This week, I got to go to Bishop’s Ranch for clergy conference. I got to room with an long-time friend.We got to talking about this week’s readings and, when I mentioned that I was scheduled to preach, she said, “Don’t you remember the sermon you preached on these readings six years ago?” (To be fair, since we are on a three year lectionary of readings, her memory was good but she didn’t need to remember the exact number of years, since it had to be divisible by three.)
I had to admit that I couldn’t, off the top of my head recall what I had said. She reminded me. She said that she still repeats at least this line of the sermon to her daughter whenever she makes the mistake of saying “That’s not fair!” In that sermon, I said that I always tell my kids when they say that, “Be glad your life isn’t fair. If your life were fair, you’d be living in a grass hut… with a dirt floor.” (And, of course, her daughter rolls her eyes every time she says it.)
I think the reason that I ended up going in that direction with that particular sermon is that we tend to align ourselves with those who were chosen early in the morning. We tend to believe, if we put ourselves in the parable, that we are the people who faithfully worked through the heat of the day for many hours and earned our wages.
If we are honest with ourselves though, we probably have more in common with those who went to vineyard late in the day and yet were still paid a full day’s wage.
Now, before you object, bear with me.
In that time and place, the daily wage was a denarius. A denarius was enough to sustain a family at subsistence level for one day. It was not enough to ever get ahead or have anything extra…but just the bare minimum for survival. The struggle and hardship of that scenario is, blessedly, unimaginable to me. I am not among those who must toil from before the sun comes up until after it sets to merely keep myself alive. That is not because I am smart or capable or persistent. There are plenty of people who are all of those thing and yet their lives not nearly so easy. It is mostly because I am really, really lucky.
Listen the voice of someone who did not have the advantages and entitlements that I have had who can illustrate what I am talking about better than I ever could. It’s from the online photo blog called Humans of New York, which photographs and does short interviews with all kinds of people. The woman who was profiled this week said this:
“We were pretty poor back in Mexico. My parents were divorced. Mom did the best she could. She was always a hustler. She’d sell jewelry, or food, or anything that she could. But a lot of nights there still wouldn’t be enough to eat. We’d survive on tortillas and salt. I was only eight when we came to America. So I was too young to understand. I think my mom thought she could make some money and bring us home. She thought she’d learn English, and maybe start a business. But it was so much harder than she expected. We moved so much looking for work. She’s fifty and she still cleans houses every day. Every year she gets more worn down. She’s been getting sick a lot lately. But she can’t afford to stop. She never will. Right now I’m in school. I always thought I had to be the best student because I’m undocumented. I thought I’d go to law school, or graduate school. But now I’m not so sure. My mom would literally destroy her body to make that happen for me. How could I allow that to happen? I’m a Dreamer. And everyone loves the Dreamers because we’re a perfect package to sell. But why am I the only one who gets the chance to feel safe? Whenever I hear ‘I stand with Dreamers,’ I always think about my mom. I’m not willing to throw her under the bus. I’m not willing to be a bargaining chip to make her seem like a criminal. Everything people admire about Dreamers is because of our parents.”
That puts it in perspective… If our lives are unfair, it is because we are so very fortunate. If we The headlines lately have only underlined the gratitude I feel. Yesterday, a 6.1 earthquake shook southern Mexico, just days after 7.1 magnitude quake on Tuesday and an 8.1 quake at the beginning of the month. Hundreds and hundreds of people have died, including men, women and children. More than 20,000 homes have been severely damaged. Countless other buildings including factories, stores, offices, and apartment buildings lie in rubble. The chaos must be overwhelming.
In the days after Hurricane Harvey drenched Texas and Louisiana with 19 trillion gallons of rain, Hurricane Irma blew threw Florida at180 mph wind speeds for 37 hours. Hurricane Maria brought 100 mph winds an more than 30 inches of rain to Puerto Rico. In this relentless catalog of natural disaster, millions of people have been left without electricity. Those are the lucky people. Countless others are lost or have lost love ones, have nowhere to sleep, too little to eat, and no way to know what the future will bring.
Again, I say that we are the ones who are fortunate by so many measures. Of course, many of us have troubles—and those troubles are not easy. In our community, we have grief, injury, job loss, illness, and more with which to contend.
And yet, as a community, we seem to have been given much. We live in a part of the world where in terms of freedoms, opportunities, and material goods we are in the top one percent of the world in terms of what we have. In the light of all the suffering, we must cry out that it is unfair that we have so much, that we find ourselves in the relatively calm eye of the proverbial storm that is our world today.
That puts us in a place of power and privilege. We have been given more than we have earned. We know first hand of what moving from concern for the letter of the contract to encountering and trusting the everlasting and unrelenting grace and love of God.
From that position, we are called to try to balance the unfairness that so advantages us. We have so much freedom, that we must use it to fight for the freedom of others. We have access to education, and so we must be teachers and we must do what we can to make sure that others are given the chance to be educated. We are rich in material goods and so we must share what we have to make sure that others have the basics of food, shelter, and clothing. That is the Gospel imperative and that is what we promised in our baptismal vows.
It’s a good time to remember that. Today, we welcome a beautiful little baby as the newest member of the Christian community. In this wonderful and pivotal moment in her young life, we must tell the truth to this newest member of our family.
Dear child, your life will not be fair. You will be surrounded by a loving and faithful community who is ready to lift you up when you fall and to help you be strong when you feel week. That’s not fair…because so many people feel alone.
Your life will not be fair because on most if not every day you will have good food to eat and comfortable place to sleep. That’s not fair because so many are hungry and homeless.
Your life will not be fair because you will be encouraged to use the gifts and talents you have to do something wonderful in the world, something creative and life giving. That’s not fair because so many people have only enough energy to barely survive.
At the same time, in your baptism today, you have been given a huge job—to be always mindful of the great love and generosity of God and to be that spirit with those whom you meet.
- You must help to welcome those who are alone into the prayers and fellowship of this community.
- You must resist the temptation to despair in the face of all the misfortune and injustice that you may encounter, but instead to turn to God and ask for strength and forgiveness for the yourself and the world.
- You must proclaim good news to those who have lost their hope, knowing in your heart that God wants more than we can imagine for this world.
- You must seek and serve Christ in every person you meet, and you must be willing allow others to serve Christ in you.
- You must work for justice, peace, and dignity in a world where these things can sometimes feel in short supply.
Do not be afraid…because you are not alone. This community has committed itself to supporting you, and we will do just that. And we affirm that God will never leave you alone. We know that we have been given much in time, talent, and treasure—and we will help you learn to be a steward of all that you have been given as well. It’s really not fair… and for that, we give heartfelt thanks.
Preached by the Rev. Hailey McKeefry Delmas on Sunday, September 24, 2017 at the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in San Carlos, CA.