15th Sunday after Pentecost—Year A—Sep 21, 2014

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15th Sunday after Pentecost—Year A—Sep 21, 2014

Preached at the Lutheran Church of Framingham

Let the words of mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight,

O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen

            There once were three friends who got the experience of a lifetime—free tickets to the seventh game of World Series, at which the Red Sox were sure to win! However, when they arrived at their seats, they discovered they were not seats at all. Instead in front of them—between them and the field—was a wall! A little confused the tallest of the three, who was just tall enough to see over, went up to the wall, strained on his tiptoes. The tallest stumbled back in surprise, and after a moment exclaimed “that is amazing!” Their seats offered the best view of the game ever imaginable—that is if they could just see over the wall. The other two, who were not tall enough to see over—even if they went on their tippy-toes or even jumped—asked the tallest to describe what was happening, but it just was not the same as being able to see the game for themselves.

            Conveniently however, there were three wooden crates a little ways down the wall. They looked really sturdy, so the three dragged them over to their assigned position along the wall. But then they realized that each standing on one crate would not allow all three to see. The shortest would still be too short to see the game over the wall. So they tried a couple of different arrangements…

Shortest Middle Tallest  
0 0 3 Stupid
0 1 2 Less Stupid
0 2 1 Just as Stupid
0 3 0 Still Pretty Stupid
1 0 2 Just as Stupid
1 1 1 Equality = Sameness = Fairness
1 2 0 Getting Closer
2 0 1 Better for the short guy
2 1 0 Equity = Justice = Grace
3 0 0 Middle Child Syndrome

If you do the math, as I have done in the form a table for those who are more visual, there are ten possible configurations. Eight of these I have titled some level of stupid. There are two that most likely would be considered in the real world. [1] The first is the equal distribution—one crate to each. However, because as we know the wall is as tall as the tallest person, and the tallest is two crates taller than the shortest, given the shortest only one crate still leaves them unable to see Big Papi hit a Grand Slam! However, this is what most people would consider “Fair.” It is like when parents try to make sure that each child gets an equal amount or value of presents on their birthdays or at Christmas. It is like when look at the stack of pizzas, count the slices and the people, and declare everyone gets two pieces—no more, no less. However, not every person needs the same daily intake of calories to survive and thrive in the world. And not every person needs the same volume of food to feel satisfied and full enough to go about the next activity uninhibited by rumbling tummies.

And that is where the other configuration of crates comes in. Instead of equality being the premise, it is equity. The equitable and just configuration would be to give the shortest two crates, the middle one crate, and the tallest none. This was they are all about the same height, and can enjoy watching the Red Sox win the World Series!

However out of both of those configurations can come envy and jealousy. In the first, everyone gets an equal number of crates, but the outcome is not equal—they cannot all see the game. The shortest is jealous of the other two who will not miss seeing the wave coming around Fenway. In the second, although the outcome is equal—all can see the crowd together sing “Take me out to the ball game” during the 7th inning stretch, they do not all have equal number of crates. The tallest and the middle could start to envy the shortest, because of they have more crates.

We see the same jealousy and envy percolate in the story of the vineyard workers that we hear Jesus tell. The workers who worked the longest are upset that those who did not work as long got the same daily wage—one denarius—the bare minimum one needed to survive back then. It does not seem to matter to the first that they received what they were promised, as much as it does that the others did not deserve it. We do not hear how those who were hired in the middle of the day felt, but I can imagine that although grateful to have also received a denarius—more than they were probably expecting—some might have also been jealous that the last received the same as well for only one hour’s work.

But if the manager had paid strictly based on an hourly rate, then all of those who had not been hired at the beginning of the day would be jealous of those who were given the opportunity to work the entire day and earn what they needed to survive.

Either way—equality or equity—fairness or justice—we humans can find something of which to be jealous.

Look at Jonah. Even a prophet of God, who went around proclaiming the goodness of God, was angered when Jesus showed mercy to the people of Nineveh because Jonah did not think they deserved such mercy. Jonah gets mad at God because (as I imagine Jonah says it) “the Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”[2]

Jonah enjoyed grace when it was shown to him—in the form of the shade of the bush—but was not so keen when the same grace was dolled out to those Jonah deemed unworthy.

But if you do not let grace be grace for others, how can you expect grace for yourself?

Grace—the free love and life given by God—is just that free—generous to a fault—unmerited—unearned—against human logic. Although we are all children of God, equal in God’s eyes, we do not exist on earth each in the same circumstances:

  • some of us are shorter and some taller
  • some of us are considered beautiful and some are not
  • some of us are Anglo and some are not
  • some of us speak fluent English and some do not
  • some of us are highly educated and some are not
  • some are raised being told God loves us and some are not

And therefore, God’s grace is manifested in our lives in a variety of ways—not necessarily in what by human terms we would consider equal, but in the end it all balances out—we all get to have front row seats to the glory of God and everlasting lives. Not because we earned it, but because Christ made it possible.

So let us use Jesus’ parable reminder as an occasion to rejoice, not only because God has shown you compassion, but also because God forgives others as well. God loving another person who does not look like you, or worship the way you do, or speak the same language, or give to God’s church and mission the way you do, or engage in the same kind of relationships…does not take any of God’s love away from you. There is more than enough to go around!

So instead of being like Jonah, and lamenting, let us be like the Psalmist and sing God’s praises, for “the Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”[3] Amen!

[1] Illustration based on http://www.nassakb.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/equality-and-equity.jpg

[2] Jonah 4:2, NRSV.

[3] Psalm 145: 8, NRSV.

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