God's Generous Perspective

Rebecca Sheridan
Sunday, September 20, 2020
Matthew 20:1-16

God’s Generous Perspective
    When you look at this picture, do you see an old woman or a young woman first?  Can you see both?  Perhaps some of you have seen this optical illusion.  There’s another popular one going around on Facebook of a bird or a goat.  Can you see both?  How we see things initially makes a difference.  Perspective matters.  And certainly in the parable we just heard from Jesus this morning, perspective matters.  I’m guessing the majority of us, when the landowner asks, “Are you envious because I am generous?” take the perspective that, “yes, we are envious! You are not being fair! We want more!”  Most of us most naturally place ourselves in the shoes of the laborers who show up early and work a full day.  Most of us are responsible, hardworking people, and we want to get what we deserve for our efforts.  But if you are currently unemployed or underemployed because of this pandemic (through no fault of your own), if you struggle to make ends meet, if you showed up at 9am along with everyone else and didn’t get the job, you may hear this parable a little differently.  And what if you look at the point of view of the landowner?  You see all of these workers who want to work, but you don’t have enough work for all of them.  You know all of them have families at home and a day’s wage is only just enough for them to live by.  In being generous with everyone’s pay, you are ensuring that people don’t go home to starving, hungry kids.  Perspective, and looking at this story in particular from several different perspectives, matters, because in doing so we get a better glimpse at who God is for all of us, no matter what position we find ourselves in.
    Jesus’ basic point is that we have a generous, merciful God who goes beyond fairness to look with compassion on the lost and the least.  This morning, we have the joy of celebrating the confirmations of three wonderful young people.  This day may bring you back to your own confirmation day.  To be honest, even as a pastor, I do not remember much of the day-to-day stuff I learned in confirmation classes.  I do remember even at that early age my pastor suggesting that I might want to think about going into the ministry.  I thought she was crazy.  I grew up in a loving and supportive Lutheran congregation where my questions were welcomed, and my calling was encouraged. There really hasn’t been a time in my life where I wasn’t a part of a church.  I guess you could say, in terms of this parable, I was someone who showed up early to work in the vineyard of the church. And I’m still working!
    On the other hand, my husband Rich’s confirmation story is a different one. While he also grew up in a loving and supportive Lutheran church, like many young people, he looked at confirmation as “graduation” from church.  He declared himself an atheist and stopped going altogether, to the consternation of his parents.  He thought he had life all figured out at fourteen.  Seven years later, he was dating a girl who was a Christian, who asked him to start reading the Bible and giving God another chance.  A year later, he was in seminary where we met each other.  And as they say, the rest is history.  You could say Rich came a little later to the vineyard of faith.  But we are reaping the same benefits of living a life in Christ.  I’m not jealous that Rich has been given “more” or the “same” with less time as a person of faith. I’m actually overjoyed and in awe of where God has led both of us in this journey.  I think most of us feel similarly whenever we get to witness a young person’s affirmation of faith, as we’re doing today, or a baptism however old the person is, or a return to the church after someone has drifted away.  This is the perspective Jesus is talking about when he describes workers in a vineyard.  The parable is not literally about economics, it’s about an economics of faith, where all are welcome, all have a job to do, and all receive the same benefits of mercy, love, and salvation whether they come to faith as little babies or much older adults.  How can we be envious about a generous God who is always extending grace to those who need it the most?!  Perspective matters.
    In the day to day challenges of weathering a global pandemic that has lasted much longer with far more serious consequences than any of us had hoped or imagined, perspective also matters, I have found.  I can wake up each day and focus on all that is going wrong with the world, living my life in fear of the “what ifs,” and wishing I had more: more time, more money, more freedom to do what I want to do when I want to do it whether it’s travelling across the country or going to a concert or museum, etc..  Or, I can focus on all that my generous God has given me despite the challenges: a roof over my head, food on the table, meaningful work when so many are struggling, school for my children and spouse, a supportive church community, good neighbors, a safe place to live…the list goes on and on.  Seeing all that God has given me, rather than focusing on what more I “should” have, opens me up to gratitude and a more gracious way of living.  Remember, in the parable, those who worked a full day got a fair living wage.  They didn’t need any more.  Only when they saw their fellow workers who worked a less amount of time than they, did they start to get jealous and focus on what they didn’t have.  When we look at what we have, especially when we consider all we have because of our faith in Christ, may we see only extravagant abundance.  And when we look at others, may we strive to see their situation in the best light, with compassion, and with the grace of God that invites them to join in the meaningful, joyful work of God’s kingdom.  Amen.