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Sometimes a parable is so simple that we don’t even need to really have a discussion about it. Obviously, this story is telling us to be generous, equally generous, with everyone. Of course generally, when we have decided that we know exactly what the scriptures are saying to us, that is probably the time that we need to stop. It probably means we’re missing the point.

Because if we’re really honest, we completely understand the feelings, the anger, the frustration of the 6 AM, the 1st thing in the morning people who still got paid the same amount as the people who had only worked an hour. Obviously, that is completely unfair.  Who hasn’t been part of a group project or someone didn’t carry the weight, and yet  Everyone got the same grade or everyone got the same accolades or someone else got the promotion?  And look we all know that 1 person who got a job that we are certain they did not deserve. Much like other things in the world, we know what is fair and what is unfair when we see it we don’t really mind when the unfair things happen to our advantage. But, like the 6am folks, even what has happened is fair to us, if we aren’t winning over those we see as… less, is it really winning, I mean, fair?

We can absolutely understand at 6 o’clock in the morning folks when they watched those who only worked an hour were paid the same.

Because we know who those hired not at 6am weren’t hired at 6am. They obviously weren’t there. They’re lazy. They slept in. They didn’t really want the work. They have no motivation, no gumption, no get-up and go! It’s the harvest season! There is so much work to be done! One denarii would feed them for a couple of days, just over what one needs for their day. If they worked all day and got their denarii during planting and harvest season, that would feed them and their family for much of the year. A denarii was just over what one needed for their daily bread.

We, members of a capitalistic system with a strong protestant work ethic, we understand the value and importance of a day’s work, for a living wage. And we know why they weren’t hired.

But I think all these things that we know to be true about the folks hired at 9, noon, 3, and 5ish, say more about us than they do about the workers.

Maybe at 6am they were in another part of the marketplace because that’s where the employers usually hire. Maybe they woke up that morning and their camel had a flat. Maybe they had children that needed to get dressed for school and the child had a meltdown or they had an elderly parent that they needed to be cared for. There are 100 reasons why somebody might not make it out of the house at sunrise. And we might throw around our judgment from (checks watch) 10am but there are a lot of reasons why I don’t get out the door at 6 o’clock in the morning, but I usually blame the dog.

We are told why the 5pm workers aren’t working, no one had hired them. Maybe they had gotten up late that day. Maybe they had to get the kids ready for the day. Maybe they had been at a different place in the market where they normally found work.

Jesus is telling an economic parable to make… well I think we could absolutely talk about the role of money and wealth from this parable, and we will do that some day. But Jesus is talking also about value in God’s economy–the value of people and life that is not equated to production.

For the last year and a 1/2 or so I have been doing this program with Marquette University. Every 3 months or so a handful of clergy from mostly the Metropolitan Milwaukee and Madison areas get together to learn about issues and conversations about doing ministry public ministry in this world today.

The last time we got together the question was raised: “how do we define and support human flourishing?” What does it mean for people to flourish in this world and what do they need to do to flourish? And I wonder how you would answer that question. There are a lot of folks who would define flourishing as being a good citizen who always votes (the way we want) and are aware of the issues in their community. Or that maybe flourishing is having more than enough stuff, winning.  Or that flourishing is being productive and useful members of society, who contributes in tangible ways.

As I thought about those answers, I thought also about Jim Langreder’s son, Elliot, and how any definition of human flourishing has to include Elliot. It has to include anyone who won’t “produce” for capitalism for whatever reason. Whether one is very early in life or older, whether one’s body or mind functions differently, to flourish must include all of us. Here’s where I’m at today: to flourish, we need our basic needs met: food, water, shelter, and love–yes, love is a basic need. But I think we need community and purpose, too. Purpose is complicated. But, it’s the thing that brings you meaning or joy. Sometimes that purpose is to be useful, to share your purpose with others. Sometimes that purpose is to make beauty, music or art, even if it is never seen. Sometimes your purpose is to love your family well. Your purpose will change over days, weeks, months, and lifetimes. Your purpose might be what earns you money but it might be better if it doesn’t.

One of the things that helps with recovering from addiction and mental health, not all of it, but can help, is community and purpose, having something that gives us a reason to get up each day with some amount of positive energy.

Kelly and I a pizza place in our new neighborhood and we met Gary. Now the pizza place is one of the oldest in the city but Gary hadn’t worked there more than a year, maybe 2. His is the face, and personality, of the restaurant. We were the only 2 in there at the time, so between phone calls, Gary talked with us. He used to rent an apartment in the same building as his mother and sister. He had been caretaker for them and they both died just a couple of months apart. He said he didn’t want to eat for days, he stayed in bed as much as possible but he had a small dog. And that small dog needed things: to go outside and eat. Gary told us that small dog saved his life, forced him to get out, and eventually, feed himself because someone needed to take care of a small dog. Then he got a call from the owner of the pizza place inviting him to be the first person folks meet in the restaurant. Gary would walk there every day, and I don’t think he does it because he needs the money, I think he does it because he enjoys meeting new people and building relationships, and getting to know the regulars. It gives him a purpose in this world again.

Did you know one of the groups with the highest rate of death by suicide are older adults? There’s an epidemic of loneliness and purposelessness in people of all ages but particularly our seniors. And it’s not that they make suicide attempts more than younger folks, it is that they are more likely to die from the attempts.

When Kelly started with the trades unions, which is recent, they told her that upon retirement, the average number of checks retired trades union folks collect is 14. 14 checks. 14 months. Just over a year. Some of that is because of unhealthy lifestyles or not taking good care of themselves, but many lose their purpose, their meaning, many give up.

Image being the 5:00 workers. You have been waiting all day for work. Maybe you have reached out, have moved locations, have brought your own tools. Imagine how they went the whole day and no one saw them. No one saw their value, their gifts, that they had something to offer. No one gave them a purpose or a place to serve the purpose they have been called to.

Image being the 5:00 workers when it wasn’t about what they had produced that allowed them to have the means to feed their family, to give them a chance to flourish for another day.

Are 5 o’clock laborers working because no one called them and no one called them to their purpose?

And this is twofold: What is your passion? What brings you joy? If you had everything you needed to survive, what would you do to flourish? Maybe it’s small because to survive you’ve still got to put in all the hours of work. Maybe you’ve got some more time. Could that be your purpose? Can in be used in the kin-dom of God? Can it be part of the economy of God where everything and everyone is valuable?

You are valuable. What you love and are passionate about is valuable, even if it doesn’t produce anything. Purpose doesn’t start because can start working or stop because we can’t, it has nothing to do with our capabilities or our cognition, it is about being children of God, made in God’s image, and named beloved.

And then, how do we nurture that together? How do we support each other’s purpose? Who do we as church have a call, a purpose, a mission in the community? What brings this church joy? Because we are valued by God just as we are but we are also called to be co-creators and co-laborers in this vineyard, in the kin-dom of God. To work for justice, to love kindness, to worship God. To care for those on the margins, to love extravagantly, to give generously. To bring more love and beauty into the world, to feed and clothe and visit.

Because our value and purpose is not in what we produce, in how long we labor, in how the sun beat down or how little rest we have. In God’s economy we are valuable, worthy, loved. And our purpose is more love and more joy and more beauty.

The church is, has been, and ought to always be a place where we can find a call and be a place where call goes out to all people, to offer purpose and meaning. So that there are none who are standing idle all day because no one invited them.