Laborers in the Vineyard

Laborers in the Vineyard

Matthew 20:1-16

So may of the words in my mouth, in the meditation of all of our hearts, the pleasing and your sight of God and Iraq and my Redeemer. Amen. Well, we probably need to start with some good news and some maybe not so good news. I started teaching in 1999, so I don’t think I’m going to pass out in the next few minutes.

But maybe the not so good news over those years, 24.25. But we’re not really counting. It has become normal that a teaching episode goes for one hour and 20 minutes. So I hope you have a comfortable seat. Now, today, we’re challenged to reimagine what feels normal. And today, we’re going from doing what’s fair over to doing what’s right.

So in those years of teaching, there common questions that come up and the educators in the room know this well. And the first one is usually, is this going to be on the test? Yeah. And soon after that, there’s a roll of the eyes and then a sigh. Well, if it’s on the test, can you tell me exactly what I need to know?

And with this gospel, I think one of those first questions is, are we in government class? Is this political science? Are we in economics? Are we in psychology? And we answer, yes. So Paul’s letter simplifies this for us. So I think we should start there. Kind of have to get past that first paragraph because Paul’s under house arrest under the Roman Empire.

But if we can get to the second paragraph, he’s telling us three things live the gospel, stand firm in one spirit and do it side by side. So we’ve got to learn how to do that in the next few minutes or how to do that at the next level for this week as we think through this in the next few minutes.

So, you know, let’s start with number one, let’s live the gospel and maybe let’s start at the beginning of the parable. Jesus said the kingdom of heaven. Well, already we have to stop. What does that mean? I hope you’re participating in the adult education, because last week Gavin was teaching us about fancy terms like exegesis and Isaiah Jesus.

And what he’s reminding us is that we have to go to the text and we have to understand it in its original context, in its original language. One of my favorite scholars is Amy Jill Levine. She’s professor emeritus at Vanderbilt. And this is her definition of the kingdom of heaven. These are her words. The Kingdom of Heaven is not a piece of real estate for the single saved soul.

It’s a communal vision of what could be and what should be. So I hear my students already communal sounds hard. We’re individualists. I don’t think that’s going to work for me. So then we say, okay, if we don’t start at the beginning, maybe we could go to the end of the story and then we could work our way the other way.

Let’s try that. So we say so the last will be first and the first will be last. Still not quite a multiple choice question with a Scantron form here. If we just take that last sentence, and if I just think about today and how deeply grounded we are in individualism, you know, maybe this afternoon I’ll watch the Dallas Cowboys play football and the last will be first and the first will be last.

Maybe. Maybe that’s on my side today. But, you know, we’re going to spend the next few months figuring out who’s first. And at the end of the Super Bowl, there’s going to be just one team. You know, we’re obsessed over who’s first. Maybe you’re going to watch Gordon Ramsay this afternoon, but spoiler alert, there’s going to be just one top chef at the end.

And maybe Gordon’s a bit abrasive. So you want the nurturing style of the Great British Bake Off instead? They’re quite respectful when they send people home. But still, spoiler alert, there’s just one. When we’re finished, you know, maybe you’ll stop at Kroger on the way home and you got to count what’s in your basket carefully, because if you’re trying to get through that express line with more than 12, there will be people giving you the eye to get you to go to the back of a different line.

And then let’s not even go to the four way stop sign. If you have to go through one of those on the way home. Good luck. The last is not first. Now, these are silly examples, but you can think of many more how we’re shaped into individualism over collectivism. And then to add on to that, not only are we individualistic, but we’re still thinking of Gavin’s teaching from last week where he was teaching on forgiveness, you’ll remember.

And he said, We have to stop keeping score, you know, embrace the balance sheet in our mind where we’re keeping score. So we have to love others with the same forgiveness that we have received. Well, keeping score is what we do as a social group. We’re really good at it. So good. I come from the social sciences, so I tend to talk about socialization quite a bit and dynamics in our social world.

In fact, if you and your family are playing word bingo during the homily, so you want to pick socialize, if I’m the one talking because you’re going to win, there’s a social science theory that dates back to the very end of the 1950s, and it’s called social exchange theory. You might remember this from when you were an undergraduate studying psychology.

The theorists help us to see that being human in their argument is to keep score, that we form relationships based on what I can get out of it and out to maximize my rewards and reduce my costs so much ingrained into us that there’s even an academic documented research theory about this tendency. Okay, well, let’s dig into the middle of the narrative.

If the beginning is too hard and the end is too hard and they’re really not. We’ll come back to it in the middle of the narrative we get. I like to rely on Snodgrass also. He’s a professor emeritus at North Park Seminary in Chicago, and he points out how we’re dealing with everyday materials in this parable hiring day laborers, paying a daily wage.

But he also points out that these are not everyday occurrences. So, yeah, we’re hiring, but the way the story is told, we have multiple hirings to highlight, contrast and to create suspense. So that draws attention to the hirings. And then, of course, the equal pay, which is the very point of the parable, but in the way that Jesus asks that the payment be reversed then is another fluorescent highlight.

If we had highlighter spec, then for this parable, the reversal of the payment heightens the expectation that those early laborers would receive or would expect to receive. So let’s continue on with Snodgrass and let’s go back to that original context. The original people who heard this story were living in conditions where employment, unemployment was a continual problem. In fact, Snodgrass points out that maybe slavery was better because your slave owner would at least provide for you because of a financial interest for the basics to be able to survive.

So we’re talking about working in the Vineyard for again, Snodgrass is saying it’s one denarius and that’s barely enough to survive. In his analysis, 200 per year mark to the poverty line. And this is it’s one for the day. And Snodgrass even challenges us to look within Matthew, to see what’s the point of the story. And in the sequencing of Matthew two, he’s arguing that the parable is addressed to the disciples and the focus of the parable is on envy.

Since frequently there was discussion among the disciples of who was going to be the greatest. So the parable focuses then on the goodness of the owner and the gamblers, the envy of those who thought they should get more. I guess it probably makes sense to stop and think about a contemporary example. I’m still doing my chaplain training and I’m at Harris Hospital downtown in Fort Worth, so I, I tend to look at the world also through our hospital lens a bit.

But, you know, it makes all sorts of good sense. It’s good logical sense that if we hire an associate degree nurse and R.N. with an associates degree, would we provide an amount per hour If that nurse, though, had a Bachelor of Science, two more years of education? Well, of course we’d pay more for that if that nurse had a master of science.

Two more years of very focused training, we’d pay more for that. I mean, this is just such a dumb moment in how we live our life. If that nurse has a doctor of nursing practice degree, not only would we pay her more, she would have a parking spot right next to the door.

We can also, though, hear Jesus in this parable asking us to reimagine what feels normal. Jesus to those hospital leaders would say, Folks, you care for the widow. At the very moment she becomes a widow, it seems like you’d want her to park next to the door. And then we’d go, Oh yeah, the last will be first and the first will be last.

Let’s shift gears back to Amy. Jill Levine. I mentioned her name earlier. She’s professor emeritus at Vanderbilt. These are her words about the parable. The parable could be about salvation, but Jesus was more interested in how we love our neighbor than how we get into heaven. It’s not about eschatology, but economics. It’s not about salvation in the world to come.

But the even more pressing question about salvation in the present, she continues instead of Are you saved, the better question is, do your children have enough to eat or do you have shelter for the night? Levine also underscores the urgency Matthew has with getting our attention on Jesus response to those early day laborers and her argument is that when Jesus uses the term friend, you know, friend, I’m doing you no wrong.

Do you not agree with me or did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? This is not friend as in Hey friend, let’s grab a beer Friend This concept is used only three times in Matthew’s gospel, once at the wedding banquet. And that was friend. How did you get in here? Inappropriately dressed and kicked out.

And the other time was in testimony. Jesus said to Judas, friend, do what you are here to do.

So the grumbles are connected with punishment and betrayal. If we can focus the narrative, then this parable, if we can focus it away from who gets into heaven and over to who gets a daily wage, we can find a message that Challen injures us rather than prompts complacency. We get the challenge to act as God acts with generosity to all.

So we’re back now to Paul, Live the gospel, stand firm in one spirit and do it side by side. And I’m clearly preaching to the choir here because I saw your service Sunday the other day. The the I get choked up, the love in the room. I mean, your work, you could feel it. It was palpable. The energy and the enjoyment about making a sack lunches.

You clearly understand what this is about. Your men’s group. It’s remarkable that on a Saturday morning you can start a revolution. Not only are we Saint Martin in the corn field, and not only is there an overflowing wagon of corn back there, my sending parish is St Luke’s and they are the Beanery. And I imagine the other four Saints parishes are also in the competition.

But what’s next? I think that’s what we’re challenged here. If we follow the on what’s next for us and really the sky’s the limit, I’d, I’d like to see if we could create a parallel here between our Sunday service, our service, Sunday work and our Four Saints work and the condition of the zip code where we do that work.

So this is a bit of a leap, but I’d like to see if I could build a parallel for you that has some early day workers, has some midday workers, and has some late day workers. And remember, the parable is telling us that we provide to all for their basic needs. We’re going to look at infant mortality rates.

And this is from the University of Texas. They have a spiffy online tool where you can search data by zip code. And we’re looking at infant mortality rates because in the public health world, they use this infant mortality rates as an indicator for the overall health of a population. They look at how many babies have died, and that’s an indicator for them for things like is there available transportation, is health care available, Is there proper prenatal care?

Is there nutrition for that mom? And when we look at the zip code where our service Sunday effort goes, the infant mortality rate, this is the the map of it. The infant mortality rate is 19.34. This is zip code 76104. And that’s just to the east of I-35, just to the east of downtown. So 19.34 in that zip code, if we go east and now we’re kind of under I-35, just south of 30, the infant mortality rate is 6.96.

So from 19 down to six, if we go one more zip code to the west, 76109, the infant mortality rate is zero. And Father Allen was helping me earlier in the week and he said, well, what is it where we are seven, 6 to 4 for the infant mortality rate is 5.776248. It’s 4.65. But we don’t study data like these, you know, to feel guilty.

We study these so that we can understand what’s real and so that we can reimagine what feels normal. And, you know, it’s a great time to be the Episcopal Church in North Texas. And this is going to sound kind of silly from me coming from St Luke’s, but when we think about the next Four Saints, we’re not controlled or held back or bound by the building.

You know, think about how many times you’ve thought, wouldn’t it be great if we could? And then somebody said, Yeah, but our building won’t do that. We don’t have enough space for this, or our classrooms aren’t configured in the right way. Here’s an image of the new Four Saints. Currently, it’s an empty plot. We have the luxury of designing the ministry and then building the physical structure to support the ministry.

So to reimagine what it looks like in 76104 so that 19 is the same zero as it is just two zip codes over. And this is where it gets really fun. I’m told that yesterday in the mobile food pantry, you know, it’s the fourth Saturday of each month the semi-truck brings a load of food yesterday, I believe, and I could have the number wrong, but I believe it was 250 households were served.

I’m told that Friday we served 150 at four Saints. Well, if we need concrete to get the semi-truck in there and to get the cars to flow through in a civilized way, that same concrete can hold on a different day. The Mobile Health clinic from Texas Health Resources. On a different day, it can have the mammography unit from Baylor.

Scott in White. We have the opportunity now to build these relationships with our care partners and to build the structure the way it will support our effort to re-imagine and to make sure everyone has what they need that building. Also, we’ll have a commercial kitchen for the support of the of the food pantry and education courses that we’re already providing.

But the commercial kitchen is the expensive part. Now we get to get creative with how we’re going to use that the other days of the week. Why wouldn’t we train culinary arts there? Why wouldn’t we give somebody an opportunity to try a pop up restaurant in that place that way? Thursday night, we can go for evening prayer at 630.

Our restaurant can serve at seven. We have time together and we’re supporting the vision of an entrepreneurial person who’s been denied access. That same parking lot in community college world. One of the visions is to bring education to the people. So if you want to get a welding certificate, there are examples where an 18 wheeler, the trailer for a semi truck can be a welding lab.

We can drive a welding lab there and teach people the skill of welding. So you have a very high paying job with a certificate that they’ve been denied. So, you know, maybe you’re not ready to go knock on the door at Texas Health Resources, and I would understand that. But again, if you can start a revolution over corn, I think I think the sky’s is the limit.

I just get choked up when I when I see when I see your work. So, you know, if you’re not like, well, I don’t know who to call at Baylor. Scott and why. And I don’t quite know how that works. Start at the beginning. We pray for the people we serve for saints. Pray for those who provide the service.

If you want to step out and see it. If you’ve never seen the Four Saints Episcopal food pantry on the first Friday of every month, we gather for prayer. It’s at 6:00 on the first Friday and we pray. And it’s a style. And that may not be everything’s everybody’s thing. It’s a contemplative style. It’s 30 minutes of prayer.

And then there’s social, our following. It’s an easy way to step into the pantry and see what it’s all about and meet some people from the other parishes. So live the gospel, stand firm in one spirit, do it side by side. We have work to do and we have the skills to do it. So I can really only end with a commitment.

You’ve already made a question. We all know. Will you strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being? And to that question, we all respond. I will, with God’s help. And for that, thanks be to God.