Generosity Envy


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“Will I ever possess enough? Will I ever be enough? Can I ever save enough?” Faith is the enemy of scarcity. Thanks be to God: there is and always has been plenty. You are loved, and you are enough.

Sermon Video

This Week’s Sermon Was Drawn From the Following Scripture

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. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 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?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 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. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 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.’ 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? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

 

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Full Text of Sermon

It takes time…

In 1936, Carl Sandburg wrote an ode to hard-working Americans The People, Yes. Even in the less-developed thirties, the aspirational titles of his poem — Yes— hopes to balance the inherent sorrows of being human in the modern world.

 The people, yes…

The people so often sleepy, weary, enigmatic,

is a vast huddle with many units saying:

    “I earn my living.

    I make enough to get by

    and it takes all my time.

    If I had more time

    I could do more for myself

    and maybe for others.

    I could read and study

    and talk things over

    and find out about things.

    It takes time.

   I wish I had the time.” [1]

 

Abundance & Scarcity

How to manage the limitless bounty of God while we are here on this earth for just a limited time! Today’s theme is abundance and scarcity. Put simply, abundance is yes, scarcity no. Scarcity grips tightly, abundance makes it rain. Scarcity thinking is an outgrowth of fear, while abundance mentality is a choice to practice a kind of holy hope. Abundance thinking is a bit lofty and requires faith. Scarcity is what we become when our basest fears and shortcomings are foremost. But faith in the God—who is greater than all we dream up—requires faith in things unseen and unpredictable, confidence in that which is not yet revealed, participation in the ongoing creation rather than condemning “love from outside the tribe.” For the sake of clarity, I am peeling only a few layers of this enormous onion. I won’t get into much of the gray area that resides between the comfortable shackles of fear or the scary liberation of saying yes.

 

Equality

Biblical scholar Thomas Bohache describes today’s scripture,

…the parable of the vineyard demonstrates that in God’s realm all are to be treated the same. Jesus compares God to a householder who treats all employees equally, even though they have different levels of seniority and have performed differently… [Jesus indicts the] local elites who…control the majority of the wealth and material possessions, while those who are the most numerous have the least… Moreover, God, like the householder, urges human beings not to begrudge each other the bounty of God’s Reign, where there is enough for everyone.[2]

Liberation theology[3] is often disparaged as “baptized Marxism”[4] because liberation theology focuses on the egalitarian aspects of the gospel, like the decommodification[5] of grace which is at the heart of this parable. The last ones on the job were paid the same as the first ones who had toiled all day in the heat, and boy, the first ones tired and cranky! In the ancient Koine Greek, the landowner actually says, in verse 14: “Are you really giving me the evil eye because I’m good” and generous? Seriously? “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Are you envious because I am generous?” Here, Jesus goes deeper than equality as he reveals God’s predilection for the needy. God’s practice is unconditional grace, forgiveness, unearned love—infinite abundance, always more than enough, the shepherd that supplies our needs, the amazing grace that saves wretches like me. I once was bound, but now I’m free.

God’s grace is extravagant and reckless. It is not a commodity to be inventoried or quantified. Equal treatment is one of the layers of this parable.

 

Scarcity Mentality

The next layer is tougher because it calls out something which is a scandal to the gospel: scarcity thinking. Is there enough? Will I ever have enough? Am I enough? Have I saved enough for tomorrow?

Here is another parable that addresses the concerns and the behaviors of the vineyard workers who complained that the vineyard owner’s abundant generosity harmed them. They are working a trick that is very popular today: attempting to identify themselves as victims. I’m speaking of the cult of self-glorified victimhood, that fuels everything from white fragility to our trash-talking president.

The late prophetic Catholic spiritualist and author, Henri Nouwen (1932-1966), put it this way:

Once there was a group of people who surveyed the resources of the world and said to each other: “How can we be sure that we have enough in hard times?  We want to survive whatever happens. Let us start collecting food and knowledge so that we are safe and secure when a crisis occurs.” So they started hoarding, so much and so eagerly that other people protested and said: “You have much more than you need, while we don’t have enough to survive.  Give us part of your wealth!” But the fearful hoarders said: “No…we need to keep this in case of an emergency, in case things go bad for us too, in case our lives are threatened.”  But the others said: “We are dying now; please give us food and materials and knowledge to survive.  We can’t wait, we need it now!”

Then the fearful hoarders became even more fearful…afraid that the poor and hungry would attack them. So they said to one another: “Let us build walls around our wealth so that no stranger can take it from us.” They started erecting walls so high that they could not even see anymore whether there were enemies outside the walls or not! As their fear increased they told each other: “Our enemies have become so numerous that they may be able to tear down our walls. Our walls are not strong enough to keep them away. We need to put explosives and barbed wire on top of the walls so that nobody will dare to even come close to us.” But instead of feeling safe and secure behind their armed walls they found themselves trapped in the prison they had built with their own fear.

 

Sanctuary Church Movement

These days, it’s hard to not know about the DACA[6] debate: children of undocumented immigrants who, in six months, our government says we will start deporting to countries strange to the deportees, children and young adults deported into cultures unknown to them. People argue that they didn’t follow the rules.[7]  Well, here’s a twist: neither does God. Jesus says the first shall be last, the last shall be first. The undeserving ones get the same treatment in the kingdom of God, the same kingdom we, as Christians, are called to nurture and grow. There is only welcome with God—no bitterness, no condemnation.

This week you should have received a communication from Elders Stephanie Gee and Scott Nagelson asking this church to consider the sanctuary church movement. This would mean several things, the simplest being that this church would make a public statement that we are here to stand by the dozens of immigrant nannies who bring the hundred-plus of children to our playgroup every Wednesday morning.[8]  Supporting the sanctuary church movement means undocumented people have documented friends in this church. The objections are obvious:

But they didn’t follow the rules. But there aren’t enough resources to help them with. We don’t have enough time to do this and all the other things we are doing. We don’t have enough money to support those people. To those objections, I reply by paraphrasing the words of the landowner: Are you seriously giving me the evil eye for wanting to help children?

 

Abundance

Calvary, shall we help the last be first, as with God, or shall we recoil into the prison of fear?  Shall we help the first find more meaning through serving Jesus? To claim that we cannot afford something in Pacific Heights, in one of the wealthiest cities in the wealthiest state of the United States of America in 2017 — to say we can’t afford to serve the community generously seems like a smokescreen.

I know somebody is wondering how is this sermon supposed this bless me when it feels like Victor is judging me up one side and down the other. To that objection I reply that helping people will save you from yourself, from greed, from apathy, even from grief. Yes, helping someone else will heal your grief. I know this because I have lived it. God calls us to love people.

 

It takes time…

Perhaps you think you don’t have time, no time to spare for all the needs you’ll see at the Faith in Action Volunteer Fair, no time to Pack-a-Sack. I’d like to share this song with you, by the Church of Scotland’s Rev. John L. Bell. The first two verses sound like me, my excuses for not serving. The third verse of this song, Bell says, is meant as God’s reply to scarcity thinking. I’ll invite you to join me on the final stanza.

 

Time if only I had time I’m sure my life would mime for you

All my energy and love I’d summon up and move for you

As your Word would leet me know, I’d stop to listen, ponder and to grow

      for you, my God.

 Time, if only I had time, I’m sure my life would rhyme for you,

Every whisper of your voice would make my rejoice for you.

As your will would fill my mind, all smaller thoughts would soon be left behind

      for you, my God.

 “Time, oh yes, you have the time, for all the time is mine, says God,

As is music, as is dance and all that hearts and hands applaud.

You are absolutely free to end delay, to give yourself to me,

      my child, my child.”

 Yes, oh help me to say yes, with all that I possess, my God,

With my dreams and with my praise and all my secret ways, my God.

Let your life and mine be one, and my obedience offered up to none

      but you, my God, my God. [9]

 

[1] Carl Sandburg, The People, Yes, New York: Harcourt Brace, 1936, p. 284 (The People, Yes is a 300-page poem.)

[2] The Queer Bible Commentary, London: SCM Press, 2007.

[3] In case you have missed the liberation theology topic altogether, please know that liberation theology is the basis of much of current, mainline Protestant Christianity such as the Presbyterian Church USA, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, United Church of Christ, American Baptist Churches USA and Metropolitan Community Churches.

[4] Thomas N. Finger, A Contemporary Anabaptist Theology: Biblical, Historical, Constructive, InterVarstiy, 2004, p. 245.

[5] Decommidification aims to decrease the influence of commodities and to limit the effect of commercialization.

[6] https://undocu.berkeley.edu/legal-support-overview/what-is-daca/

[7] http://www.npr.org/2017/09/06/548985225/gop-rep-paul-gosar-outlines-opposition-to-daca-program

[8] https://calvarypresbyterian.org/event/playgroup-purpose-3/2017-09-27/

[9] “Time” by Rev. John L. Bell & Graham Maule, Love from Below: Iona Community with the Wild Goose Resource Group Volume 3 of Wild Goose Songs, Chicago: GIA Publications, 1989, pp. 64-66.

 

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