September 24, 2017
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
Grace is not fair.
Grace. Is not. Fair.
When do we first learn of fairness?
As children, fairness is not rooted in equality, or in equity, or in justice. Fairness is whether or not we get what we want, need, and desire. Playing cards with Mira, whether it is strategy she does not quite understand or simply the luck of the draw, if it does not go her way, she proclaims, “Not fair.”
And our sense of fairness continues along such human lines, with such human ways of thinking. Am I getting what I want, need, or desire? If not, then it is not fair.
In recent surveys, white Americans have said that racism against whites is now far worse than it is against people of color. But if we look at opportunities, income, incarceration, medical care, and just about every other metric, it is objectively not true. African American females are now the most highly educated demographic in our country. But wages, jobs, and opportunities do not match. Yet the changes to the system are viewed by a majority of white people as “unfair.”
Grace is not fair.
Grace does not follow human notions of fairness.
How many times have we read of this? The bitterness of the older son for the grace extended to the prodigal son. The anger of the “good religious types” that Jesus is over there eating with sinners, and tax collectors, and prostitutes. The workers who worked a whole day for a whole day’s wage, angered that those who were hired later in the day got the same wage.
But we get it, don’t we? Wait, I was here when it was 90 degrees out (even on the third day of Fall) and they just got to sweat for an hour, and they get the same wage?!?
It is important to note that the landowner did not cheat the ones hired in the morning. They were hired for a day’s work and got a day’s pay. But when others get the same, it starts to feel cheaper than it was when they set it up. It still buys the same food, still pays the same rent, still clothes the same number of family members. But it no longer feels fair.
But what if we are the ones hired at one, or at three, or at five? Would we say it is unfair, or would we praise God for the unexpected windfall?
This whole story is a parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like…” Parables are things we wrestle with to try and come to a new understanding.
It is not simply about working in the vineyard and getting paid, it is about becoming a part of the covenant of God’s love. And when it comes to being religious, we tend to lift up those who are obviously and seriously religious, don’t we? Woe to the pastor who wins the 50/50 raffle at Rotary. Here come the comments, “well, he’s got an in,” “she’s got a better connection.”
But that is not how it works. We are each of us, by our baptism, whether it was last week, or decades ago, called to covenant, and each given a full measure of God’s love, gifted by God the Holy Spirit. My connection to God is the same as yours, I just get to talk about it more often publically.
The vision of Ezekiel of the valley of the dry bones we read a few weeks ago allows us to say that there is no place, no circumstance, so difficult, so beyond death, so terrible, that God cannot breathe a new Word into it that gives life and power. If that story is about space, maybe this one is about time.
There is no hour so late that God cannot offer the fullness of God’s love in it. There is no time so far gone that God cannot make all things new within it. Not the beginning of the day, not at one, or three, or five, or at quitting time. Not even the dark night of the soul is unreachable by God’s love.
As human beings it seems that we are really good at two things: we are really good at trying to change other people, and we are even better at resisting change. I cannot fix any of you. I have a hard enough time fixing myself. And for someone who loves deeply and is also working to reign in my control needs, this is a profound difficulty.
But just because I cannot fix others, that does not mean that God cannot offer the fullness of God in those moments.
Jesus loves the last and the least as much as the first and the best. Jesus loves the hurting as much as the whole. Jesus loves the confused as much as the settled. Jesus loves the poor and the poor in spirit as much as the well-to-do and the contented.
It may not seem fair to the first and the best, the whole, the settled, the well-to-do, and the contented. But it is not about fairness. God’s justice is found in God’s grace.
And when we know that we are loved by God, we find that we are blessed enough.
Thanks be to God. Amen.