Preacher: The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.
We have a new puppy in our house. Her name is Minnie, and she is a Newfypoo… which is a combination newfoundland and standard poodle. I don’t know if she is a designer dog or a mutt, but I love that dog, most of the time. And yet, there are moments; I mean- MOMENTS. Usually when I’m stepping in something. You know what I mean. I’d like to tell you I love that puppy unconditionally, but, in truth, my love is contingent. It is conditional. It is behavior based (or shall I say bathroom based).
Conditional love is something we are confronted with in today’s Jesus teaching. This is a radical, perspective-altering parable, and one that put Jesus squarely at odds with the culture of his day. Here is the crux of the confrontation provoked by this parable…exclusion vs. inclusion; outsiders vs. insiders; losers vs. winners. Love… is it conditional or is it unconditional?
In the days of Jesus there were all sorts of categories around which relationships were established. There were disciples and Pharisees; Samaritans and Israelites; Gentiles and Jews; Widows and married women; and the list goes on. Life was all about the categories, the rules, and the contingencies.
Jesus’ point, which is one we hear him make over and over again, is that in the Kingdom of God everyone is included; everyone is an insider; everyone is a winner. No matter when they show up; no matter where they come from; no matter the contingencies that may apply.
Now this point of view is based on a very simple premise: this is God’s world. God designed it to run a particular way, and that is the way it will run. Jesus inserts this line to make the point in today’s parable: “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?” If we stand against God’s operating principles life is tough, bitter, hard, angry, and divided. If we embrace God’s operating principles life has a through-line of joy and goodness. And who doesn’t want that?
In this sermon I want to point to God’s unconditional love and to encourage us to live lives that are more unconditional than contingent. But I know that is hard, even with a puppy.
So as an intermediate step, how about we just seek to move our minds toward the idea that, while we can’t see as God sees, and we can’t know as God knows, we can live under the assumption that God knows what God is doing, and that is good enough? That is good enough for our adoration, support, and even applause.
We can applaud God’s choice even when we don’t understand it; even when we don’t agree with it; even when we don’t feel it…because it is enough to know that God loves all of God’s children unconditionally.
So here is the action plan: when you see something good happening for someone else, even when you don’t understand it; or agree with it; or feel it…encourage it, embrace it, applaud it.
Even if you are not included, applaud it. Even if you think you deserve it and they don’t, applaud it. Applaud the other person’s luck. Applaud their hand out. Applaud their tax break. Applaud their promotion. Applaud when you see something good happening for someone else; because you really have no idea what is going on with them, or what God sees in the situation that you don’t see. All we know is that God loves them unconditionally, and that is enough for them to receive our applause.
Let’s see how this idea plays out in today’s parable. We’ll make it simple. There is a landlord. There is a vineyard. And there are the laborers. The landlord is Jesus. The vineyard is the context into which the laborers arrive, and you and I are the laborers.
The landlord goes out and gets the workers. He always has. He shows up at 7AM; that is one time and one context. and 9AM; that is one time and one context. and Noon; and 3PM. And he shows up at 5PM.
And my question is when did he show up for you? What was the context of the vineyard when you arrived? How were you welcomed?
Maybe he showed up for you at 7AM. Maybe you were out there ready and raring to go. Maybe you’re a disciple, like me; a man for whom the laws are written; created equally, with certain unalienable rights. We arrived early to the vineyard. We found our place, the place we wanted and we set about our work; intent on growing good grapes and making a good wine, and there is nothing wrong with that.
Maybe he showed up for you at 9AM. Maybe you got to the city center, where the laborers gathered, a bit later because you lived a bit further away. Maybe the year was 1920 (I’m collapsing Bible and American metaphors here so bear with me).
Maybe the year was 1920, and you were a Samaritan woman using your voice to get your vote. And when you arrived at the vineyard I hope you were met by men who welcomed you; men who realized, by your presence, that the work of relationship was more important than the work of making wine. After all, in the Kingdom of God relationship is primary. I hope there were men who applauded your arrival.
Maybe you showed up at noon. Maybe you were a Gentile and the year was 1964. Some might have said it was 1865, but we know better. When you got to the vineyard I hope you were met by men and women who welcomed you; men and women who realized that your arrival marked the beginning of change, not the end; men and women who realized that the work of the vineyard was to make space for the other. I hope they knew that the Kingdom of God is not a fixed pie, it is a place of extraordinary abundance; and it is a perfectly safe place to be. I hope you were met by men and women who applauded your arrival.
Maybe you showed up at 3PM as a widow in the year 2015. Some might argue the year was 1969 when you showed up, at Stonewall Inn Greenwich Village proclaiming: Here we are. This is how we were made. I hope when you arrived at the vineyard you met men and women of all colors who included you; who honored the relationships you chose to honor. I hope there were men and women of all colors who applauded your arrival.
It is easy to drive by that city center where the workers gather and think judgmental thoughts; at least it is easy for me. It is easy to overlook the fact that we didn’t all travel the same distance to get to the city center.
Let me tell you a story. I remember when I lived in Cleveland and was in business. Every so often I’d have to catch an early flight somewhere. Kristin would drop me at the train, maybe as early as 4:30AM. And I’d get on and it was packed. I mean standing room only, full of people. And I remember one time over hearing a woman, an African American woman, telling another woman how tired she was. And that today she just barely made her first bus. She said she hates it when she misses her first bus, because then she misses her second bus, and the train timing gets off, and so, she missing being able to get to the office in time to call her kids and say good morning before they get themselves off to school. She had no cell phone.
I don’t care what time she actually got to work, she never really arrived until noon.We don’t all travel the same distance to get to the city center.
I wonder who Jesus will meet at 5PM? I hope when they arrive at the vineyard they are met by men and women of all colors and orientations who included them;
who remember that everyone is equal in the kingdom of God; who remember that God is God, and only God really knows someone’s context. I hope there are men and women of all colors and orientations who applauded their arrival.
I know there will be because I know all of you. You are people who applaud the Samaritan, the Gentile and the widow.
But how about the disciple? That is the person that I have the hardest time applauding. Why? Well, because in my case, the disciple is me. And they are my closest neighbor. And they are my fiercest rival. That is the person who most provokes my competitive impulses.
God’s kingdom is weird that way. For some reason it is often the person closest to us, or most like us, that provokes our most uncharitable impulses.
So today I ask you: “Who don’t you applaud? Who stirs within you the deepest, visceral competitive compulsions? Who is that person? Who do you try to make jealous? Who are you envious of?” Set them in your mind. Put a picture of them in your head, right now! Do you see them? OK, now go ahead, applaud them!
This is God’s world. God designed it to run a particular way. God wants us to have a good life. God loves God’s creation. Understanding how to grab the through-line of joy begins with our admitting that God is God; and that God knows what God is doing; and that God loves us unconditionally every one of us.
Our only response is to applaud.