Sermons

pastorEric aug2014Sermon for 16th Pentecost

A Generous God
By The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer -
 

The story goes that a man died and went to heaven. Let’s call him Frank. Picture Frank at heaven’s door. He is expecting St. Peter but, instead, there at the door is God Himself!

 

“That’s a good sign,” thought Frank.

 

God addressed Frank – “Hello, Frank, you need 1,000 points to get into heaven.”

 

1,000 points to enter heaven! Well, that was a bit of a surprise, but Frank had been a good, active Lutheran and had done much service in his community. Hopefully, Frank thought, that will be enough.

 

God continued, “Tell me about your life on earth, Frank.”

 

Frank began – “I was an every Sunday worshiper at my Lutheran Church, I served on the Congregation Council, and I was very generous in my financial support for the church.” Frank went on to talk about his many church activities and years of service.

 

“That all sounds fine,” God replied. “You get 50 points for that.”

 

“Not a very good start,” thought Frank, but he continued responding, “I did much in our community – charity work, service work. I was a good husband and father and really loved being a grandfather.”

 

“All good,” said God. “25 more points.”

 

This went on for a while with Frank remembering his good works on earth and God responding with 5 or 10 more points. After many exchanges, Frank had accumulated only 150 points. He was increasingly worried.

 

“Dear God,” Frank said finally, “it seems like the only way I could ever enter heaven is by the grace of God!”

 

“Wonderful,” said God, “that’s 850 points, welcome to your heavenly home!”

 

I thought of this sweet story, as I read today’s Gospel lesson from St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ parable about the laborers in the Vineyard

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At first reading, this is not a parable with much good news – The landowner, who represents God in Jesus’ parable, the landowner pays his laborers the same amount, the amount for a full day’s work, no matter when they started working. The person who worked eight or ten hours ends of getting that same wage as the person who came late and worked perhaps one or two hours.

 

That hardly seems fair.

 

That is not fair.

 

But this parable is not about fairness or fair wages. This parable is about the generosity of God.

 

Jesus is not addressing what people deserve in this parable. Jesus is addressing how people have been blessed.

 

quote godgivesenoughIt is far too easy to compare ourselves to others, especially those who appear to have good fortune that they do not appear to deserve – someone with a nicer home, a fancier car, more expensive and trendier clothing. Why can’t my children be like their children? What don’t I have a good job like he or she does?

 

When we go down that road, making a list of comparisons, and our perceived failure when compared to others, that list can go on and on. And it is a bitter listing.

 

And, as I believe you know well, such comparisons do not bring us any joy. They do bring envy, bitterness, and resentment, sometimes a bit of shallow pride, “At least I am not like him or her!” But no joy.

 

When we head down the bitterness highway, so to speak, we miss how much we have blessed in this life.

 

It is easy to identify with the laborers who worked all day in Jesus’ parable, those who have worked the entire day for a day’s wage and now feel resentment that others who worked less than a full day are getting the same pay for their work. It is easy to feel taken advantage of in this world.

 

But, and you know this, that is, as they say, a slippery and dangerous slope. And it misses the unexpected and unmerited generosity of God.

 

Here are some questions I believe are asked by Jesus’ parable:

 

• Do we take stock of what we think we deserve, or of all the things with which we have been blessed and do not deserve?
• Do we look for places in our lives characterized by lack and scarcity or do we name and give thanks for places of abundance?
• Do we reflect on what others have and we do not or do we delight in the wonder of all that we have been given to which we had no guarantee or even right to expect?
• In short, do we choose comparisons or do we choose joy?

 

We know that joy never comes by comparisons, yet we still often make comparisons, most of the time out of our insecurity.

 

So, what should be do?

 

I know no magic answers, but I do have a few ideas, things you and I can do today, this week:

• Count your blessings. Such a cliché and yet so true. Simple yet powerful. So, this week, let’s start each day with a prayer in which we name two things for which we are grateful. Let’s anchor each day in generosity for what we have been given, not what we have not been given.
• Take a break from social media. Take a break from television. Maybe all media. Just a day. Or even a half day. I like and use social media. I was an early “convert.” And I have always loved television. But it all leads us easily into comparisons and is even designed to make us feel something is lacking in our lives. Sometimes, it is important to take a break from it all.
• Practice vulnerability. So much of today’s culture wants us to show only what is strong and successful and put together. Yet, and you and I know this, we are all broken. Each of us has experienced loss and disappointment. Each of us has moments of fear as well as hope. Show and share your broken and messy parts. You may be surprised how others will show you their broken and messy parts. Let’s stop pretending to be something or someone we are not. My own experience is that when I am honest with my vulnerabilities, others will share theirs with me, others will be honest back.

 

Here is my conclusion:

 

• God always gives us enough. That’s one message of Jesus’ parable. The workers labored for different amounts of time but God gave them what they needed and it was and is enough. God gives us enough, not because we have earned it or deserve it, but simply because God is generous. And that is something for which we can and should rejoice and give thanks.
• God never gives up on us. God keeps looking for ways to find and save us all. The landowner in Jesus’ parable did just that – think of it – all day long the landowner kept going out and inviting others in. He did not stop inviting. God never stops inviting. God will never stop seeking out the lost and vulnerable, God will never stop serving those in need, God will never stop seeking out and loving you and me.

 

In the end, it is all about God’s generosity to us all and our response. God will never stop loving us, seeking us out, saving us.

Thanks be to God!

 

Amen.

(Thanks to the Rev. Dr. David Lose for many of the ideas in this sermon).

The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
Sept 22 & 23, 2017


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