Sermon: Not I.

March 1, 2015


Not I.

Matthew 20:1–16 | Second Sunday in Lent | March 1, 2015 | First Christian Church | Mahtomedi, MN

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When I was a child, you tend to hear a lot of those old folk tales that still live on today. Some like the Ant and the Grasshopper are quite old, dating to the time when Greece was a major power. One folk tale that I remember is called The Little Red Hen. It is supposedly Russian in origin. It centers on a hen that finds some wheat. She decides to plant the seed and asks the other farm animals for help. They all declined usually saying “Not I.” When it was time to harvest the wheat, she again asked for help and all the farm animals said “Not I.” At every other stage of production; the threshing, the milling into wheat and the baking the other farm animals said no when she asked for help.

Finally, when the wheat has become bread she asks who wants to eat the bread. This time, all the farm animals, the same ones that didn’t lift a finger to help in bringing it to the table, they all wanted a piece of bread to eat.

This time it was the hen’s turn to say no. She tells the other animals that since they didn’t help her in making the bread, they would have no part in eating it. The hen ends up sharing the bread with her chicks, leaving nothing for the others.

The Little Red Hen is a moral tale about hard work and laziness. It was told to children to remind them that they should be willing to work for their food, and not expect others to do it for you.

There is something about this tale that I loved when I was a kid and I have to admit that it still appeals to me. Those that work hard should be rewarded, and not the ones who did nothing to deserve the accolades.

But then we have today’s passage. Jesus tells the tale of the owner of a vineyard who goes early in the morning to find workers. He goes to the marketplace and sees a number of men standing around. He chooses some and tells them what he will pay them at the end of the day.

Now you have to harvest grapes quickly and the owner realized he didn’t have enough men to do the work. So, he goes back again a few more times to get more and more workers.

Finally, it is almost 5PM. All the other men are hard at work, but there is still some work to be done and with the number of men he has it won’t be done in time. So, the owner goes back to marketplace. The day is nearly over, so he probably thinks he won’t find anyone else to work for him. But lo and behold, there are some men standing around. The owner takes them back to work for the last hour.

An hour later, the work day ends. When the workers get paid they start with those hired last. They got a denarius, the amount promised to the first workers. The first workers probably thought they were going to get much more for working so hard all day.

After everyone else has been paid, it’s their turn. They are excited as the owner hands them their pay which is: a denarius, the same amount given to the ones hired at the beginning of the day. Needless to say, they were upset. Most of us would be upset that someone who only worked an hour got the same amount of pay that I did, even though I worked 12 long hours in the hot sun.

But the owner explains. “This is what you agreed to, he said. I have a right to be generous, don’t I?”

In some ways, this is a hard passage to accept. Yes, we might say we believe in grace and generosity, but deep down, we want to be God’s favorite. We want God to be the Little Red Hen, to reward those who work hard who try to be the best Christian.

But maybe that’s why we call the hymn “Amazing Grace.” Grace, God’s generosity is beyond human imagining. We want God to show love to us and those like us, but not to them. Not to that guy over there. Not to that poor person. Not to that rich man. Not to that conservative. Not to that liberal. Not to that gay man. Not to that black person.

And maybe that’s the other thing about God’s grace: God even loves us when we act like jerks, deciding who belongs and who doesn’t.

The tale of the Little Red Hen isn’t all wrong. There is something to be said about being lazy and not working hard. But God doesn’t have favorites. God isn’t grading us on the curve. We are loved no matter who we are.

There is another fairy tale that is very similar to the Little Red Hen. It’s the Ant and the Grasshopper. The Ant is the industrious sort that works to prepare himself for the coming winter. The Grasshopper is the more playful sort and wastes away the warm days not getting ready for the coming change of season. When winter arrives, the Ant has food and is warm. The Grasshopper is cold and hungry.

I wanted to be that Ant. I would tell my mother that we have to get ready for the coming winter. My mother was thinking I was taking these fairy tales a bit too seriously.

There is still a part of me that wants to be the Little Red Hen or the Ant. But I am thankful that God is neither. God is the generous owner that gives and gives. May we learn to have thankful hearts to recieve God’s love. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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