The Story of You – God, Help us to Embrace your Grace
Sermon Scripture: MATTHEW 20:1-16
[Jesus said to the disciples:] 1“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 8When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Jesus tells us a story today that is all at once gift and incredibly annoying. I mean, it’s a great story if you are the one who slept in late, had your leisure cup of coffee, wandered into town, and still ended up with a full day’s pay. Wouldn’t we all like that? the gift of time and space to be refreshed and work. Hmmm,sounds kind of like retirement… or a sabbatical
But it’s not such a great story if you are the one who got up early, shot back your coffee and didn’t have time to chew your food before you, dropped kids off at three different schools, and headed into a long day of focused work with no space or time and in the end you end up with the same work, same pay, same monetary outcome. Kinda like if your partner goes on sabbatical and you don’t… maybe a bit annoying at times?
Here is this story where we might be able to really channel that inner three year old. where we would like to argue with Jesus, say it is not fair, stomp our feet and pout in our room. Because here is another story where Jesus tells us something that is quite opposite of what we are told by the world and that really loud voice that lives inside our head. You must work more, do more, be more and earn your place. Rest is for the weak, sipping your coffee while looking at a sunrise instead of devouring every piece of news that comes across a screen is shockingly lazy. We can be quick to place ourselves in the spot of the workers who put in the long day and didn’t get more out of it, that is an easy place to identify and see ourselves in this story. It is really comfortable there in that place because we so often live it and don’t even see the space for the other side to be true for us as well.
As I am now living on the other side of sabbatical, the other side of pure gift of time for deeper engagement in my family, spirituality, view and knowledge of so much of the world, I am living in this state of gratitude. Just such deep felt experience of the gift and grace you extended to me for this space making and such a deep felt gratitude that I have this community, this home, to come back to and to continue to be embraced in your love and welcome and grace. And a closet full of ping pong balls, which I love and read as I pick up one by one off my floor.
On this side, I see all the grace, but I must confess that The beginning of sabbatical was a little tough, not because I wasn’t loving the places I was seeing and experiences we were having but because I did not feel like I earned one second of this time. I kept trying to stay stuck as a worker who did her best, got up early, was productive every second of the day and could go to bed knowing at least something got done which the voice in my head told me meant I earned my place on earth that day. So, here I am with this gift of living differently and seeing differently and sitting with this gift, not sure how to embrace it. Kevin, our faith formation minister asked me this question recently—so when was a moment when you were just like wow, I am so grateful I am here seeing this, doing this, right now. Well there were many moments but the story that came to mind I believe was the first moment was during the first week when we were in Iceland and it was cold and I don’t like to be cold and it makes me grumpy. The winds there can get up to 80 mph, the kind of wind that if you are in the sandy areas will strip the paint off of your car (and the rental company makes it very clear they are not paying for that!) We experienced a lot of wind-nothing that high but the kind of wind that you can lean back into and it will hold you up. So our plan was to walk up to this ravine, a slot canyon of sorts in the rock on the side of the mountain, where you could follow the stream for a bit into the mountain. We had already been in an out of the car a few times to see seals and get coffee to warm us up so we knew what we were up against when we pulled into the parking lot of this hike. The distance was less than a mile but it was a wide open to the strength of the wind path going only up. The four adults looked at each other in the car and one of us said, “hmmmm not so sure this once in a lifetime experience is gonna be worth it.” John, the 13 year old boy with more energy than the wind, looked at us like we were all seriously lame and said, “Well, I’m going!” and proceeded to get out of the car. So we pushed our way out of the car and up to the ravine taking each step with purpose and balance, engaging that core, and keeping our heads down so we could see just right in front of us. At one point we turned around, leaned into the wind and let it hold us while we looked out at the gorgeous space we were in, the openness, the sky, the beauty around us. And it was there, that moment, I took a deep breath and felt a huge thank you. Thank you I am here on this incredibly awful, windy, grumpy day doing something I would never have done without my boy’s spirit pulling me up the path, this is the space needed, the space to step out of comfort and just be present fully in this moment of grace.
Here is the truth. We are all on the side of grace whether we like it or not, whether we embrace it and live into it or not. Even when we feel like we are the ones on the short end of the stick, We are all on the side of grace. Jesus tells this story because for him there is no room for binary thinking, for this or that, either/or, in/out. We don’t know who did more work or who earned their pay that day or didn’t or who did what to deserve anything. What we do know is the Jesus consistently and constantly tells stories of throwing grace around like it’s free for everyone. He tells stories to get us out of our own heads, to change the voice that is loud and proud and tells us to produce every second, to flood the messages of the world that you are only worthy based on what you make, or do, or achieve. And this grace, it is there to embrace each and every day in the big moments and the in the teeny tiny ones that are easily missed.
Embracing grace is not always that easy. It takes being present. It takes setting some things down-literally like cell phones and watches and the piles of work. And it is also setting down the burdens of our minds and hearts, the unmet expectations and the ache of earning our place on earth, even setting down our eve and sense of what is fair, so we can be open to the grace in our midst. It means giving time to taste our food, to remain present in a conversation, to notice God around us even on grumpy days. It means getting uncomfortable enough to pause and let go of those things that bind us. It’s what we do every time we have confession, when we say those words we confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves please forgive us God, we are praying for the ability to hear the absolution, the words of promise that Yes you are forgiven, you are free from your sin and let them sink in from our ears into our minds filling our hearts.
Then what happens is true miracle, embracing grace for ourselves leads us to embracing grace for others. Because when we are forgiven and know it, when we live as messengers of what we have received, extending it to others. Leads us to walk alongside someone else and help them take that load off their back. Leads us to see those who are named lazy, unworthy, not earning their place with the eyes of forgiveness and gives us the space to help make a path for God’s grace to be real and lived into in what we speak for and against, where we place our time and money, and how we silence the voice of you are not enough—because that in truth is that voice is lying and not being enough, well it’s not a thing with God— What is a thing is allowing the song of God’s infinite all encompassing love to pulse through our bodies—because grace and love and mercy and forgiveness, those are all the things. The promises that we lean into like the wind, these promises will hold us upend show us what God will do next in this free embrace of grace.
Let us pray—
Jesus, we confess that we are in bondage and cannot free ourselves. Send your grace to wash over us, open our eyes to the moments of your presence, the love that appears when we do hard things, and the grace that opens us up to live into your embrace. May we allow the words of our baptism the calling of our forgiveness to enter the crevices of our lives so we live in the freedom that is promised and open to each of us. Amen