The gospel pericope this morning is a parable. A parable tells a story that may or may not be relevant to the literal interpretation, but instead is a vehicle to apply an intended message of what the parable is pointing to or addressing, something greater and deeper than the literal interpretation.
The story is about an owner that goes out in the early morning and hires people to work in his field. He continues to hire people throughout the day, and they are all promised the same amount of money, and even the people hired at the end of the day are offered the same pay as the ones that started early in the morning.
This is a crazy story if it’s only about hired workers in someone’s field. Who would do that? The parable is pointing to the Kingdom of God. Jesus is using this analogy to show how the Kingdom of God is different than the kingdom of Rome, or of Israel, a satellite of Rome, with their own customs and ways of doing things. When Jesus invites people to share in the work of what we now call “the church,” the payment is the same, whether you began early in the morning or if you come later. The Good News is that the first will be last and the last will be first.
Many of you have put some mileage on your shoes in your journey with Christ, and others may have just begun. And look at this guy on the cross that says to Jesus: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him with these words: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43, NIV) I mean, boom, he’s there. Many of these disciples had been serving Jesus for years on long pilgrimage journeys, but here he says to someone at the last hour: “You will also receive the reward. You will be with me in today in paradise.” We’ve all heard or seen death-bed conversions to Jesus, and the family feels peace about it.
When I look at it that context, it does not bother me too much, because, I enjoy seeing people take advantage of the same blessings and excitement about the good news that we “old-timers” maybe take for granted. This rapturous delight of knowing Christ, and the honeymoon period of their life, because they have not experienced this before, to realize that they are hidden in Christ, and Christ is with them and for them. That’s the message here. The parable is pointing to the promises and rewards of the Kingdom of God. It’s not based on how long we have been involved with this thing called Christianity. The reward of spending time in the presence of God and looking forward to eternity is equal to all. No-one gets more than anyone else when it comes to receiving and experiences the promises of God.
Remember the story this morning about the disciples who were fighting over who was more important than the others? Jesus calls his disciples together and says: “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all. “Jesus brought a child into their midst and said: “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” (Mark 9:34-37, NIV) The children just got here not long ago, and their reward is the same as ours. They have been baptized, and they are members of the church, not voting members yet, but with all the same privileges and benefits.
This message is about acceptance. We have a disconnection in our world. Jesus wants us to accept people for who they are, not what we want them to be. Acceptance can help make the world a better place. Have you ever felt frustrated, lonely, unaccepted? Have you ever felt that you’re not as important as anybody else? Have you ever felt like you’re a failure, that you have not lived up to your calling? Have you ever been deeply depressed? I want to tell you this morning: God loves you, just the way you are, not for what you have been or done in the past or what you will be or do in the future, but right here, right now, in this Kairos moment, God loves you. You don’t have to prove anything. You are accepted into the family of Christ. You are a brother or sister.
Just as God loves you for who you are, looks past your blemishes, and says: “Hey, that’s not what its all about. Its not about rules or regulations, or whether you have your dogma straight or not. It’s about agape love, the shalom (perfect) love of God. It’s a participatory love pilgrimage. God accepts you as you are, whether you’ve been here a long time, or you have arrived recently. The reward is your in full.
Keep this in mind: Just as God loves you for who you are, accepts you for who you are. Just as God loves you for who you are and accepts you for who you are, we are called to accept and love others, to love them for who they are. We are not licensed or authorized to pass judgment, not to straighten them out, not to make them be someone we want them to be, someone other than who they are. They do not have to prove to you how important they are and whether they count, whether they are in or out, whether they are them or us, the in crowd. God please deliver us from a them and us mentality.
Be careful how you treat one another. Be careful how you judge one another or is the way you judge others the way you want God to judge you as well. I want to close with a passage from the prophet Micah that seems so fitting to today’s message: “Do you know oh man or woman, what is good? Do you know what the Lord requires of You? To do justice, love mercy and walk humbly before your God. Not feeling that you are more important than you are, and likewise, not downgrading yourself as not so important.”
You may not be a polished as you would like to be, not as well spoken as you like to be, but you may be a diamond in the rough, a work that is ongoing and not finished yet. But, you are valuable in the eyes of God. Encourage one another while it is yet day. We are commissioned to assist others to grow in their relationship with God, to build them up. That’s a baseline in all the writings of the New Testament. We are family; we are one. We are called to accept, encourage, build up, appreciate, identify the diamonds in the rough, and help bring them out to the surface. As the Proverb says: “Just as iron sharpens iron, so we are called to sharpen one another.” To bring out the diamond from the rough so that everyone can benefit.
We are called to help, to improve; not to judge, but to encourage, just like you would do with children, or your favorite aunt or favorite uncle. Be kind, Be considerate. May we all do our best to welcome and receive others into the community of St. Alban’s. We are together, a work in progress. God is not finished with us yet.
Accept others for who they are, not what you want them to be.
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen