Tell Us Who You Are
John tells us Jesus is walking around the Temple. A group notices he’s there and approach him. And ask him directly if he is the Messiah, the one who would be sent by God to save and rescue Israel from their oppressors. It’s a simple yes, no question. Jesus doesn’t make it easy for them. Instead he said, “You’ve seen what I do. And yet you don’t believe.” And they can’t believe because they are not a part of his flock.
Years ago, I gave a sermon on Jesus calling himself the Good Shepherd, which is at the beginning of John 10. After service someone who owned sheep told me the only way he could get his flock into their pen for the night was to sing to them.
His sheep knew his voice and trusted he had their best interest at heart. They did not fear him because they had a relationship with him. But only if he sang to them would they follow. Similarly, I think Jesus is telling us that it’s in both the hearing and doing that unites the sheep with the shepherd.
Like my friends sheep, Jesus’ followers know and trust him, not because they have gone through any rational, or intellectual discernment, but because they’ve watched and witnessed the care he gives.
But the ones who challenge him – whose vision of the Messiah is based on trivial power and not sacrificial love – are unable to see the truth right in front of their eyes. They are too busy maintaining the status quo of the Temple instead of being what the Temple represents. The presence of God in the world. They are blind to who Jesus is because they are unable to see that Jesus is a perfect embodiment of God’s character. He and God are one because they share the same vision of life.
watch the message here
Everywhere Jesus goes, and every time he opens his mouth to speak or his hands to help, he reveals who he is.
What does that say to you and me? How do people see you, or how mighty they come to know who you are?Jesus shows his true identity in the way he loves people, and cares to their needs. In the same way, God is calling us to follow Jesus…like a sheep follows the shepherd. Just as God works through Jesus, God also works through us, to bring healing and peace into a broken and hurting world.
Let us remember that the early church didn’t grow because of traditions, dogmas or creeds. It grew because the people were seeing and experiencing the living Lord in one another and receiving a new life that Paul described as “foolishness to the wise” (1 Cor. 1:27).
Those who have been healed and fed and cared for by Jesus have seen and know God on a much more intimate level. They have experienced God’s love through Christ and have been transformed in the process. Therefore it’s not shocking for them when Jesus declares, “the Father and I are one” because they’ve seen how Jesus shares aligns his life with the righteousness of God.
Gail O’Day said, “It is impossible to distinguish Jesus’ work from God’s, because Jesus shares fully in God’s work.” We must keep our eyes on Jesus because he shows us who God is and who God has called us all to be – the very character of God’s heavenly grace and salvation in this part of God’s kingdom.
To paraphrase Dallas Willard, the point of following Jesus isn’t just to secure a place in the kingdom of God after you die. It’s about how we live in God’s kingdom before we die.
Our Good Shepherd is calling us “follow him.” Which means we are called to follow the way he loves, forgives, heals, and blesses. When we live our life by walking in his footsteps, we stay on the path that leads us and others to God’s loving hands.
Jesus did this by going to the poor and visiting the prisoners. He did it by feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. He welcomed the stranger and delivered the oppressed. He touched the untouchable and forgave the unforgiveable. He served the least when no one else would and sacrificed himself for the salvation of all. This is what it means to follow him – to see what he does and do it so others can see God’s glory and do the same. For it’s in both the seeing and doing that unites the sheep with the shepherd. And us to God.
Christianity was not supposed to be a religion. It’s just a way of life. The way of the Christ. It’s the way we are called to live God’s righteousness in the world. So people can see God in their midst and find their piece and healing.
In his first letter to the churches John wrote, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us… God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them” (1 Jn 4:12, 16). Just as Jesus reminded those guys at the Temple, when you are in God nothing can snatch you away, not even death.
Jesus and God are one because they share one goal and one mission, one redemption and one salvation. This ought to be our goal as well. But let us not be like those who tried to trick Jesus or believe that we are the keepers of God’s righteousness. We are simply doers of it. Our job isn't to save people, but to lead them back to God.
But if I’ve learned anything it’s that people aren’t going to follow me if my actions don’t speak louder than my words. We have to show the world God’s love of them by being the love of God for them.
The face of kindness
It’s a post I saw on Facebook. Here’s a like to the article. A two minute read and worth every second. The moral: be kind because you...well, actually you should just read it.
If you cry, it’s okay. We don’t judge people here. Just love them, and learn.
If anything this weird lifelong quest of mine has led me to meet a lot of different kind of people. Some whom I’ve written about in this blog, like Daniel who was drumming in the park and had no problem taking a break from performing to the squirrels and trees to meet me. Or Amy and her son Owen who I met around a campfire at a hotel in Pismo Beach. Or Sage, who wants the world to know she is a really good listener. There have been so many more who have had to suffer through my intruding kindness. Each one different, and yet strangely the same. Over these years I learned a lot about human nature and myself. I would go so far as to say I’ve changed a little along the way, dare I say transformed. I’m not always so sure about that, but I have come into a new way of seeing and being.
There are days, even long stretches of time where I feel like nothing has changed and it’s all been a colossal waste of time. There are some people you meet that you hope you never run into again. Or people who are just not that into making your day a good one. Those kind of people make me want to throw in the towel and crawl into my own little world. But then I meet someone, that Daniel or Amy or Sage are engaging the divine in me as I search for and welcome the divine in them. It’s in those moments I am reminded how far I’ve come. Practice makes perfect they say. I have yet to reach that goal. But if my practicing Christ-like hospitality has done anything for me, it is that it has kept me from being an asshole a majority of the time.
In those moments where between being present in and forgetting my goal, I both wander and wonder if I‘m in this place because I’m lazy or rebellious, or if because what I am has become so habitual that I don’t actually know I’m doing it. I am hoping the latter but I suspect it’s a little of both.
Intentionally seeing and acknowledging the Divine in people is a good thing for sure. It sets me on a solid course for life; loving people where they’re at and welcoming them without judgment. It takes work to get up the nerve to begin, but once you get started it becomes easier and easier along the way. I’ve discover that the big picture concept of seeing Christ in the other isn’t too hard or difficult when I’m practicing it with strangers, or people I have limited contact with.
Seeing and acknowledging the guy who welcomes me at the gym or the waitress who brings me a plate of food or a fellow dog lover at that park is easy. It doesn’t take much for me to smile, or say a few kind words or have a compassionate ear. The smelly homeless man with a crazy look in his eyes or the woman asking for money at the freeway off-ramp is a little more challenging. They can make me feel uncomfortable, or even a bit guilty for not having anything at the ready to give them. But it’s not too hard to see that they are a part of this world. They too, in all their dirty glory, are made in the imago dei - the image of God. It’s not hard to see and know that God loves them and cares for them just like God loves and cares for you and me. Holding onto that truth has helped me to see the the world through God’s lens and to navigate a pathway of Christ-likeness in their world that removes any shame, guilt, or fear I might have. And believe me when I say, that’s a good thing. It helps keep me humble and grounded 78.6% of the time.
Oh, What A Party It Is
the Kingdom of God Is Like One Great party That never ends.
Today we’re going to sit with Jesus at a dinner party given by a generous man. Because I’m only reading a snippet from a longer story, I want you to imagine you’re coming in fashionably late and sitting at the seat that’s been prepared for you. Between the warm aroma of food and the lively sounds of a good party, you listen to Jesus giving this advice.
READ: LUKE 14:12-14
Hearing Jesus’ words in Luke’s gospel, it’s hard to imagine going through life and never having received an invitation, not just to a dinner party but to be closer to our Creator. Whether it’s to a birthday party, school dance, a sleepover, or a wedding, getting invited to something makes us feel wanted and important.
In my lifetime, I’ve been invited to all sorts of things from dinner parties to sporting events into people’s lives and on more than one occasion, I’ve even been invited to give my opinion. Invitations not only reach out to us, but each one requires from us a response. Often, a simple yes or no will suffice.
There are all sorts of invitations out there. An old friend of ours specializes in making unique handmade invitations for the very rich. Her artistry has announced some of Hollywood’s biggest celebrity weddings and events.
For the not so famous and formal, there’s Evite – a company that specializes in sending out online invitations. We happen to have received on of those a few weeks ago and now three times a day I am getting junk mail from them. (I need more celebrity friends.)
Of course, there are invitations that are even less formal. They are the simple gestures we make, like a wave of the hand or a quiet look that someone might give you.
While walking Cali the other day, my neighbor’s dog Watson was barking up a storm. Some might see this behavior as a warning to intruders. But his body language told a different story. Pressing his front paws against the glass, Watson jumped up and down, wagging his tail with excitement. This wasn’t a warning but an invitation to play.
I imagine God is much more like Watson than us. Jumping up and down with excitement while awaiting our reply to come and celebrate the joys and blessings of life. Judging by the stories Jesus tells, I’m going to take creative liberty and say the Kingdom of God is like one great party. I mean think about how many times Jesus’ parables end in some kind of soirée.
A woman finds her lost coin and calls her neighbors to celebrate. The Prodigal Son returns home and they throw such a fantastic party that it causes envy and jealousy. A man invites his friends to dinner, and when they don’t show up, he goes out onto the streets and gathers whoever is nearby to come get their party on!
According to John’s gospel, Jesus’ first miracle was at a wedding where the best wine was served after the people were already well lit.
The kingdom of God is one great party. And Jesus is inviting you to attend.
watch message here
This takes us to today’s reading. Luke doesn’t tell us who is sitting at the man’s table. Most likely it’s his friends and family – the people he’d want to show off his important guest to as well as those who could also reciprocate in kind. Not much has changed has it? When we throw a party we want to gather with people we know and who are like us.
After 50 years, my parents stopped having their annual New Years Day party because they realized nearly all the people who came never invited them to do anything. My folks didn’t need to have the favor returned, but as my mom put it, “It sure would be nice to be invited to do something once in a while.” After all, we want to feel wanted and important to others.
There’s nothing wrong with opening your home to friends and family. But Jesus knows there are some people who never get invited to dinners or parties. They’re the one’s he wants us to remember and be hospitable to.
Jesus tells his host “Next time you gather like this make sure the guest list includes those who could never pay you back.” Today, that would include the single mom on welfare and her children, a young man with autism and his exhausted caretaker, and the down and out whose eyes you often avoid or whose phone calls you no longer return. Jesus’ message, like his ministry, focuses our eyes and adjusts our heart to celebrate self-giving instead of calculating what we can get in return.
Why is this important?
Invitations do more than simply gather us together. They give us purpose. They invite us to move out of self toward God and toward others; provoking us to listen to and learn, and eventually growing in the way we love and serve God and one another. Jesus is all about building relationships.
A few years back, Kathleen and I accepted an invitation to a dinner party at the home of a woman who I had only met a couple of times. The only thing the guest had in common was the fact that we accepted this crazy invitation to what we aptly called “the forced friendship club.”
As we passed the potato salad and grilled chicken, amazing things began to happen. Laughter. Joy. Smiles. Fellowship at its simplest and yet most profound.
We were different, yet one, sharing the Spirit of grace and love with fellow strangers. At this table relationships were formed and God’s kingdom blossomed, all because one woman intentionally invited a group of strangers into her home to partake in a great feast in the presence of God.
So, I don’t think it’s too far fetched to say the Kingdom of God is a great party. And Jesus is our host who invites us to bring our hearts, our music, our children, our gifts, and all that we have to celebrate with high spirits and laughter. He wants his joy to be our joy, his peace to be our peace, his love to be ours as well. He wants us not only to come receive it, but to share it…because like the Kingdom of God, this party never ends.
Jesus is an invitation, engraved with his own breath and blood, that calls us to sit at the table of grace. He invites us to bring our troubles and woes to him for redemption and forgiveness. His is an invitation that is pretty much impossible to ever repay. That’s the beautiful part. We don’t have to repay it – we just get to pay it forward. But like all invitations, we can choose to accept or reject him.
By accepting Christ, we begin to move into a deeper, more meaningful and purpose driven relationship with God and with others. This is where our hearts are transformed and the wounds of our world are healed. This is why Jesus is inviting us to partake in the greatest party ever thrown.
Through Christ, God invites us to celebrate the radical story of grace and redemption; to dance in the joy of love and peace; and to be filled with the bread and wine of eternal life.
You may not believe you are good enough or faithful enough to receive an invitation like this … muchless accept it. But the way I see it, God has never made a person that Christ did not die for.
Jesus said the kingdom of God is here. That means you are in the party now! So, enjoy yourself. Have fun. Meet people. Eat, drink and be merry, or Tom or Jerry or simply your best self. For you are cordially invited to live and thrive with Christ throughout the ages. And I hope to see you there.
Coffee with a friend
This is an oldie but goodie that I culled from the newsletter of my friends church Warden Congregational. Once you begin to read the story, you might recognize it’s familiar theme. But I hope you read through it, carefully and purposefully, and see how it might awaken something in you.
When things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and the 2 cups of coffee.
A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.
The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.
The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous “yes.”
The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.
“Now,” said the professor as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things — God, your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions — and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car. The sand is everything else — the small stuff.”
“If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.
“Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18.There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first--the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”
One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented.
The professor smiled. “I’m glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend.”
What did it stir in you? Did it make you reflect on anything in you life that you might have gone through or are going through right now? How do your priorities stack up against it?
Make room in in your life for the people and things that really matter. And let love, divine love, fill all the little empty pockets in between.
In all seriousness, I have had many wonderful careers, a so many opportunities to grow from them. I remember my very first assignments when I was hired as a jr. copywriter. I was tasked to write a help wanted ad for our agency. Not the most glamorous of job, but I was happy to do it. I don’t exactly remember what I wrote. I’m sure it was something like: Experienced Account Director needed for a big global brand. Start immediately.
Not not being a fan of mediocrity, I added a little creative twist by writing a small disclaimer at the bottom: You will need to be resilient to the extraneous demands of a temperamental client. This will require working long hours, abandoning friendships, and having the entire creative department hate you if you don’t sell their work.
As you might imagine from a conservative advertising agency, they didn’t run the ad. But they did put me in charge of the company Christmas card that year. Thus my journey up the corporate ladder began.
Years later, I thought it would be funny to do something similar in an ad I created for Honda. Buried in the legal disclaimer I wrote “the 300 hp engine really cooks, in fact it could fry bacon.” I wasn’t trying to be funny, I was just curious if anyone actually reads the fine print. Turns out the guy whose name was printed on my business card did. After that, my corporate climbing days began to wane.
Jesus is offering us a job. However, most of us, including ministers, skim over the fine print. So In today’s reading, Jesus takes the time to tell us what it says.
READ: Luke 14:25-33.
In the 2008 movie Sunshine Cleaning, Amy Adams plays a woman whose job it is to clean up the scenes where people have died, including suicides and murders. By the way, this is a real profession. Crime scene cleaners (also known as bioremediation specialists and forensic cleaners) come in after the police leave to clean and sanitize the area. As disgusting as that job is, most of us would choose it over the one Jesus offers.
Imagine if Jesus posted a help wanted ad. It would probably say, “Meaningful work, travel and meet great people, benefits for life.” Sounds pretty good, right? Then you notice the asterisk connected to some smaller words at the bottom that reads “Job requires you follow a guy who wants you to hate everyone you love, abandon all that you‘ve acquire, and be open to ridicule, torture, imprisonment, and possible crucifixion.” Ready to send in your resume?
watch message here
The last couple of weeks we’ve talked about the cost of discipleship. And we’ve learned it’s not cheap. Believe it or not, the word ‘cost’ is only found once in the New Testament. Here in Luke. So Jesus spends a lot of time throughout the gospels defining it for us.
We already know that cost is the payment we willingly make to acquire, accomplish, or produce something. It involves some measure of sacrifice and effort if we want to achieve our goal. Thus, Jesus told his followers that they must count the cost of what he’s asking before they come. “Following Jesus is not a whimsical response to a moment of inspiration or feeling,” Danae Ashley writes, “but a deliberate, life-changing decision, like planning for war or taking a new job.”
So Jesus said count the cost before you commit. If you’re going to follow him, then come with your eyes, heart, and mind wide open. Discipleship is a way of life, not a fad or a diet that we abandon whenever we want. It’s a calculated and conscious call to become like Christ with every fiber of our being – even if it means pushing away everything we love to embrace.
But does Jesus really want me to hate my wife and kids? Or sell sell everything I own, and become another burden to society, just to follow him?Are we to read these words as literal instructions? Or is this some more of his hyperbole to wake us up to the seriousness of our mission? Maybe it’s a little of both.
The Bible doesn’t shy away from stating God is number one. That before God there was nothing. The first commandment is there is no other god but YHWH. Anything other than YHWH has the potential to take our focus off doing what God wants us to do.
Like Jesus, we have to make God and God’s will our first priority, no matter the cost. If something or someone is stopping you from this, then what good are those things in life? A phone can play all sorts of games, take pictures and create music. It even tracks your location and counts your steps along the way. But if you can’t call your mother on her birthday, then it’s not really a phone is it?
If we can’t make doing God’s will our first priority, then what does that say about who we are, or about our faith? Paul said, “it is by faith that we are saved,” so then why risk salvation by taking our faith so lightly? Likewise, if we want our Christianity to mean anything, then we need to take inventory and make following Jesus a priority.
When Kathleen and I got married, I was still sneaking funny things into my ads and making a salary that afforded us a home, a family, and the comforts of life. Before I entered ministry, I took our finances into consideration. I calculated what going back to school would do to our retirement, my social security, as well as our savings and investments. I failed, however, to truly calculate the cost it would have on Kathleen, or on the faith of our kids, or the disruption to our social life when we had to pack up and move to follow Jesus.
I’ve learned, as Melissa Early pointed out, “You can’t mitigate the cost of discipleship with budget spreadsheets and good project management. It’s about sacrifice—not just of comfort and companionship but of one’s rootedness in a community, one’s present circumstances, and one’s future.”
To make God number one in my life meant making those I love with every fiber of my being second-class citizens. And it still doesn’t seem fair. I can’t really explain it beyond this, but I know God is faithful to me, and so I ought to be faithful to God.
Jesus is calling you to follow him. To do what he does so that others can see God’s glory and do God’s will. He’s asking a lot, but he also gives you more than you could ever imagine. We can’t come on this cross-carrying journey half-heartedly, because God doesn’t come half-heartedly. We got to be all in, just as God is. We have to come ready to give up our life, and all that we hold dear, because that’s what God did for us through Christ.
I don’t know how many people went home after hearing Jesus say these words, but I know the twelve remained. They may not have been perfect, but they were willing to sacrifice the cost. Are we?
Last week I read this passage to a group of seniors that I minister to at an assisted living home. One women rightfully asked, “Can I not follow Jesus if I am unable to do what he’s asking here?”
My answer was unequivocally, “Yes!” No one jumps into the deep end of the pool and begins swimming. First you learn about water, then how not to drown. Eventually, you learn some strokes and before you know you’re moving through the water like it’s second nature.
C.S. Lewis said the whole purpose of becoming a Christian is to become a little Christ. To achieve what he is suggesting will take instruction, practice, patience and time. Perhaps more than we are willing to give. But to his point, when we see what Jesus does and practice doing it daily like he did, then our love, forgiveness, hospitality, kindness and sharing of ourselves and our resources becomes as natural as breathing.
Discipleship is a journey which begins with taking that first small step…and doing it over and over again until it becomes a more confident stride. But for it to be truly meaningful, to get a big return on our investment, each step must lead us to a closer, more intimate relationship with God. We do this by following the way of Christ, who put his own agenda second to God’s.
“We may respond immediately to Jesus’ call but it will take a lifetime for us to see how that decision plays out, but if we don’t read the fine print, we may fall away from the path” (Ashley). So I ask, what are those things in life that are pulling you away from God and doing God’s will?
Above family, career, desires and wants, even nation or church...God must be first in your heart, on your mind, and from your lips. All else is sacrifice. Or as John the Baptizer put it, “I must decrease so Christ can increase” (John 3:30). This is the great cost we must be willing to pay for our faith. Greater still is the reward we receive.
Earlier in Luke, Jesus said you are blessed when people laugh at you and hate and even kill you because you chose to put God’s way above theirs. Instead of getting down, leap up with gladness and joy, for your reward is great in heaven (Luke 6:22-23). Jesus never promised an easy life—just one filled with wild variables, defining challenges and unforeseen rewards.
Through Jesus, God beckons out to us, pointing our eyes and hearts towards the fine print and showing us how to respond with our lives so that we might experience something more than we can ask for or imagine.
The only guarantee is that it will be a tough job, with long hours and great risks. But the benefits you receive will last long after your work is done.
Ashley, Danae M. Fine Print. episcopalchurch.org (attained on September 4, 2019)
Bartlett, David L and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year C. Vol. 4. (Westminster John Knox: 2010) pp. 44-49.
Early, Melissa. Reflections on the Lectionary. Christian Century, Vol. 136, No. 18. August 28, 2019, p.18.
Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. (Macmillan Publishing: 1978) p. 153.
Divine Evolution: 2
Work to be done
A few years back a friend hired me and a couple of day laborers to demo a bathroom for a remodel. I showed up early, got to work, and wasted no time busting down walls and tearing up floors. It was a hard, backbreaking job for anyone, especially someone like me who spent most of my time sitting in an air conditioned office.
Once the last of our mess was swept up and thrown into the dumpster, my friend lined us up and gave us our pay. We each received a one hundred dollar bill. To them that was fair pay for a fair days work. But I was used to making more than that per hour, this was simply pocket change. I remember thinking about how anyone could live on such a little amount. And now I am in ministry I know exactly how...you don’t.
Whenever I read the parable about the laborers in the vineyard I think of those two guys I worked with that day. The story is found in Matthew 20:1-16.
In this parable I see a lot of similarities to our world today. For example, the workday begins early. Those who needed a job for the day got up before the sun and gathered in a specific place to wait for someone to employ them.
In my neighborhood, the painters gather in front of the paint store, plumbers stand near the plumbing supply shop, and you can always find plenty of willing hands in the Home Depot parking lot. Every morning they gather hoping to be picked so they can get the money they need to pay their bills and support a family.
Another similarity is that the employer set the wage. And each worker agreed that it’s fair before they entered the vineyard to work. Negotiating salary and benefits would come much later. And still to a very select few. In this story the workers are just happy to have work.
Jesus doesn’t tells why, but over the course of a day more workers are needed. So the manager goes out four more times, with each worker agreeing to the same terms. At the end of the day, the men line up to get paid, just like I did after that demo job. Every laborer, no matter how long they worked, received the same amount in their paycheck, which seems odd to the workers, but for different reasons.
Jesus said this is what the Kingdom of God is like. And it pisses some people off.
watch the message here
Naturally, those who were hired first grumble, they feel as if they should get more. It’s easy for us to sympathize with their complaints, isn’t it? Something in our gut says this is just simply not fair. It’s not the American way! But how soon we forget God’s ways are often different from ours.
We may think it unjust that one who worked a full day in the hot blazing sun should receive the same pay as those who barely had time to break a sweat. But God doesn’t see it that way. And thank God for that.
It does seem unfair… until you stand in the shoes of those who where hired last. Jesus makes a big deal about this point. When the vineyard manager looked at the guys standing around late in the evening, did he think they were lazy bums? Was he judging them when he asked, ‘Why are you standing around all day doing nothing?’
No, he was sympathetic to their plight that no one hired them and now they have to figure out a way to get food on their table. Imagine what it’s like to watch others get picked while you get passed over. The fear and pressure of making ends meet can be overwhelming. I know first hand what it can do to a person’s psyche.
When Jesus tells us parables about the Kingdom of God, he is showing us a world that is different. A world where starting with a disadvantage, like language, skin color, education, citizenship, or getting hired at the last minute, won’t set you back. Because God is faithful and generous. Our timing or even our incompetence does not stop God from loving us any more or any less.
In God’s Kingdom, things like grace, love, mercy, forgiveness can never be calculated on a timesheet. They aren’t held over our head as a bonus or reward based on merit. Each one is a gift, freely given to all who are willing to enter the vineyard.
Sadly not everyone sees it that way. You might think you’re more deserving because you’ve done more to help your community, or given more to support your church. These are great things, and you should continue doing them. Only do so without judging those are aren’t as good and righteous as you, or cannot afford to give as generously as you can. Jesus reminds us that we need to be more sympathetic to those who are at a disadvantage, and teach by example for those who might be new to this living Christ in the world thing.
Look, we are all trying to find our own way in and around the vineyard. Some of us are just lucky enough to have been given a head start. But God is gracious and loving to all who wish to enter, anytime and all the time.
This is God’s Kingdom not ours. God is the owner and can do whatever the heck God wants to do. And instead of getting mad we should count our blessings knowing “God dispenses gifts, not wages.” God isn’t concerned about what we deserve; God merely gives us what we need; “even if it means paying some people twelve times more than what they deserved.”
Five times the manager goes out to gather people. I imagine if he went out a sixth or a seventh time, the end of the story wouldn't change. Whether you’ve been faithful and devoted your whole life, or you’re just coming to terms with Christ as your Lord, your paycheck is as good as anyone else’s. At the end of the day, Christ died for all. And we all benefit because of it.
God loves and welcomes all into the vineyard. And we should thank God for that. We should be grateful that our God is a loving and giving God who sucks at math.
While I was teaching a class on the Gospel of Matthew, and on this particular parable, someone joked that “God is a lousy bookkeeper because he adds infinity to every paycheck he hands out.” Think about that…God adding infinity to your life. Infinite grace. Infinite love. Infinite forgiveness. Imagine all the power, wisdom, joy and peace that you can handle – doled out to you every single day.
God is a generous employer. God gives us what we need, not what we deserve. And thank God for that. Because there’s still work to be done. God is still looking for us and gathering us and hiring us to work. But are you willing to step into the vineyard?
Are you willing to get your hands dirty in the Kingdom of God? Are you willing to show grace to someone even if they do not deserve it? Or love someone as God has loved you? Are you willing forgive one another’s debts and trespasses, just as God forgave yours? Or lend a hand to someone who is at a disadvantage without expecting anything in return from them?
Jesus called us to continue his ministry, to help others see their worth in God’s eyes. Spreading love, sharing grace, sewing the seeds of justice so we can all live in peace. This is our job.
Each one of us has been hired to work in a specific role at a specific time. For some it’s early in their life and career, and for others much later in the game.
It doesn’t matter. There’s still plenty of work to be done. More planting, more growing and more harvesting the fruits of God’s glory until Christ comes again.
But each one of us must be willing to enter the vineyard and endure to the end of the workday, however long that might be.
Bartlett, David L., Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol 4. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011) pp. 92-97.
McNeely, Darris. The Parable of the Workers - A Fair Wage From a Fair Employer. (March 15, 2013) https://www.ucg.org/good-news/lessons-from-the-parables-the-parable-of-the-workers-a-fair-wage-from-a-fair-employer. (culled on August 30, 2019)
Yancy, Phillip. What’s So Amazing About Grace? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997) pp. 61-63.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”