God's always "hooking us," pulling us back: back to the Word, back to the Meal, back to the Font...back to the community.

This blog is for the purpose of sharing around each Sunday's Bible readings & sermon at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church.

Get Sunday's readings here. We follow the Narrative Lectionary.
(In the summer, we return to the Revised Common Lectionary' epistle or Second Reading here.)

So, what's been hooking you?

So, what's been hooking you?

Here you can...

Sunday, March 29, 2015

March 29 -- Palm Sunday

Nothing says Emmanuel like God on a donkey.  Nothing says God-with-us like Jesus getting down and dirty and riding in on an ass.  This is the scandal of the Gospel, only to be outdone later this week when that same God is hoisted up onto a cross. 

Welcome to Holy Week, sisters and brothers in Christ.  Are you sure you want to do this?  Because this becomes a bumpy road.  

But in this road is redemption, new life, forgiveness, transformation, love, hope, and most of all peace -- in a violent and chaotic and backstabbing world.  Jesus on this donkey trots down the road of peace.

This entry into Jerusalem, this parade of and for Jesus which we remember -- and even enact some years here with our own processions -- was a very dangerous and political demonstration.  (Anyone who doesn’t think Jesus was political better take a second look at these stories!)  Jesus knew exactly what he was doing -- and when it comes to political protests and demonstrations, timing is everything.  

You see, every year, a couple times a year, Pontius Pilate -- the mighty Roman governor of Judea -- would come up from his home in Caesarea (about 50 mi. NW), the coastal Roman capital of the area, and into the city of Jerusalem...to govern, to remind people who’s in charge here.  Jews lived in occupied territory and they hated that -- as I’m sure we would too.  Just the sight of the mighty Roman procession of Pilate and his entourage up on their mighty, war horses, would make their blood boil.  It would remind them more than ever of the oppression under which they lived.  But if any of them took a chance and tried to mock them -- well, try throwing something at the imperial military procession -- see what happens...

And this was the week that the Jews were to be celebrating Passover, and people were coming in from all over Judea to do so.  And so just like when the Super Bowl or any other huge event is happening in your town, extra security is shipped in, to make sure nothing gets out of hand.   This happened whenever the Jews had a big festival, but especially the festival of Passover, because here -- as you know -- the Passover a celebration, a remembrance of their liberation from Egypt, it was all about freedom from oppression.  So certain groups of Jews -- Zealots especially -- were known to incite the crowds.  It was a tense atmosphere during Passover.  Anything could happen and the Roman powers -- under the command of Pontius Pilate -- were going to make sure that it didn’t -- or else...there would be blood.  This was “Pax Romana” (Peace of Rome), the great decree of Caesar, live and in the flesh! 

Pilate and his military forces always came in, we know, through a gate on the western side of the city, the royal gate, the gate that leads right to their Roman luxurious capital city on the Mediterranean coast.  Easy access.

And Roman theology put military power and military leaders on such a pedestal as to elevate the experience of their triumphal entry to a religious event.  When Roman military leaders and governors like Pilate would come into town, always mounted on great, white war horses, the people would spread blankets on the ground and shout “God save the Emperor” or in Hebrew “Hosanna to the Emperor”, trumpets would play, historians even tell us that they would spray expensive perfume into the streets, so that the smell of victory, power and might was literally in the air.  And woe to any who would disrupt a demonstration and a parade -- a worship service -- like this!

(It’d like someone disrupting the National Anthem...)

At the beginning of the Passover week, Pilate and his entourage rode into town (from the west) with all this respect and awe and fanfare.  

But there was another procession coming into town that day -- another leader was entering through an opposite gate -- this one on the eastern side of the city.  Jesus was coming in from Bethphage, where the Mount of Olives is located, just east of Jerusalem walls.  Jesus’ timed this just right.  He knew Pilate was coming from the west, right about the same time.  So Jesus rides in -- not on a war horse -- but on a donkey.  And it all came off as a mockery of Rome.  Jesus interrupted the National Anthem.  And this Palm Sunday parade that we study and reflect upon this morning, and even enact, at the beginning of Holy Week, is a political demonstration that really mocks all the trust that the Romans have in their systems of war, of peace-by-force, of their mighty horses, and legions of troops, and of Rome’s distance from the people.  They’re not really in touch.  It’s not “Pax” at all -- that Rome offers, if it’s peace through force.  And Jesus knows exactly what he’s doing.  

And so, it says, that the people were stirred up.  It says the whole city was in turmoil.  And the Greek word there is eseisthe -- where we get our word seismic (which relates, of course, to the earth shaking and quaking)!  Jerusalem, you might remember, hasn’t been stirred up in Matthew’s gospel since Christmas time.  Remember that?  After Jesus was born and the wisemen come to visit him, there’s that curious line in Matthew’s gospel that says that “Herod was shaken and all Jerusalem with him.”  (And a preview of what coming next Sunday -- pay attention to what happens to the earth at the tomb of Jesus on Easter morning.) 

Nothing says Emmanuel like God on a donkey.  

Our God is not a contender for Pilate and Rome and their legions.  Even though I’m setting it up (and actually this the late, great Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan’s work) like a boxing match:  [Don King] “Coming in from the west..!  East...Let’s get ready to rumble!”  Christ’s is a road of peace.

And I wonder if there’s a part of us -- I know there’s a part of me -- that want to see Jesus be the great contender to the powers of this world, taking Pilate down with a divine TKO.  Why do we have this appetite for violence and revenge?  That would certainly be tapping into the spirit of the people of that time too.  In fact, that’s exactly what the Jews wanted Jesus to do.  “Knock him out the box, Jesus!”  

But sisters and brothers in Christ, Jesus contends against something much greater than a powerful and oppressive regime.  [pause]  Jesus contends against evil and sin, against “the devil and all his empty promises”, against hatred and violence, against war and oppression, against bigotry and ignorance, against selfishness and pride.  (Jesus contends against all challenges that were before us through Lent -- bitterness, the struggle to forgive, staying awake and alert, participating always in the care and attention to the least, the lost, and the lowly.  How’d that go for you?  I’m guessing -- by virtue of the fact that you’re a human being -- that you didn’t perfect these disciplines, maybe you even failed pretty miserably.  How Lent teaches us again and again that we stand in the need of God’s grace.)  But Jesus comes to contend agains these forces.  Jesus -- in his humble and yet powerful ride into town, mounted on a goofy donkey -- is contending against death itself.

Nothing says Emmanuel like God on a donkey.  

The irony here is palpable -- that Christ would take on powers much greater than Pilate and the authorities -- seated on a donkey, adorned later with thorns and lashings, and Friday hanging from a cross.  But Christ comes into Jerusalem and into our hearts precisely for that purpose -- to take on death itself...for our sake.  

Sunday, March 22, 2015

March 22 -- Fifth Sunday in Lent

“Create in us clean hearts, O God.  And renew a right spirit within us.  Cast us not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from us.  Restore to us the joy of your salvation, and uphold us with your free Spirit. AMEN.”

Matthew’s gospel is all about clean hearts.  Good hearts.  A couple of weeks ago I said, “It’s about meaning well.”  Are your thoughts, is your heart, in the right place?  Then your actions will follow suit.  This is at the center of so many of Jesus’ lessons and parables, and today we have the final judgement in the the final days before Jesus goes to the cross:  

Lord when was it that we saw you?  When we visited the homeless, the sick, the lonely, the imprisoned.  It was in the eyes, the faces, the bodies of the “least of these” that Jesus has made himself known to us.  And when we reach out to help them, we are reaching out to Christ himself.

This is the last and final section of what’s been called the Final Discourse in the Gospel of Matthew.  It’s also known as the Olivette Discourse, because it takes place on the Mount of Olives...

And did you know -- there is a Lutheran hospital on the Mount of Olives today?  Quite amazing, really: the Lutheran World Federation owns property on the Mount of Olives, possibly right where Jesus stood/sat and spoke this final discourse!  The ELCA is present there today, with this hospital and also involved in some significant housing projects, for homeless Palestinian Christians who have had there East Jerusalem neighborhoods demolished, and had no where to go.  And there’s this hospital there, which treats everyone, serves all in need, regardless of race, religion, nationality or ability to pay.  

It’s called the Augusta Victoria Hospital.  Specialize in Pediatric Nephrology, Ear-Nose-Throat, first-rate cancer center.  This is a radical thing in the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  They treat everyone.

The olive branch is a symbol of peace.
There’s been tremendous pressure from the Israeli government, who’s tried to charge back taxes and hike up rates.  But the hospital continues to serve.  (There are also 800 olive trees on Lutheran World Federation property on the Mount of Olives, and ELCA congregations, around the country have planted trees there.  We could plant one too.)

I’ve never been there, but I’d love to go see it, I’ve heard lots of stories and seen pictures online: the work of LWF in the exact place possibly that Jesus gave this Olivette discourse.  

And what occurs to me is that the people who are working so hard on that site are probably not thinking about this passage on a daily basis.  They’re not serving in order to be God’s sheep vs. the goats -- they’re not obsessed with getting a righteous seat on Jesus’ right side.  They’re just busy trying to figure out how to treat Yosef’s lymphoma, or Gabriela’s diabetes.

Just like so many all over the world and in our own cities and neighborhoods, they are people who wake up in the morning and go to work, and take care of others all day -- just because it’s the right thing to do.  

Just like you, sisters and brothers in Christ, wake up in the morning, put on your shoes, brush your teeth, have your cup of coffee, and get to work doing what God has given you the skills to do.  
I imagine you don’t do what you do with your mind and heart obsessed about “getting onto Jesus‘ good side”.   No, the righteous live by faith...which means the righteous live by participation.  We are participants in God’s mercy and love, not just recipients.  It’s a way of everyday life.  

We do what we do, because it’s the right thing to do.

And yet, Jesus tells us today that when we care for the least of these, we care for him.  When we meet the least of these -- the types of people being treated at Augusta Victoria, the types of people being loved by you in your everyday life -- we are meeting Jesus!

I love that in this passage the righteous did’t even know they were seeing Jesus.  “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?  And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”  And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

The righteous -- the ones with their hearts in the right place, the ones who are meaning well -- didn’t do it to secure their spot in heaven, like that extra fee you pay online to have your seat at the ballgame secured way before you get there.  The medics, and teachers, and carpenters, and public defenders, and students, and volunteers at Common Ground, and caretakers of aging parents, and nurses of newborns didn’t do what they do -- we don’t do what we do -- to earn our seat next to Jesus.  We do it because it’s simply the right thing to do.  

This is what Jesus is looking for -- and this is how he separates the sheep from the goats.  “Is their heart in the right place?”  
We pray to God to create in us clean hearts -- to help us mean well -- and then we trust that God takes care of the rest.

And God does.

God gathers us in, and gives us a place at the banquet table.  “Come, inherit the bounty, the joy, the eternal peace, the party that has been prepared for you.”  

“For me?” we ask, incredulously.

“Yes, for you,” Jesus answers.  “You’ve been serving me all your days.  You’ve been caring for me as you care for the poor, as you care for the needy, as you care for one another, as you care for the immigrant and the stranger, as you care for the earth and all its creatures, as you care for yourself (with good exercise and diet), as you care for the abused, the neglected, the homeless and working poor of San Diego, as you care for children and their teachers -- you’ve been serving me all along.  

“Come in here, you Sheep, and enjoy the banquet!”

Christ calls us sheep, because we have and continue to participate with God in the loving of the enemy, in the caring for the poor, in the welcoming of the immigrant, and the planting of the olive trees.  Jesus gathers us in, at the last, restoring us with that “free Spirit”!  (Restore to us the joy of your salvation, and uphold us with your free Spirit.)

And in the meantime, we continue to go about our good business, meaning well -- going in peace and remembering the poor.  Thanks be to God.  AMEN.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

March 15 -- Fourth Sunday in Lent

Grace to you and peace from God, who comes to us...at an unexpected hour!

God surprises us, gives us what we need to keep our lamps lit, calls us to use that oil, to pay attention and to be ready.  

This text comes in Matthew, Chapter 25, and it’s part of what’s been called “the final discourses” of Jesus, just outside the city walls of Jerusalem, just before he undergoes the final supper, his trial and his death.   This is part of the last things, the final discourse -- this week and next are Jesus’ parting words.  So that adds a thick layer of import...

And what we have here is Jesus warning his disciples: “Be ready...with what I’ve given you. Pay attention.”  The oil is free and available now, if you take it.  If you don’t, you’re going to be -- like last week’s text -- left out in the cold and the darkness.

Last week I alluded to this: the guy who didn’t wear his wedding garment that he had been offered freely at the door -- and now this week the bridesmaids who didn’t keep their lamps trimmed and lit with the flasks of oil that were available freely -- when we don’t accept or use the gifts of grace, the gift of faith that God gives us freely in our baptisms, then we get left out -- in a sense -- too!

[pause and slowly]
I have come to realize these last few months (since about August) -- more than ever, I think, in my life -- how difficult it is to ask and even more to receive help from another -- another family, another friend, maybe even a stranger.  When an offer to help is right there in our midst, and we just can’t open our hands and receive it -- I see this all the time in the church.  
I struggle with it myself.  We’re suppose to be self-sufficient.  Me for mine.  You for yours.  If I’m coming to you, then I’m mooching -- that what we’ve been taught.  Nobody likes a moocher.  “C’mon!” we say, “take care of yourself!”  

We try to live by that, and so we shy away from letting ourselves be lavished, symbolized by the wedding garment (from last week) or oil in our text today.  We don’t just shy away, sometimes we down-right reject the oil that God so freely gives in order to keep our lamps lit.   

Heather and I saw a dear friend yesterday perform.  Her name’s Rachel -- we went to college with her, and became friends because of a number of social crossovers and shared interests.  And Rachel is wildly gifted, musically and theatrically.  And singing and acting is her passion.  But when she got married 11 years ago now and over the years had two children -- all a very important, central parts of her life -- that musical theater side of her went to sleep and (without going into it) she suffered in many ways...like having a part of you amputated.  

So in the last year or so, Rachel’s gotten involved with a small theatre company in her community, and she’s done a handful of shows now.  And yesterday she had the microphone for an hour and she share her songs and a few stories with her audience.  I just had this smile plastered to my face.  And there it was: she was doing what she loved and what God gave her, and blessing us all in the process.  

It’s the oil in the lamp, you see!  For some years she wasn’t taking a single flask of oil and using what God had given her -- and she was really suffering as a result.  But how engaging a passion and a talent that is God-given, not only betters the world, but completes the individual too!  
Rachel is able to be a better mother, and wife, and daughter, and friend -- now that she’s using the oil, keeping her lamp lit.

What is it for you? [pause]  (That requires paying attention.)  There are many and various ways that God fuels us.  There are so many gifts and talents in this holy room.  In a culture of scarcity -- you know, fears that we don’t have enough (Money’s tight this month!, or where are all the people in our churches?, or who’s going to take over this organization or that committee if I’m gone?, or I’ll never be as smart as Richard Lederer!) -- in a culture of scarcity that seems to pervade...if we slow down and just ponder the gifts, talents, skills, assets, abilities of the people in this room we would find more than enough oil “to keep the lamps lit”.  

God gives us the oil; so for God’s sake -- and for yours -- use it!  God gives us a wedding garment; so for God’s sake -- and for yours -- put it on!     

Don’t let your lamps go out when God’s sitting there handing us oil, garments of grace.  Get back into theater!  Get back into volunteering with children or Meals on Wheels!  Get back into painting, or working in the garden, or writing, or reading classical literature, or traveling, or working in the garage, or spending time with your partner or your children!  What is it that fuels you?  God’s provided the oil!  What is it that keeps your light shining?  Because when your light shines before others, others can see your good works, and all of this fueling and shining activity gives glory to your God heaven!  (this text today, btw, is a direct reference to that passage earlier in Mt.)  

Lent is the time, for digging back in -- so what if you’ve broken your Lenten thing-you-were-going-to-give-up!  That’s the point: that we stand in need of grace.

So take a deep breath, wake up, pay attention, and dive back into this good life that God has simply lavished before us.  The feast is ready, there’s plenty of fuel for the party.  And you’re welcomed by God’s open arms.  Don’t reject it, don’t blow it off, or make excuses why it’s not for you, why you’ve got better things to do...

Just open your hands and receive it -- God’s love and forgiveness and peace.  

This is grace enfleshed.  This is God’s goodness poured out for you.  Bread is broken, wine is poured, candles are lit.  Pay attention, it’s all around.   AMEN.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

March 8 -- Third Sunday in Lent

Well, baseball has started, and you know that’s a passion of mine.  Spring Training -- Padres look good, Cubs look good -- Fantasy Drafts, and of course Little League.  Micah our 3rd grader had his Opening Day yesterday.  And I love the opening ceremonies, as the community gathers around, families from all 4 levels, teams on the field, the National Anthem and the flag/rifle bearers in uniform.  All these people without a church home, I thought (I’m assuming that because they always schedule pictures on Sunday morning, and no one has any issue with that...except us): this is their religious family, in a big way. 

And Micah’s moved up into the Minors division.  He did a great job in his tryouts and got handpicked to probably the top team.  And we can all tell that “it’s a different ballgame” now.  Kids are pitching, and pitching fast.  They’re hitting harder.  They’re stealing bases and colliding at home plate.  And the coaches -- at least Micah’s coaches -- are a different breed too.  We’ve had some wonderful, sweet, gentle coaches the past two years, instilling in the kids a love for the game, and great fundamentals.  But these guys this year: they want to win.  They start their best players (started Micah), and they expect a lot from everyone.  

Gone are the days of constant affirmation.  There’s affirmation when you do a great job, but not when you’re just doing your job.  Gone are the days of cupcakes and other treats after the game: we’re in the Minors now.  And Coach expects his players to “show up” -- practice, hustle, pay attention, be out front.  In fact, if you don’t “show up”, he’s going to play someone else.

The king calls the wedding guests to “show up” in our text.  It’s time for a party.  And the king’s pulling out the stops.  Everyone’s paid for, food and drink will abound, the table is set, the candles are lit, the band is cued up, the meal is hot...

And nobody shows.  

They all have excuses.  Most of them have to work.  Some have a “better” offer, pre-existing plans.  Others just don’t really want to come -- I mean, they don’t really know the wedding couple anyway -- so they make something up, and bow out with a quick, friendly text.  And then there are others, who might actually like to go, but some voice in their head is telling them they’re not worth it.  They’ve hosted weddings themselves and know how expensive it can be, and so they don’t want to put the king out -- they’ve got a bit of a martyr complex, they mean well, but they fail to see value in themselves, and they just can’t let themselves be loved and lavished by the king...  That’s a little like in the text when some actually seize and kill the king’s servants who are managing the RSVPs.  It just kills the spirit of the feast.  Have you ever had someone decline a lavish gift you’re excited to give.  And they pass, citing some “oh-not-on-my-account” or “oh-don’t-want-to-put-you-out” excuse?!  It just sucks the spirit of joy and generosity out of the room.  So, those suffering-servants decline the invitation too.

Nobody who was originally invited “shows up”.  And this infuriates the king:  I should do a little textual analysis here.  Matthew says the king goes out and kills these no shows, burns their city!

Fundamentalists read this clearly as a reference to hell and the fires of damnation if you don’t “show up” for Jesus.  

Most mainstream scholars look at this in the context of the time Matthew was writing -- that this was an obvious reference to the destruction of Jerusalem and the lackadaisical faith of the chosen ones.  You have to decide what you think this means.

But anyway, the king’s going to play somebody else.  The king’s going to put someone else into the game because the first round draft picks didn’t “show up”.

So the master’s servants (they’ve been through a lot, haven’t they?) again go out and invite everyone now.  [Gentiles - the Gospel opens up to everyone!]  This is what the kingdom of heaven is compared to, Jesus teaches --  A king who invites [pause] everyone.  The riff-raff is welcome.  Just verses before, Jesus was talking about tax collectors and prostitutes getting into God’s good graces before those puff-up and self-righteous Pharisees.  This parable is an elaboration on that.    

“Those servants went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad, so the wedding hall was filled with guests.”  Here’s what occurred to me this week:  [pause]  We’re the riff-raff.  You’re the riff-raff.

We’re the ones who are left.  We’re the ones who got scooped up by God’s love, and here we are.  You’re not a perfect group of churchy people.  I’m not a perfect pastor.  We’re broken and jealous and bitter and hungry and sad and lost and struggling and scared.  But here we are, scooped up by God’s love, probably because of one of God’s servants who invited us -- maybe that was a parent or grandparent that brought you into the banquet hall long ago.  Or maybe it was a friend or even a stranger.  

But here we are at the master’s table -- candles lit, food and drink abounds!  Here we are:  still serving and being served, still feasting, still drinking wine and eating bread, still ingesting and digesting this word of life, this Word of God.  We’re the riff-raff, sisters and brothers in Christ.  The good and the bad, all wrapped up into us, all wrapped up into you!  

And God’s gathered us in: “And the wedding hall was filled with guests.”

Now what about this guy who gets bounced from the party because he wasn’t wearing his wedding garment?  That’s a whole ‘nother sermon, but let me say this: When God invites us into the banquet, onto the field, we ought to bring everything we have...including that free garment of grace that God’s given.  Those wedding robes in those days were something no one could afford, they were provided by the host at the door of the wedding feast, like bulletins at the beginning of our worship service.  God’s love and grace is provided freely at the door, before we even sit down, so for God’s sake, put it on!  Don’t think that you can pass without wearing God’s free garment of love and grace.  This one guy did, and he was thrown into the outer darkness.  How we too can be tossed out, when we choose not to accept God’s offer, God’s robe of forgiveness and peace.  (We pretty much toss ourselves out at that point.)

Here it is, given and shed for you.  This welcome to all, this challenge to both receive it, to give it our all on the field, and to seek to extend that same welcome to all we meet along the way.  That’s all part of the party, the new spring season.    

This is where we find ourselves these Lenten days, sisters and brothers in Christ.  God’s hospitality is multifaceted and lavish... and you’re in!  You’re on the team.  Let’s play ball.

Our Hymn of the Day is not the National Anthem or the 7th inning stretch...It’s a piece that was written last year by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette.  “A King Planned a Party” (p. 5 in your free-of-charge bulletin)

Sunday, March 1, 2015

March 1 -- Second Sunday in Lent

“Create in us clean hearts, O God, and renew a right spirit within us. Amen.”

Well, pick your analogous story to today’s fabulous, but potentially bitterness-inducing Gospel lesson from Jesus: 

  1. You’ve got the new hire, who comes on board right at the beginning of December.  And when the boss hands out the Christmas bonuses, she gets the same amount as everyone else.
  2. Or you’ve got the guy who gets a World Series ring, even with only 4 plate appearances with that winning team.  He still get the exact same ring in October that those guys who showed up for Spring Training way back on March 1 get.  Happens all the time.
  3. Children’s talk -- jumping.
  4. We’ve got the tactile example of the rain today -- showering everyone/everything, regardless.   
  5. Or you could easily tell this same story that Jesus tells today. Don’t need to make analogies: Every day there are day-laborers, ready to work.  You can go hire them yourself on Broadway, standing out by the Home Depot in Lemon Grove.  $20 for the day -- that’s the equivalent to one denarius.  (Joey, one of our confirmation kids, looked that up on his own yesterday.)  $20 -- might not seem like much for a day’s wage, but it’s enough to feed a family that night at the dinner table -- some rice and beans, maybe a bucket of fried chicken.  So one guy’s doing some major landscape work instead of vineyard work, he hires guys all day, and pays the guys he hires last, right around happy hour, the same wage he pays the guys he hired at 6am.  [pause]

Any bitterness?  Are you above it?  Are you happy for the late hire-ons,  the shortest jumpers?
When you think of it in terms of providing dinner that night for the worker and his or her family, maybe it’s understood a bit little differently.  Seems to me that’s what the landlord was thinking.  

God is certainly interested in everyone having enough to feed their family around the table.  God is certainly interested in the community taking care of one another.  God is certainly compassionate and generous.  That’s what Jesus kicks off this whole story to say the realm of God is like...everyone having enough. [pause]

Do you hear this story and relate more to the land owner -- what’s your first inclination, in terms of your perspective: are you too in a position to hire day laborers?  Or do you relate more to the workers?  Have you too been or are you currently in a tight spot where you need to feed your family tonight or pay rent this month?  [pause]

Interesting point: that the ones who were hired last aren’t lazy.  They just weren’t as attractive physically as the big strong ones who were hired first.  [pause]  The late-comers desperately wanted to feed their families too; they wanted to be hired all day too.  But someone else could jump higher, lift heavier -- offer more bang for the buck.  

“Are you envious because I’m generous?” the landowner asks the bitter ones.  There’s a perspective that I think we all may be able to share: We can be envious of others’ blessings.

Lent is a season, as the rain sinks into the soil, as mud and dirt, and the opportunity to slip and fall, becomes even more prevalent, there’s also an opportunity for growth and great soul searching.  There’s also in the midst of the unwanted -- the unwanted mud, the unwanted hard lessons about being generous and compassionate -- there’s also a God, who is working on us/you peacefully and quietly:  
“Let go of your bitterness and resentment.  Stop worrying about what others are getting and what you’re not getting.  Do you have enough to eat tonight?  I want them to have enough too.  Your anger and bitterness is pulling you down, holding you back from being the fully human being I created you to be.  Let that stuff go, and share...as I have shared with you -- generously, freely, and compassionately.  That takes some work, I know,” says God, “but I created you to do this, so I know you’ve got it in you.”  

Lent is our time -- not just to recognize God’s compassion and generosity -- but also to dig out our own...if its been buried.  Better yet, (don’t dig it out) let it go to seed:  let God’s compassion grow in and through us, finally breaking the surface and bettering the world, offering beauty and food and companionship.  Isn’t it great when a new tree you’ve planted turns from from a beautiful little sapling, to an actual source of food, and then maybe even to a companion or a friend? 

That’s the kind of growth God’s got in store for us, sisters and brothers in Christ.  God has planted us, and grows us.  God is the vineyard owner, bestowing gifts of enough on all of us.  Again, the plants teach us:  they don’t grow looking around and being jealous of this tree or that rose bush getting more water and attention...no, plants just grow and entrust themselves...to getting enough.  

We entrust ourselves to Christ, who loves us, showers us with blessings, brings us in, and sends us out...with enough.  

Today we continue down this narrow path, together.  And we sing our praise and thanks to our generous God all the while.