Sermon preach on Sunday, September 24, 2017
Jonah 3:10-4:11; Phil. 1:21-30; Matt. 20:1-16
© David B. Batchelder, 2017
I don’t want to make waves here, but there is noone in this room who Deserves to be an American citizen. Not me, not you, or the person next to you. As “blessed” as anyone might feel they are as a citizen of this country, deserving has nothing to do with it. It’s happenstance, pure good fortune.
But, in the light of faith, happenstance and good fortune are re-conceived as gifts of grace, falling where they will from the abundant goodness of a God who causes even the sun to shine and the rain to fall on both the righteous and the wicked.
This is why the Bible enjoins us to give thanks always and for everything, because the bad we suffer is not God punishing us, nor is the good we experience God rewarding us.
Those who suffered Harvey and Erma, and now Maria, are not paying for their sins any more than those who survived Mexico’s earthquake were more deserving than the 200 plus (including children) who were killed. A majority of Christians would agree with me on these statements.
But when we apply the same theology to the debate about Dreamers and their status and future in this country, the conversation defaults to arguments about “deservedness.”
Today, our scriptures offer us something to think about as 800,000 non-citizens live anxiously after President Trump’s announcement about winding down DACA.
In Matthew, Jesus confronts a dilemma. The dilemma is this: Divine “FAVOR” is not the same as human “FAIRNESS.” Nevertheless, popular opinion thinks it is! Divine favor and human fairness each operates on a different calculus. They cannot be reconciled. Each has a completely different starting point and each will deliver you to an entirely different conclusion.
Let’s go to the end of jesus’ parable, you know, when the workers get paid. What erupts at the pay-window is anger and outrage, because the amount given those who worked a full day, is no more than what is paid to those who started as late as 5 pm.
How do you explain this anger? There’s no way to account for it without concluding that the first hired workers expected to be given more. Though they were hired under “terms”
described in the story as “the usual daily wage,” they expected more, because their thinking was calibrated for “fairness.”
Those hired at 9 am (and presumably every worker thereafter) are described in the story as being promised “whatever is right.” By the end of the story, the angry workers confronting the landowner are told that the landowner exercised an owner’s prerogative to pay the “last the same as” was given to the first.
In the DACA debate, the level of anger that I’ve witnessed seems no less than that of the first-hired workers. Do you remember the Thursday morning following the President’s announcement, how social media lit up with outrage because the President had blown-up his base having “cut a deal” with Democrat Party leadership?
Why the level of anger? It’s because, they say, Dreamers do not deserve the free pass given them under President Obama. Their outrage is based on the calculus of fairness.
But what if fairness has nothing to do with it, nothing to do with anything in this life or this world that God made and over which God exercises sovereignty? Human fairness and divine favor cannot be reconciled; and this parable asks listeners to choose the world they want to live in.
Do you want to live your life according to the principle of getting everything you truly deserve,” or the principle of getting “what is right” as determined by a God of extravagant generosity?
When we pray our intercessions each week, do we pray only for people who deserve help, healing, and rescue? I don’t think so. Why do we pray for all people, including our enemies?
It’s because it is in the nature of God, revealed in the life of Jesus, to show mercy indiscriminately.
This explains why Jonah gets so upset with God in our first reading when God extends Nineveh another opportunity to return to God. Jonah is offended by God’s generosity and tries to argue God out of showing mercy. Jonah was wired for fairness, but God’s heart is filled with grace.
Sisters and brothers, Jesus was promiscuous with forgiveness. He was wanton with compassion. And when he faced legal constraints against showing kindness, he broke the law. For Jesus, the law of love trumps everything else, even Presidents.
Aren’t you glad Jesus lived this way? Or would you rather have God act according to “deservedness?” None of us could survive it including all the Christians who believe in the righteousness of their opposition to DACA.
Now when we offer our prayers for the world, the Presider (that’s me) concludes the prayer with a collect. A collect “collects” the petitions into a kind of summary before ending the prayer. Here is one of the collects we often use that has a 450 year history in the Christian tradition.
God of mercy, . . . Accept and fulfill our petitions, we pray,
not as we ask in our ignorance,
nor as we deserve in our sinfulness,
but as you know and love us in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Avery wise thing to do when we find ourselves angry in situations where our sense of fairness seems offended, is to take a time out and ask God to show us where that anger is coming from, especially before we invest our anger with righteousness.
The first hired in Jesus’ story were filled with righteous indignation that they were being wronged. How different is that from those who feel wronged because they believe they earned their citizenship so there shouldn’t be shortcuts for anyone? For the first hired workers to reason that they’ve been wronged completely misses an important truth, says the landowner. “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?” There’s that conflict between human fairness and Divine favor, the calculus of deserving versus the anti-calculus of grace. Then the landowner asks, “or are you envious because I am generous?”
Generosity will either multiply itself producing more generosity, or it will expose the envy that lays hiding in our hearts. Envy is a toxic spill off from living our lives calibrated to deservedness. And the by-product of envy is discontent.
The envious in Jesus’ story are laden with discontent, unable to escape it, unable to appreciate having been hired and paid a day’s wage. And the problem the envious face is that they keep running into people who seem to have more than they deserve, as well as nasty people who never seem to get what they do deserve.
Generosity, on the other hand, understands that all I am, all I have, and all I will ever be is owed to God who gave me my life, my health and abilities, my privilege and good fortune, a God who has spared me countless times usually without my ever even knowing it, and blessed me over and over even when I hardly notice to say “Thank You.”
Generosity thrives when people tune their lives to grace, trusting it for themselves and, therefore, not resenting it when grace is poured out to others even “others” who might appear by some group’s criteria to be “questionable.” For all of us are sinners, aren’t we, unable to claim anything that might commend us to God. We stand together as one in our utter neediness for the grace of God.
So Jesus’ story can either be your worst nightmare, or it can be a dream come true. In a world that is scrutinizing the deservedness of refugees and immigrants, even citizens of a particular race and religion, let us be a witness to the God who annuls the category of deserving altogether and gives to all according to God’s abundance so that we might share abundantly with others, all others.