This is God’s Doing
Based on Exodus 16:2-15, Philippians 1:21-30, Matthew 20:1-16
I never really know where the inspiration to write a sermon is going to come from – I have just learned to trust that God won’t leave me hanging if I do my part and pay attention to God and the movement of the Holy Spirit in my daily life. In the case of this sermon it came from a combination of a discussion with my older son, Chris, and an article in the Christian Century magazine. Chris has been working as a Veterinary Assistant since he graduated from High School. He has had many different experiences at many different clinics and hospitals over that time. He has become quite adept at his job and is quite interested in the diseases that present themselves in the animals for which he cares. Because of my many decades of caring for humans in intensive care units, he often asks me questions about diseases and their treatments.
Chris and I were working at the kitchen table in the Parsonage on Monday – he was ostensibly studying for a quiz in his initial Apprentice Electrician class, while I worked on today’s bulletin. While I was focused on creating prayers, etc, he asked me off-hand if I knew anything about a particular disease about which he was reading. I told him that I was unfamiliar with it, but that I was constantly amazed that the vast majority of humans develop “normally” given the millions of cell divisions that take place once sperm fertilizes egg. I told him that I had come to view the functioning of the human body as an everyday miracle of God, no less miraculous than quail and manna in the wilderness or the resurrection; an everyday reminder of how God is God and we are not. The miracle of life in all its variety, in all its complex elegance, in all its humanity…this is God’s doing!
Our scripture readings today focus us on how it is that God is at work constantly in our world – turning our pre-conceptions on their heads and exceeding our limited expectations. The Israelites are wandering in the wilderness on their way to Mount Horeb and they are complaining against Moses, Aaron and God. Jesus is teaching about the economic principles of the kingdom of heaven and how it works as an alternative narrative to the economy of empire. Paul is teaching about the balance between wanting to be with Christ and needed to complete his God-given task to spread the gospel on earth. All of the scripture readings are saying that this is God’s doing – nothing human can compete. Let us go to God now in prayer, thanking God for always exceeding our expectations…
The Israelites had been wandering in the wilderness for six weeks after leaving Egypt…just six weeks! They began to whine and complain to Moses that this was too much – they wanted to return to slavery in Egypt where they had everything they wanted and food and drink. God spoke to Moses and told him that all will be well – God would feed the people with quail in the evenings and bread in the mornings – as much as they could eat. Only God could do these great miracles for God’s people in the middle of nowhere.
Paul is in the opening portion of his letter to the believers in Philippi. He is writing to them from jail – one of the many times he was incarcerated for his evangelism on behalf of Jesus the Christ. Our reading today has Paul commenting that he doesn’t know if he prefers to live and proclaim the gospel or die and be with Christ. He exhorts them to continue in their struggle against the non-believers so that the gospel might spread. They should live in a manner that is “worthy” of the good news of Jesus -standing firm in the Holy Spirit and working diligently in unity to spread the gospel no matter the strength of their opponents. God has done great things for them and given them all they need to accomplish this task.
Jesus is telling those gathered another parable about what the kingdom of heaven is like. Jesus says that the economy of heaven is characterized by grace and equity. All are treated the same whether they come to work for God early in their lives or wait until the final hour. Each receives the same blessings and promises – each receives a full day’s wage. All who labor on behalf of God are seen as equals and are rewarded equally as heirs to the kingdom. This is not a market-based or capitalistic economy where there are haves and have-nots…this is God’s economy where all reap the benefits of promises kept. No human can imagine something like this, this is God’s doing.
During the more than two decades that I worked in intensive care units, I encountered almost every severe illness and injury that can beset humankind. I cared for people whose bodies had developed pathologies that came out of nowhere (like cancers) and those whose bodies succumbed to the effects of personal choices (e.g., smoking, substance abuse, obesity, poorly controlled diabetes or high blood pressure, driving poorly). Over and over again – literally thousands of times over those years I saw how the human body is wonderfully resilient. Designed with feedback loops and redundancies, the human body is a masterwork of complexity and cohesion. It is able to withstand insults and injuries and continue to compensate and recover in ways that often left me speechless and in a state of awe and wonder. The Psalmist was right when he penned that our bodies are awesomely and wonderfully made by a God who loves us. Every human body is designed in the same intricate and functional manner from the smallest of pieces. All humans are designed to function in this way without any bias or alteration – this is God’s doing.
No matter what we do to ourselves or how we choose to be with God and with one another, God chooses to love us completely and well. The Israelites had been delivered from slavery, had plundered the Egyptians on the way out of town, had been saved miraculously through the sea and again before they died of thirst in the wilderness. All these things had happened in a matter of just six weeks – and God was always with them as a pillar of cloud in the day and fire at night. Yet, even with all this, the people complained to Moses that they had it better in Egypt and they wanted to return before they died in the wilderness! God forgave them their hyperbolic whining, as God knew this was a group that needed to be formed into a cohesive people who were dedicated to God and each other. God knows that takes time and continued grace. Thus, God sent quail in the evening and a wonderful bread named “manna” (in Hebrew the word “manna” means “what is it?”) in the morning. The people had all they could eat of the finest that God could provide, but they could only gather enough for one day – they had to learn to rely on God for their bounty tomorrow. They had to learn that God saw them all equitably and treated them all the same from Moses to the least among the people. God was showing the Israelites the kind of community into which God expected them to form – one that deeply trusted in the grace of God.
The kingdom of God is described in today’s Gospel reading as one which runs by absolute equity and mercy. It seeks the best for all and there is no meritocracy – all receive the same grace no matter the effort. All are welcomed to join in the harvest whenever they come to the vineyard. This is so important in contrast to the economy of Empire which always creates a small portion of “haves” and a vast majority of “have nots”. The workers hired last knew their status – they were outcast, unemployed or unemployable, failures, worthless. By paying them first, and by paying them with a recognition that they had been trying to work all day long even if they hadn’t actually been working, the landowner offers them self-insight and self-respect. Instead of seeing themselves as worthless, they can see themselves as equally worthy. In God’s eyes, the last were just as valued as those who got the hired first in the early morning.
In a parallel moment, we come to realize that God has made us all in the same elegant and marvelous manner. No matter where we end up in the worldly hierarchy, God lavishes us all with the same unconditional love and views us with the same worth. No matter if our bodies work efficiently and well or are differently abled (like the disease the Chris was asking me about) all people have something unique and valuable to contribute within God’s kingdom. Jesus tells us all that the kingdom of heaven comes among us when we realize that every life is an equally wonderful and important gift to the whole. The kingdom of heaven comes among us when we realize that this is all God’s doing. Thanks be to God…amen!