In the audio podcast of this service, the Scripture reading begins at 23 minutes 30 seconds and the Sermon begins at 26 minutes 00 seconds.
Scripture: Matthew 20:1-16
Sermon: Happy 9th Anniversary!
Happy 9th anniversary! As most of you know, every year on the 3rd Sunday in September I sit on this stool to symbolize a more intimate setting and reminisce about the past and vision cast about the future—just like you might do at your anniversary dinner!
How blessed I am that this is our 9th time doing this! The average youth pastorate lasts 1.8 years. The average associate pastor lasts 2.8 years. (Those averages either give Mark until June of `09 or June of `10, but since Mark is above average we’ll expect to enjoy him much longer!) And the average senior pastor lasts 7.8 years. So even though 9 years has a way of exposing warts and weaknesses, God is giving us the deep grace to grow together in love and service to Christ. I feel blessed in the sense that Eugene Peterson translates the beatitudes, not with Blessed are…, but with How lucky are…
Thinking of that I feel a little like Lou Gehrig on his last day in a Yankee uniform. I don’t mean to be melodramatic, and this 10th year feels in many ways early in our relationship, not the end, but Lou expresses my feelings on one level…
I am pretty lucky, too. So I ask: How do we experience our luckiness more deeply?
That brings me to Jesus’ parable. Think of his story this way. The kingdom of heaven is like a developer hiring union workers for his project. At 6 AM the developer shows up at Carpenter’s Union Local 831 to hire a crew. The boss negotiates a fair union wage and sends them out. Then at 9 AM he gets a panicked call from his foreman: We’re swamped! Send me more guys! So the owner goes back to the hall at 9 AM, breaks up the pool game with an offer of work for fair union wages, and sends those guys out. At noon, at 3 PM, and again at 5 PM the same foreman’s call prompts the same owner’s trip to Local 831, to break up the same pool game clouded in cigarette smoke, with the same offer of fair, union wages. When the whistle blows at 6 PM at workday’s end the union workers line up in the office to get their checks. Starting from those hired last names are called and men are handed a check: Smith! Jones! Conigliaro! And the guys who worked from 6 or 9 AM see the 5 PM and 3 PM guys high five each other exclaiming $300! So by now the 9 AM and 6 AM guys are excited that they might get… Just $300 bucks?! That’s a rip off to give us the same as guys who worked 11 hours less than us! Wait a minute! cautioned the owner, isn’t that what I promised you? Well, yeah. Then be happy with what you got and go home. For the first shall be last and the last…
What was Jesus after here? Matthew is the most Jewish of Jesus’ four gospels. Matthew remembers Jesus exposing the Jews sense of entitlement over against the Gentiles because the Jews were God’s people first, and Jesus is also showing God’s extravagant grace to we Gentiles who have found the kingdom rather late in history. So maybe, just maybe, the last get it better than the first, and the first worse than the last.
Who do you relate to most closely? I can definitely relate to the grumbling 6 AMers, but at significant times like this I can feel like the 3 PMers, and maybe if I’m really lucky, like Lou, the 5 PMers. How can we be aware of just how lucky we are?
When I look over these 9 years I see instances where I was too soon old (how true, huh?!) and too late wise. In other words, when I didn’t get it until 3 or 5 PM. Here is a partial list of the late learnings in my labor here. Please reflect on your late learnings:
I came here pretty judgmental. After my first stint in the east I was of the opinion that if I just preached God’s expectations you’d all fall in line. I wasn’t sympa-thetic to how secular the culture is here making it harder to live the Christian life than in the Bible Belt where I grew up; where the culture more supported Christian behavior.
It’s taken me a long time to learn how to stir the pot with a sincere smile. In other words too often I either avoided change because I wanted you to like me, or I became red faced forcing change because I wanted to be successful. Jesus is helping me to stir the pot with a smile that keeps a vision before us, but gives you freedom to choose.
Speaking of change, I have learned a lot about managing staff changes. Given the nature of personnel issues, that’s all I can say, but its been an education.
So, like me, you may be working on some life projects since 9 AM, but, like me, you many not figure out the best way to do them till 5 PM. It’s God’s extravagant grace that pays us for my hours of less competence. I am pretty lucky. How about you?
That reminds me of the movie Amazing Grace where the author of that hymn, John Newton, talks to William Wilberforce about his regrets. Now an old blind man, Newton anguishes over his young slave trading days. I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior. I wish I could remember their names. 20,000 ghosts; each with beautiful African names. I once was blind, but now I see. Go William, we have work to do!
So we recipients of God’s amazing grace become aware of that grace, and to the degree we realize just how lucky we are, then we can’t help but share it. Aware—share.
Here are two new ways God’s lavish grace is overflowing from NBRC to our community in our tenth year as part of our Vision Priority of need-oriented evangelism:
this Thursday we closed on the Lawrence House and tomorrow night the consistory will vote on how it will be used to bless our community. Keep you posted.
we continue to pray for the Music Search Committee as they look for the Minister of Music that God has already chosen for NBRC who can lead both a contemporary and traditional service so that our worship will bless the church and unchurched neighbors.
So, as we grow in our awareness of God’s amazing grace, let’s also recommit ourselves to sharing that same grace with those around us in need. Amen.
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