SERVICES & SERMONS
Young Child Friendly Service Service at 8:30 am
We gather for a Rite II Eucharist where all are always welcome. Children join in the worship and will find activity boxes with art supplies and work sheets having to do with the day's themes. Everyone gathers around the altar for the Eucharistic Prayer and Children of all ages take part in the final hymn by joining in with shakers and rhythm instruments. At all of our services, dress tends to be pretty casual and we observe what some of our people call a relaxed reverence.
Family Service at 10:30 am
At 10:30 children are always welcome. Our service is from the Book of Common Prayer and we have a choir to support the music in worship. As in all of our services, all are always welcome.
5:30 pm Celtic Service
Our Sunday evening service draws on our Celtic Christian roots, with an emphasis on God's presence in all of creation, especially in the natural world and in humanity. Our evening band blends keyboards, woodwinds and guitar to provide meditative music for contemplation and reflection throughout the service.
Sermon for 14 Pentecost
Matthew 20:1-16 &Exodus 16:2-15
September 20, 2020
Rev. Dr. Rosemary Beales
Pleasure boats bobbed in the Potomac and toddlers raced tiny scooters around the pavement. Couples strolled, dogs walked their owners, and lunch patrons lined up for outdoor tables. A few folks strode with purpose through the scene. But mostly Waterfront Park on Friday was a playful place – ironic, because I was there to take in an homage to WORK.
Like our gospel today, a new art installation at the waterfront is focused on WORK. From four concrete platforms, huge human figures emerge, only their heads and upper bodies visible. The rest seem to be encased, held down by gravity or other, less benign, forces. With clearly African features, the figures exude dignity and power. Their lacelike structures, crafted from metal, contain symbols of the work that once dominated this area. On the pavement are painted graphic symbols of that work, which are echoed in the metal cutouts: tobacco leaves, ice tongs, and flour sacks; bricks and fish and the compass of navigation. Nigerian-born artist Olalekan Jeyifou (O-la-LAY-kan JAY-fuss] calls his installation “Wrought, Knit, Labors, Legacies.”
If you have a chance to visit before the exhibit leaves November 20, maybe you’ll be moved to reflect, as today’s gospel does, on the question of what labor is worth. Because the harbor that hosts this magnificent art is also the port where thousands of people came ashore in chains, forced to work for no wages at all. Human beings were bought and sold a few blocks away, at the largest slave-trading center in the nation, Franklin and Armfield on Duke Street, known today as Freedom House.
It’s important to reckon with this history, especially as we hear suggestions from powerful people that Americans have heard too much about this shameful period in our past, and its ongoing ramifications in the present.
In that context, interpreting this gospel as an analogy is tempting, and that’s how most commentators approach it. Usually, we see the various characters labeled: say, as God, handing out divine favor to Jews vs. gentiles; lifelong believers vs. late converts. And the payment in these scenarios is salvation, entry into heaven in the next life.
But WHAT IF, in telling this story, Jesus really IS concerned about economics in this life?
By some counts, sixteen of his thirty-eight parables involve money and possessions. One of every 10 verses in the gospels concerns the use of money. And the Old Testament – the Bible Jesus knew – has just as much to say about wealth, poverty, and justice.
Jim Wallis, the founder of Sojourners, once did an experiment. Way back in college, he and a friend decided to cut out – literally – all the references to money, poverty and wealth in the Bible. They ended up with several thousand holes in their book – a “hole-y” Bible, indeed, one that Wallis still displays at speaking engagements.
So, let’s look more closely at this little story about money – and more.
In the beginning, a landowner – maybe just a “householder” in the Greek – sets out to hire workers. He goes where the day laborers gather, early in the morning, and if that paints a contemporary picture for you, maybe it’s meant to. Some, we don’t know how many, are hired right away and set to work. The householder goes back at 9, and finds others “without work”, and sends them off. Again, at noon and at 3:00 he hires whoever is standing around – there’s no indication that any go unchosen. Finally, at 5:00, almost quitting times, he hires the last group.
So far, so good, right?
It’s at only at 6:00 that things begin to go off the rails, as they often do in parables.
Now, if I were the employer, I don’t think I would pay the latecomers first, allowing all the others to see what they received. Every place I’ve worked, salaries are kept secret for fear that people will draw comparisons and demand, I don’t know, equity?
But this employer WANTS everyone to see, as he pays the laborers who worked ONE hour the same as those who put in a full day, bearing, in their words, the “burden of the day and the scorching heat.”
And to their complaint, he responds “Friend (pay attention when Jesus calls someone “Friend,” because he usually means the opposite), “didn’t we agree on the wage? And didn’t I pay you what we agreed?” Yet they assume their efforts are worth more, that they are worth more.
But God – let’s imagine that the employer MIGHT represent God – God is a lousy bookkeeper. Instead of meticulously recording hours, instead of keeping score, he gives ALL the laborers a living wage.
We could call that GRACE – God showering sustenance on these workers in the same way he rained manna on the Israelites in the wilderness.
We could call it grace, or we could call it justice. Either way, we don’t know what would have happened next if Jesus had drawn out his story a bit. “Are you envious because I am generous?” the employer asks, and we don’t get to hear the answer.
And that’s just how Jesus likes it. Parables invite US to finish the story, to imagine an ending – not one that “makes sense” in our economy, but one that mirrors God’s economy. So, I like to think that the employer’s question brings the complainers up short and turns greed into gratitude. I like to think that that last-hired group, having received generosity, became generous in return.
Could WE do the same? How many of us have received much more, than we could say we earned? I’m talking about more than our paychecks, whether we are earning at the top of the scale, or the 81 cents on every dollar that a woman earns, or the 61 cents that Black earners receive, although those second two figures are a scandal.
I’m talking about the grace that is poured upon us every day, the unmerited goodness from God, from others, and from the dear mother Earth that supports and delights us.
Will we be moved by generosity to be grateful givers ourselves?
Might we become a force for economic justice in our community and nation?
Can we give like “lousy bookkeepers,”
not measuring but meeting our neighbors’ needs?
Will we, in Jesus’ name, finish this story in a new way?
Could we, in this community, become a parable of grace? Amen.
 Wallis, Jim. God's Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It.
(San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2005), p. 210.
 Ibid p. 212
 Amy-Jill Levine, Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi (HarperOne, 2014), p. 208.