Posted on Thu, Oct 6, 2011
Sermon for September 18, 2011
Sharing the Blessings of God
Rev. Dr. Jim Merritt
September 18, 2011
Have you ever noticed that sometimes life just is not fair? This is one of the hard realities human beings must learn. Life is not fair. No one has to wait for adolescence or old age to find it out. You can learn it in nursery school. Sometimes life just is not fair.
William J. Carl, III writes, “Little brothers and sisters seem to get such special privileges. The things my little brother and sister got away with! There were times when I really felt like the prodigal son story was some kind of Jungian archetype for familial systems down through the centuries. Well, I didn't exactly put it that way when I was 15, but that's how I felt. It's the way older employees feel when young hot shots come into the workplace and the older ones get shoved out into unemployment lines. It's the way veteran athletes feel when rookies get drafted with multi-million dollar contracts while the veterans have been slugging it out at smaller salaries all these years. Some coaches even treat these rookies differently from the rest, giving them special privileges the way we sometimes do with our children or our employees or our students. Of course there was one coach who never did that. Once in commenting on Vince Lombardi's fairness, one of the Green Bay Packers noted that Lombardi treated every player the same. "He treats us all like dogs," said the player.” During the years I worked at a residential psychiatric treatment center, one of the most frequent complaints we heard LOUDLY, over and over again, was , “IT’S NOT FAIR.” Let me assure you, my response, “Nobody ever said it would be,” was very unpopular with our adolescent patients.
It is true that life is not fair, never has been and never will be and it is also true for us this morning that every one of us can share in the blessings of God. The practice of sharing always seems difficult for humans to comprehend and practice. For example, let us consider what the Gospel says about paying laborers. The owner of the vineyard paid the laborers he had hired last the same amount as the laborers he had hired first. How could he do that? Let us be clear, we are not talking about a huge sum of money here. It works out, according to Rocco Errico to about a penny per day, or a fraction thereof if it has to be split. A Dinara was the smallest monetary unit at the time. It sounds ridiculous that workers would be paid such a small wage, but lest we forget, workers are still struggling for a fair and living wage right here in our state, and I dare say in our town, in the present moment. We are aware of the plight of farm workers held against their will in slave labor conditions in south Florida. We have seen in the media well-publicized arrests and Federal investigations of these slave labor camps in our own state. We are aware of the current struggle of migrant tomato pickers to be paid fairly for a bucket of tomatoes. And yet we hear, read and hear that the largest grocery store chain in Florida, with huge corporate profits each year refuses to pay one penny – one Dinara – more per pound toward the fair treatment of those on the backs of whom their huge corporate profits are built. This is not just an old problem from ancient Biblical times, my friends, this is a current problem right here in our state in this very moment. And still I stand before you and proclaim as our Gospel does this morning that our God is a generous God. Our God shares the blessings of God with all of us. Our God provides for all of us without exception and based on the character of this God we claim to love and follow, we are called to share the blessings of God with the whole world too, even with Mexican farm workers! The land owner’s act was generous, to some extent. He decided it didn’t matter if the workers had been sick early in the morning and could not work the entire day; he paid them anyway. He decided that taking care of a sick child was important, so when they stayed home in the morning and only worked half the day, he paid them anyway. He decided that taking care of elderly family members was important and that when the morning was consumed by that and a worker could only work in the afternoon, he paid them anyway. He paid them generously and showed all of us, even two-thousand years later what it means to share the blessings of God – ANYWAY.
How did the other workers respond? With Jealousy. “It’s not fair!” “You can’t do that!” or “How could he do that?” We know that Americans are jealous people, and we’re not the only ones. Errico writes that Near Easterners are extremely envious of each other. “Nothing hurts a man more than to see his neighbor treated with the same favor and respect as he is, especially in the matter of money and wages. Some poor (people) are happier without help than to see their neighbor receive the same gifts as they (might receive).” That’s insanity on their part and on our part, my sisters and brothers. Untamed jealousy will kill us, it will lead to the destruction of people, organizations, churches, and even planets. It is contrary to the call of God who says, “Love the Lord your God with all you heart AND love your neighbor as yourself.”
In the realm of God, social justice and wages are different from the expectations of human justice and expectations. This is a message of equality. This is a message of equality and justice for all people, especially for workers. This is a message that calls us to share the blessings of God. I must share with you, at this moment your church needs some sharing, too. We need for people to live into the calling of God to give of their time, talent and money. We are in a financial pinch right now. We have stopped all spending except on the basic bills it takes to keep us open. We need people live in to the spiritual practice of giving and we need it now. We need people to embrace the concept of sharing the blessing of God through this church and that requires tithes and offerings. We need some of you to show that you believe in outreach to the University of Florida and to the hospitals and nursing homes and even to the homes of people who are hurting. We need you not to just do it verbally, we need that and we need you to do it financially, too. We need large giving and small giving and what we need most is ongoing giving in the way the bible teaches us to share the blessings of God and to support that with our activism and with our money. And let me be perfectly clear; we need it today, we need it next week and we need it on an ongoing basis.
The landowner is this parable showed a measure of generosity. In some ways he represents God. However, there is one flaw in that scenario. The generosity of our God is without measure. There’s no way I can measure for you what God has done in my life and I’m sure you would say the same to me. Life has not always been fair to any of us. We have struggled fiercely with God by our side. This, too, is a moment of struggle for us., and I’m once again reminded of an old Gospel hymn;
“Why should I be discouraged, why should the shadows fall? Why should my heart be lonely and long for heaven and home. When Jesus is my portion…my constant friend is he. God’s eye is on the sparrow and I know God watches me. God’s eye is in the sparrow and I know God watches me. I sing because I’m happy! I sing because I’m free. God’s eye is on the sparrow and I know God watches me.”
My sisters and brothers, God is calling us this morning. God is calling us to generously share the blessings of God. God is calling us to generously support this church and his mission. God is calling us to share our blessings with the least of these and with the greatest of these. Are we up for the challenge? Will you join me today in saying once again, “Yes, Lord, Yes!”
God bless you. AMEN.
© James Edward Merritt, 2011