of the vineyard that are largely unknown and underappreciated. And so are we when we work there. But if the master sends us to such a place, we must go and serve joyfully for the glory of the greater cause.

The past two days I have written about three things not to do when serving God: look at the rewards, be impressed with yourself, and compare yourself with other people and places. So positively today, here is the thing to do: Do look at Christ when serving God. Jesus is our model for serving others.

We should follow the model of Philippians 2, and not just see the great theology that is there, but rather to put the application of the context into practice …

make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Jesus was the ultimate servant who could justly feel despised and rejected. It was in a garden that he felt alone – on the night shift – and cried out to the Father. But he obeyed and humbled himself – to human form, death, the cross. The result was that God therefore God highly exalted him in due time.

So be quick to do anything, anywhere in service for the Lord. We should simply be glad we have been called to be a sheep (and sometimes shepherd) of the Lord’s pasture and a worker in his vineyard. Our first thought, even at down times, is to rejoice that we have been found and employed by the master of masters … thankful that he has called us to serve Him where He has chosen to place us – be it in the pressure-packed public arena of dealing with snipping and snapping sheep, or in a remote corner of the vineyard picking grapes where none see you and few know exists.

We can trust God with the ultimate rewards and recognition. This is the economy of grace.

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About Randy Buchman

I live in Western Maryland, and among my too many pursuits and hobbies, I regularly feed multiple hungry blogs. I played college baseball, coached championship cross country teams at Williamsport (MD) High School, and have been a sportswriter for various publications and online venues. My main profession is as the lead pastor of a church in Hagerstown called Tri-State Fellowship. And I'm active in Civil War history and work/serve at Antietam National Battlefield with the Antietam Battlefield Guides organization. Occasionally I sleep.

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