Where the Sidewalk Ends

The readings for September 20, 2020—Philippians 1:21-30 and Matthew 20:1-16 help us to grasp the wonder of God’s scandalous grace and connect that with our purposeful living on this side of heaven.  

There is a sign near our home that I drive by on a regular basis that reads, “Side Walk Ends.”  It makes me think of Shel Silverstein’s poem and book “Where the Side Walk Ends.”  Maybe you have dealt with edges and uncertainties in your life.  Maybe you have lived where there are no sidewalks!  

Life can be exciting when we deal with the unknown of what is just around the corner.  It can also be quite scary.  We are certainly in such a time now.  

  • The most critical election our country has faced in our life time is just around the corner.  
  • Maybe some of you are not convinced of the science of climate change and global warming.  I assure you I am!  Regardless of what you think there, consider the huge fires our country is facing.  Multiple Millions of acres burned.  Many lives lost.  Many homes and businesses destroyed.  Unknown loss of birds and wild life.  Don’t forget Australia’s huge fire that was also  very devastating.  Our fire season is still in full swing.  
  • How many hurricanes and floods and damaging winds and storms have we had just this year?  We have run out of alphabet characters for naming the storms of this season. And we are not through yet.  
  • And then consider the Covid pandemic.  Europe is spiking again.  Utah is certainly spiking again as are other parts of our country.  Regardless of what politicians may say the Covid virus is not under control and scientists are telling us the timeline for a hopeful vaccine is still off in the distant future.  Those who hope for herd immunity to save us have to reckon with millions more deaths just in our country before we can take hope in that.  And our country is already way ahead of any other country in terms of infections and deaths.   
  • Then, consider Black Lives Matter.  Some will be offended by this even being mentioned.  But when you consider how people of color have been treated for centuries, and how if given the option or choice we would not trade places with them for anything, maybe they have a right to be unhappy and upset.  Maybe it is time for social change.  America is not a “while nation.”  We are a people of many colors, nationalities and ethnic blends.  There are many differences among and between us, but we are all equal in God’s eyes.  Yes, all lives matter, but not all lives have been treated equally down through the ages.  

Am I missing anything?  We would much rather ignore what is happening in our world, let alone try to image what is just around the corner.  But God calls us to have our eyes, ears and hearts open.  Jesus, over and over repeats the phrase “the one who has ears to hear, let them hear.”

God’s Holy Spirit is wrestling and working in us individually and collectively, helping us to see, hear and respond.  So, we need to pay attention.  

On top of that, many people are asking, “Is this the end times?”  Are we in the apocalypse? Is Jesus soon to come again?

My answer?  Maybe!  But consider this.  Did the people who went through World War I think it was the end of the world?  When the Black Plague ravaged Europe and millions died, and the Spanish flu that took so many lives at the beginning of last century, did they think the end was near?  What about World War II? Or the victims of the floods, tsunami’s earth quakes, fires and disasters that have wreaked havoc on our planet over the centuries and past millennium?  Our current day situation is no more or less serious than any of that.  

Are we in the last days?  I believe the message of Scripture would be that we should live as if we were, but not to be clock watchers.  

Have you ever sat in a class where you watched the clock and couldn’t wait for the class to be done?  We will talk more about this as we go through our fall Scripture readings.  But for now, note that Jesus doesn’t want us to watch the clock on the wall, but to live every day to its fullest!  That is our task.  Not to be worried about the timing sequence of when Jesus comes again.

Jesus in our Gospel reading tells us a little bit of what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. 

This parable gives us a picture of a land lord (boss) who goes to the town square where the unemployed people gather and make themselves available to be hired.  He goes out early at the very start of the day and sets up a verbal contract with a crew.  Then he goes out multiple times during the day, including the very last hour of the day and hires more and more people.  

At closing time he tells the business manager to give everyone their day’s wages, starting with those who were hired first.  They are given a full days salary.  Those standing in line behind get their hopes up.  If this boss is that generous with these blokes, what about us!  We have worked all day in the heat and blistering sun!  We are going to get a huge pay check!  

But when their turn comes the business manager only gives them what they and the boss had initially agreed on.  And they were steamed!  They felt cheated.  How unfair.  No union would allow for such unfair treatment.  If this boss is an image of God, God would be taken to court for unfair and unlawful treatment by the labor union!  

Jesus’ sums up this parable by telling us in so many words that God’s grace is scandalous by our world’s standards.  Offensive even.  Because God’s treats all of us equally regardless of how much we do or how good we are or what our social/economic status is.  We are all in need of God’s mercy and grace, and are all equally benefactors of God’s unmeasurable grace.  

If we really understand the Gospel of God’s love for us in Jesus and recognize all of our sin and need for grace then we know we are all standing on level ground before the cross.  None of us deserve it, but all of us are given it because of Jesus!  Amazing Grace.  Amazing love indeed!

This boss—the owner of the vineyard, the picture and image of God—was hiring laborers for His harvest work.  He kept going back to the town square making sure that everyone had a chance to work in His vineyard.  Regardless of the timing for employment of the workers.  Some labor from their youth on.  Some have “death bed conversions.”  Some work their fingers  to the bone, others are slackers and skate their way through the harvest.  They seem to only do the minimum of what is expected.  And God’s treats us all alike!  We are all in need of God’s mercy and grace.  And all receive the same unconditional love and acceptance.  Those who work the hardest don’t get a special place in heaven. Is that unfair?  By human standards, maybe!  But not by God’s rule of grace.  Jesus says, the first shall be last and the last shall be first.  Meaning, I suppose, that God’s values and priorities turn our values and priorities upside down.  

How does Paul apply that rule to his life?  He says, “for me living is Christ and dying is gain.”  He knows he has no more special place in heaven than anyone else.  But he longs for heaven anyway.  And…he knows that he has a purpose for continuing to live because his ministry impacts others—including the members of the Philippians church he is writing to.  Paul goes on to tell the believers in Philippi that they need to live their lives in a  worthy manner of the Gospel of Christ.  Live with integrity, faith and honor.  Be dedicated and devoted followers of Jesus.  

Put these two passages and the application is God has work for you and me to do.  If you are able hear this message or read these words, then this applies to you.  God is expecting and looking for your faithful response to loving God and caring for God’s people—all of God’s people.  See Jesus in everyone.  Pray for all.  Do good to all.  Be kind to all.  Speak love and grace to all.  Embody Jesus for all.

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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