Monday, September 22, 2014

The Kingdom of Heaven is Grandpa?

Matthew 20:1-16, Lectionary 25 A, Sept. 21, 2014

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

The following is a fictional retelling of today’s parable based on actual events.
The Parable
The kingdom of heaven is like my grandfather who hosted a grand feast at the Claim Jumper Restaurant near his retirement home. He was celebrating sixty years of marriage with my grandmother. After agreeing to pay the standard 20% tip, my grandpa wheeled back from the hostess booth to welcome all thirty of his friends and family. 

The main waitress, Stacy, watched over us the whole time. She promptly took all of our beverage orders. She even took my two-year-old nephew’s food order right away. She knew that Lukas needed his food before everyone else so that he wouldn’t get cranky. Then, when she was delivering the drinks, her coworker Matt helped her. He brought out the trays of drinks as Stacy handed each patron his or her beverage. 

Then Stacy went around the table, carefully recording each person’s dinner order. She wrote down every side order, every exception, every detail. Matt came back and refilled drinks. While we waited for our food to be prepared, we shared grand stories of my grandparents. When the food started to come out, Stacy waited patiently as I shared a word of grace. Then, she, Matt, and their coworker Rob served the food. Stacy came back with plenty of ketchup and mustard for everyone. We enjoyed our food as much as we enjoyed our company. 

After dinner, our three waiters removed our dinner plates as Cora, another waitress, brought out the cake and cut it. Rob refilled our drinks while we enjoyed our dessert. As we were preparing to leave, the busboy removed all of our empty plates. After my grandfather paid the bill, I couldn’t help but notice that he slipped each of our four waiters and the busboy a small wad of cash. As I walked to the bathroom, I overheard these five standing by the kitchen door.

The busboy exclaimed, “That old man slipped me 5 twenties! Can you believe it?”
Cora said, “He gave me $100 too! I only cut the cake!”

Rob and Matt chimed in that they were given the same. Then Stacy, with a dour face, stomped off. She followed me to the bathroom. Right before we both went in, she pulled me by the shoulder and exclaimed, “That old man is your grandfather, isn’t he? Why did he give me the same tip as everyone else? Doesn’t he realize how much work I did for his party?”

“Well,” I said, “My grandpa is just a generous guy. He doesn’t care how hard you worked. He is simply glad that you were nice to his friends and family. He slipped me cash just for driving in from Iowa!”

The Meaning
Why is it that we are always competing with each other? Certainly Stacy didn’t expect to be slipped that extra cash. So why, then, was she jealous when the busboy got the same tip as she did? Certainly they both have families to feed. They both need the cash as much as the other. When Stacy complained outside the bathroom, she wasn’t thinking about the busboy’s family or even her own. She was only thinking about her work compared to her pay. 

We live in a scarcity mindset. We worry that there isn’t enough money to go around. Our economy is not what it once was. So many of our brothers and sisters struggle to find work and to pay the bills. We worry that we won’t have enough for the mortgage or for retirement. Because we are always worried, we hoard what we have, and we fight for the opportunity to earn more. 

So, when we experience generosity, why do we expect to receive more? Why can’t we be grateful for what we have been given, even if our neighbor was given more?

We may live with a scarcity mindset, but our God does not. Our God is one of abundance. Our God provides us with what we need and more, including family, friends, and finances. Just because God gives to people like that busboy does not mean that God will run out before giving to people like Stacy.  As Carolyn Brown quotes a friend (, 

“God’s love is not like a pie that leaves less for me every time God gives someone else a slice and more like a joke that gets funnier every time another person joins the laughing.” 

God's Kingdom is like...
The kingdom of heaven a place of abundance where nobody is left wanting. The kingdom of heaven is a time where all worries are forgotten. The kingdom of heaven will be fully experienced after this lifetime, but in this lifetime the kingdom of heaven is like my grandfather. 

My grandpa is old and failing fast. He knows that he has more money than he will need, and he knows that his kids are doing ok. So, whenever he sees one of his grandkids or if he especially appreciates one of the staff at his retirement home, he slips them cash.

At his 60th anniversary party, my Grandpa did give me cash. I certainly didn’t need the money, but he said it was to pay for gas. He is so glad that I am willing to drive from Iowa to see him. He will never be able to come here to see my home or my church, so the time that I spend with him in Illinois is precious. Sharing his wealth is his odd way of saying, “Thank you.” And he also enjoys sneaking it past my grandma!

Our God is a generous God, sharing heaven with any who want to join in. God does not care if we have been doing ministry all our lives or if we only believe on our death beds. God doesn’t care if we are lifelong Lutherans or if we are baptized as adults. God only cares that we believe. Our lives as Christians is its own reward. When we finally are able to experience heaven in all its glory, we will all be equals in God’s eyes.

This American culture that we live in feels like one of scarcity. We are unsure if we have enough to live a comfortable life, so we want to hoard what we have. Yet our God provides us with an abundance of resources. We need not fear, come what may. If we trust in God, God will provide for all our needs. 

Complaining will do us no good; God does not need to hear bitter words of jealousy or contempt. Just as God provides us with love, how can we not return the favor for those who are coming to the party late?  As J. Ellsworth Kalas writes, 

“When I stand before the Great Landowner as he passes out the silver pieces of eternity, I might well take mine and say, “Give part of this to that poor soul who didn’t come to faith in Christ until he was sixty years old…and to that woman who became a believer only when she was dying. I’ve been employed all my days, have been blessed by a purpose, even by communion with God. Give them part of my reward, because they stood in the marketplace for so long, because no one hired them, while my life was filled with purpose.” (p. 92, Parables from the Backside

Amen. May it indeed be so. 

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