When Naomi and I were in our first year of marriage, I was in my second year at Central Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. After completing my second year in a four year program, we moved off campus for the summer, and I got a job at a steel foundry working with hot liquid steel. And, I remember that I really liked the work.
We only lived a few blocks from my work and I would come home at lunch always covered with black soot. I don’t know how Naomi let me in the front door. Actually I think I always had to go through the back door. She would feed me lunch and I would go back to work. I look back on that experience and time of life with pleasant memories.
I was newly married, had a wonderful and caring wife. I loved our home church. I was doing what I wanted to do, reading and studying the Bible in my spare time and enjoying my relationship with God, family and friends. I enjoyed my job in the foundry. I was young, and I was working hard and enjoying it. It reminds me of the verse in Ecclesiastes that says that every person who eats and drinks sees good in all his or her labor– it is the gift of God. (Eccl. 3:12-13)
It was getting near the end of the summer, and we were planning a move to Portland, Oregon. I was going to transfer and finish my Degree at Portland Bible College. I was getting close to my last few weeks at work, and I had finally got access to what I considered the “primo job” in the foundry, a snap molder. Everybody wanted to be a snap molder, well, at least I did. I finally got my shot.
I’d always heard about the snap-molder legend. He had the record for the most snap-molds produced in a day, 98 snap molds-without defect. This guy did 98 in one day, but now robotics probably put out many more than that. It was my last day of work, and I was getting pretty good at making snap molds. I was making 50 to 60 and some days over 70. If you could hit 50 to 60 in a day it was considered a good day’s work.
So, on my last day of work, I made a commitment to try my best to break the record of 98 molds. I came in on my last morning of work and by 10 o’clock I was starting to get into a pretty good groove and by noon I was cooking with gas. By mid-afternoon I was feeling like I might have a shot. But around 3, with just 2 hours to go, my ankle started giving out on me—an injury from a car wreck a few years before. For the last two hours of my shift, I was literally hopping around on one foot to get that record. I had to be careful that my supervisor didn’t see me limping or hopping or he would send me home.
At the end of my shift, I finished 101 snap-molds, without defect. I beat the record by 3 molds. I felt like a hero. My last day, and my supervisor said that I had a job anytime I wanted to come back. So I hobbled home to tell Naomi the good news, and I don’t remember her being as impressed as I thought she should be. I think I spent the next day in bed recovering.
“Jesus says the first will be last and the last will be first”. (Matthew 19:30) But, you know that doesn’t work so well in business. If you are in business and you hire 10 people to come work with you for the day, and then some young “whippier-snapper” comes in with two hours left in the shift, and you like the way he or she works, and at the end of the day you give him or her the same amount of money as those that have worked the entire shift.
That is no way to run a business. I don’t think that is what Jesus is talking about in this parable. Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of God. I think what I hear Him saying is this: “This is how things work in the world. People work and they are recompensed for it. In the kingdom of God, it’s different. Your rewards are not based on how long you have been in the church or by how much time, resources and abilities you have contributed”.
The last receives the same rewards as the first. God changes things around. In the Kingdom of God, we are all the same. “It’s an equal playing field”. It’s a redemptive work. Jesus is giving a parable in our Gospel reading today. He’s not giving us a blueprint on how to run a company. If this is a blueprint on how to start and run a company, “it would not last). You can’t expect to survive if you run a company like this.”
Here is what I think Jesus is saying in this parable: “In the redemptive process; in my saving grace, I don’t look at the people that have been there the longest, nor. I don’t look at the one that works harder. I do not look at the one that has the record for the most snap molds made in a day”.
God desires everyone to be in His Kingdom, whether a long time or short, we all share the same rewards and benefits, from the last to the first, from the least to the greatest. God’s far reaching mercy, God’s grace. It’s the same way in this church.
There are people that have been in this church for years. In our IMANI class series last year, I was surprised that at least half of the people in our class had not been involved at St. Alban’s for more than 4 years. Jesus says that it’s there church too!
They have just as much rights as we all do. The children we baptize and the children growing up in church, new-born babies, toddlers, those 10, 12, 14 and older, have as many rights and privileges as the people that have been here for many years, people that we depend on. And someone might say, yes, but they have not paid the price for membership rewards.
Yes, they have. According to Jesus they receive the same reward. It’s their church too. They are members, maybe not voting members yet, but members just the same, with rights and privileges. Responsibilities will come with age.
That’s the beauty of this parable. It’s not a blueprint on how to start and run a successful business. But, it is a parable intended to make a distinction between how it is in the world to survive in a working environment and how that contrasts with the Kingdom or God.
The number one rule in the Kingdom of God: We are saved by grace. The number two rule is look again at rule number one. We are saved by grace, not by works.
Year A 15th Sunday After Pentecost
September 21, 2014
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen