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the sermon for

the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

24 September 2017

Matthew 20:1-16
The economy of the kingdom is based
on the generosity of god!

09242017There aren't all that many passages in scripture that speak as loudly and as clearly today as they did back in the day! Most have lost something in the transmission and have to be translated. Translated not just from one language to another, but from one world to another! Only way of thinking to another way of thinking! One way of being to another way of being! The world's changed in the course of two thousand years. That's why the bible is as confusing as it is. And that's one reason for the preacher. To explain. To clarify. To put the bible into plain, everyday words. Talking about what it was like "back then. What "they" thought. How "they" believed. And then, bringing it all into the present. But this passage... This passage, this morning, is one of the few we understand all on our own. We don't need anybody's help. We all just get it!

The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. About nine, he hired some more. At noon, at three, he hired still more. At five, he added even more. Then, when evening came, the landowner paid them all... the exact, same wage!

Like I said, we hear that story, a hundred generations later, and we know exactly how those first workers felt. The ones who put in a full day's work. The ones who were paid the same as those who had hardly broken a sweat. We hear the words. We shake our head. We bite our tongue. But we understand. It isn't fair! It's not right! After all, what's the point of doing your best, of trying your hardest. . . especially, when all is done and said, it just doesn't matter! So, when they – the ones hired first. .. the ones who started early in the morning... when they receive nothing more than the usual daily wage, they grumble! Just like we'd grumble if the same thing happened to us! That's not how it's supposed to work!

Ever since we were young, we've been taught that there's no such thing as a free meal! We don't get something for nothing! If we want anything, we've got to work for it! Nose to the grindstone! Shoulder to the wheel! Bootstraps! Our own two hands! That's what we trust! That's what we believe in! With all our heart! With all our mind! With all our strength! With all our being! So much so that we look at grace, at charity, with cynicism and suspicion. If something's too good to be true, than it, probably, isn't! Charity makes people lazy, they say. People become addicted to it, dependent on it. Don't do for others what they can do for themselves. That's the iron rule. And then, Jesus tells us this parable... And it shakes us to the core of our being! And for a moment, we, too, grumble! But just for a moment. By Sunday afternoon, we've moved on. And Monday morning, we back at it! Business as usual! Rat race! Routine! Something we know to be true!

But before we move ahead, once again, we must hear those first words! The kingdom of god... the kingdom of heaven... is like this landowner! We may grumble! We might gripe. But this is exactly what the kingdom is like! Maybe because we're able to produce, to compete. Maybe because we still can. But if – when – we can't, that's when charity becomes important! When we have no bootstraps! When we have no boots! All that's left is the charity! All that's left is the grace! That's when the grumbling stops and we, too, begin looking for the landowner! Early in the morning! At nine! At noon! Three! Five! The landowner who – out of the goodness of his own heart – gives what we need to survive! What we need to thrive!

It's not socialism! It isn't communism! It's love! Simple and pure! The kingdom of heaven is rooted, is anchored, in the generosity of god! A generosity pressed down, shaken together, overflowing! And we stake our lives on it! Not just once. . . or twice... but a thousand times! There's a passage a came across, a few years ago. From the first chapter of Ephesians. Paul begins with a hymn in praise of god's love, of god's charity. And then he writes this...

With all wisdom and insight 9he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

In particular, it was the phrase, "as a plan for the fullness of time." That word 'plan' – the word we translate as 'plan' – in Greek, is literally 'economy'! "As an economy for the fullness of time! Socialism is not the economy of the kingdom! Neither is capitalism! The economy of the kingdom of heaven is charity! It's grace! It's love! The economy for the fullness of time is based on the generosity of god! On god's bigheartedness! On god's openhandedness! We understand that! And we grumble! We love god! We love country! We support free enterprise! And we grumble! Because the most difficult thing for us – as Americans – to believe is generosity and love!

You see, generosity isn't concerned with balancing budgets! Love isn't focused on making money or producing jobs! Those are things based on inadequacy. Never enough. Limits. Rationing. But generosity is grounded in surplus! Abundance! More than enough! And the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who goes out and goes out and keeps going out! Hiring more people than he needs! Paying them all alike! Because he knows they need what he gives. Not the work, but the pay. To survive. To live. And those hired first grumble. As those hired first have always grumbled.

My friends, as the church, as the people of god, we believe in charity! No apologies! No excuses! We believe charity doesn't make us less, but makes us more! We believe charity doesn't make us dependent, but sets us free! We believe that charity doesn't hold us back, that charity doesn't keep us down, but creates us and redeems us and inspires us! We believe charity isn't the problem, but the solution!

Charity is the economy of the kingdom! Life is a gift! And everything in it is a gift, as well! God daily and abundantly provides! Shoes and clothing! Food and drink! House and farm! Spouse and children! Fields! Livestock! Properties! Along with all necessities! All nourishments! And god does is all – just like that landowner – out of pure, fatherly, divine goodness and mercy! Without our help! Without, even, our asking! God loves us! Period! Exclamation mark! And that! That is what the kingdom of heaven is like!

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