Sermons on YouTube…
Poker players never show their cards. If they did, then everyone would know what they’re up to, and their chances of winning would be null. I’ll confess I haven’t played many (if any) games of poker. But, thankfully poker rules don’t apply to preaching parameters.
I’m not trying to win anything.
So, I’m showing my cards this week.
I’ve got very little to lose.
Plus, I don’t believe I can preach an authentic sermon, without telling you where I’m coming from.
Now, I’ve never been one to swoon over Hollywood actors – not even when I was 15 and Patrick Swayze was all the craze. I’ve never dreamed of superpowers or invincibility – except maybe the passing desire for Hermione Granger’s time-turner or Tinkerbell’s pixie dust.
But, Ruth Bader Ginsburg…
Lord, in heaven….
I can only dream of having an ounce of her tenacity and wisdom. The way she lived her life made me dare to think that I could make a difference in the world. Ruth Bader Ginsburg took the long view. I believe she knew that in her lifetime she would accomplish only a tiny fraction of the work before her, and yet, what she helped to bring about was nothing short of magnificent. As a Jew, she might not say it this way, but from my perspective her work helped bring the Kingdom into clearer focus. She knew that her work would not reach completion – that the kingdom would always lie just beyond our grasp….
And still, she labored in the vineyard, day in and day out.
I break a sweat just reading her biography, let alone living it.
I don’t know which ‘son’ she is in the parable: maybe the unmentioned ‘daughter’ who listened to God the first time AND went and did the work AND didn’t complain.
Are there such people?
Anyway, when my eldest son dashed up my bedroom stairs to tell me the news, I crumpled on the ground, holding the bedpost. When I listened to news coverage of her memorial services, tears burned in my eyes, like I knew her personally.
I’m a woman. I am heartbroken. I am fearful.
I’m guessing Ruth was also heartbroken and fearful many times in her life.
I think this a part of being human that none of us are immune to.
Sorry. This isn’t meant to be a eulogy…
It’s just this is where I am this week.
Maybe like me, you’ve seen quote after quote from Ginsburg.
There’s no denying she had a way with words: they’ve ended up on T-shirts, mugs, stickers, posters, tattoos. Heck, I predict the name Ruth will climb to the top of the Baby Naming list in the coming years.
Since Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a hero of mine, I like seeing the quotes and being reminded of her work, ethics, and gumption. But, words – even the most beautiful, most well-intentioned, most-honest words – are not enough.
Our faith is meant to be embodied. To be incarnate. To be organic. To be active.
To bring about the Kingdom, words – no matter how T-shirt worthy they might be – cannot be where our action ends.
Which is part of what makes this parable is almost too easy.
Or, at least it presents that way.
The father owns a vineyard and has two sons (and maybe an unmentioned daughter or two). The father asks the first son to go and work in the vineyard. That son says, “No,” but later decides to go.
Right? We know this parable. …
And so, likely annoyed with his first son, the father asks his other son to go help in the vineyard. This one promises to do the work, but ends up not going.
I have sons; I know how this goes: Don’t forget to make your bed and put your laundry away. Ok, Mom. Got it. On it. Will do!
And they mean it. I know they do.
Words carry our very good intentions.
Words carry our beliefs.
Words carry our promises.
The parable ends with the classic/predictable question:
“Which son did the will of his father?”
Obviously the first.
He is the one who actually did the work.
It isn’t what he said, but what he did.
We know words aren’t enough.
It’s not that easy.
We know it isn’t.
Neither of them were obedient to the father’s will entirely.
None of us are.
Even Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as much as I might raise her on a pedestal.
Do my words translate into action?
Do my actions make a difference?
Does the difference bring about God’s will?
Over the past couple of years, I’ve often thought about how long real change takes AND how I’d be happier (or maybe just less haunted), if I could just ignore it all.
I mean, right?
If I ignore the fact that black people are being murdered, that kids are being left behind, that indigenous women and children are disappearing, that we are killing the only planet we have making it uninhabitable for future generations, that the trans community is under attack constantly, that women can’t even have basic rights, that we don’t take care of our elders or our homeless, that many people are either on prescription meds or self-medicating, that folks with disabilities are often paid less or skipped over for jobs, that the minimum wage is not a livable wage, that children are still being abused, that teachers are underfunded and under-supported and overworked, that nothing seems safe because we are in the middle of a pandemic.
This list is endless.
And, honestly depressing.
When I was pulling it all together, I couldn’t help but sympathize with why the one son didn’t follow through – it is thoroughly daunting and devastating.
So, which one can I ignore?
None of them.
Which one can I change?
By myself, none of them.
I find it intriguing that when Ruth Bader Ginsburg set to work in the vineyard, she first started by addressing individual laws, motivating and asking others to labor in the vineyard with her, accepting incremental changes (even if they weren’t everything she wanted), while trying to get Congress to write better laws.
Seemingly small things prepare the ground for new life and growth to take hold. That is how a vineyard works, and how it ultimately comes to produce good-tasting, fine wine. The first years of a vineyard’s life there’s no fruit. Just a lot of sweat. Which is all to say, working in the vineyard requires patient, hard work – taking the long view.
Progress does not occur unless people come back and resume their work day after day. Usually in groups.
It is curious, that even God doesn’t work from a top-down model.
One could argue that in the parable, the sons, neither of them, had to work. Their father was the landowner. He had hired hands to do that work; people whose very lives depended upon the wage they would be paid. The sons had luxuries the others did not. And yet, the father expected them to work, too.
Sure, maybe as a white person I don’t have to work for equity and justice for black people.
Sure, maybe as a man you don’t have to work for equality and justice for women.
Sure, maybe as a straight person you don’t have to work for equality and justice for LGBTQIA+ persons.
Sure, maybe as an employed, fairly paid person you don’t have to work for equality and justice for the homeless, disabled, less-educated, or down-on-their-luck person,
Sure, maybe as someone who homeschools, isn’t raising kids, or can afford personal tutors you don’t have to worry about equality and justice for teachers and schools.
Sure, maybe as a youthful, healthy person you don’t have to worry about elder care and healthcare.
But, by including the sons with the servants; by pairing the tax collectors and prostitutes with the scribes and chief priests, Jesus is making the point that the kingdom of God is not only open to all, but that in order for the Kingdom to come to fruition everyone is needed… especially those who have spent most of their lives pursuing other intentions and ignoring the work that needs to be done.
What strikes me most about the parable is that Jesus indicates the ones working in the vineyard are the ones IN the Kingdom of God. That in doing the grueling work we aren’t just bringing about the Kingdom for some future day, but we are already in it.
Which, frankly, I’m admit that lately I feel like God may be thinking twice (or maybe thrice) about this experiment called Earth, and maybe God has hightailed it out of here and maybe this is some four-star version of hell, and not really the vineyard…
But, thankfully God issued a dissent to the world’s tyranny and so-called justice through the work of the cross. In case you are unfamiliar with the ‘dissent’ concept, it’s basically an official way of saying, “No. I don’t agree.”
So, God, when crucified by the political, societal, and religious system for trying to bring about justice and equity, dissented and said, “No. I don’t think so. I’m not letting you kill hope. Let me show you how this works.”
God’s in it for the long haul.
God takes the long view.
So, we can’t go giving up on the world, drinking our sour grapes, instead of showing up in the vineyard.
The Kingdom must be fought for. But, not in a harsh way. In a quiet, show-up-and-do-the-work kind of way. The kingdom won’t come about easily, because we live in a world that prioritizes cynicism, anger, shame, and fear.
But, we also live in a world that is prioritized by God.
See, it seems to me that the reason Ruth Bader Ginsburg could spend all that time tirelessly working in the vineyard, is because she felt intimately connected to the vineyard. The work, the place, the people mattered not just to her, but to God.
And, I think, she knew that.
This parable of the vineyard and its workers actually highlights that the place you are standing is holy and sacred.
That the good work you are called to is holy and sacred.
That God’s people are holy and sacred.
Holy and sacred.
That’s the overwhelming feeling of the week for me.
Maybe for you too?