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Insistent on Justice For All: A Sermon from Bishop Shannon | September 20, 2020

There is no need to do back flips or contortions to shape this story into something that makes us comfortable. Jesus telling this story brings scrutiny to the life experienced by people without means/oppressed.

My mind immediately goes to migrant workers who are day laborers, or who toil in the fields for a meager wage, and those who may not eat if they are not hired. I think of my ancestors who also labored in fields, unpaid and denied their personhood. I think of the Abenaki land on which we reside and stand, that was never given or sold to us by its original stewards.

As I read this parable I thought of people who find themselves at the mercy of the powerful, the powerful whose interests are not about the wellbeing of ordinary people and communities, but whose interests lie with the economy of wealth, power and privilege.

This story highlights the disparity between those who have and those who do not. The wages the landowner pays are not fair. The laborers don’t have much recourse when it comes to gaining fair treatment.

Of course this is all so troubling because we identify God as the landowner who is generous. How can we reconcile the unfairness experienced by the workers and the clear message that this story is meant to instruct us about the ways of God’s kindom.

In the 55th chapter of Isaiah, it is written: My plans aren’t your plans, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. Just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my plans than your plans.

To understand this parable we must set aside worldly expectations and ways. The lens of human made systems do not apply. The landowner acted quite differently from the norms of society in Jesus’ time.

Normally a landowner would have been above going out to find the workers. But in this parable, the landowner went not just once, but several times to find laborers for the harvest. He saw that there were people who needed work, so he hired them.

As the landowner continued to go back and invite people to join his work crew, he noticed people standing around without work.

Their lack of productivity did not seem to matter to the landowner. What seemed most important was that all would have an opportunity to participate, and that all would have enough. So we aren’t just talking about fairness, but instead about concern and generosity.

How fair has God been with you? If we were to be held accountable for all our sins and required to make retribution to God for all of our shortcomings, or any wrongs we have ever done, we could never do it.  

But thank God that our ways are not like God’s ways. My friends, do not be mistaken. By the standards of this world, God does not treat us fairly, but instead is abundantly, scandalously generous and completely invested in grace.  God’s grace is for all whether we like this arrangement or not. God’s grace is for all whether we think they deserve it or not.

Jesus told this parable because his listeners were being crushed by the status quo, and he wanted them not to place their hopes in an economy of this world that was stacked against them.

Jesus wasn’t interested in any of the stingy political and economic systems of human making. He came to usher in an economy of love, abundance and inclusion.

An everyone has needs which must be addressed economy. An economy based on the human need for God — whether we acknowledge the need, or deny the need.

Today’s passage is Jesus’ parable version of God’s dream described by the prophet Isaiah — in Chapter 55 of Isaiah it is written:

All of you who are thirsty, come to the water!

Whoever has no money, come, buy food and eat!

Without money, at no cost, buy wine and milk!

My plans aren’t your plans,

nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.

Just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways,

and my plans than your plans.

This parable of injustice and grace is meant to make us uncomfortable. It is meant to make us think about the injustices of society we’ve accepted and with which we cooperate.

It highlights the means to which God goes to love us and the means to which God goes to empower us to share and be love in the world.

Is it too much for God to hope that we would all work toward that dream of beloved community where God’s grace and abundance is celebrated and shared? Is it too much for God to dream?

We do not earn God’s grace and it is extended to all. If we can acknowledge that God’s grace is a gift, why shouldn’t we also be insistent on justice for all? This is the work of the church.

Knowing what we know about God’s commitment to us and the faith that we share, I wonder what holds us back from being a more impactful force for change in our communities and in our society?

We have our moments of inspiration as a church and as a society. We make progress, but never quite make the changes in our institutions and ways of relating that will make for a truly just society.

We have a hard time imagining the world and people God calls us to be because we have never seen it in its fullness and try to make it into our likeness and make it conform to the ways of this world. We doubt God.

But God’s grace calls us to live beyond all that holds us back, even our doubt. If we don’t have to be bound by our shortcomings, we also do not have to be held back by vulnerability and the exclusionary rules of a society based on meritocracy that is always stacked against the vulnerable, the outsider and the powerless.

This parable encourages us to labor for God’s kindom — to break the chains of cycles, systems and practices that pit us one against the other, that leave people hungry and thirsty for righteousness and literally hungry, homeless, disenfranchised, and struggling. We want a new world, but it seems so out of reach and risky to acquire. It requires vulnerability, commitment to generosity, learning/study, diligence and faith.

No wonder we love our heroes.

Think of how we’ve been inspired by the likes of Elijah Cummings, John Lewis and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and others who are still living. Our heroes speak of lofty things, hopes and desires we aren’t quite ready to fully commit to. Instead we live vicariously through them.

What would happen if we had churches full of heroes? Everyone looking out for everyone, not just those whom we know or are like us. Imagine a world with everyone insisting on the truth that there is enough for all, that all have value and worth. Imagine a church full of people tirelessly laboring together for justice. Is that too much for us to dream?

God’s Grace is not only pure gift but also an invitation to boldly disrupt the systems and ways that stifle the economy of love and the growth of beloved community. Since we are made in God’s image, we have the capacity for God-like generosity. As followers of Jesus, we are called to celebrate the gift of God’s grace by emulating that generosity and justice seeking.

I’m so encouraged by the new ministries that are blossoming in this place, Mission Farm, Church of Our Saviour,St Thomas and Grace, the people of this community, and Lisa and Rachel, pastors and priests who labor with them.

Their commitment to being a space and people dedicated to nourishing bodies and souls,

healing and reconciliation is an expression of their understanding of the abundance of God’s grace and how it makes our hearts beat for justice. Thank you for encouraging us to dream God’s dreams.

Even, especially in this time of great upheaval, I can’t help but notice, and feel the potential for healing and reversals, and freedom from the shackles of scarcity. God’s unmerited grace, unmerited favor is the doorway to freedom.

Can you feel the cleansing breeze of this open door, beckoning us to enjoin and enlist others to feel the same expansive freedom of God’s grace?

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