We are Laborers in God’s Vineyard Sermon.
I Cor 3:5-9; Galatians 6:7-9
We continue with our sermon series for this pandemic time, “Don’t Just Go Through It, Grow Through It.” Today I want to talk to you about how to embrace your divinely appointed role in life, your true calling. Our scripture lessons carry forward a teaching of Jesus who said we ought to consider ourselves as laborers in God’s vineyard. You are not the vineyard owner, you are not the HR manager in charge of criticizing other laborers. You are not the glutton at the end of the food chain gorging yourself on the harvest. You are a laborer called to help produce the fruits of justice, that is, fairness in the world and righteousness, that is integrity, in your own living.
Our culture trains us to be better consumers than laborers. We live under this constant pull to take a consumerist approach to faith. It’s tempting to constantly ask “What is faith doing for me, for my feelings, for my wants, my preferences,” instead of asking, “How can I be a better laborer for the things God wants in this world, for the things God wants for my life?”
The House of the Lord Restaurant
Full disclosure. I’m not preaching at you, but I need to be reminded of this, too. Sometimes I act like a privileged, entitled end user of religious products. My prayer life can be as if I’m some entitled dude sauntering into The House of the Lord Restaurant– instructing God on how I want my life to go. I ask my server, “What are the specials for me today? What do you recommend?”
The server says, “I recommend you quit acting like God owes you something and get your butt back in the field where it belongs.”
Of course, I ignore it. “Um, yes. I’ll have the blessed life entree with extra health where everything magically slides perfectly into place for me and my family. And sprinkle in lots of delightful coincidences and surprises. Not too much hardship or disruption. In fact, hold the suffering. Well, let’s just skip all that and head straight for the desserts, how about a megamansion?”
“But sir,” my server says, “The chef, he’s really quite good, he recommends the full life experience with all it’s bitter and sweet and bland and spicy pairings.”
“Why is it so hard to get good service these days? Just bring me what I want.”
And you know what? That dang server serves me a plate of life that isn’t at all what I ordered. I get this stew of stuff. There is a lot in there I really like, but along with it, is stuff I would never have ordered. Hardship, anger, failure, disappointment, grief. But somehow it’s more gratifying than if I just got everything I wanted the easy way.
The Franciscan Benediction
When I taste the stew of what God has served me in my life and I’m reminded of what my labor is supposed to be about. It’s like that great Franciscan benediction,
May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deeply within your heart.
The benediction reminds me that I am not really the end consumer in God’s bistro. We are laborers in God’s vineyard. So instead of complaining about what you are handed on life’s plate, turning into a “Karen,” insulting the manager and threatening to look for a better religious restaurant where you can get a god who will give you what you want and make it all about you. Maybe it’s about adjusting your perspective. Maybe the things you have been served on life’s plate are to help you produce something of value to God and this world.
There is a feast, a banquet God invites us to, we’ll talk about that in a few weeks. But before we belly up to the table, remember–we are the field workers invited into the landowner’s house for a feast that we helped produce. If you are blessed, count your blessings. But realize it’s not a trophy case. Putting a bumper sticker on your car that says, “Blessed.” It should not be an excuse to kick back and relax, but a declaration that you have work to do. It’s about using your blessings in the vineyard. If your blessing is your family, you have people you can influence. If your blessing is your comfortable life, share so that others can enjoy it, too. If your blessing is you have time to do what you want, use that time to do some good for others.
The Labor You are Called to Do
Being from Iowa I’ve known my share of farmers. I’m always impressed with their hands. They are hard and thick, like grabbing onto a brick. Scarred, calloused. Strong. Usually a dark fingernail. Farming is hard work. It’s dangerous and we should pray for their safety this summer. There is always something to do. Fences to mend. Holes to fill. Ailing livestock to nurse back to health. And manure to scoop. It’s not all glamorous.
Just so in life. There is always much for us to do. I invite you to play with this image. What fences of relationships need mended. What holes in your life need filled? Who is someone you can help nurse back to health? What load of manure do you need to rid yourself of? Maybe old resentments and hurts. Saw a video where a woman said, “You better watch out if you say something hurtful to me. Because I’ll think up a really good comeback, when I’m in the shower every day for the next 9 years.” Ask yourself what work you need to do to help produce good fruit in your life and to help those around you.
A Seminal Moment in History that Demands our Best Effort
Don’t you feel it? This is a seminal moment in American and world history. God needs laborers, not whiners. 2020 will be something that defines and refines your life. It reveals who you are. Labor for justice. Be an advocate, an ally. Talk to your black friends. Where do you sense or perceive injustice? How can you produce a sense of righteousness in your life right now?
Right now you called to make a difference. Listen, advocate for justice right now. Learn perspectives. Challenge yourself to see things differently. Some chances here at church. Last week’s group, books, movie group, conversation. There is injustice, you have to do something about it. Educate yourself on the plight of the poor in America today. On Saturday the Poor People’s Campaign. Don’t just sit on the fence, this is a time to work.
The Joys of Labor
Although I grew up in the city, as a teenager I did farm work for a couple of summers. We’d get up before dawn, get bussed to a distant farm and walk endless hours cutting weeds out of soybean fields or detasseling corn. It’s for the seed companies and hybrids of seed production. There are these tassels that stick out of the to of the corn plant, not the ear, that you just pull out when the corn is about 6 feet tall. The leaves on the corn plant just shredded your arms and hands. It was some of the hardest work I’d ever done. I can’t say that I liked it one bit.
But I did like the people I was with. I am still friends with some of them. I loved the feeling of looking back over the field, knowing that I had done my part. I remember one brutally hot and humid day we’d been working to exhaustion and the farmer brought out this watermelon from his garden. It was the best thing I had ever had. Sitting and laughing and sharing, knowing that the people around me mattered and the farmer was so appreciative, that it made a difference.
I think that’s what Sundays are. We get sabbath rest. We enjoy. We look out over the field and know it makes a difference and we are supported in what we do. Rest well today, my friends, for tomorrow there is much work that needs to be done. Amen.