Sermon by Reverend Christian J. Baron
Pentecost 15, September 21, 2014
Matthew 19:16-30, 20: 1-16
When I was in fourth grade my parents went on a trip to New York City. My folks didn’t go on many of these kinds of trips when I was young and I remember thinking that it was a big deal that they were going. In fact this may have been their first time going away now that their kids were old enough that they could be left in the care of another. I remember when they got home I was very excited to see them. They had promised us gifts. I couldn’t wait. I can’t remember what my sisters received, but they had been with the family much longer than I and their gift probably did not have any pertinence to my life whatsoever. . But my brother got a yellow… stainless steel…. jack-knife. It was gorgeous. I found out later that it was so sharp that it could cut through many things including, sticks, paper, “barbie dolls”…. I have spent countless minutes of my life looking at that thing and imagining myself protecting the vulnerable from grizzly bears and bad guys. But on that day…. It was a sight to behold. As I saw him unwrap that gift…. that knife… I was no longer focused on what he had received…. and though it is hard to believe… all I could think of was myself and that gift I was about to unwrap…. it seemed like a lifetime of dreams and expectations… it seemed like I was actually opening the future… preparing myself for a life of protection and service to the destitute and the lonely… I carefully…. gently and intentionally lifted the tape off the wrapping paper taking time to savor each moment. At such a young age it didn’t escape me that this was a threshold of sorts. Was I becoming a man on this day? There was no way to tell…. I pondered to myself, “This is the day that my whole life changes. I wonder if I will even be able to remember what life was like before this incredible gifting…” Would it be a hatchet? Possibly some nun-chucks? Had my father finally convinced my mother that throwing stars were in fact a great gift for a young, responsible and obedient boy?
I opened the box… I lifted the… I lifted… the … the… I lifted the T-shirt my parents purchased from the Bronx Zoo into the air, on one hand hanging onto that life changing fantasy… and on the other simultaneously realizing what was in fact happening… It was brown. It had yellow text. It was totally practical. It was clothing. How could this be? Parents have to buy your clothing… It can’t be a gift… Something had to be said. Something had to be done. So… I started crying… When I collected myself, I let them have it. “You bought Josh this fantastic and deadly knife and all i got was this stupid T-shirt? Unbelievable!”
Today i read an extra passage before the gospel designated by the lectionary committee. Jesus is in dialogue with the rich young ruler and the disciples and then the author uses the parable to make his point. Just like last week’s reading, Jesus gives a radical directive about what it looks like to follow him and to have eternal life. Last week, we heard the importance of forgiveness and how if we refuse to forgive, our lives will be torturous. In this story, Jesus tells the rich… young… ruler… that he must do the impossible.. Not only must he follow the Jewish Law, but he must sell all he has and follow Jesus.
***He walks away slowly with the Charlie Brown music playing softly in the background.
And then we hear from Peter again… “Look Jesus, we left everything and we are following you. Not bad huh Jesus? Golly, Jesus, I can’t believe it when people are so selfish and can’t pick up and follow you like we did. Hell in a hand-basket Jesus… The whole world… Rich young rulers these days… You just can’t count on em can you Jesus… So, what will our reward be Jesus?”
And while this does make Peter look silly once again, Jesus actually affirms him and his willingness to drop everything and follow. The author is again making the point that Jesus, that God, has plans of expanding the kingdom. The parable of the workers makes it clear that the kingdom wasn’t going to be offered exclusively to those who had been the faithful workers anymore. The kingdom was expanding. It was growing. The vineyard was expanding. There were vines to be pruned… grapes to be picked…. compost to be utilized… there was a new business plan and there was a need for more workers. The vineyard, wasn’t just a place to go and punch the clock. It wasn’t a place that the unions needed to intervene for better working conditions or for more smoke breaks. The vineyard was life giving. The work was what they were created for. The work sustained them… and there were plenty of grapes and plenty of work to go around. The life-giving wine was plentiful and the wages associated with the work was plentiful as well. There was no need to squabble.
I usually feel like I’m the worker who showed up late. I’m just wandering around idly, waiting for something to do… waiting for work. And then I’m offered a job. I’m invited to live into my calling… To see my vocation and to dive right in… I’m invited to enter the vineyard and begin the work that i have yearned for. Begin work that I wasn’t even aware of. Work that I have been called to and that makes me fully human. Work that ushers in God’s justice. Harvesting the grapes that bring joy to all and that will nourish all. I’m hoping to pull my weight so that those who have worked longer and harder don’t feel jipped. And, like the slave last week, I’m hoping that i don’t forget the past. I hope I don’t forget that I was invited to the vineyard and invited into a life of Grace. And when new workers arrive. Workers that haven’t yet pulled their weight. That don’t know how to do things correctly… my hope is that I’ll be patient… and that I’ll serve the landowner by humbly showing them how to pick and how to prune. My hope is that together we can develop new strategies for pruning and picking together…
And, I want to make sure I’m clear here… Calling isn’t just for the ordained. Vocation isn’t just for the ordained. In fact, I think that the Church has not done such a great job of emphasizing that each one of us.. each one of you is being wooed by God to join in the work. Each one of you is being lured by God into the vineyard. To discover this vocation.
Jesus is calling us to work. He is calling you to live radical lives. The common won’t cut it anymore. More is required of us now because the kingdom is expanding. Some may, for a time, like the rich… young… ruler…. hang their heads and walk off as they hear the radical call of Jesus… but they’ll be back because it is in our bones. This work… this calling is programmed deep inside of each human being… in each one of us… in each one of you.
Because the work itself is a gift. Because we are no longer fourth grade boys who cannot appreciate grace and gifting. Because our expectations usually ruin that gift that is set before us and because our expectations about life and about our creator can often times lead to disappointment.
Because the vineyard is big. Because the landowner is good. Because there is harvesting to be done…
He sent them into the vineyard.
Grab a bucket.