Joy is Enough

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September 24, 2017

Matthew 20:1-16

I have had the opportunity to work in many different environments over the last twenty plus years. Since my graduation from college, I have worked for seven different companies and churches. I have been paid hourly, a salary, and even by commission. My favorite form of compensation in my management career was hourly. I knew the hours that I put in and I knew what to expect on my next paycheck. I may have a roundabout idea when I was paid commission, but it was always a surprise. When I calculated the number of hours I worked and the salary I was being paid while in the grocery industry, it was depressing.

When we dive into our gospel text this morning, we are met with assumptions and crushed expectations. If you broke down the hourly rate that each of the laborers received, those that were hired first were paid the least. This is something that the U.A.W. would have been all over!

The laborers in question, the ones that have sweated all day in the hot sun, are not getting anything less then what was promised to them. The landowner said that he would give them a fair wage. A wage that honestly, was just enough to live on. No more, no less. They had no problem with this. The laborers agreed to it that morning when they took the landowner up on his offer. So, where is the problem again?

Oh yeah, those that were hired later in the day received the same wage as those that were present when the sun first broke upon the field. The first laborers assumed that after seeing the last laborers receive one denarius, they would surely get a bonus on what had already been promised to them. (I am sure you know what is said about people that assume!) The landowner does not deviate from his promise and in this we have an anger that builds up in those that feel they were shortchanged. They receive what they need, no more no less. In this, we are reminded of the manna in the wilderness that Moses and the people of Israel received from God. God supplies just what they need, and if they horde, it is gone by the morning.

When was the last time you felt shortchanged? Think about it for a minute!

It may have been a time that you feel you did not get paid for the proper amount of work that you had done. It may have been that time you did not get the job that you thought was coming your way; perhaps, you got looked over for a promotion.

While the laborers hired first thing in the morning thought they deserved more, and rightly so, they fell into the trap of comparing themselves to others. While you may have not been able to think of an example where you felt shortchanged, I am sure you can more easily think of a situation when you compared yourself to another person. We are always comparing ourselves to others. We compare jobs. We compare houses. We compare cars. We compare athletic ability. We even compare our children.

When we start comparing everything, we leave no room for joy. The comparisons begin to take over our lives. We are always striving for more. A bigger house! A fancier car! A better job!

And where does this get us? Farther away from joy! If you remember, joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit. In joy, we are embraced by something greater than simple happiness. It  gets deep into our beings. Joy cannot come from any material possessions.

The laborers that are grumbling in our parable this morning have left no room for joy in their lives. They have earned enough to provide for their families. In this truth they should be joyful, however, they are too busy comparing. In this parable, Jesus is not trying to justify the landowner. I don’t believe Jesus would be please with the fact that women get paid less then men for the same job. Or that people of color get paid less for the same job as those of their white counterparts.

What Jesus is talking about here is the kingdom of heaven! When we come to finally experience the kingdom of heaven, it should not matter what are neighbors earn. It should not matter who has what and who does not. In the kingdom of heaven, God provides everything that we need. This is the promise that Jesus is making to us in this parable. We have a generous God and this generosity is abundant in the kingdom of heaven.

It does not begin in heaven though. God provides for us here and now.

At the table we encounter Jesus Christ in the bread and wine. Are you going to come up and see that your neighbor received a bigger piece of bread and complain about it? No!!! God meets us where we are at in the bread and wine. In the bread and wine we are all fed and nourished in the promise that Jesus made to us in that last Passover meal he ate with his disciples. He promised to be with us in the bread and the wine and in this we are renewed, but more importantly, we are reminded of the forgiven that is granted to us by no merit of our own. In this forgiveness we are able to find joy as it is given to us by the Spirit.

Let us pray…

Lord of joy, we give thanks for the renewal of life that we find every week at the table. In this reminder, may we be filled with joy and carry it forward into the week to come. May we spread it to those that we converse, and may it allow us to diminish our need to compare and rest in you alone. Amen.

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Rock to Stumbling Block

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September 3, 2017

Matthew 16:21-28

At this point of our Gospel, Peter must be on an emotional roller-coaster. I don’t think it is just Peter that is trying to understand. Most of the disciples probably have the same thoughts, Peter is the only one that steps up to say what he is thinking. Perhaps you have been on the same type of emotional roller-coaster.

Think of that time that you felt like you were on top of the world. Nothing could slow you down and nothing could bring you down. Until!?! Something occurs that makes you realize that you are human after all and are not any different than the person you just passed walking on the sidewalk. I would venture to say that most of us have all been there at one time in our lives. It could be as simple as achieving success at work, only to have your boss come around to degrade you for a little error you have made. It could be as complicated as a catastrophe of some scale to knock you back where you are left gasping for air.

Now imagine how Peter was feeling at this moment, just prior to our passage in Matthew this morning. He has declared his faith in Jesus and proclaims that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Jesus answers him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I can tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church…” I am sure Peter is feeling a little pressure after this conversation. He also must be wondering what God has in store for him considering Jesus’ revelation.

And then it gets messy. Peter throws up a roadblock to the idea of Jesus being killed. This is the first of Jesus’ four passion predictions in Matthew and they do not get any easier. Peter cannot imagine what Jesus is talking about. This was not in the game plan that he received when he joined the team. The plan that Jesus has now laid out before them runs counter to culture. It is in Peter’s failure to understand that he confronts Jesus and tells him that what Jesus speaks of can never happen. Peter suddenly finds himself at the bottom looking up when Jesus calls him a stumbling block. He instructs Peter, Get behind me, Satan!”

Jesus knows the plans to come and the pain and suffering he must encounter. Peter must get in line behind him and follow. He must remove himself from the little things and be open to the divine that is in their midst.

Now this is a Peter that we can relate to. How often do we focus on the little things in life and allow ourselves to be distracted from the much greater things? Life itself. Life as it can be found in Jesus Christ. Even when we have no clue what is happening.

God is at work amid it all. In the messy and the unfinished. In the muck and the grime. Jesus is not looking for perfection. Jesus comes to live among us in the reality of it all. In the messiness. In the flesh and the blood that we experience as humanity. He is not looking for a church that is invisible, pure, and undefiled. No such place exists in our earthly realm.

In Jesus, we find life and are promised the realm of heaven. A heaven without boundaries, where love overflows. First, we must experience death. It is in Jesus’ death and resurrection that we are promised eternal life and a love unbounded. Jesus comes to us in our own messiness and faults.

What if we were to follow him and do the same. What if we were to share that same love that has been poured out for us with those that are in need? What if we were to forgive those that oppose us, persecute us, mock and belittle us? If only Jesus’ way was our way. What a different world it would be.