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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service.
March 5, 2023
Grace to you and peace from God, our Creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
One of the struggles of being human, especially in the U.S. – particularly here in our area, is being content with what we have or with what we’ve accomplished. We look at the people around us to decide whether what we have or what we’ve done is enough – basing it on what they have or what they’ve accomplished.
For example, we like the car we drive. It’s reliable and gets us where we need to go. But then we see a neighbor with a nicer or a newer one, and we begin to wonder if it might be time for an “upgrade.”
Or – we love our family. But we wonder if the one just down the street is happier because they always look so well put-together and they never seem to argue.
When we compare ourselves to others, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to be grateful for what we have, and we end up feeling envious and resentful of what others have. And by doing that, we belittle the blessings that we have in our own lives.
This “comparison trap” has been around for centuries. And it’s what surfaces in today’s gospel reading. This parable has historically been called “the parable of the laborers in the vineyard.” But several years ago, the emphasis began to shift, and now many people – including me – call it “the parable of the generous landowner.”
In this parable, the owner of the vineyard was a wealthy man. He not only had the money to invest in a vineyard, he was also able to support himself in the 2 or 3 years that it took to cultivate the vines until the grapes were ready for the first harvest. After the grapes were picked and made into wine, he was able to sell that, and the cycle continued.
But the laborers in this parable were day laborers. Exactly like who we see today in places like a Home Depot parking lot. They aren’t lazy. They show up every morning hoping to be hired because they can’t find steady work no matter how hard they try. They stay all day hoping to get work, because if they aren’t hired for a day job then they have to beg for money.
They’re in a very vulnerable position. Work is irregular because they don’t have any guarantee that they’ll be hired for long-term or permanent work. They’re malnourished. They’re often separated from their families, and they probably get sick a lot.
And if day laborers don’t get paid, that means they and their families don’t eat. If their families live someplace else, the laborers keep enough of their wages to buy food and rent space to live – often with other day laborers – and they send the rest of their wages home.
People who do this type of work survive only in the most basic sense of the word. So, even getting paid for a couple of hours’ worth of work is better than nothing at all.
We’re all born with a sense of right and wrong. And that’s good because it normally develops into a foundation for justice and equality that guides the way we live our lives. But our sense of justice seems to be self-centered because we tend to measure our equality in terms of our own needs, desires, and hopes.
And it’s sometimes difficult to think about justice for others if something seems unfair to us. Like getting paid a full day’s wage for only a couple of hours of work. And instead of being happy for the blessing that someone else received, we’re resentful about what we didn’t get. And we wonder why they deserve such grace.
But that’s the beauty of grace. By definition, it’s never given because it’s deserved, but because the one offering it is able to show love. I’m gonna say that again – grace is never given because it’s deserved, but because the one offering it is able to show love.
This is the parable that explains why Jesus gets killed. The gospel, the good news of who Jesus is and who God is, is really offensive. It takes our sense of fairness and completely flips it. And for somebody who lives way up here (hand), like the Pharisees or the Sadducees, that flip is a pretty big shock.
But out of love, God generously gives God’s grace equally to everyone. That’s who God is and what God does. And God longs for us to recognize that grace in our lives, and to stop resenting what we didn’t get so that we can be truly free to love our neighbors as ourselves.
But even when we don’t recognize God’s grace in our lives, the strength of God’s generosity isn’t diminished. Just like the workers in the vineyard who were hired first, we can complain about it when we don’t receive what we think is fair or deserved. Or when someone else gets “more.”
But the blessings we have received don’t go away if we aren’t grateful. Because just because we can’t see God’s abundance in our lives doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
But when we are aware of it, it flips life for us and allows us to focus on the abundance in our lives instead of what’s missing. It allows us to have unfailing compassion for people who may need our help, and it allows us to also graciously receive help. Because it reminds us that none of us gets through this life without help from others.
Being aware of God’s abundance in our lives allows us to work toward bringing to life God’s kingdom here on earth because we can look beyond our own needs and desires. And that awareness allows us to help others achieve their needs and desires because we genuinely want that for them.
In terms of financial wealth, this isn’t a profitable way to live. But is a life that frees us from jealousy, envy, and fear. It’s a life that keeps us from falling into the comparison trap.
We receive God’s grace not because we deserve it, but because God loves us. That’s who God is and what God does. And because God loves everybody, everybody receives that grace.
And God yearns for us to recognize that grace and to stop worrying about what we didn’t get so that we can be truly free to love our neighbors as ourselves.
We all experience jealousy and resentment when we think someone receives something they shouldn’t have. But God invites us into a life overflowing with grace and mercy, with all the provisions we need. With all of the strength we need to leave jealousy and envy behind.
God invites us into this life of abundance despite our fragility and fear of scarcity, and waits for the day when we will share equally in the work of bringing about the kingdom of God.
It’s a gift that’s more than any one of us deserves. It isn’t fair, and that’s the beauty of it. Thanks be to God! Amen.