Sunday Service 7.25.2021

GATHERING MUSIC

WELCOME and ANNOUNCEMENTS

LIGHTING THE PEACE CANDLE                        Barbara Donohue, liturgist

There lies before us, if we choose, continued progress in happiness, knowledge, and wisdom. Shall we, instead, choose death, because we cannot forget our quarrels? We appeal, as human beings, to human beings: Remember your humanity and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death.

Albert Einstein, 1879-1955 and Bertrand Russell, 1872-1970

PRELUDE                   

CALL TO WORSHIP        

Cathedral of St. Paul the Apostle, Los Angeles

All humankind are one vast family

this world our home.

We sleep beneath one roof,

the starry sky.

We warm ourselves before one hearth,

the blazing sun.

Upon one floor of soil we stand

and breathe one air

and drink one water

and walk the night

beneath one luminescent moon.

The children of one God we are

brothers and sisters of one blood

and members in one worldwide family of God.

MUSICAL REFLECTION

SCRIPTURE READING

Let us prepare ourselves for the word of God as it comes to us in the reading of Holy Scripture. Our hearts and minds are open.

Matthew 20:1-15

For the word of God in scripture, for the word of God  among us, for the word of God within us. Thanks be to God.

CONTEMPORARY READING                      In the days, Ruth Burgess

SERMON                    Beloved                       Rev. Kim P. Wells

This story has many messages, perspectives, and meanings. Scholars throughout the centuries have noted many interpretations. And there is still little consensus today about this story. In fact, the divergence of meanings may be growing as we become more aware of economic and social biases and systems then and now.

Among the many insights about the land system, labor rights, the landowner, the manager, the boss as a God figure, how the workers are manipulated, and on and on, one thing stands out and will always stand out from this story. What is most unexpected and most jarring is that the workers are paid the same for different amounts of labor.

Why an economic image? Why labor and money and not education or good looks or taking turns or something else? Jesus uses an economic example because it shows how much competition and conflict there is between the values of the gospel and the values of the economy and the society around us. This economic scenario is most likely to upset us and also most likely to drive the point home. Jesus intentionally picks a hot button issue to give the story impact. And it works.

And that is what makes this story one of the most significant stories in the New Testament. Who can forget the story where the people work for different amounts of time but are given the same pay? It is supposed to be provocative and it is.

So, we are going to try something interactive this morning. I am going to ask you to count off by 3’s. Then we are going to ask Barbara to read the story again. And all of you who are one’s, I want you to listen to the story with the ears of someone who was hired in the middle of the day. Those of you who are two’s, I want you to listen with the ears of someone who was hired at the end of the day. Those of you who are three’s, I want you to listen with the ears of someone hired first thing in the morning. Then after we listen to the story again, we’ll discuss what we notice after listening in this way –

Barbara reads the story again.
Discussion and comments from the congregation

This story with the same pay for different amounts of work is disturbing and inspiring. And it works on us. Here are some of my impressions of this story.

Then as now, money is an indicator of value. So, when everyone gets paid the same, the implication is that everyone is of equal value. Exactly. And the way it is put, it is surprising. It is scandalous. Every single person of equal value. Sacred. Holy. Beloved. Period. Regardless of station, behavior, choices, age, abilities. Regardless of work ethic. Screw ups. Grades. Income. Education. Background. Every single person equally loved in the commonwealth of God. Each life. Equally valued. Elites and expendables alike. In the realm of Divine Love. Yes, people are diverse: good, bad, ugly, saints, sinners, lazy, smart, slow, creative, annoying. But all are equally loved and valued in the economy of God. Period.

This is scandalous. And fundamental.

Carolyn Hax made this point in a recent column. Someone wrote in about having low self esteem. And in her reply, Hax says: “Throw away all measures of value, period. Your value is absolute. You exist therefore you matter. No more than anyone, and no less. That’s it. Breathe.” [Tampa Bay Times, 7/14/21, 1F]. That is a core message in this story of Jesus. Everyone of equal value as a human being.

Evidently, that message is needed as much today as it was in Jesus’ time. Maybe even more because of our continued fixation on money as a determinant of value and wealth. We still have the elites and the expendables. In our community. In our country. In our culture, and in the world.

So, we get the message that God loves everyone. Period. Ok. So what? Around the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, there was an editorial that I saw, “George Floyd’s life mattered to God.” And the follow up, “Black lives matter to God.” Frankly, I wanted to scream. God. So what? George Floyd is dead. As are countless other black bodies. Often at the hands of Christians. What the story of the workers says to followers of Jesus is that every life is beloved by God and that
the commonwealth of God is a community where every person is treated as holy, sacred, and beloved. Every life is valued equally. Every single person is precious. And the implication is that we are to implement this basic foundation that every life is equally sacred in all of our choices, behaviors, and actions. And in all of our institutions, systems, and social and economic arrangements. Followers of Jesus are to put this commitment that every person is equally beloved and valued into play in everyday life just as Jesus did. And it got him killed. Because we love our hierarchies, and classes, and stratifications, and divisions, and pecking orders. And in this country we know all too well about privilege and class. Elites and expendables. Our culture is built on the inhuman, unChristian foundation of slavery. Where not only were people not equal, some were not even considered people, human beings. The residue of this legacy is still very much with us today.

And it is harming everyone. We are all diminished because of it. When one human life is considered of different value than another, everyone suffers.

Michelle Obama expressed this in a commencement address. She said: “In an uncertain world, time-tested values like honesty and integrity, empathy and compassion — that’s the only real currency in life. Treating people right will never, ever fail you. Now I’m not naive. I know that you can climb a long way up the ladder selling falsehoods and blaming others for your own shortcomings, shunning those with less privilege and advantage. But that is a heavy way to live. It deadens your spirit and it hardens your heart.” [Tampa Bay Times, 6/14/20, Perspective, p.4] Deadens your spirit and hardens your heart. That is not the way of the gospel. The gospel brings the spirit to life and opens the heart to flow with love.

Valuing human life according to productivity, or financial wealth, or education, or status, or class, or identity, or ethnicity, or race – it deadens the spirit. It hardens the heart. It diminishes life. It suffocates life.

It even has negative implications practically for people. It saps society of energy, creativity, and community. It makes things unsafe for everyone. It imposes competition, fear, and a need to protect, that impedes “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” In an editorial about hope in the midst of the pandemic, journalist Nicholas Kristof says: “Why is the United States about the only advanced country to lack universal health care and universal paid sick leave? Many scholars, in particular the late Alberto Alesina, a Harvard economist, have argued that one reason for America’s outlier status is race. Investing in safety nets and human capital became stigmatized because of a perception that African-Americans would benefit. So instead of investing in children, we invested in a personal responsibility narrative holding that Americans just need to lift themselves up by their bootstraps to get ahead.”

Kristoff continues:

“This experiment proved catastrophic for all Americans, especially the working class. Marginalized groups, including African-Americans and Native Americans, suffered the worst, but the underinvestment in health and the lack of safety nets means that American children today are 57 percent more likely to die by age 19 than European children are.”

Dr. Jonathan M. Metzl calls this “dying of whiteness.” This valuing lives differently leads to the devaluing of all lives. [New York Times, 7/19/2020]

It’s not enough that everyone is equally beloved by God in some theological, theoretical sense. Followers of Jesus need to be living that out in our individual personal lives and creating a society that is based on that foundation. The Constitution of these United States declares that, “All men are created equal.” We need to be aiming for that.

Jesus tells this story of the unfair wages not so that his followers will suffer. Not to punish. Not to condemn. He is jarring us into seeing reality in a new way. He is trying to jolt us into the commonwealth of God so that we will experience joy and abundant life. Love, fundamental worth, is not a zero sum game in the commonwealth of God. It’s not that if you get lots of love and favor and forgiveness there is less for me. Divine Love does not work like that. It’s that it is here for all of us, more than we could ever hope for.

And Jesus specifically uses money to make the point because money is one of the main ways that consciously or subconsciously we value lives differently. Financial earning ability is one of the biggest impediments to our seeing everyone equally as a child of God. So Jesus uses this burning situation of equal pay to emphasize how we let the ability to earn money influence the value we place on a life and that this is wrong. Jesus wants to take us out of that system all together. Jesus is inviting us to be part of the commonwealth of God. He is inviting us to choose the gospel – a way of solidarity and community where the commitment is to the well being of everyone. Everyone having access to what they need. A reality in which everybody can thrive and flourish.

So, can we imagine a scene at the end of the story, after everyone is paid, where the workers don’t grumble or complain, but, well, celebrate? ‘Hey, Joe, you’re going to have food tonight. Maria, you’ll be able to feed the kids. Oh Joshua, you were so discouraged and hungry, and look, you’re going to make it. Hey, let’s all have dinner together and celebrate and we’ll share with the others who weren’t hired today.’ That’s what the kindom of heaven is like. . . Amen.

UNISON READING                                           Anwar Fazal, b. 1941, Malaysia

We all drink from one water

We all breathe from one air

We rise from one ocean

And we live under one sky

Remember

We are one

The newborn baby cries the same

The laughter of children is universal

Everyone’s blood is red

And our hearts beat the same song

Remember

We are one

We are all brothers and sisters

Only one family, only one earth

Together we live

And together we die

Remember

We are one

Peace be on you

Brothers and Sisters

Peace be on you

MUSICAL INTERLUDE               

MISSION STATEMENT

The mission of Lakewood United Church of Christ, as part of the Church Universal is to:

  • Celebrate the presence and power of God in our lives & in our world.
  • Offer the hospitality and inclusive love of Christ to all people.
  • Work for God’s peace and justice throughout creation.

MORNING OFFERING

Morning offerings may be brought forward and placed in the plates on the altar.

Offertory      

Prayer of Dedication                        Riane Eisler, b. 1931, Austria

Together let us create a world where love is manifested through a

politics and economics of caring, where caretaking is the most

honored and rewarded work, where all children are safe

from violence in their families and in their communities.

Let us liberate our Mother Earth from those who would conquer and

despoil nature. Let us remember that we all share the DNA of one Eve

who lived in Africa millions of year ago. Let us treat one

another as who we are: sisters and brothers in the miracle

and mystery we call life. Amen.

PREPARATION FOR PRAYER

You are invited to write your prayer requests on the sheets provided in the bulletin and bring them forward and place them in the basket on the altar.  Please observe physical distancing.

MORNING PRAYER-SAVIOR’S PRAYER

Fathering and Mothering God, lover of us all, most holy one.

Help us to respond to you

To create what you want for us here on earth.

Give us today enough for our needs.

Forgive our weak and deliberate offenses,

Just as we must forgive others when they hurt us.

Help us to resist evil and to do what is good.

For we are yours, endowed with your power to make the world whole.

Amen.

* BENEDICTION (unison)                                                           Ram Dass

May we recognize the Spirit

in each of us, and the Spirit

in all of us.                                        

*POSTLUDE       

For the safety and comfort of all, please wear a mask. Thank you!

Circle of Concern:  Earl Waters, Bill Parsons, Mae Wiggins, Dave Radens, Richard Wiggins and family, Carol Shores, Sherry Santana, William Owen-Cowan, Jen Degroot, Carolyn Moore, Ann Quinn, Maggie Brizendine, Janet Hall

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