Waiting for a Haircut - Sermon for 9/21/14 (Pentecost +15 A)

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Sermon delivered to St. Mark's Lutheran Church-Pleasant Hill
September 21, 2014 -Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

"Waiting for a Haircut" - Text from Matthew 20:1-16





Greetings to you, my family in Christ, sisters and brothers, saints and sinners.

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My barbers is located in the Temescal district, one of those up and coming Hipster neighborhoods in the North of Oakland, and the barber shop caters to a younger crowd. And it just doesn't have the same kind of feel that the barbershop my dad took me to back when I was a kid. Most of the barbers cutting hair have arms covered in tattoos, and the clientele is almost entirely men between the ages of 20 and 50, although there are some women who prefer to have male-styled haircuts. They don't do washing and they do most of the services that you can find in a regular hair salon or stylist. They cut, they trim heads and they shave faces. And they charge $25 for a haircut, and don't take appointments.

And despite all that, they are very popular. So on Friday when I went in there was a list of names on the chalkboard twenty long. Which meant that I'd be waiting at least an hour and a half to get my haircut, and so I have to figure out what to do in the meantime while I'm waiting to get my hair cut. So I chose to hang out for the duration with my little laptop on my lap and do some writing, all the time observing the goings on around me at the barbershop.

But what happens when the list of names gets to be too long, and then people are told to return after an hour or so, that when names get called, often they have to skip over people who didn't get back soon enough or people who have just decided that they're going to come back another day. And so the orderly list gets a bit complicated, because names don't get erased when they get skipped, because sometimes people come back much later than they expected, and still deserve a place in line.

But imagine me sitting there for a long time and watching people get skipped and thinking that my name has finally come up and I will be the next one to go and then suddenly some guy walks in the door and the barber's assistant says, "I'm sorry, this guy was here before you, can you wait a bit longer?" Do you think I would be a little bit perturbed? That after waiting patiently in the barber shop for so long that someone else went out and did whatever errands he had to do and came back and I had to be next again?

I like to think of myself as a kind soul, always looking out for the people around me, always wanting to do right for other people. But I also have an innate sense of fairness that I want to see in the world. If I'm standing in an orderly line at the grocery store or at a BART station and it looks like someone wants to but in front of me and the other people who have waited so patiently, I get angry. I get a sense of resentment toward those who have delayed me from getting out of the store 2 minutes faster or making me lose an opportunity of having the perfect seat that I made absolutely sure I was going to get by being there just a few minutes earlier.

If I'm waiting to go into the city at a busy hour, and I make sure that get into the lane I need to get into for Transpass at the Bay bridge toll plaza, and someone in front of me lets someone in at a late moment, I tend to get resentful that my rights are being infringed because the person in front of me decided to be kind to someone and let them in, and I have to be somewhere at a certain time and place.

I know it's a character defect in myself that when I am out in public I expect people to behave a certain way, and when they don't I get just a little bit angry. These days my reaction is more to quietly fume... or even if I'm in my car to complain about the person without them actually hearing me.

And so, I think many of us can, in fact, identify with the workers who show up and toil all day, only to find out that they get the same wages as those who appeared at the end of the day. How would it be if you were sitting there sweltering in the hot sun, all day, only to find out you wouldn't have had to do all that work for the same amount of wages.

And we might fall into the temptation to say that we cannot possibly imagine what the listeners of Jesus time would have thought about this parable, this generous landowner who decides to pay a full day's wage to everyone, no matter how long they were there. But in reality this parable is so shocking to the listeners of Jesus' day because they would totally relate to the workers. They couldn't possibly imagine a landowner who would be so generous as to give away a full day's wages to someone who only worked an hour.

This landowner shockingly turns around the question, because the workers who worked all day still receive a generous wage. Our bible translates this as "are you envious because I am generous?" It is an open question. The landowner is presenting the problem as "why do you care what I pay others as long as you are receiving your due?"

It is precisely because this parable is shocking to the listener to drive deeply home the point of what must be one of the most telling parables of Jesus. Because as you may have already imagine, it's not really about fieldworkers at all. The landowner is God, the fieldworkers are the people of God, and the wages are our salvation, our place in the kingdom. And so the point of the sermon is very simple, that God's grace is equal for each and every one of us no matter where we were when we came to faith or what we did along the way when we got there.

But some of us might think, but wait! We know people who have done everything right their entire life! They pray regularly, they try not to take more than their fair share of the world around them, they help the poor, they offer hospitality to strangers. We all know someone like that, someone who is nothing but kind and caring and full of compassion for their fellow human beings. And looking objectively at that for a moment, it hardly seems fair that someone who has worked their whole life for good causes should merit the same grace that someone who has led a life of worshiping different idols, be they money or drugs or sex or false gods, only to find Christ at the end of their life.

But here is the key thing to remember. We don't know what has happened with those people in the meantime, where they led their lives and what they did to find their way to God's Grace.

Stepping back into the parable, I don't know what happened with those workers standing idle in the marketplace at nine, or noon, or five o'clock. It's easy to imagine them lazy, having drunk the previous night and not gotten up until late in the morning, or even the afternoon, but there becomes a whole round of other things that could have taken place. Maybe one of them was working at another place, and was sent home without pay? Maybe someone was staying up with a sick child, and went out with hope to find the only source of income late in the day. There are a whole lot of scenarios that I can come up with that would make any one of us hearing it say, "yes, I can perfectly understand why that person would deserve a full day's wage."

And yet, what if someone overslept from having stayed up too long the previous night out partying? Don't we, as the workers who worked the full days work, have some kind of moral grand to say, "I don't think that this person deserves the same amount as me?" But the generous landowner still says, "Yes, that person does deserve the same wages, and by what are you questioning my decision to grant those wages? Is it not mine to give?"

We have this gift of grace, this amazing gift of grace that our Lord has granted us, on his unconditional and remarkable love. Because no matter who we are or where we come from, the question always comes up at some point in our lives of whether or not we could have done better at something, whether we could have made better decisions. Because of the great gift of his son Jesus Christ, God has also bestowed upon us the freedom of life from the rigidness of the Law. And because of that Grace we are all of us, sinners that we are, also saints that merit a place in his glorious kingdom.

Those who walk among us and live saintly lives, who have done good are not to be pitied at all for receiving the same merit that the rest of us receive. Generosity of spirit and self is a glorious gift that we can all aspire to. The urge to be generous to others comes from deep within our very soul, that heart of us that knows the truth about God. It is the very doing of the acts of kindness to each other which is the indication of God among us, the wondrous joy that wells up from the depth of our spirit.

For God so loves his world, my sisters and brothers, that he has given us his son, that all of us who believe in him have life everlasting. And we can thank God that his grace is grand enough that belief can be lifelong or come late in life, that his grace is strong enough to overcome even the doubt we have from time to time, that when we do come to the end of our lives, that we can find ourselves in comfort of our heavenly father.

This, my family in Christ, is the good news of God who has created this beautiful world for us, who sent his son among us to rescue us from death, sin and the power of evil, and whose spirit grants us grace to do his good will on earth and who promises us comfort and strength in his glorious kingdom come.

Amen.

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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on September 21, 2014 6:13 PM.

O.M.G. Mary - Sermon for 8/17/14 (Mary, Mother of God A) was the previous entry in this blog.

Let Go, Let God - Sermon for 9/28/14 (Pentecost +16 A) is the next entry in this blog.

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