Monday, November 21, 2011

It's not socialism--it's the kingdom of God

The first Sunday in November our interim senior minister preached on the workers in the vineyard, from Matthew 20.

From The Message by Eugene Peterson:

"God's kingdom is like an estate manager who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. They agreed on a wage of a dollar a day, and went to work. Later, about nine o'clock, the manager saw some other men hanging around the town square unemployed. He told them to go to work in his vineyard and he would pay them a fair wage. They went.

He did the same thing at noon, and again at three o'clock. At five o'clock he went back and found still others standing around. He said, 'Why are you standing around all day doing nothing?'

They said, 'Because no one hired us.'

He told them to go to work in his vineyard.

When the day's work was over, the owner of the vineyard instructed his foreman, 'Call the workers in and pay them their wages. Start with the last hired and go on to the first.'

Those hired at five o'clock came up and were each given a dollar. When those who were hired first saw that, they assumed they would get far more. But they got the same, each of them one dollar. Taking the dollar, they groused angrily to the manager, 'These last workers put in only one easy hour, and you just made them equal to us, who slaved all day under a scorching sun.'

He replied to the one speaking for the rest, 'Friend, I haven't been unfair. We agreed on the wage of a dollar, didn't we? So take it and go. I decided to give to the one who came last the same as you. Can't I do what I want with my own money? Are you going to get stingy because I am generous?'

Here it is again, the Great Reversal: many of the first ending up last, and the last first."

Many Americans do not like socialism because they think it's unfair. "Why should I pay more taxes so everyone can have healthcare and an education, whether they work or not?" Many of us like living in a meritocracy: we earned it, therefore we deserve it, we're entitled to it.

I would bet that most folks who enjoy this lifestyle also think they have to earn their way into heaven as well. "I give to my church and I pray every day and read my Bible and I've even served the poor. I've made mistakes but I know I'm forgiven through God's grace." But is God's grace also for that Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, atheist, gay, prostitute who had an abortion, who cheated on his wife, who's addicted to alcohol and drugs, who's indefinitely incarcerated for being an illegal immigrant, who's on death row for murder, who just got out of prison for molesting children?

Folks, we'd like to think that we're the ones who showed up first, who agreed to that daily wage in the early morning and thought we were going to get more. In truth, we are all johnny-come-lately's. All of us have fallen short of the glory of God. None of us deserves any of this, the good or the bad. Yet God is generous with us anyway. So why should we be stingy with this extravagant love that has been lavished upon us?

But then there's the question of why should we be good at all? If God's grace is for everyone, even the most heinous of sinners, why should we love and give and forgive others?

I don't know about you, but when I'm giving to others without a second thought to myself (and it doesn't happen often enough), that is when I feel truly alive, when I feel as though I am living the way I was intended to live. And when I forgive and accept someone as they are, I feel as though a huge weight has been lifted from my heart, setting both us free.

It isn't socialism, it's something better. It's called love.

"Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.
Love doesn't strut,
Doesn't have a swelled head,
Doesn't force itself on others,
Isn't always "me first,"
Doesn't fly off the handle,
Doesn't keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn't revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end."

 --from 1 Corinthians 13, The Message by Eugene Peterson