Playing a little catchup at this end of the Church year. Being the new Pastor, showing up on the eve of the stewardship time was a challenge. Rather than just talk about Money, which I think limits our view anyway, I talked about stewardship of relationships, of worship and how our discipleship journey informs the decisions we make on many levels.
here is the sermon from September 16, 2011 with the Workers in the Vineyard on the Sunday of the week that Reading was named the "Poorest City in the US."
Trinity Church on Wall Street, New York City hosts an annual conference “Trinity Institute,” where they bring together religious and economic leaders to talk about how the church and the world intersect. A recent topic was entitled,” Building an Ethical Economy.” Just hearing ethics and economics together is probably challenging, especially as we experience jobs going offshore, and those who have jobs being stretched farther and farther, and financial wrongdoing. One of the Institute speakers was Dr. Kathryn Tanner who talked about our behaviors in the marketplace- we want to get our fair share of money and resources. We carve out our turf quickly because there’s not enough to go around, and some of us deserve it more than others. She asked what would happen if we saw the money and resources of our marketplace the way we see grace. I can have God’s grace and so can you and you and you. And there’s still enough to go around the world and across time. We can relax, quit competing so hard and trust in God’s arrangement of grace and providing. When I first heard her, I thought “Wow, what a radical idea!” Yet there’s this problem. I’m not so sure we see God’s grace that way. In fact I think sometimes we drag our marketplace perspective into our churches. We start deciding who should have a share, or a say. Who’s been here longer, or worked harder. Who’s earned it. We decide how God should be generous. It’s hard to embrace new faces or ideas because we already know how we do things, who does things and who ought to be included like it’s a payroll.
I’d like to ask us to look at our parable today as the Parable of The Unchosen and contemplate those left behind workers in the marketplace as people not numbers. And see God’s actions from their perspective. Anyone who’s ever lost a job or wondered if they will find one knows this feeling. We stand and look around at others and find ourselves saying it’s just NOT FAIR that we’re left out or passed over. The marketplace is a place that decides who’s worth it and what they’re worth. It uses terms like “planned obsolescence,” “depreciation,” “Past their prime” and “downsizing.” All ways of saying things and people become un-chosen. We might hear the parable as workers left out who were just lazy, our own lives tell us otherwise. Especially here in Reading-many who were chosen are feeling unchosen- when they’re too old, when the company moves because other workers are cheaper. And we live with the label –DISTRESSED CITY. Perhaps sadly we know the sinking feeling that we don’t feel like the chosen ones. You’d think we’d be able to keep the marketplace mentality out of our churches. But at times we rely on our history, and past performance. We know who’re the deserving ones. Here are a couple examples of what this might look like:
A young woman joined a church and she wanted to be involved. She saw they needed teachers for Sunday School so she signed up to help. But no one called. Those in charge continued to ask for help so she called the person in charge and offered again. She was brushed off. “Thanks, we have people who handle this and we’ll let you know.” But they didn’t. The young woman persisted- “You need help and I am willing.” “Well, dear you don’t seem like the teacher type.” It’s not fair. Sometimes we don’t want to share with the newcomer. But for that woman it meant she was the UNCHOSEN, standing in the marketplace with those left behind workers. Idle and wondering -Will anyone pick me? Or will they pass me by?
A group of older adults had met for fifty years for mid-day worship, Bible study and lunch. They used to number over 150. Now there were 18. Some people thought that if only 18 were left, maybe the time had come to say it wasn’t worth it. Their time had passed. And people were ready to cast them back into that marketplace with the un-chosen. For some it’s unfair to dedicate resources to such an insignificant group. But the Bible study group felt the sting of being seen as UNCHOSEN and outdated. It’s unfair and it’s a shame. When we turn God’s grace into a commodity that some can have and others cannot, it causes pain.
Can we identify with these struggles? Of being ones who haven’t been picked, or passed by? In our neighborhood and here at Holy Spirit, I hear some wondering about the future-and on a bad day perhaps asking if we still have a purpose, or value, or whether it’s too late. To those who wonder-God has three things to share this day- we can’t tell God how to be generous, we don’t know what time it is in God’s plan, and none of us decides who God chooses.
Here at Holy Spirit, we’ve been chosen in this part of God’s vineyard. The vineyard is not and SHOULD not be the marketplace. The vineyard’s a place where there’s a different vision of work, and worth and where there is something to be shared. Jesus says it’s never too late and keeps seeking out our co-workers and there is enough for all. God’s not done with this place or with us. While at times this will challenge us to see that other ideas or new faces are a part of God’s workforce, they will also be ways God will bring life and generosity to all of us. We don’t have to compete to be chosen. Because no one has to be the UNCHOSEN. We don’t have to live in that mentality. God’s grace is abundant and surprising.
My ordination here yesterday is God’s bold proclamation that it’s not too late in the day, and no matter whether you are young or old, a life longer or a newcomer, God has need of each of us. God has room for each of us. And each of us is worth it to God. This is good news! So come! It will take all of our hands, and those of our neighbors, but God’s got work for all of us and the harvest will amaze us. Let’s join together in trust and by the grace of God, let’s show the world that God and not the marketplace has the last word. We are rich indeed! AMEN