Jesus tells stories. They are stories with a purpose. But how you hear the story often depends upon which character in the story you identify with.
Picture yourself as one of those who has worked all day – through the heat of the day. Finally it is time to get paid and all the workers line up according to how long they have worked – and those who worked the least – get to go first. Ah…you say to one another, he’s saved the best for last. And then… peaking over their shoulders and seeing the surprise and joy of those who worked – just an hour – you say to one another: “$10 for an hour?! This is a generous man. I wonder what he will pay us?!” But then you get to the front of the line and you receive: $10. The daily wage. “What! It’s not fair!”
Now… picture yourself as one who has sat waiting for work all day. You aren’t the strongest person. The young strong men were picked first as they always are. Next chosen were the older but still strong people. One by one they were picked off. You were left there with the same people who were always left – the weak, the disabled, the sick. You did not want to have to go home empty-handed…again. You were about to give up and go begging. You thought about going to check to see if there would be some day-old bread that the bakery was tossing out. Or maybe the foodshelf would still be open and have an odd job that you could do in exchange for a little food. But then… the landowner came and said, “Come. All of you!” You were so excited to be chosen. When you got to the field you worked as hard as you could – despite your gnarled fingers and shortness of breath. You assumed that you and the others who were chosen last would be paid last – and receive a little bit – whatever was left over. But you were grateful to receive anything. But then… the owner called you to the front of the line to receive your wage first! And it was the whole daily wage! Glory Hallelujah! Your family would have a food tonight – and tomorrow.
Do you see what a difference it makes on which character we identify with? One feels as if he’s being ripped off – even though he is getting exactly what was promised – and the other –feels like he has received a gift of grace.
This story comes right after Jesus has had three conversations about discipleship and money. Jesus told the rich young man who wanted to follow him to sell everything that he has – and follow. The young man went away saddened. Then Jesus says, “it’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.” Amazed and perplexed, Peter asks about who can be saved? Jesus replies, “It’s impossible for human beings. But all things are possible for God.”
And then he tells this story. It’s a story of a landowner who seems incredibly generous to those who worked only an hour but who doesn’t seem fair to those who compare the amount of work that they had done with the amount of work that the latecomers had done – and expect that the pay would reflect the amount of work that each had done. That after all, was the way the world worked.
If we look at God with the eyes and the standards of the world, then we must conclude: God isn’t fair. But God does not operate under the standards of the world. Instead, God chooses to be gracious and generous. And this is Good News for you and for me, because every one of us needs God’s grace. Not one of us deserves it. But all of us can receive it – because God’s grace is a gift – freely given for you… and you… and you… and you… and me.
The American myth “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” is just that – a myth. The term was originally used in a story depicting something that was impossible. But somewhere around the time of the depression it began to represent hard work, determination and a rugged individualism that proclaimed, “I did it all by myself.” But… it’s not true. You may have worked hard – and I support that – I have a pretty strong work ethic too. But whatever I have and whatever I have done – I have not done it by myself – and neither have you. Because everything we have – is a gift from God… including the gift of community.
As we celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation in October, we realize, as Christians, we are not independent. Somebody told you about Jesus. We stand on the shoulders of the saints who have gone before us from the first Christians who suffered persecution for their faith to the Reformers who challenged authority to those who have gone before us here in this congregation. Compared to the work of all of those who have gone before us – it’s 5 o’clock and we are just getting started.
So what does it mean to be generous? Generosity is about sharing what God has given you. Generosity is joyful. Generosity is about making mission happen. Generosity is about sharing the gifts God has given you. Generosity is about the spirit in which you live.
Perhaps you have heard of “Pay it backwards” generosity. A woman decided to stop at a drive through for coffee one day. She was really stressed that day but needed some coffee. But when she got to the window to pay, the attendant handed her the coffee and said, “It’s already been paid for by the person ahead of you.” She accepted the coffee gratefully – and yet couldn’t stop thinking about it the rest of the day.
The next day, she decided to return the favor. She ordered her coffee – and then said, “I’d like to pay for the order for the people behind me.” She was happy all day thinking about how she had affected someone else’s day.
She decided to stop back at that drive through on her way home. The attendant there was pretty excited. She told her: your act was contagious! We had a record 29 people pay for the person in line behind them as a result of your one act of generosity.
We have received a gift – Jesus has given us that gift. The early church passed it forward. The reformation leaders shared the gift and then.. in this place, people have been sharing the gift of God’s love for 75 years. The question for us as we look forward towards celebrating our 75th Anniversary and beyond is this: how can we act as God acts – being generous to one another and to the neighbor and to those yet to come… How can we pass it forward?
We began last week by talking about vocations – the gifts of time and talents that God has entrusted to us and the many ways that we can share those gifts inside and outside our doors.
Now it is our turn to be generous – to give more than it takes just to keep the doors open but to go out in mission – to find new ways to reach out to others so that they too can hear the Good News of Jesus… so that others may hear that God is generous – giving us not what we deserve but so much more….
Today we will be asking you to prayfully consider how you can be financially generous in our upcoming anniversary year. We plan to invite former pastors and interns back to tell their stories – and we also plan to look forward to ways that we who have been recipients both of God’s generosity and the generosity of 75 years of faith in this place can, in turn, be generous contributors to the mission of this church and the church of the future.
God is generous to us – and invites us to be generous too. In Jesus’ name. Amen.