Good morning, Christ Church!
Before getting to this morning’s devotion, I want to apologize for an error in Friday’s offering. I made a reference to the Lectionary when I really meant the Daily Office. The Lectionary is, of course, the three-year cycle of readings we hear on Sunday mornings and other major feast days. The Daily Office is the two-year cycle of reading we make use of throughout the week when offering Morning and Evening Prayer. During this time of sheltering, we have been using the Daily Office as the basis for the meditations, not the Lectionary.
My apologies. Now, to the lessons at hand!
Have you had a chance to watch the sermon given by The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II at the National Cathedral on Sunday, June 14th? It is posted on their website. I listened to it last evening and it is powerful. He took as his text the fifth chapter of the book of the prophet Amos. Dr. Barber’s refrain was, “America, accepting death is not an option anymore.”
Amos makes it very clear that God’s thoughts are often not our thoughts, or God’s ways our ways; “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies…Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:21-24)
I could be wrong, but this is what I hear: if there is to be a choice made between well-ordered worship and the keeping of time-honored traditions within the life of a congregation versus a real, proactive commitment to justice and righteousness sought for all, no matter how “outside the box” it may seem to us, God wants us to choose the latter every time.
In this morning’s passage from Matthew, Chapter 20, we encounter “The Parable of Equal Wages for Unequal Work.” Again, it is a vivid reminder that, when it comes to justice, mercy, and grace, God has a very different view of what is fair, and who is deserving of inclusion, than we often do.
Faithfully in Christ,
Wednesday, June 24, 2020 RCL Daily Office Readings, Year 2
One of my fondest memories comes from the first years after my ordination. At the time, I was serving as Curate at St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Yes, it was tough work, but somebody had to do it!) One of my responsibilities was to celebrate the Wednesday noontime Holy Eucharist. A woman started attending. I did not recognize her as being a member of the congregation. She would take her place at the very back of the chapel, by herself, and watch.
After a couple of months of observing, she came up to me after the service and asked if we could meet. We did. Her name was Emma. She was eighty-nine years old, a native Hawaiian, and had spent her life advocating for her people. She had always despised the church, and by extension the Christian faith, because she saw them as tools of the imperialism and colonialism that had stolen the islands from her people.
But she had had a series of dreams in which she was invited to “come and sit and listen.” She was not sure who it was that was extending the invitation, but she had attended one of the Christmas Eve services at the cathedral and had decided that this was what the invitation was about.
We met over the course of six months, and to make a long story short, I had the honor and blessing of baptizing her soon after her ninetieth birthday. I will never forget the joy and delight visible on her face when the water was poured over her head three times in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
But that is not the end of the story. Emma was an advocate by nature, and she threw herself fully into the life of the parish. She served daily in the thrift shop. She joined the altar guild. She volunteered in the church school. What surprised me was that her presence was not appreciated by some of the other members of the Cathedral. Yes, she had a reputation for being a rabble-rouser in the larger community from her days of advocacy. But there was also the sense that she had not been a Christian long enough, she had not yet paid her dues, she still had so much to learn about the ways of the cathedral, and that she should therefore wait patiently until she was invited by those in the know before taking part. Frankly, at ninety, I’m not sure she saw waiting patiently as much of an option. She wanted to fully experience the joy of discipleship as long as she could.
In this morning’s Gospel account, a landowner goes searching for laborers for his vineyard. This would have been a common scene back in these days, especially at the time of harvest. Day laborers survived on the margins of the society, literally living from hand to mouth. That was why getting paid at the end of the day was so very critical. They could not wait if they were to make it to the next morning. They truly understood, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
This landowner behaves in a most unusual way. He’s out in the marketplace at the break of day, hires a group of workers for the usual wage, and they get started. But then he goes back out at 9am, noontime, 3pm, and 5pm. Each time, he finds laborers waiting to be hired. We are not given the sense that they are lazy, or have slept in, and are just now showing up. They simply have not been offered a place to work. The landowner sees this, knows that their lives depend on the daily wage, has compassion, and hires them on the spot. So far, so good.
The difficulty arises when we discover that he plans to pay the same wages to those who joined the workforce at 5pm as those who started working at 6am! When the early crew discovers this, they, as Matthew so beautifully states it, start to grumble.
Let’s be honest. We can immediately sympathize with the early crew. This goes against everything we believe about fairness and justice in the workplace. It does not matter that the laborers who entered the vineyard at 6am are still receiving the agreed-upon wage. The landowner has not reneged on his contract with them. It is the fact that they are receiving the same amount as those who worked for only an hour and think that they should be paid that much more. Again, from our human perspective, who can blame them?
But, as Jesus explains in the landowner’s response to the grumbling, God’s ways are not our ways, or God’s thoughts our thoughts, when it comes to these matters: “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 that 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.”
I believe that this parable is directed first and foremost at Jesus’ disciples, both then and now. God’s justice and righteousness are always rooted in divine mercy. We do not earn that justice, and in God’s kingdom there is no entitlement, no extra wages, based on years of service or time spent as chair of this, that, or the other committee. That is what Jesus has tried to explain to the disciples every time they start wondering about “greatness” in God’s kingdom. Jesus is making it clear that it does not matter whether we were baptized at six months or at ninety years of age. If God chooses to be compassionate and generous to all, if this is the true nature of God’s justice and righteousness, the same wages of love and grace freely extended to early riser and late-comer alike, then who are we to grumble?
I expect that, in addition to welcoming the next Rector, our congregation may well have the opportunity to welcome newcomers who, having gone through the turmoil of these last months, will be looking for a place to come and sit and listen. This congregation has a generous spirit. May they always be welcome, no matter where they are on the journey or at what hour they arrive.