St. James’ Episcopal Church
September 24, 2017
Competition. We love to compete.
- football; baseball; basketball; hockey; tennis; swimming; golf; chess; poker; darts; arm-wrestling; road-racing; frog-jumping; bake-offs; best in show; beautiful baby; Miss Congeniality; Mr. Universe
- we were born to compete
We all know this.
- especially if we grew up around other children
- and probably we all did, whether at home or in school
In my own case, at home, I was the oldest.
- that was my competitive edge
- which counted for nothing, because I had three younger siblings
- and especially two younger brothers, both born within three years of me
- sure, I could assert my rights and try to boss them around
- but what counted in our relationship was physical strength
- they twisted my arm, wrestled me to the ground, put me in a ½-Nelson
- and especially when it was two against one, I was at their mercy
What about school? Well, in school, I was the youngest.
- I was the least mature; the least physically coordinated
- I was shy and socially inept
- the only arena in which I could compete: I got good grades
- so I kept going for good grades, all the way through high school and college
- I earned plenty of rewards, but I also stressed myself out
What a relief, then, to go to seminary and study passages like the gospel we just read.
- Jesus tells a parable about the kingdom of heaven
- which is not at all like the world of human competition
- in this parable, there are five sets of vineyard laborers
- 12-hour laborers, 9-hour laborers, 6-hour, 3-hour, and 1-hour
- in my world, A-students, B-students, C, D, and F
- at the end of the day, the landowner pays them all the 12-hour wage
- the 12-hour laborers might have been content with the 12-hour wage
- which was what they had agreed to with the landowner
- except that they looked at the 1-hour laborer’s paycheck
I love this parable.
- I love the way it turns our expectations inside-out.
- We get paid what we deserve, right?
- and if we work longer hours than someone else, we should get paid more
That’s not what the kingdom of heaven is like.
- in the kingdom of heaven, we do not get what we deserve
- and God help us if we do
- in the kingdom of heaven, we receive from God’s amazing grace
- and God’s grace is undeserved
- in the kingdom of heaven, there are no 12-hour Xians and 1-hour Xians
- there are no A Christians, B Christians, C, D, or F Christians
- there are only Christians
- there are no heroes or zeroes
- there are only forgiven sinners
- there are no oldest children or youngest children
- there are only God’s children
- there are no teacher’s pets or dunces
- there are only human beings loved by God
- and, as C. S. Lewis points out, not loved because we are lovable
- we don’t have to be lovable in order for God to love us
- we don’t have to earn God’s love, and indeed we can’t
- God loves us, not because we are lovable, but because God is love
Once I learned this lesson, I disciplined myself not to “look at other people’s paychecks.”
- I’m not always successful, but when I am, it’s quite freeing
- for one thing, it’s much less stressful when I don’t compete
- when I don’t compare myself to other people
- when I’m not envious of God’s generosity to them
- but receive my lot from God, with gratitude
- and do the work that God gives me to do, day by day
- for another thing, I am less ready to judge other people
- whether they are getting more or less than they deserve
- whether they are getting more or less than I am
I mentioned C. S. Lewis a minute ago.
- I want to end this sermon by reading from one of his children’s books
- you may have read The Chronicles of Narnia or seen the movies
- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
- Prince Caspian
- The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
This is The Horse and His Boy, a story about a boy named Shasta, a girl named Aravis, and two talking horses who make a long and dangerous journey together.
- toward the end of the story, Shasta is riding alone in the fog
- and passing the time by looking at other people’s paychecks <p. 155>
- suddenly he is aware of a large someone pacing beside him
- it’s the lion Aslan, the Christ-figure of the Chronicles
- but it’s foggy, so Shasta doesn’t know that <pp. 157-159>
- God tells us no-one’s story but our own
- and it’s always the story of God’s amazing grace