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Archive for September, 2011

This post is from the message I was privileged to share this past Sunday at Koinonia’s gathered worship service. Every Sunday evening, we share communion and a meal, followed by a simple worship service based on the lectionary readings for that week. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Matthew 20:1-16
Parable of the vineyard workers

1  “For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work.
3 “At nine o’clock in the morning he was passing through the marketplace and saw some people standing around doing nothing. 4 So he hired them, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day. 5 So they went to work in the vineyard. At noon and again at three o’clock he did the same thing.
6 “At five o’clock that afternoon he was in town again and saw some more people standing around. He asked them, ‘Why haven’t you been working today?’
7 “They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’
“The landowner told them, ‘Then go out and join the others in my vineyard.’
8 “That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first. 9 When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage. 10 When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. 11 When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, 12 ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’
13 “He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? 14 Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. 15 Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?’
16 “So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.”

This parable is well-known, and we might hesitate to admit that we probably remember it because it rubs us the wrong way. Our American culture is built around the premise that you earn your way to the top. “The early bird gets the worm,” so to speak. It’s been ingrained in us from a young age that if you work harder, your reward will be greater.

Especially now, in an era where we’ve grown used to systems of welfare and government assistance, there might be a sense of self-righteous indignation when we perceive that anyone else is getting something for nothing. Sayings like “there’s no free lunch” are part of our vernacular, and we just come to accept it as fact. Just last week it was suggested in a mainstream political debate that when those without health insurance are faced with catastrophic illness or injury, perhaps we should let them die rather than cough up the tax dollars to give them a chance. The audience cheered at this suggestion, an audience full of people who claim to be Christians, people who claim they hold upstanding values when it comes to fairness and justice.

I found a re-write of the Lord’s Prayer on one website where this passage was being discussed:

Our Father who art no longer powerful,
your name is very ordinary.
Thy Kingdom come, but only in heaven,
cause we’ve got it all taken care of here on earth.
Give us this day our daily bread
cause we have worked long and hard for it.
Forgive us our sins regardless of whether we forgive others;
after all, it’s your fault we are tempted.
Deliver us into evil cause that’s what we like most.
For ours is the kingdom, the power,
and we should get all the glory. Amen.

It seemed comical at first, then a bit shocking. How many times have I thought these things? How frequently do I take control into my own hands, then want extra credit for everything I’ve accomplished? How many times have I cast God aside, then forgotten to call on him in times of trial, then blamed him for my circumstances? How many times have I purposely chosen evil, then wondered why my life is so hard with me in the throne? Certainly I don’t think it’s right to leave people for dead when they can’t afford insurance, but I confess that the idea of working all day only to be paid the same wage as someone who worked only one hour at the same job in the same location really bothers me.

These thoughts of entitlement, of fairness and supposed “justice” are products of the Confuser’s work in my life. The enemy is using these to distract me from the beautiful message waiting in this parable. (By the way, we must remind ourselves that a parable is an allegory, a story that is meant to draw comparisons, not something to be taken literally.)

The workers in this story are meant to represent the church. Some are born into this world as kingdom workers; they are raised in the church, they live all their lives with the church, and they die in the church. Others leave or are never involved in the first place. They live worldly lives, filled with sin and depravity. Then there are all those in between, the ones who hang around church but don’t do much outside of Sunday morning. Those who rarely or never go to church, but lead fairly moral lives. And everyone else that falls somewhere among all the extremes.

What this parable tells us is that everyone has an equal chance to enjoy the rewards of answering God’s call. We might hear the call first thing in the morning. Or we might show up late and so be called an hour before closing time. But it is God who calls us to receive his rewards, and God who decides what each of us will receive. The kingdom of God is the antithesis of the American dream. The kingdom is upside-down, a place where the last to come are the first to be rewarded, a kingdom where we are to be mature and child-like all at once, a kingdom where all are welcome because there is no such thing as status or self-importance.

The landowner in this story shows us what God’s grace is truly about. We read it as earnings for a day of labor. But the way I’ve come to see it, the day represents a lifetime, and the payment is salvation. There’s no greater reward than salvation. One cannot be “more saved” than another. As we live out Koinonia’s calling to be a demonstration plot for the kingdom, may we always remember that we have already been hired at the vineyard, some of us earlier in the “day” than others. Let’s invite the late-comers in, and let’s continue to challenge one another to answer God’s call, so that we will not be embittered when the last become first. Let’s rejoice when the rewards are issued, and receive our places in God’s eternal kingdom.

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Never Too Late

September 1, 2011

Exhaustion set in upon waking. I ignored its demands. Discipline took its place. Or maybe it was merely obstinance, stubborn determination to prove something to someone I’ve yet to meet, that set me to task with the daily routines.

I was brave today, or at least I told myself not to be afraid. I spoke of gratitude and vision, and prayed with deep conviction. Even so, by the time the dinner bell was rung I had already begun to unravel.

Tried to rest before it was too late, to no avail. As my family slumbers, I’m still waking, still wondering, still pondering and figuring. Answers hang before the wrong questions, and the hopeful horizon fades just out of view.

I try to stop caring, but I answered the call to compassion when I was yet a child without words. No one knew my open heart might need protection. The healing has begun, but I am still revealing painful scars.

These two spirits, entrusted to me, stir up all the dregs of my past. Have I ruined them already, I wonder? Is it simply too late? “Never too late,” I can hear my mother’s words, “It’s never too late to become a better parent.”

***  ***  ***

My oldest daughter will turn 7 in a week. I have to laugh at myself, or at least smile a little, at the pressure I feel to offer my daughters a perfect childhood. The truth is, there is more yelling and chaos in our lives that I ever dreamed I would allow. I’m struggling to let go of the wounds uncovered while I parent my children through the lens of my own dysfunctional upbringing. My parents loved us and provided us with the best they had to offer, but there was a lot of pain and insecurity woven throughout my developmental years.

My parents began their this leg of their journey into healing when I was still in high school. They visited counselors, attended workshops, and today they are marriage mentors, transforming their past hurts into hope for so many others. Now I am in my 30’s, and just a couple of years ago my mother and father attended a parenting workshop at their church. Some of their friends wondered why, since they were about to become empty-nesters after my youngest sister moved out a year later. That was when my mother asserted that it’s never too late. I’m so grateful for their example, and for their commitment to growing in the Spirit. If they are still healing, then there’s hope for the rest of us yet.

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