St. Mark's Episcopal Church

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Pentecost 16 2017 Sermon
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Rev. Bonnie Campbell

“Let the heart of those who seek the Lord rejoice.”  This line touches my heart as did the young man I visited on Thursday in the county jail.  He told me he is new to believing in God and that he has trouble understanding the Bible when he reads it.  But he wants to learn and understand, he wants to believe in something larger than himself.  I ordered a study Bible for him yesterday and maybe it will help him learn about God and God’s kingdom.  “Let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.”
 
The parable in today’s gospel follows the encounter with the rich young man who went away sad because Jesus suggested he give away all he had to the poor. Jesus told his followers that it was difficult for the rich to enter God’s kingdom. The Message [Eugene H. Peterson] relates the following conversation between Jesus and the disciples:  “The disciples were staggered.  ‘Then who has any chance at all?’  Jesus looked hard at them and said, ‘No chance at all if you think you can pull it off yourself.  Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it.’ Then Peter chimed in, ‘We left everything and followed you.  What do we get out of it?’ Jesus replied, ‘Yes, you have followed me.  In the re-creation of the world, when the Son of Man will rule gloriously, you who have followed me will also rule, starting with the twelve tribes of Israel.  And not only you, but anyone who sacrifices home, family, fields-whatever-because of me will get it all back a hundred times over, not to mention the considerable bonus of eternal life.  This is the Great Reversal: many of the first ending up last, and the last first.”  
 
And then Jesus told them about how God’s kingdom was like a generous manager of a vineyard.  I was touched by the beginning of the story--that this manager would not only give unemployed folks work, but that he would offer them twice the going rate for a day’s labor.  Harvesting grapes is seasonal labor and the story reminds me of today’s migrant workers and folks who live outdoors who would like income from labor.
 
The manager finds the folks in the marketplace, lined up for work. Today’s folks might hang out at a suburban big box home improvement store hoping to be hired for a day’s work.  They stand there in their sturdy clothes, with work gloves and boots and perhaps with a toolbox.  And there is hope in standing there.  And there is hope in the person in orange prison clothing who wants a Bible that can help him learn more about God.  Hope for work and income and hope for a faith that can bring rejoicing.
 
The parable isn’t so much about the workers as the manager and his generosity, his kindness.  This man keeps returning to the marketplace during the day--who knows if he still needed workers or not?  He continued to hire laborers to work the vineyard as the day progressed.  He seems genuinely concerned that there are those who have not had an opportunity to earn money for their families.

If this manager is a stand-in for God, he exhibits God’s willingness to wait and see who will take up the work God has given us to do.  God doesn’t expect a quick response--maybe some of us like to sleep in or some of us walk away sad like the rich young man.  Jesus says in the Kingdom of God, we can come late to the work and reap the same reward from God.  Whomever we know who has scoffed at working for Christ--scoffed at those who believe in God, they still have the opportunity to respond to God’s loving compassion.
 
And the laborers’ find at the end of the day when they line up for their pay that those who worked the longest are paid the same as those who came later and later and later and later.  When the pay was doled out, those who worked the shortest time were paid first so those who had worked the longest would see that all were paid the same.
 
I’m sure we’ve all been in situations where we felt we should have received more praise or more pay or more pats on the back than anyone else.  Somehow what I did was substantially better than what anyone else did.  Yet, sometimes I am disappointed and perhaps what I did was expected of me and what someone else did was more than was expected of them.  So, why do we work for God?

It is supposed to be about God’s glory.  It is supposed to be about extending God’s kingdom to those who don’t know about it.  It is supposed to be about letting people know how much God loves them and the compassion they can expect from God.  It is supposed to be about God and the other and not about me.  After all, we have the considerable bonus of eternal life.  “Are we going to get stingy because {God} is generous?” as it says in the Message Matthew 20:15.

The work is hard. Jesus promised that what was done to him would happen to his followers and his word was borne out.  Paul wrote to the Philippians of his struggle between being with Christ and continuing the work he had to do. According to Jesus, Paul’s reward will be the same as for each of us, eternal life. What more could we ask for?
 
Jesus is telling his followers about compassion.  If you have an opportunity to be generous, give.  If you have an opportunity to be kind, attribute it to God’s kindness and compassion for you and be kind.  As Paul’s words from The Message state: “As long as I’m alive in this body, there is good work for me to do.”
 
Telling people about God and his love for them is the work we need to do. And, I exhibit this by visiting people in jail. When they ask me theological questions, I always tell them I KNOW God loves them.  I always thank the corrections officers for making it easy for me to visit folks in jail.  They tell me that my visits help and they appreciate that I come.  On Thursday when I left, I saw one of our church members and several other people waiting in line to visit relatives in jail.  As I stopped to talk to her, more people came in and pushed the button to speak to the person at the desk.  No one can check in to visit until the appointed time and the people who were waiting noted that there was a line and it was suggested they should wait their turn when the last four minutes of the wait was up.  And, today we read about folks lining up in order to be paid and the last were paid first.
 
I have the privilege of visiting family members in a jail room where I can physically touch people, give them a hug if they want it, hold their hands while we pray and the families visit under the restriction of others being able to hear their conversation and not being able to touch or brush away a tear. And, if you have a felony conviction, you can’t visit at all.
 
I will go back to visit our friend’s relative because we love him and God loves him. I worry about his future, what it will hold.  And, many are worried about the future. It feels sometimes like we are wandering in a wilderness, eating the same food everyday and wondering when someone in power will do something to effect a positive change.  Yet, we can do something now.  We can act with kindness and generosity and place our trust that God is here and will show us a way to sustain ourselves and the Earth.
 
God is gracious and merciful, generous and abundantly good, even to the point of offending us because we want more than those who came later.  [Sojourners Sept/Oct 2011] “Let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.”


 
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