First Congregational Church
September 20, 2020
16th Sunday after Pentecost
“The Insidiousness of Assumption and Gumption”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
On the first day of school, the children brought gifts for their teacher. The orchard owner's daughter brought the teacher a basket of assorted apples. The florist's son brought the teacher a bouquet of flowers. The candy-store owner's daughter gave the teacher a pretty box of candy. Then the supermarket manager’s son brought up a big, heavy box. The teacher lifted it up and noticed that it was leaking a little bit... She touched a drop of the liquid with her finger and tasted it. "Is it lemonade?" she guessed. "No," the boy replied. She tasted another drop and asked, “Mountain Dew?” "No," said the little boy........... "It's a puppy!”....
The other day, I received a notice from iTunes that said - and I quote - “uTime utilities added a notice stating iOS devices will not sync with this version of uTime anymore.” First of all, I sort of understood the message: some software wasn’t going to work anymore. But I couldn’t remember what the software did: if I installed uTime on my computer, I had no clue as to why and when. So I Googled uTime, you know, because Google knows everything. And here’s what several sites seemed to concur.
“The utime() function sets the access and modification times of the file named by the path argument. If times is a null pointer, the access and modification times of the file are set to the current time.” Like many of you, I still have no clearer idea of what uTime is or does, so I guess I’ll just leave it where it is, until I hear something differently.
There’s a little of that “leave something alone until you hear differently” in our scripture passage, too. For the last many weeks, we’ve been hanging out in the book of Romans, but today, we go back to Matthew. The lectionary keeps us in Matthew, with one exception, between now and Thanksgiving.
I’m not sure who came up with the differentiations, but one of the key words in Matthew is “kingdom.” For Mark, it is “immediately,” Luke highlights “Son of Man,” and John centers around “believe.” When we hear this morning’s passage, we can - if we listen for it - get the idea of community and or kingdom.
Scripture Matthew 20:1-16
"For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. 3 "About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' 5 So they went.
6 "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?' 7 'Because no one has hired us,' they answered. "He said to them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard.'
8 "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.'
9 "The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius.
10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But
each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 '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.'
13 "But he answered one of them, 'Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?' 16 "So the last will be first, and the first will be last."
Thank you, Betty. I would venture a guess that this could be one of the least liked of Jesus’ parables, maybe for a variety of reasons. But the primary reason for dislike of it is directly related to the idea of fairness. That concept is so drilled in to us as we grow up. No - you don’t get two suckers while your brother doesn’t get any.
But the idea of fairness is not only a childhood issue at all. In fact, far from it. Think about some of the hot issues of our day and how they are related to fairness: racism, sexism, discriminations of all sorts, health care, all those issues grapple, in part, with fairness - regardless of any political associations.
It is so easy to put ourselves into the positions of the workers, and estimate our reaction. Watching the late-comers get paid first isn’t such a big deal, but as you begin to realize that you are going to get the same as what they received, indignation and even rage can begin to build up in you. Chances are that your indignation will last more than a couple days, too, potentially becoming a mountain of emotions because proportionally, the pay wasn’t equal.
If you are one of the last hired, your satisfaction holds great potential for not just glee, but gloating and jeering. Just about everyone appreciates a gift, but isn’t it easy for gifts to turn into expectations? In this vein, I got to thinking about gambling. First of all, don’t think this is a condemnation about gambling, but expectations. People should be able to decide what to do with their own money. But if I put one more quarter into the machine, maybe I could would get back more than the quarter, and then I’d at least be a little ahead. If I went to work late in the day, maybe tomorrow someone will hire me at the last hour, too, so I could make so much more with far less actual work. It’s a gamble that some might be willing to take, more because of the addiction of getting away with it, whatever it might be.
As long as the hypotheticals are flying around, we don’t know much about this vineyard owner. Was it possible that a freeze would take place soon, so getting the fruit in was more important than working out fairness issues. Maybe earlier weather hadn’t been great, so the lag of the growing season put the contracted grapes at risk of not seeing a deadline. The point of this story is not about fairness, autonomy or mitigating circumstances. None of those traits are necessarily becoming on anyone. Besides, this parable isn’t even about work.
Because the passage ends with the last being first and the first being last, it is possible to think that the parable is about eternal life. I’ve lived a good, honorable life, I’ve accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I can’t imagine that I’d be at the back of the line when Jesus comes again. But Joe Smith over there, even though he calls himself a Christian, I can’t imagine that when God’s kingdom fully arrives that Joe would be in the same line as myself or my friends. I would never speak it aloud, but I wouldn’t doubt that he’d be in the last car on heaven’s track.
Maybe this passage rubs us the wrong way precisely because it feels like a jealousy issue. I worked my tail off, going to school and working at the same time, and at the 40 year class reunion, the person who didn’t go to college or vocational school drives up in a snappy, little porshe, an expensive outfit with one a truly striking person on their arm. And here I am, overworked, under-appreciated, still paying down student debt, and my vacation time has been given over to relieving my sibling doing parent care.
I love the word for evil - insidious. All the s sounds can bring up the image of the snake in the story of The Jungle Book. The insidiousness of this passage is that it is so easy to miss the fact that it isn’t about any humans at all - but about God and God’s love, mercy, grace, forgiveness and all the other goodnesses of God.
God, as the bestower of grace, offers the same amount of grace to Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, Nelson Mandela, Moses, you and me. Leonardo da Vinci, Louis Pasteur, Albert Einstein, Rosa Parks, each one, same amount of grace and love to them from God. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, God’s grace and love for each of them was, is and always be the same. Hitler, Mussolini, Jeffry Domer - God’s love and grace for each of them is the same - regardless of what they have done in their lives. And some of those hearing these words may not like hearing them. Sometimes it’s not easy when God doesn’t play favorites.
So, then, what’s the point of aspiring to a good and noble life? For one thing, it’s so that you can put your head down at night and sleep the peace of having done your work for the day - well. At the end of the day, despite the injustices you may have been able to repair - or not, God still has the same love and grace for you. This continued love and grace is no reason to show up late to the tasks you have a to do. We all still need to love our neighbor as ourselves, still need to right any wrongs that remain standing, still need to do the best with what we’ve been given - because God has given each of us grace upon grace and love upon love, and asks only that we pay it along to the best of our ability.
As so often happens, Stephan Garnaas Holmes put it so strikingly. There is no such thing as deserving. None. No one is owed anything. One's work, behavior, virtue or sin is irrelevant. God loves each of us the same—infinitely—according to God's love, not our “deserving.”
God is free from our past: God's love isn't determined by what we've done. The devil wants you to fear that God doesn't really forgive, doesn't just plain love, but demands some kind of transaction, some making up for something, some reward or punishment, some quid pro quo. This is how Satan gets us to eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Oh, how smart we are.
Jesus will have none of it. And he rips at our assuming to measure. But everybody gets God's love, everybody the same.
Listen to your heart when I say that. Everybody gets God's love just the same. Everybody. Even you know who. What in you wants to say, “But….”? Is that God's voice… or something else? Why do you fight against the infinity of God's love? What is the fear, the hurt you hang onto? What if you were to let go, and let God love? What if there is no deserving, but only giving and receiving?
Let us pray. Grace-Giving and Love-Offering God, we acknowledge that we don’t always get things right in this part of life. So forgive us when we do those deliberate mis-takes. Help us to learn, instead, not to exhaust ourselves in praying for everything we want, but to give ourselves the gift of trusting your grace of enough. Give each of us faith to be grateful for enough and to let go of the rest. When we have more than enough, God, give us opportunities to give to those who may need more. Give us the depth of vision that can see the insidiousness of assuming and linking what we do with our worth. As we work with you in this, your kingdom, enable us to do so with the purest of hearts and intent and instincts, as all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.