October 25, 2020
A Future with Hope Week 7 “The Bearing”
Matthew 20: 1-16
The Rev. Carla Wilks at Mount Seymour United Church
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My parents have a shamrock plant as one of their houseplants. Whenever they would go away on vacation and one my sisters or I would be given the task of watering the plants, we knew that if any plant was going to die on our watch, it COULD NOT BE the shamrock. Whatever we did, we had to keep the shamrock alive! The shamrock was a very special plant to my mom. It was growing in her mom’s house before she died. That grandma died in 1986, when I was 12 years old. So this shamrock plant has been around for quite a long time. My sisters and I did NOT want to be the ones responsible for its demise. Thankfully we kept it alive each and every time Mom and Dad went away. A few years ago, (I don’t know why we didn’t think of this sooner!!) Mom split the shamrock plant and gave me and my sisters each a piece of it to grow in our own homes. Now – keeping the shamrock alive is a shared responsibility.
My sister’s plant was not doing so well after she got it. It was down to just a couple of leaves. So she repotted it, watered it carefully, placed it in a different window to get some more sunlight, and she gave it some fertilizer. Within two weeks it had taken off. Loads of new healthy leaves and buds starting to flower, as if it was just waiting to burst forth, overflowing with new growth.
In today’s reading from Matthew, the landowner goes out to hire workers first thing in the morning, to work in his vineyard. He gets the keeners who are out in the marketplace ready and willing to work. They get started working. Then he goes and gets some more workers a little later, and more at a few other times during the day. Then at the very end of the day, he hired some more. In the evening, the owner then had the workers all paid the same wage, regardless of how long they had worked.
When we read this story we might be drawn to the unfairness of the situation – the labourers who only worked for an hour at the end of the day, were paid the same as those who worked all day long in the scorching hot sun. That doesn’t seem right?!
The labourers were given their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first. Each one of them received the same wage, regardless of effort, regardless of how much work they did.
The last are first in that they are paid first. And the first, who have labored longest, must also wait the longest to get their pay.
This element of the parable is taken up in other Gospel stories. This reversal of expectation, of our sense of justice, and even of our hopes, is a central piece of the New Testament. Whoever wants to be first must be last, and servant of all… so much for human ideas of greatness. Some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last. The first and the last are brought together when we are called to lay down the burdens of our days and find our home with God.
The reversal of expectation of this parable is that we are all equal recipients of God’s gifts. Through this parable, Jesus tries to reorient the ones who are already committed, the ones who showed up early, to remind them of the unexpected ways that God is with us in this world. The loving your enemy, last shall be first, ways that Jesus teaches us about God’s love and care. This parable like many others, shows the generosity of God’s love. We may find ourselves settling in, feeling comfortable and commiserating with those early birds – the keeners at the marketplace – ready and open for a full day of doing God’s work… and sometimes we are! But how often might we be the ones who have great intentions but then get distracted or don’t feel like it, and show up late… But God’s generosity is such that there is room for all of us, even if we feel we don’t deserve it. Perhaps ESPECIALLY when we feel we don’t deserve it.
As the preacher, Barbara Brown Taylor says, “God is not fair [at least the way we understand fairness], but depending on where you are in the line – that can sound like powerful good news, because if God is not fair, then there is a chance we will get paid more than we are worth, that we will get more than we deserve, that we will make it through the doors even though we are last in line–not because of who WE are but because of who GOD is.”
We can get lost in our head about how we can make a difference in the world, we may focus on our own anxieties, or let our ego get in the way, or get side tracked by our fears, but then we might miss the opportunities that God provides. We may think that we always have to show up at the beginning of the day, but this parable reminds us that the key is to show up. God’s generosity meets us there. When we get that feeling that we should call a friend, and it turns out that the friend really needed us to call that day, perhaps that was an opportunity that God set out for us. Or when we feel drawn to write a letter of advocacy or speak up against a racist comment, or help a neighbour, or donate toques to First United, we are showing up to do God’s work.
God’s generosity and love for us does not depend on how much we prove ourselves worthy, or how much we nurture and tend our faith. God’s generosity is for all of us. God’s love is not saved just for those whose faith is strongest or who pray the hardest. God’s generosity is for all of us. God’s love is not only for those of us who conform to the norms of society… God’s generosity is for all of us. Regardless of who we are, where we are, what our background is, whether we accept God’s love or reject it – God’s generosity is for all of us. We are equal in God’s sight.
Every year I plant tomato plants in the raised bed that is built into the front of my house. This year again back in May I planted some tomato plants, but when I did, I noticed that there were already some plants growing there. They grew from seeds from some tomatoes that fell and were not harvested last year. There were a few plants growing in the garden, but there were also some growing in the tiny crack between the house and the driveway. Not just one plant, but three! So I left them just to see what would happen. Sure enough – they grew into large plants and they bore fruit. All summer I harvested and enjoyed tomatoes that were ripening on my driveway. There was no way to properly stake these plants. As they got bigger, I would carefully drive around them as I went up my driveway to park my van. There was no dirt to be seen to be able to fertilize them, yet in spite of the less than ideal growing conditions, they still flourished. They still got the water they needed and the sunshine they needed to be plentiful. What appeared to me last year to be a lost harvest, the tomatoes falling into the dirt – a missed opportunity. They withered away. From our human point of view, it was a missed harvest… but this God of ours keeps throwing opportunities our way, growing and bearing fruit from last year’s withered away harvest, surprising us once again.
What may seem to be a missed opportunity – like the workers showing up to the marketplace at the end of the day – God throws opportunities at us even to the 11th hour. All we have to do is stop and watch for it and be open to it in order to receive God’s generosity.
I told you before about my sister’s shamrock plant that she nurtured and repotted and fertilized and it responded with bountiful flowers and leaves. But let me tell you about MY shamrock plant. I also received a piece of Grandma’s shamrock. My shamrock did not get repotted. It did not receive regular fertilizer, or even water sometimes, to be perfectly honest. But it was full of leaves and constantly flowering. All I can say is that it had the right balance of care and neglect for it to thrive. Or maybe IN SPITE of the care it did or did not receive, it thrived. Maybe it had the perfect amount of the things out of my control – sunlight or soil composition, or humidity in the room, so it thrived. Regardless – it was a reversal of expectation.
And to me – this story is a little like my shamrock. God’s care for all of us is constant. Whether we show up bright eyed and bushy tailed first thing in the morning, or we are the last to make our way to the marketplace, overtired and not really feeling like doing the work – Whether we think we deserve it, or not – God is there, loving us, nurturing us, caring for us, giving us what we need to bear fruit and flower.
Thanks be to God, whose generosity is for all of us.