Sermon: Deacon Vant Washington III - Fair is Fair - Sept. 24, 2017
Fair is fair. That may be the most meaningless catch phrase in the English language. I’m sure the workers in the vineyard who labored all day used it. They were outraged. What they deemed to be fair just wasn’t what the landowner thought was fair.
As a father with three children, I can tell you that none of my children agree as to what is fair. My older girl would tell you that I always asked more of her than her younger sister. Her younger sister wasn’t as strong or as capable. That led to my older daughter having to carry more responsibilities. It didn’t help that my mother favored my younger child. And, of course, once we added a boy into the mix there were even more disputes about what was fair.
I couldn’t treat all my children the same. They were each unique, each gifted in different ways, each faced with their own challenges. If I had implemented some kind of parenting regime that was consistent for all, I would have hurt all three.
What Jesus is telling us in this parable is that God works with us where we are. He gives us what he knows every human being needs, and that isn’t a bright shiny coin, it is his loving grace and a place in His Kingdom. The reward is the same for all, it is delivered at different times and in different ways.
Now I’m sure some of you got to service rather early this morning and some of you had to sneak in after the service had begun. Should God reward the early birds and punish the latecomers? Should God favor those who are life-long Christians over those who find their faith late in life? Should those at the foot of the cross, who were with Jesus throughout his ministry, be favored over the thief who accepted Jesus as his savior even as he was dying on his own cross?
All congregations struggle with what to do with new members. Should they be required to earn their place in the leadership or should they take a backseat until they’ve learned the ropes? If we think that way, what kind of welcome are we offering? More important, how can we fail to be gracious when we know our Lord is gracious?
As we ponder our decision, it might help to reflect on our own spiritual experience. I don’t know about you, but I know I have had peaks and valleys in my spiritual journey. There have been times when God has seemed close at hand and other times when God has felt far away and almost silent. How can I expect God to be there for me at all times when I keep moving? And yet, this scripture and so many others tell me that God is at hand always. He doesn’t hold my changes against me. He only asks that I enter into a relationship with him and go to work. The reward for that work will be eternal life.
One way of reading the Hebrew Bible’s story is as a series of approaches and retreats by the Jewish people in the face of their God. Time and time again the people turn their back on the covenant they have entered into with their Lord. They break the contract. And time and time again the Lord approaches and says, let’s try this again. Any one of faith, knows what they experienced. We waver, we complain, we fall short and, still, the Lord abides.
Emulating the Lord’s graciousness isn’t easy. In all congregations there are members who have discharged a particular responsibility for years and years. They do the same things in the same ways for decades. And then something changes. Newcomers arrive and offer to lend a helping hand. But that new hand doesn’t carry that responsibility the way the old had is used to. The old hand, sometimes under the guise of being helpful, teaches the newcomer, not that they are welcome and loved, but that they are wrong and somewhat resented. This human drama is acted out time and again in communities of faith. The smallest change can lead to bitterness and infighting.
How fortunate are we to have a gracious God who forgives us our failings. How fortunate are we that we are being offered a second, and third, and fourth chance to find the means to reflect his grace.
If newcomers sometimes place a strain on a community, new leadership can place an even greater strain. The truth is, we are all going to experience a significant change when the new priest arrives. How we welcome that individual will depend on our ability to reflect the graciousness we have experienced in our individual spiritual journeys. We’re going to have plenty of time to develop a new spirit of openness and gratitude. We should probably spend the next six months practicing of skills as a welcoming community.
We can do that by how we welcome each other. In the next six months let’s be especially kind to each other when we meet. Let’s pause and listen to each other before we air our opinions. Let’s pray for each other, especially those with whom we may have had some kind of conflict, great or small. Those prayers will put God in the center of our community, where he belongs. If God is at the center of our community, then we cannot possibly fail to reflect his graciousness. As he told use, “When ever two or more are gathered in my name, there I am.”