Matthew 20:1-16; Luke 14:1-6; 12-14
Series on the Foundations
Elizabeth M. Deibert
When you’re a teenager and you hear about an event coming up, what is the first question that comes to your mind as you decide whether you want to go? Who else is going? Who’s going to be there? Who is going with us? Maybe some of you who attended the Adult Night Out with Peace last night wondered, “Who is going?” You knew Peace people were going, but maybe you knew nobody in particular. As we mature, we usually feel more secure about going places, even if we’re not sure who will be going with us.
This is the fifth week of a five sermon series on the Foundations of Presbyterianism, in which we have we have looked at the mission of the church, asking “What are we doing?” We have remembered Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church, asking “Whose in charge?” We considered the ancient marks of the church, asking “What makes us who we are?” Last week we examined the great ends, the goals of the church, asking “Where are we going?” And now we ask, “Who is going with us?” The section of the Foundations we are dealing with today is titled “Openness to the Guidance of the Holy Spirit” In this section, we learn that the Church is marked by both continuity and change. The great slogan of the Reformation is “Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda scundum verbum Dei….“The Church reformed and always being reformed according to the word of God.” We do not reform the church just for sake of change, for a sense of freshness or innovation. No, we reform, as we believe the Spirit of Jesus Christ, speaking through the Word, prayerfully interpreted by the people is calling us to “not to be conformed to this world, but transformed by a renewing of our minds.” (Romans 12:1-2)
That’s what happening in the Presbyterian Church now, as we receive this new form of government, as we are more open to the Spirit, less prescriptive in our ordination standards, believing that anyone who joyfully submits to the Lordship of Jesus Christ can be called to ordination to service as elder or minister.
For many years, unity in diversity has been a high value of Presbyterians. We take the words from Galatians 3 very seriously – there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, for all of you are one in Christ.” We believe we should actively seek to become more diverse and should guarantee the full participation and representation of all persons, “regardless of race, ethnicity, age, sex, disability, geography, or theological conviction.”
We require one essential for membership – trust in Jesus Christ, which includes renouncing evil and affirming reliance on the grace of God. We expect of those being ordained as leaders that they live exemplary lives of faithfulness and that they can affirm the questions of ordination. But we always want to be open to the Spirit’s calling persons different from ourselves. We respect differences of opinion in theology, politics, and sociology. We are open to all others, even those we are tempted to scorn, because we see in the gospels that Jesus was radically open and hospitable to those whom the religious authorities of his day shunned. This boundless love of Christ, which seems to put everyone on a level playing field, is our subject today in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The parable in Matthew teaches the profound generosity of God to give freely to all, even those we deem less deserving.
Hear the good news: NRS Matthew 20:1-16 "For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 When he went out about nine o'clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4 and he said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' So they went. 5 When he went out again about noon and about three o'clock, he did the same. 6 And 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?' 7 They said to him, 'Because no one has hired us.' He said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard.' 8 When 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.' 9 When those hired about five o'clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, '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.' 13 But he replied to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?' 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last."
It is not fair. It never will be fair. That’s grace – the free gift of God that I do not deserve and cannot earn. So why not live it up, do whatever the H you wanna do, until you get to the end of your life as if you know when that is? Because, despite what the world tries to tell you, that is not really living it up. That’s living it down, living it rough, living it hard, though it may initially seem easy. That life of self-indulgence, party until you drop, do as you please is not the best way to live. It looks attractive but it’s not. It looks liberating but it’s not. It looks enjoyable but it’s not. No, the free life is the life lived for others. The best life is the life given over to God. The joyful life is one in which we worship God, love others, and respect what God has created. We were made for this, and in this we are becoming who were intended to be. To do anything else is to run away from our destiny. You are a child of God, destined to live a life pleasing to God. The consequences of sin (doing things not pleasing to God) are not pretty; they are harsh. So move toward God. Live for God. Live for others. And then accept that God will continue to be generous to all people, which means those who think they need to be in first place, will often be put on hold. It’s not fair, but it is right. It is about building our character, developing our righteousness, our likeness to Jesus Christ.
And moving from one reversal story to another, we turn to Luke 14, where Jesus cares more about healing a sick person than about obeying rules, where Jesus challenges the important leaders that they’d better start thinking about the people they ignore, the people they consider beneath them.
Hear the gospel: NRS Luke 14:1-6; 12-14 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. 2 Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. 3 And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, "Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?" 4 But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. 5 Then he said to them, "If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?" 6 And they could not reply to this….12 He said also to the one who had invited him, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
If we are gathering for worship on a Sunday, and we are too pre-occupied not to notice the hurting among us, then shame on us. If we hold a committee meeting to accomplish the work of God without taking time in that meeting to attend to the cares and concerns, burdens and the joys of the people gathered for that work, then shame on us. We are the church, not just a civic organization. We all need the healing power and presence of the Spirit of Christ, and we certainly must attend to that Spirit when we gather two or more together.
When someone comes to the doors of Peace or when we go out from this place to be God’s peace in the world, we must sow love generously, not being concerned with how much we get in return. Our reward is not in being paid back by the recipient of our generosity. Our reward is in the resurrection. Every single person we encounter – no matter their problems or ugly circumstances or sins is a beloved child of God, for whom God’s grace is a boundless, free gift. They, like us, do not deserve such grace.
Our job is live faithfully and to encourage faithful living, within the constraints in which we find ourselves. Our responsibility is to open our minds and hearts to people, whose constraints are different from ours.
Everyone of us has a skeleton in the closet. Some of us have closets with glass doors, while others have solid or locked doors to their skeletons in the closet. Our role is promote healing and wholeness and right living within the context of each person’s life and all its unique challenges.
Jesus said his mission was to announce good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free. When challenged by the Pharisees and scribes about the company he kept, he said “I have come to call not the righteous but sinners." (Matt. 9:13) In the parable of the sheep and goats, he says, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' (Mat 25:40 NRS) He taught his disciples again and again about the last being first. Saying "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." (Mar 9:35 NRS) He challenged them in the Sermon on the Mount, "Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; Jesus says he will know us by our fruits, by the evidences of God’s grace in our lives. 21 "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?' 23 Then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.' (Mat 7:21-23 NRS) We are taught in the gospels, “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted. (Mat 23:12 NRS) The Apostle Paul adds to this by affirming the strength of weakness: Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)
So in the end, we do not know who is going with us? What we do know is that God is free to call whomever God chooses, and we are called to love all people as we have been shown love by Jesus Christ. If he could say from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” who am I to hold anything against anyone?
When the thief on the cross, said “Jesus remember me,” Jesus responded without hesitation, “Surely today you will be with me in paradise.” In fact, Jesus served his betrayer Judas at the table, so why would I withhold Christ’s body from anyone who comes? There is no worthiness, only neediness met by the love of Christ. I’d be wary of any Christians who think they own a corner lot on Holiness Street, and equally I’d be concerned about people who act like they can live however they want because they own stock in heaven.
Hear this story sent to me by Jim Padula: Once upon a time, two brothers who lived on adjoining farms fell into serious conflict. It began with a small misunderstanding and it grew into a major difference and finally, it exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks of silence and a growing wedge.
The two brothers met in middle of the bridge, in an embrace. They noticed the carpenter smile and turn to leave. "No, wait! Stay a few days.” said the older brother. But the carpenter replied, "Got many more bridges to build,” and he disappeared in the sunset.
The church is different from every other community I know in this way: power is found in weakness, forgiveness is the truest sign of strength, riches are found among the poor, those who are hungry, get filled, and people who are excluded and despised because of their faithfulness, get rewarded in the end. Those who are weeping will be rejoicing, the lowly are lifted up. If Jesus ever excluded anyone, it was those who thought they were God’s favorites. The tables are turned completely upside down in the realm of God and that’s why we must stay open to all such surprises that the Spirit of God might bring to us. Who is coming with us? Anybody who wants to come.