For Lent a few years ago, I fasted from saying "no," which meant I feasted on saying "yes." As you might imagine, this was a challenge at first. But once I got a handle on it, I began to developed a way to say yes to everything, even if sometimes that meant I was saying no. By the end of my 40-day journey, not only had I learned new way of speaking and sharing my heart, but I also discovered how much more rewarding my life had become. I found that in my agreeing to do things I may have not wanted to do, I was participating with others who blessed me as much as I had blessed them.
Anamesa is not simply a "space between" things like you and me, or is a calculated distance between God and us. Anamesa is also an opportunity to grow spiritually, and to thrive endlessly in all that you do.
In the grand scope of the universe, our time is limited here. What we do with it matters, for our own well being and the health of all those around us. We can occupy this time rejecting others and missing out on what they have to offer by saying "no." Or we can welcome and rejoice with them - growing spiritually and healing mentally in the process.
Everyday we wake up, must be a “yes.” Every breath we take, a “yes.” Every step that moves us is an opportunity to say “yes.” And every "yes" is a commitment to connect to a deeper sense of yourself, while you build bridges to others.
“The only reason for staying in this valley of tears,” Nouwen taught, is so we can “continue the mission of Jesus who has sent us into the world as his Father sent him into the world.”
Anamesa is that space between our first breath and last, to say “yes” to moving into and with God’s love. It’s here we do the work of love, the same work Jesus himself did, and in doing so taught us how to say “yes.”
To say "yes," like this might mean going to places you may not want to go. Standing with people you try to avoid. Holding space with others who are not part of your tribe or your circle. Listening to those you disagree with. Sharing what you have with those you believe don’t deserve it. Say “yes” to God’s love is saying “yes” to giving it away as liberally as it is given to you.
Nouwen concluded, “Life is a short, often painful mission, full of occasions to do fruitful work for God’s kingdom, and death is the open door that leads into the hall of celebration where the king himself will serve us.”
The way I see it, each heartbeat that echoes within us all is an alarm clock that wakes us out of self-induced slumber. And each beat is a reminder that there is someone beyond yourself who needs your "yes." Anamesa is filled with opportunities to share and grow your love. May you walk through today fully alive, and fully awake to say “yes.”
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called...do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life. 1 Timothy 6:6-19
I'm not shy about saying that I’m not a fan of this epistle. I believe it’s filled with too many antiquated ideas from a bygone patriarchal era. Historically speaking, this letter has been used to keep women subservient to men and kept them from serving as ministers in the church. It was also used for centuries by Christian slave owners to justify their sins of human trafficking.
Yet, when I was freaking out about my dwindling retirement account, it was this particular passage from this particular letter that the Holy Spirit would use to navigate me out of my deep, dark funk.
Here Paul is writing to Timothy who was in Ephesus, a wealthy seaport town in what is now western Turkey. Timothy has been stationed there to instruct and guide the leaders of the churches Paul has established.
I can only imagine how some must have squirmed to hear him say “love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” It’s not something rich people like hearing, especially when their wealth was made honestly, with hard work.
But Paul isn’t putting down money. He knows that it’s being used to literally build the church and to support those in need in its community. Like Jesus did last week, I believe Paul’s guiding our focus elsewhere.
He instructs Timothy to tell the wealthy patrons to use their money to do good works, be generous, and share their wealth around “thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future.” This might sound like you can buy your way into to heaven, but what Paul is saying here is use your wealth wisely so that you can “take hold of the life that really is life.”
What this says to me is simply pay attention to what’s happening right now, today, and put your focus on the things that really matter. Chasing after mammon – which last week we described as wealth, power, success – can be a heavy stumbling block when it comes to living in the abundant life that Jesus offers.
Paul doesn’t say money is the root of all evil. It’s not money, but our love of it. It’s the relationship we have with obtaining it and hoarding it that can lead us to do bad things – to lie, cheat, steal, harm others.
If we are to live a life that is really life, we need to look at our wealth and value through the eyes of Jesus who said, “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” Heaven is here, in this space. So, Paul’s advice for us today is simply start living into your Christlikeness now.
When our heart is so preoccupied on acquiring and hoarding and multiplying wealth, we’re more susceptible of falling into temptation, wondering from our faith, and hurting others along the way.
Paul instructs Timothy not to be distracted by money. Instead, he said, focus on living a life rich in righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. We might call this the “Six Steps of Living Christ In Real Life.”
The first step is to live a RIGHTEOUS life. By righteous, I don’t mean go and be all churchy and sanctimonious.
There are people in churches across the world who view their wealth as God blessing them more than others. This can lead people to act self-righteously or use their wealth to control others who might be less fortunate.
A righteous life is a life lived in the rightness of God. The gospel of John first describes Christ as the Word of God. That is to say Jesus lived torah, the way of God rightness. Not only was Jesus obedient to living the way of God’s laws but he also encompassed the spirit for which they were given…so all could live a life that is a real life.
To live a righteous life is to live in GODLINESS. According to scripture, living a godly life includes caring for the widows and orphans, showing kindness to strangers, upholding justice for the oppressed, and walking humbly knowing you are always in the presence of God. Jesus taught us that living a godly life is about allowing the Spirit of God’s love to flow through us.
This tells me we that in order to live in a right and godly way will take a lot of FAITH.
The Bible defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11: 1). But faith is also a verb. It’s an action we take. In this case, a willingness to commit to living the way of Christ. A way that reaches across social classes and ethnic lines. A way that shares instead of hoards. Unites instead of divides.
Jesus wore his faith on his sleeve. Paul reminds Timothy to let your faith be seen with acts of LOVE.
Just as God has done for us, we too must make love our highest priority. It’s the single greatest thing we can do. It’s so important that Jesus said loving others the second greatest commandment behind loving God (Mt. 22:35-40).
Love is the way we are to relate to one another. Not only does it allow others to see and feel God’s love for them but it’s through the many ways we love God, love others, and serve both, that God redeems and transforms the world.
Love moves me beyond myself and my needs, so that the needs of others can be meet. Love builds the bridge over Anamesa, connecting me to you, and us to God. Love is the building block of all things good.
In his exhortation on the subject, Paul famously declared, “Without love, I am nothing.” He described love as “patient and kind, not envious or boastful, arrogant or rude...it bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends" (1 Cor. 13:3-8).
When life gets hard, when it feels impossible to be righteous or godly, or when I doubt my faith, it’s God’s infinite love that lifts me up and gives me the ENDURANCE I need to persevere.
Through great love for me, and for all of life, God sent Christ to show us how to live a life that is really a life. And it was Christ who left us the Holy Spirit to guide us through the obstacles of fear, worry, and anxiety that try to cripple us and convince us to turn away from God.
Whenever I find myself in that space, it’s always the work of the Holy Spirit that lead me back to God’s open and loving heart. It’s God who strengthens and empowers us with all that we need to endure life’s greatest challenges.
Because God remains faithful, we can move forward in life with GENTLENESS.
I’ve learned that when I’m gentle like Christ, the space between me and myself becomes softer and kinder. It quiets the noise and illuminates the way for me to live into my true self…in rightness and faith.
Like faith, gentleness is love in action. It invites others to always participate in God’s heavenly kingdom. Each time we show compassion to ourselves or others, we allow the Spirit of God to pushes us from that inward space where fear and anxiety reside, to that outward place where we can put love into action.
Through the practice of gentleness we become the visible and tangible presence of God who richly provides us with all that we need to heal and restore the world.
When our bank account is full of righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness we are able to “Do good. Be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share.” We are ready to live the life that is really life – a life grounded in the love and grace of God.
In the space between me and myself, I have to be the one who initiates these actions. The same is true about you and yourself.
Each one of us has to be willing to choose and embrace a Christlike life. This doesn’t make me any less vulnerable. It doesn’t make my fears disappear. Or cause my anxieties go away for good. But it does make life richer. And more rewarding. For me, and for others.
As you leave here today, I would invite you to set your hope not on the uncertainty of wealth which is temporary. Rather keep your hope on the eternal goodness of God, who through Christ, richly provides for us “a life that really is life” right here, right now.
This is invaluable life, born from the abundance of a loving and charitable God. A life that overflows with all the things money can’t buy.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 4. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010).
illustration bypantausea, used without permission. (accessed from deviantart.com 9.25.2022).
While it's easy for me to write some words of hope about Jesus rescuing us from our mess, it’s harder for me to actually live them out faithfully when life throws me a curve ball. I’m human, and I too have my moments of faithlessness and doubt, especially during trying times. More often than I wish to admit, these feelings make me want to go do something different.
Apparently, I’m not alone. According to Barna Research, last year 38% of ministers considered quitting their jobs. Between the politics and the pandemic, faith leaders are so burnt out from all the infighting that they’re willing to turn their backs on what God has called them to do. Life is a struggle. And trying to live a Christ centered life is a challenge on a whole other level.
It’s tempting to throw in the towel, give up your faith and walk away from the church. But before you do, consider this.
The Christian church has survived 2,000 years’ worth of wars, pandemics, political riffs, natural disaster and theological awakenings. "So will we. Because our God is faithful, even if we’re not."
If anyone knew the harsh and difficult reality of this earthly life, it’s Jesus. Through the struggles and pain that he endured, he still remained faithful to what God was asking of him. And what God wanted wasn’t for Jesus to go build a better church. Instead, God sent him to be with us, in all our messiness, to be the visible presence of God’s redemptive love and grace.
If we are to take his name, and assume his holy body as a Christian church, then we too will face the many challenges Jesus faced. There will be times when we will struggle to keep our heads above water when someone hands us a baby to care for. But through it all, we know that we will overcome life’s challenges somehow because our God is faithful, even when we are not.
When a young, successful businessman asked how he could inherit eternal life, Jesus told him to follow God’s commandments. When the man confessed that he did in fact live that way, Jesus then told him to “sell everything you possess and give the money to the poor.” (Mark 10:17-27)
That’s how Jesus sees money…it’s good for giving away to those in need. That’s easy to say and do when you have a total lack of attachment to material wealth like Jesus did. But most of us aren’t anywhere close to being like him.
Mark’s gospel says the businessman heard what Jesus said and walked away upset. I think anyone who owns a house, has a retirement account, or has ever been fiscally responsible would feel the same. But the story doesn’t stop there.
On the night Jesus was betrayed, Mark said there was a man nearby watching. And not just any man, but one who was only wearing a small cloth around his waist. When the authorities tried to grab him with the others, the man slipped away naked. Here was someone who literally gave up all he had to be with Jesus. I think these are the same two men. I believe the guy did exactly what Jesus asked once he realized his money was worthless compared to what God had to offer?
In our reading from Luke’s gospel Jesus gives his disciples, and us, a similar decision. It doesn’t require us from running around naked as a jaybird, but it does require a great sacrifice, nonetheless.
Read all of Luke 16:1-13 here
“...Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much, and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If, then, you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters, for a slave will either hate the one and love the other or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” Luke 16:1-13
In a sermon on this passage, Richard Rohr teaches us that whenever Jesus tells his parables, they are often very broad and inclusive. Here he uses the word "non-dualistic." These stories speak to everyone about how to live in the realm of God. For example, he speaks of Wheat and Weeds growing together (Mt. 13:24-43). And says things like, “My father makes it rain on both the good and the bad” (Mt. 5:45).
It’s rare for Jesus to speak in a "dualistic," what I would call an either/or sort of way, like he does here. When he does, as Rohr notes, "it always has something to do with the poor or with money."
So, by drawing a very clear line between God and Mammon, Jesus gives us this absolute because he knows which side most of us will fall on.
Now, mammon is a word that’s not very common in our vernacular. The bible translates it as wealth or riches to describes the debasing influence that material wealth wields over us. I’m not so sure Jesus is talking simply about money. He knows we need money to live in this world. I think he’s talking about something bigger, what some call “mammon illness.” That is, when we become so preoccupied with it that we let it control us.
We’re always trying to hoard it, collect it, or look for ways to multiply it. And boy do we know the kind of bad things people are capable of doing to attain wealth, or to keep what they have.
Money is our life insurance policy. But only in the short-term. Perhaps like the rich young businessman discovered, what good is it after we're dead?
watch message here
There’s a universal truth that’s as old as time that says the one with the most money has the most power. Not just buying power, but the power to influence, dominate, enslave, and control others. So, in this space between God and mammon, Jesus gives us a choice. It’s either one or the other. You can’t serve both.
Rohr reminds us that most people in the world don’t have insurance policies or 401k’s and spare money to gamble in the stock market. Rohr tells us, “What they do have is family. You have to love and honor your parents because they're all you've got. And the parents have to love and respect their children because they're going to take care of them in their old age. That’s their insurance plan.”
It’s relational. We like to think we are self-sufficient. But like I said, mammon only goes so far, offering us only short-term results. Jesus knows our real long-term security comes from having a relationship with God. You see, it’s all about how we relate, how we love and serve, God and each other. That’s our true worth.
What makes Anamesa a sacred space, are the relationships we’ve made with one another. Like Rev. Dawn wrote in this week’s newsletter, we’ve become a unique family – one that is grounded in loving God, loving others, and serving both. Rohr says, “These are the eternal dwellings that last forever.”
With God it’s always relational, always personal. With mammon, it’s always “counting, weighing, measuring, deserving.”
The problem with this way of thinking is that eventually it “becomes the way we relate to one another.”
How many times have you met someone, and your first thought is, “What can she give me?” Or “What does he have that I need?” But Jesus is saying, “if you want to enter into the Kingdom of God you have to stop counting. You have to stop weighing. You have to stop measuring. You have to stop deserving.”
Such thinking limits our ability to live into our divine selves. It stops the flow of God’s love and grace from coming to us and moving through us. We can’t hoard God’s love. It’s not ours to keep. It’s only ours to give away. If we are to live into our divine goodness, we must share love as freely as God has with us.
Now there’s a bigger problem I have with mammon, and it’s that gives us a worldview of scarcity. It makes us believe there’s never enough. Or at least not enough to share with “them,” or “those people.”
God gives us a worldview of infinite abundance. Infinite grace. Infinite love. Infinite forgiveness and mercy. There’s enough for everyone. Everyone.
In case you’ve forgotten, infinite means, “Limitless or endless in space, extent, or size; impossible to measure or calculate.” If God’s love is impossible to measure or calculate, then what’s the point of counting, or measuring or weighing it? Why do we bother wondering who is worthy or who is more deserving of it? It’s not up to us.
In talking to a nun who was worried about God tracking her many failings, St. Thérèse of Lisieux famously said, “There is a science about which God knows nothing. Addition.”
Like I’ve said before, God is a lousy bookkeeper. One who always expends love knowing the account will always have sufficient funds. If we try to fill this space between God and mammon with counting and measuring and weighing, then that’s how we will always see and treat others.
We will count their worth by how much they make or what title they hold.
We will measure their success by their business or educational achievements, not by the good they do in their community.
We will weigh their opinions on how they vote or how it will boost our egos. This is the kind of thinking and living that stops God’s love from flowing.
We need to remember, “The love of God can’t be doled out by any process whatsoever. We can’t earn it. We can’t lose it.” All we can do is either accept it or reject it. It’s “either/or” not “both/and.”
We can’t move in a world of infinite mercy, grace and love while counting, measuring, and weighing who’s worthy and who’s not. God does not reign that way.
Jesus draws the line in the sand here reminding us that the kingdom of God is about abundance, not scarcity. It’s about everyone getting their fill of the goodness of God’s infinite love.
As Richard Rohr likes to ask, “What’s half of infinity? It’s infinity.” This tells me that even the tiniest speck of infinite love is still infinite! There’s enough for you, and me, and every living thing that shares this sacred space called life. We have to stop telling ourselves otherwise.
In Christ, God cracks open every heart so divine love can flow in us, and through us, and all around us.
Christ is God’s insurance plan so that no one will go without love, without mercy, without knowing and feeling God’s tender touch. And come to know God’s glory in the process.
Mammon tells us there’s never enough. But God says, “I am enough. I am all you need.”
Once we see ourselves as God sees us, once we dive into God’s infinite love and grace, we begin to see ourselves and others the same.
Jesus meets us, in this space we call Anamesa, in the space between God and Mammon to remind us that it’s God who is abundant and giving, picking us up out of our poverty, our limited thinking, to give us a world of infinite possibilities.
“What's half of Infinity? What’s a quarter of infinity? What’s one millionth of infinity?”
The math is simple. But living it out with a faithful heart takes a little getting used to. How about then we start practicing it now.
Thank you to Fr. Richard Rohr whose sermon on Money I got this idea from. Recorded on September 22, 2019 (accessed on September 16, 2022).
Rohr, Richard. The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope for, and Believe (New York: Convergent, 2021).
Now large crowds were traveling with him, and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? ... So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions. Luke 14:25-33
Now when I began my professional career in advertising, the first piece of copy I ever wrote was a help wanted ad for the agency I worked for. It wasn’t the most glamorous of assignments, and in fact they actually told me what to write. I was something like bland and banal like, “Experienced Account Director needed to work on a global brand. Starts immediately.”
Not being a big fan of mediocrity, I added a little creative caveat below in the fine print: “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.” Fun fact: They didn’t run that ad, but my climb up the corporate ladder took off running.
Not being someone who lets a good idea go to waste, a few years laters, I did something similar in a Honda ad that was actually published. Buried in the tiny sized legal disclaimer at the bottom of the ad I wrote, “the 300 hp engine really cooks, in fact it could fry bacon.” At this point in my career, I wasn’t trying to be irreverent or funny. I was just curious to see if anyone actually reads the fine print. Turns out the guy whose name was printed on my paycheck did. After that, my corporate climbing days began to wane.
The moral of this tale: Always read the fine print.
Now when Jesus said these things to the people, he wasn’t mincing words or trying to hide anything. He tells the crowd that wants to follow him, point blank: If this is what you want to do, then this is what you will have to do. You’ll have to hate everyone you love, abandon all that you’ve acquire, and be open to ridicule, torture, imprisonment, and possible crucifixion. If this was an ad to attract people to be a part of Anamesa, I suspect I’d be talking to myself right now.
Luke said a great crowd was there to hear this. But at the end of the day, it was only The Twelve who were willing to “burn their boats and go ahead.” But because of the cost they were willing to pay, we’re here today. And so is Anamesa.
Although Jesus will pay the ultimate cost – his one life for every one of ours – it was the disciples who showed us the way ahead. Taking what they learned, they showed us that it’s possible to live a Christ-centered life where doing the will of God is always our number one priority.
watch the message here
According to C.S. Lewis, “the whole purpose of becoming a Christian is to become a little Christ” with every fiber of our being even if it means pushing away everything we love to embrace. In this space between Christ and us, both God and the world vie for our focus and attention. And it’s in this space, Jesus speaks strongly not to scare people away, but to wake us up.
Like Danae Ashley wrote, “Following Jesus is not a whimsical response to a moment of inspiration or feeling, but a deliberate, life-changing decision, like planning for a war or taking a new job.” It requires each of us to count and calculate the cost. And according to the items on Jesus’ list, it makes me wonder how anyone could afford to follow him.
When I read this passage to a group of seniors at an assisted living facility, one resident honestly asked, “Can I still be a Christian if I’m not able to do what Jesus is asking?”
Of course, my answer was, “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. Before you know you’re moving through the water like it’s second nature.
To call yourself a Christian means you have decided to follow the way of Jesus. That’s the first step. But to be a Christ follower is to walk and talk like he did doing the will of God as if it was the only thing that mattered.
The Twelve disciples eventually learned that takes instruction, practice, and time to get in sync with Christ. And that’s where Anamesa comes in.
In the space between Christ and Us we walk together, learning and teaching how to live into our true calling. We do this by practicing and failing and succeeding in all the ways we show radical hospitality and inclusion; sharing God’s love with each other.
If you ask me, this is what it means to be both a Christian and a Christian Church - gathering together in the space between to love God, love others, and serve both.
Although Jesus didn’t directly define the church, or at least not what we have today, he does say something to our approach here, when said in Matthew’s gospel, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there with them” (Mt. 18:20).
As you may or may not know, we offer so many different ways to gather together in his name. Whether it’s Sunday service, Thursday Bible Study, or the many phone calls, prayer groups, mission opportunities we provide we do our best to be the visible presence of Christ, filling this sacred space with God’s glory.
What we’ve learned over the past year, is that it doesn’t come easy. It takes practice. And requires a change of heart and behavior to faithfully honor and embrace Christ’s name.
It means letting go of the ways of the world, all the ego, anger, hatred and division if we are to make God our number one priority. We have to stop pretending that God loves us more than those people over there. This is where costs add up.
I know this sounds hard, and trust me, it also feels impossible at times. But our heart belongs to God, even though our ego will try to tell us otherwise.
Whenever the weight of doing this work begins to smother me, I remind myself that the church is not a building, it’s people. It’s you and me. Us and them. I don’t do this alone. I have you, and you have me. We are here for each other.
When I’m down I’ve learned to reach out to others for help because I believe Jesus meant it when he said every time we gather in his name, he’s here with us, shouldering the burdens and celebrating the joys together with us. That’s what makes every space holy and sacred. Christ is alive, and here with us! We are a part of him. And he is a part of us.
This is what Paul meant in Corinthians, when he wrote, "by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body" (1 Cor. 12:13). Paul recognizes the truth that each one of us is different part of Christ’s body (v. 14), with no one being better than the other (v. 25).
He wrote, “If one part suffers, every part suffers; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (v. 26). When you become one with Christ’s body, you become one with his mission and ministry. And you take on the cost that comes with it.
Now don’t freak out. Buried in plain sight in the middle of today’s text Jesus makes this powerful statement: “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” While you might not read this as good news, notice Jesus says, “carry the cross.” He uses the singular – meaning His cross.
The way I see it, Jesus is not calling us to shoulder the burden or take on anything we can’t handle. He’s simply inviting us to take hold of his cross; to walk with him to usher in the kingdom of heaven everywhere we go.
It’s like this. My friend Charlie can lift 600 plus pounds of dead weight. I can’t. Most of us are not Charlie. But if two or three of us get together, I bet we can lift it.
In the same way, the more people who join Jesus to shoulder the weight of his ministry, the easier it becomes for everyone to walk his walk.
It’s similar to what we did when we merged New Church Sherman Oaks with The Phoenix to form Anamesa. Instead of one person doing all the work in different spaces, we now share the responsibilities in one place as one team. Now we can offer more services, provide more pastoral care and offer teaching opportunities. There are more people to pray with us and for us. More friends to practice our faith around.
Day by day, person by person, we move away from the ways of the world, and closer and closer to God. The more members we have in our family, the easier it becomes for all of us to “burn our boats” and become “little Christ’s.”
You are an important part of what we do, and why we do it. You see, in the space between the first “A” and the last “A” in Anamesa, is the word “names.” It’s plural. Your name, my name, our names, their names. Everyone’s name belongs in this space.
Whenever you call someone by name, you’re inviting them into a sacred space. You’re asking them to be a part of your life, your story, if only for a moment.
Today we are calling you by name. Inviting you to be a part of who we are. We want you to be a part of our story, and to walk with us in our belovedness.
Of course joining Anamesa is more than just binding your name to ours. It’s about all our names coming together to take on His name. The One name that God has put above all others, so at the name Jesus Christ, every knee shall bend (Phil. 2:9-10).
And so it is, that in his name we strive together to love God, love others, and serve both at any cost.
Parts of this sermon were borrowed from an original work entitled The Best and Worst Job Posting Ever published on September 8, 2019.
Ashley, Danae M. Fine Print. episcopalchurch.org (accessed 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.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. (New York: MacMillan, 1949) pp. 48-50.
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.
This parable has a lot of similarities to our world today. For example, the workday begins early. Across America our streets and highways are already jumping before sunrise. The same was true back in Jesus’ day. Those who needed work got up before the sun and gathered in a specific place to wait for someone to employ them.
It might be the same where you live, but in my community, painters looking for work gather in front of the paint store, plumbers stand near the plumbing supply shop, and handymen and carpenters stand in the parking lot around Home Depot. Each one hoping to get picked up so they can pay their rent or support their family.
Another similarity in this story 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 even then it’s still a privilege to a very select few.
In this story the workers are just happy to have work. Jesus doesn’t tell us why, but over the course of a day more workers are needed. And four more times the manager goes out to hire more guys to pick the fruit, with each 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. And just like I did, each laborer received the same paycheck, no matter how long or hard they worked. Jesus said this is what the Kingdom of God is like.
His comment would have ticked some people off, just like it does today. A literal interpretation of this story would most likely raise the hackles on any business-minded person because it tosses out every notion we’ve learned about fair compensation.
In his seminal book What’s So Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancey asks, “Who in their right mind would offer the same reward to those who have earned it and to those who have not?”
The answer is simple. God would. God views fairness differently.
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Naturally, those who were hired first grumble. They believe they should get more. Who can blame them, right? It’s just not fair. Similarly, we tend to believe the ones who worked a full day in the hot blazing sun ought to earn more than those who barely had time to break a sweat.
But God doesn’t see it that way. And thank God for that. In the Kingdom of God, all are loved equally. And all are cared for equally. Here’s the good news. We can’t earn our way into receiving grace. It’s already been negotiated into the deal God made with us through Christ Jesus.
For those who see this story as being unfair, I’d invite you to stand in the shoes of those who were hired last. Jesus makes a big deal about this point. We might be tempted to think those workers in the story who aren’t employed are lazy to work.
When the vineyard owner sees them, and asked, “Why have you been standing around all day doing nothing?”
They simply replied, “Because no one has hired us.”
Their problem wasn’t that they were too lazy to work. Their problem was they got passed over or pushed aside for some reason. Perhaps they were strangers, or didn’t speak the language, or had some kind of disability. Whatever the reason was, they have to figure out a way to get their daily bread. And by that, I mean put actual bread on their table tonight.
Imagine what it’s like to watch others get picked while you get passed over. The fear and pressure of making ends meet can crush a person’s psyche. It’s become too easy for us to overlook these last workers, or to judge them unfairly especially when we think we are better than they are.
The vineyard owner didn’t see it that way. He didn’t judge or shame these people. Instead, he was sympathetic to their plight. And gave them work.
Take it from me, anyone can all fall on hard times at any time. When we do, we rely on the generosity and goodness of a helping hand. I think this is what this story is about. You see, when Jesus tells us parables about the Kingdom of God, he’s revealing the way God reigns.
In this particular story, Jesus is showing us how being last doesn’t set you back. That’s not how it works in God’s realm. It doesn’t matter where you were born, what language you speak, or what the color of your skin color is.
God is faithful and generous to all. Our bad timing or even our incompetence does not stop God from loving any one of us any more or any less.
Let me say it again. We don’t earn God’s grace, love, mercy, and forgiveness. These wages 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.
I hope this sinks in because there are a lot of Christians out there today who are complaining about how unfair it is that President Biden signed an executive order to forgive some of the student loan debt.
If you ask me, helping to ease the financial weight to millions of Americans is one of the most Christian acts an American president has done in a very long time. On paper, it seems unfair. I get that. But as Christ followers, we ought to be supporting it with our whole hearts.
Remember it was Jesus who taught us to pray saying, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).
Some of us think we deserve more because we do more, we give more, we play by the rules. There’s merit in that, for sure. But some of us weren’t able to have the same educational opportunities. Some of us simply don’t have the aptitude or the physical strength that others have to do certain work.
Let’s face it, there are many who can’t afford to be as generous as others because they are buried under enormous debt. A preschool teacher doesn’t make the same amount of money as a CEO. But the price of gas is the same for both.
This parable reminds us that we need to be more sympathetic to those who are at a disadvantage. Time and time again, Jesus clearly demonstrated that.
In the space between the work and wages, God remains gracious and loving to all. Instead of getting mad we should count our blessings and be thankful knowing 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.”
Whether you’ve been faithful and devoted your whole life, or you’re just coming to terms with Christ today, your paycheck is the same. At the end of the day, Christ died for all. And all of creation will benefit because of it.
We should be grateful that our God is a lousy bookkeeper. A God who, as someone pointed out to me, “adds infinity to every paycheck.” Every day, in the space between earning a living and actually living, God doles out infinite grace. Infinite love. Infinite forgiveness. Infinite life.
How grateful does that make your heart feel? I imagine that’s how those workers felt when they are finally hired. I suspect they are paid first, not because they need it more. But because they are able to receive it with joy and gratitude – not with envy or pettiness. God is a generous employer; giving us what we need, not what we deserve. And thank God for that.
God loves and welcomes all into the vineyard where there is still work to be done. But who among us is willing to step in and get your hands dirty?
Who among us is willing to show grace to someone who doesn’t deserve it?
Or forgive one another’s debts and trespasses, just as God did for you and me?
Are you willing to lend a hand to someone who is at a disadvantage without expecting anything in return?
Jesus has called us to continue his ministry of love and redemption, to help others see their worth in God’s eyes. This is our job.
We don’t need to worry ourselves with who came when. Or who does what. We just have to love God, love others and serve both.
In this sacred space of Anamesa, God comes to hire us, to use our gifts and talents for the building up of God’s Kingdom.
This takes more workers like you and me, to be willing to do more planting, more growing and more harvesting the fruits of God’s glory until Christ comes again to give us our final paycheck.
Life, everlasting, in the presence of God almighty.
Based on an original sermon There’s Work To Be Done on September 1, 2019 (accessed on 8-30-2022).
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). (accessed 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.”