Sermons
Worship Service begins at 9:30 AM
Third & Adams Street, PO Box 9774, Moscow, Idaho USA | (208) 882-3715

It's Not About What's Fair- April 7, 2019

Matthew 20:1-16
This might actually be one of my favorite parables because it challenges our notions of “fair” with God’s notions of abundant grace and generosity. We want the workers to be paid according to their hours—what’s fair. But they aren’t. I assume most of us can easily identify with the early workers—felling slighted for their work when the others who worked less get paid the same.
And really, a simple flip in the story could have changed the emotional charge. What if, at the end of the day the homeowner had called all the worker and started with the early birds. He could have paid them their contracted

amount—they did, after all, agree to a fair day’s wage before they started—and then sent them on their way. Then when they were gone, he could have called the next group, paid them, and sent them on their way. It all could have been handled discreetly and privately with those who came later understanding the Homeowner’s generosity, but without earning the ire of the early workers. It could have been much simpler. But then one group wouldn’t have seen grace and benevolence at work. And they wouldn’t have been challenged in their ideas of entitlement. To really reach all the people, the story had to go as it did.
And, for a lot of years, many of us have heard the extension of this passage that it’s about God and eternal salvation. And that’s not a bad interpretation, though it’s not the only interpretation. It’s helpful for most of us to be challenged on our notions of entitlement—notions where the length of our faith life should count for something. And our hours of work in the church should mean something greater in the kingdom of God. And if neither of them does, then what on earth are we working so hard for? We need to see that our “ticket to heaven” isn’t by our earning, but by God’s grace. And that’s true for us raised in the faith and true for those who choose God in their final hour. It may not be fair, but it is gracious. And, if we’re honest, we have to concede that “fairness” and justice cut both ways.
After all, what’s “Fair” isn’t always what we want. Fairness can also involve appropriate punishment for our wrongdoing. And if we have to be fair on that side of things, not just when it stands to benefit us, we might not want so much fairness in the world. After all, there are a lot of us, ok, who are we kidding? All of us, who have done things for which we have never been punished. We’ve surpassed the speed limit. We’ve run a red light. We’ve stretched the truth on our abilities. We’ve bent the truth so as not to share the whole truth and nothing but the truth with a loved one. We coveted. We lied. We’ve been gluttonous and greedy….and we haven’t been punished for each of those things according to what is “fair”. Have we? So, it may not be “fairness” we’re really after. Unless of course, it’s in our favor.
Six or so years ago, Rick was leading worship at a youth retreat, and Ruth and I went along for the ride. On the last day, one of the students reported their cell phone had been stolen. So, a few of us adults gathered to figure out a plan. Each student had signed a covenant of behavior, which included granting access for their belongings to be searched. Everyone was packed up, so it could be done fairly easily. But, we knew no student would want that, and that certainly was not how the leadership wanted to spend their final hours at the retreat. I offered to talk to the whole group and see if it changed things at all.
I went up on stage and shared that I’m the youngest child in my family. And as one of three, I could be very concerned about fairness. Just a few years before I had been whining about something to my sister and said: “It’s not fair.” Being older and wiser, and in seminary at the time, she retorted with, “In the end, it’s not about justice, it’s about mercy.” While I wanted to argue, I knew she was right. I then told the students we knew a cell phone had been stolen but didn’t know by whom. That we had a right to search each and every bag and were prepared to do that. But….that as Christians we rely more heavily on grace and mercy. Grace being when we get something we haven’t earned. Mercy being when we don’t get what we have earned, in terms of punishment or condemnation. We were going to offer a chance for both. We were going to take a 10-minute break. And if in that time the phone was returned in working order, to any of our leaders, we would accept it—no questions asked, and no punishment is given. To come forward would save everyone from having their bags searched and also spare the individual the punishment for stealing.
We dismissed the students and waited. We milled about and waited. And those minutes dragged on as no one came forward and we feared the student wouldn’t take the grace that was offered. But as the break concluded and we came back together for the final worship, the phone appeared. No questions asked, just like we promised. And the owner was delighted. The thief wasn’t outed. And all was well.
We didn’t discover world peace that day, but we did learn a little about sharing in God’s kingdom. Which is a bit like what the homeowner did in our parable. He shared a powerful less that it isn’t all about one for one justice, but in the end, it’s about mercy. After all, because of the homeowner’s generosity, at the end of the day, each man had enough to go home and feed his family, not just one meal, but for a few days. And that was certainly more fair than some families going hungry while others ate in abundance, don’t you think?
The mercy shown isn’t just cheap grace that no one can really appreciate. It’s really about learning to see that we don’t always want one for one justice. We do want to share with others so they have enough on the table. Especially if there’s any chance that one day we might be that someone forced to go without. And, we can’t discount that the homeowner never cheated the early birds. He did what was fair and what was promised. You can hardly argue with that. Unless you let jealousy creep in.
The lessons from this parable are many. We can see the homeowner as a God figure….one who shows abundant grace and teaches us some humility in learning how God loves equally. And, it can set an example for earthly living….how we can emulate the homeowner to share of our abundance so other people can have enough. We can be the givers of grace and mercy. We can offer a light of hope to those who haven’t earned it and may not even deserve it so that they too might know the abundant love of God. For when grace breaks through, it’s a lesson that can last a lifetime.

Current Church News

  • Community event - "Love Your Neighbor"

    Held at the East City Park On Thursday, July 24th, 11 am - 2 pm. This event is a  chance four our church to practice the command to "Love Your Neighbor" by sharing, food, fun, and fellowship. We want a chance for our neighbors to get to know us and know they matter to us. whether or not they come to worship. We will have food, games, and activities for all people and ages. and we'll get to share a little of ourselves and invite kids to VBS and all generations to our other ministries.

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The First United Methodist Church of Moscow, Idaho takes as our mission to be the body of Jesus Christ, ministering to a community which draws strength from its diversity. Our mission centers on the worship of God, expressed through varied forms of prayer, preaching, music, and ritual.  See more...