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"From the Pulpit" - September 24, 2023

"From the Pulpit" - reflections on the weekly texts, from Pastor Greg at Living Lord Lutheran Church Vero Beach, FL

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. 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.’ 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.”

"The Survey Said!!!"

Familiar with that game show question? If you said "Family Feud", you'd be correct. Now, I'm not a game show type - I just never had any interest in the format. But I have on occasion watched Family Feud. I passed by it the other day and, do they have a new host? Is Steve Harvey no longer hosting the show? But you know the format - two families compete against one another for prizes and cash, based on how well their answers to survey questions match that of the "survey group", whoever that is. After the family answers the questions, the host compares their answer to the survey answers. Thus, "the survey said!"

Anyhow, we began our weekly Wednesday bible study this past week. BTW, you're invited! Join us at 10 any Wednesday morning. Anyhow, we were looking at the gospel lesson for this Sunday, where Jesus is again telling the disciples what the kingdom of heaven is like. He does this often. So, we asked one another what we thought the kingdom of heaven is like. Answers included things like peaceful; calm; restful; reunion with loved ones; no more sorrow or death, and stuff. You know, the usual answers that we all imagine about heaven.

But no one, no one came up with anything close to what Jesus is describing what heaven is like. No one! No one said that the kingdom of heaven is "unfair". No one!

You know the story - the vineyard owner pays the laborers a day's wage, whether the laborers start early in the morning, or come just before quitting time. Each laborer gets a full day's wage. By our human standards, it's just plain unfair! Go figure. I know we're looking at the UAW strikes now, where employees are holding out for better wages and benefits, and so on. And management complains that they can't afford to pay more - that wages now are sufficient.

Anyhow, the vineyard owner (Hint: God) tells the early workers, who complain about the late workers, that he's doing them no harm; to take what belongs to them, since that's what they agreed to. And he then asks something like, "Am I not entitled to do with what belongs to me as I see fit?" And then he asks the early workers if they're envious because he, the vineyard owner, is generous? And he ends the parable with that saying, the first shall be last, and the last shall be first. Whoa!

In this story, as in so many of the parables of Jesus, we realize how limited and narrow our understanding of God's bountiful love and grace are. We see, as St. Paul says, "through a mirror dimly". The point of the parable, like it or not, is that the love and grace of God is God's alone to give. We live in the vineyard, if you will. We are the laborers, and come early or come late, God's bounty falls on us all. It may not seem fair to us who walk as yet by faith. And God, being God, spreads out God's grace as God sees fit. Not a one of us saw heaven in this light the other day. Maybe we see heaven the way we HOPE it will be, which may be at odds with how Jesus is describing it here in this parable.

My message for Sunday will be about the seeming "unfairness" of God's love. That the rottenest among us, however we might define these folks, the latecomers among us, those who don't play by the rules as we see them, still are in the vineyard, and still, therefore, eligible to receive the blessings of God. As St. Paul often described himself, "I chief among sinners", am still a benefactor of God's boundless love, despite my having persecuted Christians (that's St. Paul speaking.) That means, dear confessors of the faith, that there's still hope for us all. That even though I or another might come "late" to the vineyard, we are still able to receive God's blessing and mercy.

So, that's good news for us. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Included with this post are:

1. A link to Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton's statement on the ELCA's position on a new thing in our world called "Christian Nationalism", or even more specifically, white Christian Nationalism. Go to the link below to hear and see her three minute talk on this. Bishop Eaton, as Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, speaks for our (little "c") church - the whole church. What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Click on the link below, or go to Her note is right there on the home page.

"Grace Greater than Our Sin"

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