I still remember that D I got on a Philosophy paper when I was in seminary. Ouch.We were supposed to discuss the things in life which are important, which define us as human beings. I waxed poetic about relationships and worship and love and all that good stuff. But I forgot one thing: work.
Silly me. I worked in the seminary kitchen when I wasn’t studying, and somehow, when I thought of ‘what defined me as a human being; what brought meaning and definition into my life’, washing the grease trap in the kitchen never quite got onto my list.
But you know, Diogenes Allen, my professor, was right. Life isn’t just about love and family and relationships. Life is also defined by what we do for 8-10 hours a day- washing dishes, sitting in front of a computer, buying, selling and managing the shop. We can’t just eliminate 1/3 of our lives and say, ‘that’s not really me.’ (Although in defense of my younger self, I would also like to say that a professor who spent his days thinking great thoughts had an easier job saying that work brings meaning, than someone who was cleaning out the grease trap in the dishwasher!)
That aside, work is central to who we are as human beings. God created us to BE; God also created us to DO.
We are made in the image of God and made to live in relation with each other: that is our Being. But from the beginning, God also created us to work as the caretakers of creation. That is our proper job, our proper vocation: the caretakers of creation- whatever that means. I think it means something like bringing order into chaos, nurturing and protecting the lives around us. Making community possible. Making life possible.
This kind of vocation is easily seen when disaster happens, like down in Houston and New Orleans this week.
Neighbors taking out their skiffs and motorboats to try to rescue neighbor. People on dry ground opening their homes to neighbors who have lost theirs. Churches rising to the occasion to feed and house as many people as their buildings will allow. Disasters have a way of making clear the meaning of our labors.
But apart from disasters, how can we keep our eyes clear about how and why we spend 1/3 of our lives the way we do? You know, when I was cleaning out the grease traps in the seminary kitchen, I was participating in something very important. I was making sure my community was staying healthy and fed. If I didn’t clean out the grease traps, people would get sick. If I didn’t cut up the celery, people would go hungry.
When we throw up our hands and say, “what’s the point?” I think it’s because we haven’t noticed our place in the bigger picture.
We sell insurance, we sell houses, we sell cars. What are we making possible for the people we are selling these things to? How would their lives be poorer if we weren’t making available to them a way of keeping their families secure, of providing shelter, of providing a way to get to work? When we work, not just for the commission or the profit of the company, but for the good of the people we’re serving, our life has meaning.
We cut hair, we clean houses, we stock shelves. What are we making possible for the people we’re serving?
How would their lives be poorer if we weren’t making it possible for them calm the chaos of their daily lives? When we work, it’s not just for the wage, but for the good of the people we’re serving.
We’re retired, and we drive Dousman Home Meals, and we paint fingernails at the nursing home. What good are we bringing into the lives of those we serve without getting paid for it? How would their lives be poorer if we weren’t there making our lives available to them?
We’re a stay-at-home moms, a stay-at-home dads. We take care of our aging parents, our young grandchildren, our disabled children. We don’t get thanked often, and sometimes it might feel like a burden. But what are we making possible with our labors? What kind of life are we creating for ourselves and those we love?
The work of every single one of us brings some good into the world, if we will but open our eyes to see it. Each of us are Kingdom creators.
Today’s scripture is interesting. In it, we have workers who are brought on at 6 in the morning to labor in the fields. Another group is brought on at 9, another at 12, another at 3, and finally another crew at 5. All of them are brought to work in the harvest of the Master. I can’t help but think of Jesus saying, “The harvest is great but the laborers are few.” (Matt 9:37)
God needs every single one of us, no matter when we join the team. And all of us, whether we’ve worked 12 hours or 1 hour, all of us are called to bring good into God’s world. And for that, we are given our daily bread, and an opportunity to bring good into the world and meaning into our lives.
What’s interesting is how all the laborers get paid the same: One denarius, the amount needed to keep heart and soul together for another day. Enough to put bread in our children’s mouths and a shelter over our heads. All of us are valued the same by God, and it is God’s intent that all of us are given enough to live a good life.
In our lives, you and I are paid by the hour, paid by the amount of work we get done. We are paid by how important our society thinks our work is. There’s a hierarchy, a pecking order. Doctors and lawyers get paid more than teachers and managers. Teachers and managers get paid more than restaurant workers and hotel maids. We’re not paid according to what we need, but according to what society thinks we’re worth.
But God doesn’t do it that way. God says, “Here is your daily bread, enough to bring life to your body and joy to your spirit. Now go forth and bring life and beauty and goodness into the world.” And at the end of the day, that’s what makes our lives worth living.
In the Name of the One who will never let us go, even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
SCRIPTURE FOR SEPT. 3, 2017 MATTHEW 20:1-16
Jesus told his disciples a parable about God’s Kingdom: “The Kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage of one denarius, he sent them into his vineyard. He went out again 3 hours later, about 9am, and he saw more workers standing idle in the marketplace. He said to them, ‘Go into my vineyard to work and I’ll pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When the landowner went out again at noon, and again at 3:00, he did the same. And about 5:00, he went out and found still others standing around. He said to them, Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They replied, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, Go work in my vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with those I hired last, and ending with those I hired first.’ When those hired about 5:00 came, each received the usual daily wage of one denarius, as did each of the other teams of workers. When the first early morning shift came up, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received one denarius. They grumbled against the landowner, saying, “The workers hired at 5:00 this evening only worked one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have born the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But the landowner replied, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Didn’t you agree to the usual daily wage of a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to the last workers the same that I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous? So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’”
Friends listen to what the scripture would say to us today.