Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Endless Riches of a Bankrupt God

MATTHEW 20:1-16
1“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 8When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

The other day at The Table, I yelled at a lady. Two ladies, actually. But one was an old woman. In one of those scooter wheelchairs. The other lost her teeth somewhere and can’t afford new dentures. 
I yelled at scooter lady. And at toothless.
Ok. maybe not “yelled.” But definitely scolded.

They were both being so greedy. But that’s nothing new. They’re always greedy. This night though, I’d had enough. I was just at some kind of breaking point.

It’s so weird. At The Table, our community meal that we serve twice a week at Hot Metal, everyone is usually so grateful and kind and pleasant during the first round of food. Everyone gets a meal. Everyone is served. Everyone is happy. 

It’s awesome. It’s like the Kingdom of God, right there on the corner of 27th and Jane street.

But come time for “second serving,” when we dish out any extras in styrofoam take-out containers and line them up on the counter like a wall between us and them, and folks start crowding in line, they start looking at what the other gets, they start questioning why Jane got two and I only got one, or why this has an extra scoop of potatoes, but I wanted more gravy, or why don’t you carry more bags, more plastic forks, more napkins and salt and pepper packets and more more more.

It’s like we’ve fed the beast at the first serving. And it wakes up. And during seconds, people lose all sense of dignity and propriety and common decency. 

Well, the other night, I’d had enough. 
Enough of the greed and the gimme’s and the comparisons.

That night, I told the throng of folks waiting in line that we didn’t have enough for everyone to have seconds. That some of them waiting in line might not get it. That they should only take one if they really needed it, or knew someone who did.

The first woman, who had raced to be first in line, then asked, “so, can I take two?”
NO! You cannot take two! Did you just hear what I said?!

Then scooter lady came up, and cut everyone in line, because, well, she has a scooter… And I gave one to her. And I tried to smile. And I took it back and put it in a bag. And then took it back again and put it in a different bag that didn’t have any holes in it. And I thought that was the end of it. But then she proceeded to ask someone else for another to-go. She wanted thirds. 

I couldn’t take it. “Do not TRICK other people into giving you more than one!” I told her. “Do you see all these people in line? Do you see that THEY haven’t gotten any?!

And then she said, “Where are the cookies? I want cookies, too.” 
And I just started a crowd funding campaign so that I can keep doing this next year. 

I think I might be crazy.

But boy if my work at The Table doesn’t encapsulate the tension found in today’s parable so well. 

On the one hand, I really think The Table is a picture of the Kingdom. It’s a small taste of what God wants for all of us. We all get fed. We all live in community. We all work together.

On the other hand, we are humans living in a human world, full of human greed. And we want to race to get it all before anyone else gets there. We want all the to-go boxes, even if the meatloaf is just going to rot in our fridge and the bread is going to get stale on our countertops.

And on the one hand, I wish I could work in the vineyard for free - to not even ask for the day’s wages, to just bask in the light of the warm sun and the comfort of being in God’s vineyard, working for and with God. 

On the other hand, I need to feed my kids. I “need” things like car insurance and lattes and beer money.
So I’ve started this IndieGoGo campaign, trying to raise enough money to keep my position as The Table Minister at Hot Metal. The church itself can’t afford to keep me, so here I am, begging folks on Facebook to support me, $2 at a time.

And I’m so conflicted about the whole thing. Because I wish I could just work at The Table for free. I wish I could just focus on my work and serving others and keep smiling when I want to strangle someone, and keep encouraging when I feel their despair, and not have to worry about feeling like I owe someone something, like I’m in debt, like any time I treat myself to a new pair of underwear or a hit of caffeine that I’ve disappointed someone, that I’m not being a good steward of the money that they’ve given me. 

This parable makes me nervous. More than nervous.
Because I’ve always been a “good girl.” 
I’ve always done the right thing and hardly even drank in college.
I’ve always thought that if something is worth having, it’s worth earning. 
I’ve always been the kid who shows up on time, ready to work the full day, ready to earn my hourly wage.

I’ve always believed that if you work hard and apply yourself and said no to drugs, you’ll get what you worked for. And then you won’t have to feel bad about it. You’ll feel like you deserve it, because you earned it. 

Three master’s degrees later, and I’m starting to wonder about all of that. I’m starting to think that scooter lady has the right idea. Cut in line. Run over people’s toes. Demand the third helping.
But I HAVE been living like that without even meaning to.

Just by the fact that I’m a middle class American means that I have benefited from someone else’s back-breaking labor, someone else’s misfortune, someone else’s victimization. Someone else got to the vineyard a lot earlier than I did. Folks have gotten there a long time ago. And some of them are still waiting to get paid. 

Initially, upon reading this parable, I related to the workers who’ve been in the scorching heat all day. I’m the one who deserves more because I’ve worked harder, longer, smarter. I’ve gotten the good grades and played nice on the playground and picked up the litter and recycled all the soda cans.  But really, I’ve come to the show late. I’ve been given a full day’s wage even though I’ve only worked an hour or so. I’ve been given enough for the day even though I haven’t really earned a single thing in my life.

There is always going to be laborer who got to work earlier than you did.

There are a thousand ways that I’ve demanded the third helping. 
With every third world t-shirt and rainforest clear-cutting Big Mac, with every fill of my gas tank and every wasted moment on Facebook, I’ve used what I haven’t earned. I’ve wasted what’s been given to me.

And this is enough to forgive the scooter lady. And the toothless lady. And the two mentally ill folks who are threatening each other with their plastic forks, and the homeless guy who needs yet another clean t-shirt, even though he was pretty well stocked just the other day.

But that, I think, is the point of the parable. God functions under an entirely different economy. God doesn’t have time clocks. We don’t belong to a union. We don’t get paid vacations and employer covered health insurance. We don’t work for God. 

We aren’t God’s employees. 
We are God’s children.

God pays and pays and pays, not because God needs workers, but because God wants more folks inside of the vineyard. We all get a denarius, a day’s wage, enough to live on, whether we work eight hours or one hour. We all get enough because God wants us to have enough, not because we’ve earned it, not because we deserve it, not because we’ve done a certain amount of work for God. But because God wants all of God’s kids under one roof.

God’s going to go bankrupt with this business model, giving everyone enough to survive on, even if we’ve only worked the last hour. It’s a terrible business model. 

But having kids is never a sound business venture to begin with, is it?

It’s not about the work. It’s not about how much we get done. It’s not about how many bushels of grapes that we pick or how many dishes get done or even how many souls get saved. God doesn’t care about any of that. Because when it comes down to it, the dishes just get dirty again and God’s the one who does the saving. God just wants to see us wandering around God’s kingdom. God wants relationship. God just wants to bring us into the kingdom. 

Come inside. Come inside where you get enough, even if you don’t think you’ve earned it, even if you don’t think you deserve it. Come inside where you get to be God’s child. Where you get what you need simply because you belong to God.

Somehow we have to hold the tension of working in the vineyard, in God’s Kingdom, while also living in this world of corruption and capitalism and the power of the all mighty dollar. Somehow we have to live and work and love in God’s vineyard, God’s Kingdom that is here and now, and also not yet. Somehow we have to live in to God’s economy and still go home to bank accounts and finance charges and interest rates. Somehow we still have to feed our kids amidst the reality that there are far too many kids out there who don’t get to eat at all.

So we need to be careful. Because enough really is enough. Don’t feed the beast and make being in God’s kingdom all about gathering up more for ourselves. We can’t put God in a to-go box. We can’t hoard the grace and get upset that someone else gets the same amount as we do. We get one family. God’s family. And that’s enough. 

I need to remember that when I’m frustrated that there aren’t more people helping out at The Table. I need to remember that when scooter lady is demanding more cookies, and when someone has, for the third time that night, stolen the trash bag out of the women’s restroom. We are family. And that’s enough. 

Come in to my vineyard, God says. Come in and have enough. Have enough for the day. Have enough and don’t worry. Have enough and don’t compare. My grace is sufficient for you. You’ve got all that you need. 

Thanks be to God.


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