Sermon for June 9, 2019
Texts: Leviticus 19: 15-18; Psalm 145:1-8; Matthew 20:1-16
Sermon: "God's Generosity"
Of all the deeply spiritual moments in the life of David, the shepherd boy who became king, one of the most significant happened at a little known and little remembered place called the Brook Besor. (See chapter 30 of First Samuel)
David and the six hundred men with him, had been away to help one of the friendly tribes they worked alongside during this uproarious time in David's life. David and his men had left their families unprotected at their campsite.
While David and his men were away, enemies raided the camp, looted it, and took away all the women and children to be their slaves. The enemy set fire to everything else in the camp. When David and his men returned, they immediately plotted their response. They would go after the marauders and take back all that had been stolen. They would rescue their wives and children.
As they struck out to find the culprits, they stopped to rest at the Brook Besor. About two hundred of the men were too exhausted to go any further. They remained behind, there at the brook. The other four hundred went along with David in the hunt.
The counter-raid went well. David and his four hundred met the enemy, defeated them, and rescued all women and children and recovered their belongings. David and the four hundred men returned to the brook where the two hundred had waited.
A small disgruntled group among the four hundred began to grumble and demand loudly: "These who stayed behind at the brook will not share in what we recovered, as they did not go with us to the rescue. Give them only their wives and children but nothing more."
But listen to how David responded. He said to the grumblers, "Everything we have is a gift from God; we share it with all who are saved by God."
David spoke pure gospel grace.
We don't know about the ones who were left behind that day at the brook. We can only imagine that they were perhaps older, weaker brothers. They were the ones with the arthritic hips and knees. They were the ones who were susceptible to chronic sickness or who had cuts and scrapes that were not healing properly.
That group of six hundred men with David is like the group of laborers in the vineyard. Some were first. Some were last. David insisted that God's generous grace extended to all, and therefore both the four hundred who went with David to recover the lost goods and the two hundred who waited behind shared equally in everything.
The vineyard owner held the same view of grace and generosity.
In the years in which I lived in Atlanta I often saw large groups of men standing on designated corners, on high-traffic streets, looking for a day's work. They would gather early in the morning. They would wait in the cold, in the rain, in the muggy heat of summer -- it didn't matter. They waited for someone to come by and offer them a job. It might be in construction, in agriculture, in landscaping, in moving dirt for a new driveway.
For many of these workers and their families, the chance to work, then and now, is the difference between having food for the next day or not. Some days are better than others. Some days only a few have work offers. Some day all but a few are called out. All are willing.
Unlike the story Jesus tells, the workers who stand on the street corners do not have the experience of the laborers in the vineyard. They get paid for exactly the number of hours they work.
What do they hear: "An honest day's work for a day's pay" or "The early bird gets the worm" or "There's no such thing as a free lunch." The ones who have work each day are the lucky ones. The ones left behind -- well, it just was not their lucky day.
Do you hear how different that is from what Jesus says!
The one hiring workers in the story Jesus tells goes out early in the morning and hires people to come work in his vineyard, promises them a fair wage, but does not hire nearly enough people.
Then he returns four more times to the busy marketplace to find more laborers -- some at nine o'clock, more at noon, and more at three o'clock.
He even goes back to hire more workers only an hour before he knows he will have to close down the day's work because of impending darkness.
With each set of workers, though, (except for the ones at five o'clock) he says, "I will pay you what is right."
At the end of the work day, he sends his manager out to pay the workers, with instructions to give each worker the same amount; and to pay the workers in reverse order of how they were hired. Those who worked an hour received a day's wage and were paid first. Those who worked three hours received a day's wage. So did those who worked five hours and those who worked six and, finally, those who had worked the full day.
Imagine the shock of those who had worked all day. It just doesn't seem fair, does it? It seems all out of proportion -- one hour, eight hours, and the same wage, the same promise kept from the landowner to pay a good wage.
But of course we know Jesus is not really talking about money. Jesus in his parables uses material things to give us human folks something to grab hold of. Jesus knows that talk about money and giving the same amount to someone who works one hour as to someone who works a full day is going to get his listeners' attention. It gets our attention.
Fairness has a long history in the story of humankind. We like fairness. We like to imagine that everyone has equal opportunity to work and to be paid fairly for that work.
We listen to Jesus and wonder about the people who seemed so precious to him.
We wonder: Who are the ones picked just an hour before the day ends? Why are some still standing in the marketplace when the landowner returns for the last time to hire more workers?
Maybe they are like the children who are the last to be selected when teams are choosing sides. Perhaps they are not as attractive, not as self-confident. Their clothes may not be quite as neat. They may have dirt under their fingernails and hair that could use a trim. In other words, they are among those we tend to shun, to look past, to choose last.
The owner of the vineyard answers the disgruntled workers, "Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?"
Jesus tells us that God loves the ones who come first and the ones who come last. Even the late-comer deserves and is given God's gracious gift in the kingdom as God envisions it. If the story is about grace, we are required to acknowledge -- grace is grace; what value can be put upon it; indeed, the value is too high a cost to imagine.
As this parable helps us to see the sin of coveting the blessings of God upon our neighbor, this parable also centers on the generosity of God.
It is about a God whose grace is free and distributed equally to all. Like those at the Brook Besor that day, we find ourselves surprised by grace and standing in awe of it.
God is a generous God.
God calls us to cultivate that kind of generosity. That is what kingdom generosity looks like -- seeing all of God's children as those created in the image of God, insisting that everyone has enough bread for the day.
In kingdom life, Jesus heals our blindness and our cold hearts. We are given eyes to see and hearts to love -- to see with loving eyes and hearts the ones always chosen last, the losers, the less attractive ones, the ones who do not speak quite as glibly or react quite as quickly.
The last shall be first to enter the kingdom of heaven. The first shall be last. What a good and gracious God we have to show us the way to live in that kingdom right here and right now and then to lead us there.