September 20, 2020
‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the market-place; and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.” When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the labourers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.” When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’
In our home, there are a lot of small portions of food. It’s not that Eric and I are miserly with our meals. Somewhere along the way of growing up, I picked up a behavior that one of my friends called “taking a Presbyterian serving.” Not wanting to eat the last of a casserole, a cake at a potluck, a Presbyterian serving is leaving, just a bit, for someone else who might come after you. The results can get pretty ridiculous, fairly quickly. A healthy slice of apple cake is cut in half, and then later that is cut in half again, and so on, eventually leaving a paper thin slice that looks like someone took a woodworking plane to create this serving. Instead of just finishing something, and enjoying it, there is a deep sense of not wanting to deprive someone else, as if this is the last package of hummus we will ever purchase, or I couldn’t possibly have the last roasted Brussel sprouts. It’s become a joke in our home, and Eric and I, to preclude this particular quirk of mine, often tell the other “I’ve left the rest for you,” now with an actual serving remaining.
Jesus doesn’t seem all that interested in Presbyterian Servings of wages, God’s love and grace, and, given his reputation for being a bit of a glutton, someone quite found of enjoying wine with unlikely dinner company, with food and drink. Instead, God incarnate leans into people getting their fill. Receiving enough to be satisfied. Yet, in the parables he speaks, in the conversations he has, folks are often incredulous about what is offered to them and others. The Good Gifts of the Holy One are often met with disappointment in Jesus’ telling.
For example, in our parable this morning, the laborers who have worked the entire day aren’t too thrilled that they are getting paid the same amount as those who only worked part of the day, and those who worked hardly at all, who were still searching for a day’s work as the shadows began to lengthen. We don’t know in the world of this parable if the fight for 15 has been one, if the daily wage is a livable wage, but given that the boss of the story talks about being generous, let’s assume that it’s a healthy days wages. It’s not extravagant, but it is enough. It honors the person receiving it, not because of what they produce, but honors that they are a beloved child of God, they are a human being of immeasurable worth, and so the wage is enough. This parable is a vision of how the world should be; people are able to survive off what is offered as a daily wage.
One of the ways though we find ourselves being unsatisfied is predictably irrational, as my Mentor Ken would say, quoting the Behavioral Economist Dan Ariely. When we receive something, be it a gift, our pay, a slice of cake, we can enjoy it immensely, and be satisfied. But if someone else receives more than we do, even if what we have been given is delightful, satisfies our needs, makes us full, it suddenly doesn’t when we compare it to what someone else gets. Spend some time around young children. If someone gets more, its suddenly not fair, even if they have enough toys, enough pizza, as much juice as they could possibly drink. We can make ourselves miserable when we compare what we get to others. Which makes a whole lot of sense actually in our world. Our capitalist society, as much as we have tried to mold it into something more human and ethical, really is out to get us. Our best interest is usually not at the heart of what is paid to workers; usually it’s for the best interest of the shareholders, or the taxpayer, the granting organization or the donors feeling like others have been productive with an amount of resources that actually isn’t sufficient, and leads to very real social and human harm. So, to push back, we compare our wages, what we get, to see if it is enough. If we don’t know what we need, how can we make sure we’re getting it? We rely on the wisdom of the group. We compare. Which is a nifty shortcut to figuring out what we need, it’s just that it’s not usually pretty accurate, and there is always, inevitably someone else getting more. This can lead to a sense of scarcity, which for many of us, is terrifying. If you’ve ever experienced truly not having enough food, or shelter, or financial resources, even the suggestion that you might not have received enough can put you right back in the experience of when you were hungry, or experiencing homeless, or when your debts, just from trying to survive, were too much.
Comparing what we receive can lead to a fair amount of jealousy. But this story actually isn’t about some getting more, and some getting less. Everyone gets the same wage, no matter when they started working that day. The person hiring is generous, makes sure everyone gets enough, a full day’s wages. The folks who have worked the entire day, they want to know that they’re valued, by seeing that they get more than someone else, but God’s not like that. We’re given what we most deeply need; love and hope, the Holy One’s claim on us that nothing can separate us from. Yet some of us experience the work of the Holy Spirit on us longer than others. Some of our journeys are more painful than some people we see around us. Their sense of peace, the gifts of the Spirit they receive, the blessings of being part of a family of faith, it can seem unfair how quickly they come to them when we’ve been at it for years. But God’s care and love, and the care and love of our Church family, it’s not something you earn. It’s a gift freely given. Sure, there are responsibilities, ways to respond from a place of gratitude, but you can’t earn love. But it sure feels like that’s the way it would be, doesn’t it?
The problem with comparisons, is that they come from a scarcity mindset. That there’s only so much to go around. Be it love, compassion, justice, wholeness, economic and physical resources, scarcity makes us think that we can’t possibly all get what we need, so the next best thing is to make sure I have just a little bit more than you, even if I don’t really need it. And there’s a shadow side to these kinds of comparisons; for some of us, when we face a situation where we don’t think there’s enough, even if there is, we decide that the best way to move the world a little closer to how it should be, we decide to go without. This deeply broken system, that’s what leads to the paper-thin slices of cake in Eric and my house. When Eric and I met, I was so poor. I was an AmeriCorps member, living off a stipend, eligible for food stamps, working as a Pastor as well to pay for my housing. And yet, when it was just me, it felt like there was enough, most of the time. When we started dating and living together though, we both went without to get by; waiting to buy new clothes, fretting over if we could afford to order a pizza, scrimping to make ends meet. We both sacrificed for the other. We’d cook and inevitably whoever was dishing up the plates, would give the other just a little bit more, pour the last bit of wine into the others glass.
Beloved, in our lives right now it can feel like there’s not enough to go around; not enough love, not enough grace, not enough justice, for you to get what you need. We can slip into the idea that, if we receive the love of God, someone else is doing without. If we’re leaning on this community to stay stable, then someone else is being left behind. If we reach out for support or prayer or fellowship, someone else won’t get it. But that’s just not true. This community is generous. Leigh and I, and our Elders and the Ministry Coordination Team, we have enough. Enough of us, and the Holy Spirit’s grace, to love one another, and our world. But we can only offer the good gifts of God that you have placed into our trust, if you come forward, if we know what you need. And we can only ask for what we need, if we quiet ourselves, the chaos of our inner lives, and let the Holy One calm the chaotic waters, and listen for the voice of Jesus saying “This is the way; walk in it.” I invite you this week to be open to receiving enough, so you can ask for what you need from this community. Maybe it’s a conversation on the phone, or on your stoop, walking around your neighborhood or retirement community, even socially distanced at the Church Grounds, or in my backyard.
Look, we’re going to be in an odd place for a long-time folks. From what we’re hearing from the Coronavirus Taskforce, it will likely be a year until we will be at a point where folks are finished being vaccinated, and we don’t know how long after that it will actually be safe to be together like we used to. The reality is, every one of us needs something right now. And sometimes, what we need is to be generous and gift others with our leadership and presence. Maybe this is your invitation to be generous with what you have; your creativity, your ability to get folks together.
You are loved, and one of the greatest ways to live out our faith, even when we can barely believe it, is to reach out and risk being loved. These days are HARD. I have days I can barely get going, the anxiety of this moment is so thick with dread. And yet, I have found with you all, when I share that I’m feeling like it’s too much, or risking to lead, there is more than enough love and grace to knit me back together. There is enough. You are more than enough, deserving of love. You are invited to reach out to Leigh or myself if you’re lonely, if you might be thinking now is the time to pray with someone or share about what’s going on. Maybe you’re finding yourself full of hope, and courage, and passion, and could use a little push to make a change or engage in our world how the Spirit is prompting you. God’s big enough, the arms of this community are wide enough, for you to experience your own worth. I love each and every one of you, and we’re going to get through the chaos of our national trauma, and this pandemic, this economic depression, each other’s illnesses and grief, only if we risk coming forward to experience grace and love and community. So have a slice of cake that’s as big as you need God’s grace for you to be. There is always enough love and grace. There will be enough joy and fellowship and love and laughter, tears and support and prayer for each and every one of us, if we step forward. In the Name of the Author of Life, the Revolutionary of Love, and the Spirit of Empowering Grace, Amen.