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2015 03 01

 

“It's not fair”
Lent 2
March 1, 2015
For First Mennonite Church of Denver
Vernon K. Rempel, 2015

Narrative Lectionary Bible Reading
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 market-place; 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.’


Introduction
Our big topic for Lent: behaving
 in the sense of practicing
What are key moves
 of our faith?

Last week,
 forgiveness,
Snow day, but I did
 post it on line.

Next week,
 the parable of the wedding feast
Which is a parable
 that's sounds like
More fun than it is.
 the practice will be
Surrendering hardness of heart.

This week,
 the practice of invitation
And welcome.


First, grace
In the story of the vineyard,
 The first act of grace is this:

All day long, going in to the marketplace
 the story builds, the rhythm
  of encounter quickens

early in the morning
also nine o'clock
also noon, and three, and then five

So the little story gathers momentum.
 Why seek workers all day
  in the marketplace.

And when invited, they go.
 They go and go and go.

This is the first act of grace.
 It is always invitation.
  It is always seeking.

Truth seeking humanity.
 seeking people
  seeking us

Truth seeking us!
 Love seeking us!
  God seeking us!

The second act of grace
 has to do with
   the little matter of pay.
  
Each set of workers,
 going in to work
  at their respective hours,

goes in promised "whatever is right."
 Only the early morning workers
  are promised the customary wage.


It appears that the others
 are going in assuming
  they will be paid
   only for the hours worked.

No one would think otherwise.
 No one would go in at
  noon or three or five
   expecting a full days wage.

They just want to work for a fair wage.
 But that is only the first act
  of grace - a fair wage.

You get to work,
 you get paid some.
  At least you're in the vineyard,
   in the economy,
    in the house.

But now comes the shock and surprise,
 the overturning nature of
  the kingdom of God

In the kingdom,
 all the wages are the same.
  No matter how long you labored
   in the vineyard,
    you will be paid the same.
  
Now grace becomes not only
 a generosity, but a disruption.
  Grace makes economies
   not only distributed to all
    but not even a matter
     of simple trade.

Fair day's work for a fair day's pay.
 That is wonderful.
  But God knows that
   calculus will not
    get us to the great community.

Because no calculus can.
 Only when all adding and counting
  and keeping fair

are overrun by the rush of generosity,
 by the rush of grace,
  can we establish the place
   and practice

of abundance that God would have
 on earth.

 


Trummelbach Falls
Trummelbach Falls:
 Somewhere between the Eiger
  and the Jungfrau,
   at the base of the Münsch

is an underground waterfall.

It's roar is the roar of
 the freight-train of the gods,
  a mighty bone-shaking sounding
   of water piling through stone.

One's body hums in sympathetic
 vibration with the roar.
  To draw near to that place
   is to feel the trembling
    and the greatness.

And so, the spiritual imagination
 may also say this:

It is also this roar:
 it is the roar of the love
  of God pouring into the
   human present
    from God's good future.


It is a roar that sets up vibrations
 and sounds that fill our bodies,
  and hearts and minds,
   a roar we can scarcely understand.

It looks like the joyful
 but also fearsome and disruptive
  grace of workers hired all
   day long to work
    in the vineyard.

All day long
 every hour of the day
  people are invited in

to the place of work and provision,
 the place of belonging in society.

All day long they come.
 We all want community,
  we all need community.

All day long we come,
 when we have been waiting
  in the marketplace

idle in our alienation and hurt,
 idle in the trauma we carry,
  idle in our grief and longing.

No one will understand,
 it is to embarrassing,
  it is just too painful.

So we stay out in the marketplace
  
We stay out,
 idle in our misconnections
  and misunderstandings
   idle in our loneliness.

No one would want me
 if they knew me.
  
Or the economic and national
 arrangements make
  it hard, if not impossible,
   to go to school,
    to find work,
     to be normal.

Idle when immigration status
 has left us out;
  when social formulations of race
   have left us out;

 

when sex, or ability, or orientation,
 or religion - our sense of how
  to approach the divine -
   has left us out.

However we are left out in the marketplace
 we are offered work in the vineyard.

And then the strange pay comes
 and it demonstrates to us
  that no matter when we
   were invited in,

no matter when we arrived
 we are fully human,
  fully worthy

and all the history of the day
 is washed away in the great
  roar of God's love and grace

so that at the end of the day,
 we are left standing
  on new ground

and tomorrow we will be
 starting side by side
  among all peoples.

This is not merely a place of counting
 it up. This is a place
  of joyful, radical availability

"And let this be to all people"
 as the angel says to the shepherds.

As long as counting is the main thing
 then privilege will always go
  to the counters.


Dismantling privilege
Privilege, I think, is the hard part
 of the parable.

For privilege is being challenged.
 The privilege of those
  who came first,

who consider themselves to have
 done all the work so far,
  who have set all this up,

who built in the hot sun
 all day long, and
  now someone wants to
   come in and just be part of this?

Privilege of those whom
 history has preferred and blessed.
  Privilege of those for whom
   tradition is on their side.

The freedom of God to forgive & reward
 
Found throughout the Bible:

Yahweh at the burning bush
 I will be who I will be
  
The Tetragrammaton:

 ????, YHWH

 

 


 
(The tetragrammaton in:
 -Paleo-Hebrew (10th century BCE to 135 CE),
 -old Aramaic (10th century BCE to 4th century CE)
 -square Hebrew (3rd century BCE to present) scripts.)

 

Or poor Jonah -
 supposed to forgive Ninevah!?
  after all the've done?

Or the older brother
 of the prodigal son.
  Really...!
   He gets the calf?

In the strange Kingdom
 of God, the first will be last.

Not just for the sake of reversal,
 but because we all
  need to be splashed
   and roared into community.

Otherwise, we stay stuck in
 the market-place,
  stuck in our privilege,
   alienated.

(Extra source:
The Upside-down Kingdom
by Donald Kraybill)

 


Infinite pain; infinite grace
Here is why:
The pain of trauma or exclusion,
 whatever it is that has
  heart people's hearts
   hurt our hearts

goes all the way down
 to the floor of our being,
  of our psyche
   and sense of the world

The hurt and trauma 
 of seeking opportunity
  through dislocation and migration

The hurt of being excluded
 or merely tolerated
  in your sense of your
   own body and sexuality

"Will we welcome you into"
 our country
  into our church
   is too often the framing.

 


When in fact the vineyard,
 the place of belonging,
  and resource,
   the place of all the
    social goods

Is always God's, not ours.
 the vineyard is God's, my friends,

And God is in the marketplace
 looking to give people good work,
  all day long
  
Looking to grant the chance for full status
 all day long,
  no matter what your timing is,
  no matter why you're not yet
 in the vineyard


The hurt is infinite
 and so - here's a deep teaching
  from the parable

The hurt is infinite
 and so the cure must be infinite

 

So the grace of the parable
 is overwhelming,
  an outpouring,
   a grand washing

Like the mighty waters
 of Trummelbach falls.

May God's grace come,
 and wash over us,
  and bring us together.

 

 

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