“The :Problem With Generosity & the Dilemma of Grace” Sept. 24, 2023

“The :Problem With Generosity & the Dilemma of Grace” Sept. 24, 2023

Posted by on Sep 23, 2023 in Sermon archives

“The :Problem With Generosity

& the Dilemma of Grace”

Exodus 16:2-15

Philippians 1:20-30

Matthew 20:1-16

the parable of the generous land owner- you know, of all the   that Jesus told, and there were lots of them, the parable of the generous land owner has to be one of the cleverest. For those of us who have ever worked for a living (which is all of us,) there is a deeply ingrained sense Of fair play when it comes to hours worked and wages paid. The fact that the United auto Workers are fixing to strike all three of the major American auto companies is testimony to the fact that we take this stuff seriously. I’ve had fun discussing this parable with folks over the years. In fact, I believe it ranks right up there with the parable of the Prodigal Son when it comes to emotional engagement. In the prodigal son story we find ourselves rooting in some fashion for all of the main characters of the story eventually. There’s the father who believed he had lost his son forever, only to have him return. And then there’s the older brother who understandably felt a little cheated because he had been stuck working on the farm while his brother was out living it up and squandering his inheritance. We even wind up feeling empathy for the prodigal himself after he has a change of heart and truly repents of his bad behavior.

In this parable, however-the parable of the generous landowner- we can’t help but to  find ourselves wondering who is the good guy and who is the bad guy here. But, like many of the parables of Jesus, it’s not that simple.

I mean, in the working world we are asked to use time cards, time clocks, digital hand scanners, and even laser devices that scan our eyeballs just to prove that we showed up when we said we would. That way, we can be paid for every minute of every day that we were on the job, but not one minute more. After reading through the parable of the generous landowner, I couldn’t help but remember the line from the old movie, Sgt.Bilko, where he said, “All I ever wanted was an honest week’s pay for an honest day’s work.”

But of course, This particular lesson that Jesus taught to the disciples had little   to do with wages or money or even the honesty and integrity of the employer.

John Wesley provides  this somewhat wordy explanation , saying,” “That some of those who were first called may yet be last, our Lord confirms by the following parable: of which the primary scope  , to show, That many of the Jews would be rejected, and many of the Gentiles accepted; the secondary, that of the Gentiles, many who were first converted would be last and lowest in the kingdom of glory; and many of those who were last converted would be first, and highest therein.”

The simplest translation I can think to offer you for these words is that we don’t get to call dibs for our place in the Kingdom of God. And we most certainly can’t expect to call shotgun For the best seat just because we were first in line or somehow believe that we have been chosen above and beyond most everyone else.

Simply put, this is a story about grace-God’s grace- the grace that falls like rain upon   righteous and unrighteous alike.

And it is this same grace that remains the foundation of our faith.  We sIng, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” We credit our good fortunes to “the grace of God,” and when we gather for a meal it is our tradition to offer grace.  But grace can be a tricky thing. The simplest definition for grace that I know of is that grace can be thought of as unmerited favor, or as our old friend Connie Sidebottom used to say. “Didn’t  ask for it, don’t deserve it, but got it anyway.”

But here’s the thing: this unconditional love and blessing and forgiveness just doesn’t sit well with a lot of folks. “It’s too good to be true,” they might say, or. “There’s no way that I can be worthy of this kind of blessing. Surely, there is something that I have to do; some tangible and visible deed or work or sacrifice that God demands of me.”

The slick haired preachers of prosperity gospel take full advantage of this hesitation to accept God’s grace, claiming that a certain amount of money donated to their particular ministry will guarantee untold riches somewhere on down the line. Now, I’d rather not comment any further about this except to say that we want to do stuff. We feel that we need to do stuff to get God’s attention; to win God’s favor. For that reason, I believe, when we talk about a God of compassion who is all loving and all forgiving – a God of grace- then we shouldn’t be surprised when the response is a thin smile and a little nod of the head. Once again, at verse 10 we read,” . 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more. But each of them also received a denarion. 11 When they received it, they grumbled against the landowner,

12 ‘These who were hired last worked one hour, and they received the same pay as we did even though we had to work the whole day in the hot sun.’

13 “But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I did you no wrong. Didn’t I agree to pay you a denarion? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I want to give to this one who was hired last the same as I give to you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what belongs to me? Or are you resentful because I’m generous?’ wow! ‘Or are you resentful because I’m generous?’ But you know, that’s the problem with generosity. That’s the problem with grace: It’s not fair and it makes no effort to be fair, at least by our standards. But there it is: unmerited favor, ‘didn’t ask for it, don’t deserve it. But got it anyway.’  But that’s not to say that grace cannot be twisted at times to appear like something that  it’s not. I’m reminded of the  old story of the sarcastic teacher who said to her class, “If there are any idiots in the room, will they please stand up”, After a long silence, one freshman rose to his feet. “Now then mister, why do you consider yourself an idiot?”, inquired the teacher with a sneer. “Well, actually I don’t,” said the student, “but I hate to see you standing up there all by yourself.”  a good kid, don’t you think? He’ll probably go far in this world. But God’s grace doesn’t work like that.

I will close by offering that there is a particular joy in the knowing that justice, in the heart of God, begins with mercy and never stops. There is a singular assurance that no matter how badly we mess up. there is forgiveness. And there is a blessed peace in the presence of a love that knows no bounds. God’s grace: it is not a singular event but a continuous flow of blessings. I’d have to say, that’s not a problem; that’s not a problem at all.

Amen and Shalom


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