Friday, April 17, 2015

Pilgrimaging

It's harder than I expected to try to stay awake (or wake up early) enough to write and upload pictures. The days are busy as we walk all over town and country, learning and seeing and eating and drinking. 

I can say this though: even on second visit, Heidelberg is still my favorite. It is an adorable town, for one thing. And it has the most picturesque and atmospheric castle ruin ever. The history is incredible--going back to 500,000 BC, and with architecture/ruins/spaces that are visible from at least the 9th century. And it's the warmest place in Germany; it even has palm trees growing on one hill above the river! Not to mention that we saw the most diversity and the most inter-religious harmony there, probably thanks in large part to the post-30-years-war Electors who allowed and accepted all religious practice, Catholic and Protestant and Jew, and encouraged the community to work together for the good of all. That ethos still seems to permeate even 300 years later.
the historic funicular train, which goes to the very top of the mountain from the castle. 

looking down from the top. holy cow.

best castle ever

made it! except of course this turned out not to be the top of the mountain. It was so far...almost 90 minutes hiking up from the Philosopher's Way. No wonder I didn't find it last time.

The Thingstatte, a Nazi-built propaganda amphitheater on top of a mountain.



This trip involved one place I hadn't visited before: the Buchenwald concentration camp. It is a stark place, appropriately. It is hard to imagine the level of horror perpetrated there. While there are not many prisoner buildings now, it somehow feels right to look out on what is essentially a killing field that once held barracks that could easily have doubled as graves. The scale of human destruction is unbelievable. While Buchenwald did not have gas chambers, it did have a policy of enslaving people and working them literally to death. Failing that, people were shot by firing squad or experimented on. In the last week 27,000 people were marched out of the camp, away from the approaching Allied forces, until they dropped dead along the way. The 21,000 people left in the camp when Eisenhower arrived were emaciated, ill, beaten, and abandoned in such conditions that the army, and soon the world, were shocked beyond words. 
I only took the two photos...it felt wrong to take pictures, somehow.


It is hard to imagine how these things happen. How does one person or one group of people come up with such an idea, and then get people to go along? How does a government perpetrate a genocide right in the midst of the country without people noticing? How do people and nations stand by and let it happen? If they had not tried to expand territory, but instead just cleansed the nation of the undesirable people, would anyone else in the world have noticed or cared? It's scary to think how easily and quickly it happened. And some of the signs in the museum, which tell how the little things began to add up, are even more frightening because they sound so familiar. First those who would not work were abused...and then those who could not, due to disability, for instance...and then those who were undesirable (homosexuals, "social misfits," unruly/uncontrollable)...and then those whose ethnicity or religion were wrong. Hard to see that on a sign inside a building where thousands of people were slaughtered and to know that some of those same words are used in our public discourse today.

As we left the camp, we talked about the doctrine of Total Depravity: that human beings are broken and sinful, and apart from God we can do nothing good. The concentration camp felt, in many ways, like a monument to Total Depravity. The worst of humanity was played out in these camps, and in the wars in general. Of course the best of humanity played out there as well, but that is not the overwhelming feeling when standing in the place. And yet when we sat down to dinner, we toasted the endurance of life amongst death...looking for a seed of hope planted more deeply than all that is wrong.


Saturday, April 11, 2015

Reformation pilgrimage pictures...hopefully words later

Looking down the street in Wittenberg

I tried to get an action shot but they weren't willing to pretend to walk...except David. :-)

Flat Jesus knows who the real power in the house is...Katherina von Bora Luther

We don't even know what to do with so many Kartoffeln (potatoes). Barbara and I are now convinced we need a Kartoffelhaus (restaurant where everything has potatoes!)

Every town needs two massive churches next door to each other.

Watch out when you knock on the door of this church...

The door of the church where Meister Eckhart was prior of the abbey in the 1300s.

Castle!

The tiny house movement....before it was a movement.

Monument to total depravity...Buchenwald concentration camp.

Sunset in Weimar

Castle!

At the old bridge...I said "close people don't lean, farther down lean more." Some follow instructions... ;-)

I'm here too! Surrounded by ricklepickles and pcoppers.


I had every intention of taking a picture of my käsespaetzle (German macaroni and cheese, basically) but I ate it first.









Getting ready....

I arrived a day early in Wittenberg for the reformation pilgrimage, to reacquaint myself with the town, to be in-country while finalizing some things, and to hopefully be less jet-lagged when it came time to be a leader.

Two out of three isn't bad.
Or, well, one and a half. Lol.

I did reacquaint myself with the lovely Wittenberg. I even discovered it has the smallest zoo ever...which was sad and disturbing, though when I finally went in I found it was all small animals, so at least they did have *some* room to run around. And run they did--I'm not sure I've seen so many active animals at a zoo in a long time. (The biggest things there were a peacock and some small primates.)

While traipsing about I also discovered that the castle church is closed...because of illness, the sign says. I mean, I knew they were still doing restoration in preparation for 2017, and that we wouldn't be able to see as much as we might hope, but it is a bummer not to get to go in at all. Luckily The Door is still visible. :-)

As for jet lag...well, maybe I'll be over it by the end of the trip. I went to bed at about 10 the first night, and then was awake from 2:30-4:30, then up at 8. But then last night I couldn't sleep (wasn't even a little tired!) until about 2. That makes a 7am alarm a little hard to take. Thank goodness for European coffee...

And those last details? Turns out there are a few more than I anticipated. My new credit card has a chip--yay!-- but it also turns out that American companies are using chip-and-signature instead of chip-and-pin like the rest of the world, so my card is difficult to use. To avoid remembering a pin, we are getting the illusion of more security without the actual more security, and card companies are saving money on the conversion by not going all the way. Thanks America. ;-) trying to get that worked out involves multiple people on different continents, in 3 time zones 7 hours apart. Not awesome. Bright side: I got a seriously good deal set up to use my phone from here in the process.

Today we begin in earnest--we'll be talking about the atmosphere that made the world ready for reformation, visiting the homes of Luther and Melanchthon and Lucas Cranach, seeing amazing art in beautiful churches, and eating more delicious food. (Last night I had käsespaetzle, which is essentially German grown up Mac and cheese. Mmmmm.....you know it's grown up because there were roasted tomatoes and arugula on it, haha)

Hopefully the group will be tolerant of my quirks (like talking so much I missed our turn last night and got a bit turned around in the dark, in spite of my orientation!) and we'll all learn and have fun along the way.

Off to breakfast so we can Luther-it-up!

Saturday, April 04, 2015

To The Core--a sermon for Easter 2015

Attention PCOP readers: stop now. Trust me--it'll be better if you wait for Easter morning. Just wait for it, I promise that the day of resurrection is coming, but is not yet here. :-)

Rev. Teri Peterson
PCOP
To The Core
Matthew 27.1-15
5 April 2015, Easter, NL1-31

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’ So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’
While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, telling them, ‘You must say, “His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.” If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.


I have always pictured that first Easter morning going something like this: really early, like 4am or so, the Spirit of God blows like a wind that can break rocks and rolls back the stone in front of the tomb, allowing the breath of life to rush in. Jesus breathes, opens his eyes, stretches a bit, and strolls out of the tomb into the dewy darkness of early morning. He obviously goes for a walk or something, to limber up and clear the morning fog, and then when the women appear at the tomb with their burial spices and oils, he comes walking through the garden to show them the power of God’s love, which completely freaks them out so he has to say their names repeatedly, telling them not to be afraid. The women run back to tell the men, who don’t believe them until Jesus appears to them too, and voila! Easter Alleluias!

I have never noticed before that in three of the four gospels, when the women arrive at the tomb, it is already open and the angels are inside waiting for them. But in one—this one, Matthew’s telling of the Jesus story—they arrive to a tomb still sealed shut, with guards at the door. It is not until the women arrive, the sun barely peeking over the horizon, that the light explodes around them and the earth moves beneath their feet and a dazzling angel rolls the door back, then sits down casually and invites everyone to take a look.

The tomb was already empty. Before the door was opened. Before the angel arrived. Before the sun came up. Before anyone could even think to look inside. The tomb was already empty.

The earth was not the only thing quaking that morning. All who saw it were shaken to the core—the fundamental truth about the world, that death is the end, has just been broken open and changed everything we thought we knew.

Where once it was possible to believe that force equals power, now there is an empty tomb.

Where once it was possible to believe that might makes right, now there is an empty tomb.

Where once it was possible to believe that one race or class of people is better than another, now there is an empty tomb.

Where once it was possible to believe that capital punishment worked, now there is an empty tomb.

Where once it was possible to believe that shame and silence could keep people in their place, now there is an empty tomb.

Where once it was possible to believe that faith, hope, and love were nice feelings but not very meaningful, now there is an empty tomb.

The guards couldn’t take it. They were paralyzed by their fear, and their inability to allow God to do a new thing sent them running to the chief priests for a cover story. The political and religious powers, those who made the rules and enforced them, the ones to whom people looked for guidance and answers, for help and hope? Their reaction was to find a way to maintain the status quo, to rationalize the story into something that would make sense, and then to spread that story far and wide—far and wide enough that Matthew, writing 50 years later, knows it. Those with earthly possessions and power were, at their core, unable to let resurrection be true.

But the women…after all this time with Jesus, hearing him teach and seeing him heal, they recognize the words “do not be afraid.” And while they are afraid anyway, there is somehow just enough space opened up where the certainty of death used to be for new words to sink in to the core of their being: “he is not here, he has been raised, as he said.”

Somewhere deep inside, the two Marys heard Jesus’ voice echoing in their memory. They saw and heard him, and began to put the pieces together…and in the empty tomb of their hearts God did a new thing: joy triumphed over fear, love triumphed over hate, life triumphed over death. They heard the angel’s message and turned—with a little fear and great joy—to run and tell the others.

And it is then—with their backs turned to the grave, no longer able to see the angel in bright raiment—then they see Jesus.

Contrary to my mind-movie, they do not see him at the grave. They only see him when they turn away from the grave and go to spread the good news. They only see him when they put the tomb behind them and allow joy to edge out fear. They only see him when they cannot trust their vision of the angel any longer.

Then they see Jesus—on their way to tell the others.

They practically run right into him, actually. I imagine they nearly knock him over in their excitement, as he appears in their path. And immediately, they touch him—he is not a ghost—and they worship him. Unlike the last few verses of the story we will hear next week, which say of the disciples “they worshipped him, and some doubted” these women, who have stayed just as close to Jesus this whole time, attended to his needs, soaked up his words, and were first to feel the ground move and the stone roll—the women worship him.

But Jesus doesn’t want them to stay there, any more than he wanted Peter and James and John to stay on the transfiguration mountaintop. Jesus has a mission for these women. He commissions them—you might even say he ordains them—to tell his story, to give instructions to the others, to share the good news. And off they go. Not a moment’s hesitation. They are ready to tell the others. The message Jesus gives them to tell? Go. Get out of your locked upper room, stop hiding, and go out in the world. Go back to the place that birthed you. Get out of this capital city with its trappings of wealth and power and mockery of religious piety. Go back to the margins of society, to the edge of the province, to the place where only peasants live and where people believe nothing good can happen. Go there, to Galilee. It’s when you get going that you will see me.

Jesus gets right to the heart of the matter: resurrection is not confined to one empty tomb. It’s not just a story of this one time God did something amazing—resurrection is the core reality of who we are as God’s people, and therefore it is something we look for, something we practice, all the time. If we keep the story to ourselves, we will never run into Jesus. If we insist on gluing our eyes to the messenger with his dazzling appearance, our eyes will be blinded to Christ. If we keep looking at the tomb, remembering how things were, we will miss Jesus waiting for us on the side of the road, sleeping under a bridge, riding next to us on the bus, sitting in the next cubicle over, answering the phone at the help center, in the lead story of the nightly news, driving through at Starbucks, waiting tables at Emmett’s, cutting us off in traffic, lying in the street, teaching our children, eating from our garden, sitting at the other end of our pew.

If we keep resurrection to one day a year, filled with great music and beautiful flowers and new clothes, we will miss out on the earth-shaking truth that God wants in, to the core of our being, to make us new. Jesus’ resurrection is a sign of the world’s transformation—the first fruits of the kingdom of God, coming here on earth as it is in heaven. And our resurrection, little by little, day by day, moment by moment, story by story, step by step, is part of that transformation too. It may shake us…we may not understand…we may be afraid. We may want to find a way to make it make sense, though we never can, because, frankly, it doesn’t make sense, and God is beyond our comprehension. We may want to hold on to the moment, to the memories, though we never can, because memory fades while God’s mercies are new every morning. We may want to boil it down to a moral, or a nice platitude about heaven, but we never can, because God’s story is so much bigger and because Jesus demands we meet him on his terms, not ours. We may want to tell a cover-up story because we can’t handle the enormous change, and the enormous risk, of what God is doing.

But ultimately the truth is this: the tomb was already empty.

Christ is risen—he is risen indeed! And those who tell the story, and live the story, and let it live in the very center of who we are and what we do…we are resurrection people, and we see Jesus alive and running loose in the world, changing everything we thought we new. Hope wins. Life wins. Love wins.

May it be so.
Amen.




Sunday, March 15, 2015

A Fool's Errand--a sermon on the 10 bridesmaids

Rev. Teri Peterson
PCOP
A Fool’s Errand
Matthew 25.1-13
15 March 2015, Lent 4, NL1-28

At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten bridesmaids who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.
Five of them were foolish and five were wise.
— “But if you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.”
The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
— In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus came to his disciples and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour?” –
At midnight the cry rang out: “Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!”
Then all the bridesmaids woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.”
 “No,” they replied, “there may not be enough for both us and you.”
Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you —
“Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.”
– Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” –
But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived.
– In the city of God, they will not need the light of a lamp, for the Lord God will give them light.—
The bridesmaids who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet.
– But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first. –
And the door was shut.
– “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. –
Later the others also came. “Lord! Lord!” they said. “Open the door for us!”
But he replied, “I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.”
      If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered. —
Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.


It’s amazing how Jesus’ words can shed light on his other words, isn’t it? Usually this parable sounds like a license to think only of ourselves and to pat ourselves on the back for earning our way into heaven by being prepared. Thousands of sermons have been preached on how we have to fill our lamps with prayer and good deeds, or else we might find ourselves locked out when the bridegroom comes. Thousands more have added that if you haven’t prayed enough, no one else can fill that spiritual lamp for you—you’re on your own unless you’ve done it yourself. I know at least one will be preached today that contends that the ones who have oil are wise for not sharing because sharing just enables the lazy behavior of others, and it’s about time we stopped being so co-dependent.

I’ve been having some trouble with the story this week, because it just sounds so much like Jesus is a 21st century American. Everything about this story screams radical individualism and hyperindependence and pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. And really, this is very nearly the only place in scripture that sounds like that. This parable seems to contradict the thousand other pages in the book at every turn.

So when I came across this interrupted version, in which the story is interrupted by other words of Jesus, I realized: I’d been reading the story as if it were separate from the rest of scripture. What would happen if I allowed Jesus to talk to himself—would it make more sense?

In the rest of scripture, what the world sees as foolish is where God plants wisdom, and what the world sees as weakness is God’s strength. The wise know to stay away from the cross, because it only brings death and shame and pain. The wise know that death is the end. The wise understand that money can buy power. And yet Christ, who is the very wisdom of God, seems to not know any of that. Instead he walks straight toward the cross. He calls poor fishermen, sinners, tax collectors, outcasts, children, women, and peasants together, teaches and heals them, and gives them the power to do amazing things that change the world. And he won’t stay dead.

We don't even have to go far into the rest of scripture to get this upside down wisdom—next week we’ll hear the second half of this chapter, where Jesus tells us that when we feed the hungry and clothe the naked, we care for him, and when we send them away to fend for themselves, we have sent him away. Or last week, we read the key to all the law and the prophets: to love God with all we have and all we are, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Where is the love in this story?

The five foolish bridesmaids, ashamed of their sputtering torches and chastised by their sisters, leave for the marketplace. Though it is midnight, of course, so they will not find what they seek in the economic realm. They are on a fool’s errand, hoping desperately to save face and not let the bridegroom see that they were sleeping.

The five wise bridesmaids, smug and self-sufficient, watch them go. They too had been sleeping, but the groom may never find out the truth.

Jesus ends the story with two words: Keep Awake.

Notice the story does not end with “keep plenty of oil on hand.”

What if the bridesmaids had all stayed awake? They may have noticed the oil situation earlier in the evening, at a time when it was more easily remedied. Or perhaps they would have had time to remind each other of the stories of their faith…stories like that of the Maccabees and the miracle that became the core of Hanukkah: when the oil was only enough for one night, and yet the light shone for eight nights. That was relatively recent history for them, after all.
And maybe all that storytelling would have helped them see the truth: there is no need to hide in shame, to seek salvation in the marketplace, nor to send our sisters and brothers away on a fool’s errand. The bridegroom will care far more that we showed up and waited for him—that we were there –than he will about our human standards of preparedness. The bridegroom is looking for followers who will be ready when he comes, and readiness means showing our face, even if we think we’re not worthy. It means overcoming our own wisdom and allowing God’s foolish word to shout into our hearts “I am coming—follow me!” After all, he is the light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.

It takes only a little light to scatter the darkness. It takes only a little of God’s wisdom to show the folly of our human ways. We think it’s about the oil, but it isn’t. We cannot share the oil, but we can share the light.

May it be so.
Amen. 

Thursday, March 05, 2015

cooking by the box

Recently, a friend gifted me a free week of Blue Apron. It's a service where they deliver a box containing recipes and all the ingredients--exactly the right amount--for three meals (each with two servings). It seems like a great idea! I already love Door To Door Organics, which delivers me a box of organic veggies and fruits every Thursday. So what's not to love about trying a new recipe without committing to buying a pound of something when I only need a tablespoon? Seems promising.

I got my box last week, and I confess that I haven't had time to cook much. I didn't anticipate my schedule correctly. In any case, here's what's in the box:
*Beet Apple and Goat Cheese Sliders, with potato-frisee salad
*Chole (a chickpea stew with vaguely indian/middle eastern spices) served with naan
*butternut squash canneloni

I plan to make the last two tomorrow (so I'll have leftovers ready for the busy weekend!). I made the first last night--the beet sliders. (no pics, sorry...I didn't know I'd be blogging about it.)

First order of business: everyone in the world has heard me announce that I hate beets. I think they taste like dirt.
Second order of business: I am a firm believer that anything is better with cheese. Goat cheese is even better still.
Third order of business: I try so hard not to waste food.

So here we went, into beet-land, last night.
The recipe page has pictures all over it--pictures of the ingredients both whole and prepared, pictures of the cooking process, pictures of the finished product. It has step-by-step instructions that any middle schooler could probably follow. It was well-organized, telling me to do some things while other things were cooking. The stuff in the box was all clearly labeled with what it is, which recipe it is for, and storage instructions (i.e. "keep refrigerated").

And the end result was surprisingly delicious, I have to admit. I wouldn't choose to make the sliders again, because honestly I would have been perfectly happy to have apple-goat cheese sandwiches and skip the beets. But I did eat 1.33 servings of them, and not only because I was thinking about how I should try to eat more things like beets because they are good for me. It genuinely tasted good. I think the combo of goat cheese and mint (??!?!?!?!) was amazing. I was a little sad not to have thought ahead to the fact that assembling the sliders as directed would mean that they would not be suitable for leftovers. Since I am one person and the recipe makes two servings, I should have found a way to hold on to the prepped innards of the sliders and just toasted the buns when I would want them. I ended up needing to either eat more or waste some, because they couldn't be re-heated.

and the salad? OMG. I was so happy to eat it again for lunch today (with an avocado added because otherwise the avocados on the counter will turn mushy!).

The actual process of cooking?
well...
Maybe tomorrow's experience will be better, because I see that they lay out the steps in a certain order on purpose.

for those who missed the subtext on that: I didn't exactly follow the directions the way they were written.

I'm sure it comes as no surprise to those who know me in person that I have a hard time with recipes. I love to cook, and I own a number of cookbooks, most of which sit unopened on a shelf just waiting for the day I finally run out of experimentory steam. I am the kind of home cook who looks in the fridge and pantry and says "I can totally make something out of kidney beans, soy curls, spinach, barley, eggs, nutritional yeast, an avocado, and almonds." (actual contents of my pantry right now.)

I am less the kind of cook that follows directions.

I think Blue Apron is a great concept. I suspect it puts good cooking within reach of many many people who would otherwise eat cereal or fast food. I will probably get another box sometime in the future. But I am not the target audience for this service. I think the recipes look great, and the one I've tried so far tasted good despite by skepticism and inability to just follow the directions.

I just like to have a little more wiggle room, a little more creative space, when it comes to my kitchen adventures.
In short, I want it to be an adventure. And I have yet to have an adventure when the guidebook is still open in my hand.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Whatever Is Right--a sermon on the parable of the laborers in the vineyard

Rev. Teri Peterson
PCOP
Whatever is Right
Matthew 20.1-16
1 March 2015, Lent 2, NL1-26

‘For 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, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the market-place; and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.” When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.” When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as 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.’


Several years ago, I was at a church picnic when I heard an announcement that there’d be a game of kickball starting soon. I swear my stomach physically flipped over and my heart fell out of my body, as I was instantly plunged back to elementary school. Two popular kids were always team captains, and the entire class would line up and wait to be chosen by one of the captains. It was a predictable routine—first the kid who played on a soccer team, then the one who always won the playground races, then the one whose tetherball wins suggested some level of coordination, then the kid whose mom was the teacher down the hall, and so on until the last few of us were practically fought over to not be on anyone’s team.

I was pretty sure this was going to play out in adult fashion at the church picnic too—there’d be the guy who used to organize the church softball team, then the marathon runner, and so on until there were a few people left that no one wanted and someone finally took pity on us and said “the rest of you just choose which team you want, and let’s go!”

Thankfully that’s not how it ended up happening—we played under 18s v. over 18s instead, so no awkward choosing of any kind. But I was reminded of those experiences when I was reading today’s parable. It almost feels like it could read, “and Jesus said, the kingdom of heaven is like a team captain who chose his first players, and then in the middle of the game he went back to the group on the sidelines and picked a few more, and then a few more, until finally in the 9th inning he said ‘all right, the rest of you come along on my team too.’ And at the end of the game, the captain lined up the team according to when they’d joined, and gave everyone a high five and a snack. The people who played the longest and scored the most points were upset that even the terrible playing last picks, who didn’t even get an at-bat, still got the same thing they did. The team captain said: ‘they’re just as much members on my team as you are—remember, it’s my team and I make the calls.’”

Of course it’s not quite the same, but you get the idea. We howl at the unfairness of it all. The people who work only a few hours should of course only get paid a fraction of the amount paid to those who work the whole day. If they worked only 10% of the day, they should get paid only 10% of the daily wage. And the kickball players who just stood in the outfield for one inning, without even stepping up to the plate once clearly don’t need a snack, and giving them a high five is just another way of saying everyone gets a prize even when they didn’t do anything, which devalues our obviously exceptional first-chosen kids. When the owner or captain says he will do what is right, we expect him to do what we think is fair.

Jesus’ story ends with “or are you resentful because I am generous?” And the answer to this is, I suspect, a resounding yes. Of course we are. Because we nearly always see ourselves as the workers who spent 12 hours in the vineyard, and those people are getting what we deserve, and they haven’t even earned it.

The landowner sees something different, though. He sees people who are so desperate for even a fraction of the daily wage that they will wait, through the heat of the day, in hope that they might get even one hour’s work. He sees people with families to feed, and with so few resources they don’t even have a garden or animals they could be tending on the days when they don’t get hired. He sees people who have the same needs as the people he hired at the beginning of the day.

In short, he sees people.

Often we see the work first. Our identities are wrapped up in the jobs we hold and the ways we earn money. Our status is determined by our place in the office hierarchy. We see work as the thing that gives us purpose and meaning, that gives us value. We are tied to fairness, which comes from a mindset of winning and losing, while God is tied to generosity, which comes from a mindset of plenty and of grace.

The landowner is not looking at the value of the work, he is looking at the value of the worker as a human being. And in the eyes of God, there is no difference between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, 6am hire and 5pm hire. No matter how much work we do, we can never earn more grace. It is always a gift given by the most generous of landowners, and he can do what he wants with what is his. The psalmist reminds us that the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it—the world and those who live in it. The landowner says to everyone hired after the first round: “I will pay you what is right” and then he does just that, according to his own value system. The fact that the early morning workers disagree with his assessment of what is right doesn’t seem to make much difference to this lord who sees people, not just product. When we think we can dictate what God can do with the creation God made, or with the love that is God’s very essence, we are on shaky ground. With this story, Jesus makes clear what God’s priorities are—the last shall be first—and that will often make us stomp our feet and insist it isn’t fair. Like the first workers, we say “you have made them equal to us!”

We may not say it out loud because it’s not PC, but it’s there. In our speech patterns, in our politics, in our movies and music and tv shows, in our workplaces, and our church expectations. It’s not fair, God—they should be grateful and then they should do what we have done in order to get what we have. But you have made them equal to us, who have given years of our lives to these programs, this company, this country, this town, this church.

To which God replies: yes, I have. Long before you came on the scene, I made all of you equal, in my image. I knit you together even as I was calling the whole creation good, and I poured my grace out on the whole earth and all those who live in it. I didn’t make a them and an us, I made people. No matter what you think of each other, know this: I do what I choose with what is mine, and I choose to love all of you, I choose to gift grace to all of you, I choose to remind you that my grace is sufficient no matter what you think you deserve, I choose to do what is right. Whether you see yourself as the first worker or the last, whether you have single-handedly kept the church open for years or whether you walked in today for the first time, the truth is the same: I have chosen you. Respond to that reality rather than the one you think is so unfair.

I often try to see Jesus’ parables from different perspectives in the story. I get the sense that we usually read ourselves as the first workers in this story. What is different if we see ourselves as the workers hired for only the last hour, yet given the same dignity and grace as the others? Rather than a posture of defensiveness, I find myself in awe that anyone could be so generous. It feels different—not just intellectually, but in my body, I can feel that rush, that slightly breathless excitement and unstoppable grin that comes with the realization that I’ve been given a gift—not just the gift of being treated equally, not just the gift of one more day of daily bread, but the gift of being seen as a person who matters for more than just the things I can do. Rather than having to earn my humanity, reading the story this way feels like someone sees me for me. We don’t feel that very often in our world these days—to be loved and valued for who we are rather than what we do is rare. It is a gift—it is grace, and it is amazing.

So then I wonder—what if we read the story as if we are the landowner? What would it be like for us to continue to go out and bring people in, and to treat everyone equally generously…to see people for who they are—beloved children of God—rather than for what they can do for us? If we have received such grace, we can also offer it to others. And Jesus said: the kingdom of heaven is like this.


May it be so. Amen.