Grocery Store

The Rev. Roger Bowen. This sermon is based on Matthew 20:1-16

Let us pray:

Disturb us Lord, when we are too well-pleased with ourselves, when our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little; when we arrived safely because we sailed too close to the shore. Disturb us Lord, when with the abundance of the things we posses we have lost our thirst for the water of life. Stir us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas where storms will show your mastery, where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars. We ask you to push back the horizons of our hopes and to push us into the future in strength and courage and hope, but mostly in love. We pray in the name of our captain, who is Jesus Christ. Amen

I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you.

Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

So the last shall be first and the first shall be last.

So, how about that!?

There have been so many sermons written about this parable, sliced and diced a thousand ways – it’s about envy/coveting/jealousy, it’s about reversing expectations, no, its about nepotism, no, it’s about God’s grace, no, its about immigration and day laborers, on and on…

Well, this morning, I think it is about generosity: God’s generosity and ours …

My friend went to Trader Joe’s at 5:30 one evening.  She knew, Friday night was about the stupidest time possible to go, but she went anyway.  By 5:45 she was in line – not the first – not the last – in that check out line. She was standing behind an attractive, young couple. Ahead of them was a lady in an electric wheelchair, not especially elderly, buying maybe five full bags of groceries, obviously supplies for several days or weeks.  The floor manager was helping her with her debit card because she wasn’t able to use the machine.  She whispered the code to him, and he tried several times, but the card wouldn’t go through.  “Do you have maybe a credit card?” he asked.  She held up her purse, and he brought out a collection of various cards and papers.  Something that looked like a credit card was tried, but no good. 

My friend, in line there, was being very patient and charitable [in her mind], hoping for her own sake that one of the lady’s cards would turn out to be OK so that she could have her groceries.  They searched for other cards. … but they yielded a variety of equally ineffective attempts.  Finally the young man [of the couple] in line ahead of my friend stepped forward and handed his card to the checker, who misunderstood and said, “I’ll help you in just a moment, sir; sorry for the delay.”  The young man said under his breath, “No, use this card.”  The manager caught on and said quietly, “Are you sure you want to do that?  It’s more than $130.”  Both the young man and the young woman nodded.   The lady in the wheelchair didn’t realize what was happening in the confusion.  So, the store manager pushed her cart outside for her and she waited for her ride.  The young couple then bought their groceries and left, quietly.

There are at least a dozen possible stories about the lady in the wheelchair.  She could have been a brilliant woman trapped by an incapacitating disease …  or she could have been not up to par mentally.  She could have been a con artist hoping for some free groceries, carrying around phony expired cards and riding around in a wheelchair she didn’t need.  She could have been poor and falling through the cracks of society; she could have had a degenerative disease: she could have been a diamond heiress.  It really doesn’t matter.  What matters is that the young couple did a very kind and generous thing without asking any questions about whether the lady deserved their gift, without seeking any thanks, without needing to appear on a donor list or to get a receipt for their taxes.  Maybe they did a good deed for the lady… for certain they did a good deed for the manager, for the checker, for my friend, and for themselves. 

My friend is funny. She said that although she is in favor of reasonably-sized families, she found herself hoping that that couple would have lots of children — maybe a dozen!  Imagine children growing up with the daily example of parents who instinctively and instantly make the choice for generosity.  Their behavior was the exact opposite of the kind of greedy behavior which seems to be at the heart of so much of our dismal news lately.  It was way beyond “kind.”1.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

I think I have already told some of you about the time Mother Teresa  was visiting New York City, and she was guided downtown to The Bowery. As she and an entourage walked along the street, followed by children and reporters, TV crews, a big crowd, she noticed a homeless man, an old guy, sitting on a curb, in the gutter really. She paused by him and, placing wrinkled hands on his head, blessed him, and then she  moved on. Of course, the news people swooped on the poor man and, thrusting microphones and camera lenses in his face, notebooks poised, they asked him: “What was that like!? You were blessed buy a living saint! What did that feel like?!” The old fellow looked up into the cameras, tears in his eyes, and said, “That was the first time anyone in New York has ever touched me.”

Later, reporters asked Mother Teresa: “How do you do this work all the time? How can you be with these people and serve the outcasts like this?!”

And she smiled her Mother Teresa smile and said:

“I serve the Christ I see in them… the Christ in me serves them.”

Mother Teresa’s example is the Christian call for all time.

Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?

Not just saying earnest prayers like we often and rightly do, but generously acting. Not sending problems away, but stopping the important procession and inviting the beggar to come closer. Not just putting out a press release calling for prayer, but picking up a cross or a picket sign or a basket of food or just open, wrinkled hands and generously going where the need is. To touch him in blessing… she knew what he needed. 2.

And then, in our work with Honduras too? Of course.  And Haiti? Of course. And other places? Of course. – some of them right here in Staunton, at noontime in our parish hall right over there, for instance.  Even things as simple as choosing how much to tip the waiter? Of course.

It’s true that wading into some problems can be messy and dangerous. It can seem tidier to offer a prayer circle or liturgical moment at a safe distance. Christian witness is needed, though, where people are suffering. That means trusting God to use generous, willing hands for good.

If we give away what we have, God will make something of it. Give away words, give away time, give away skills and training, give away our churches, give away our nation, give away five loaves two fish, give away wages to the early birds and the late comers alike, give away the ability to write, or a skill with numbers.  [Give away your gift up there, choir… of making music – an angel’s voice like Constance.] A heart that cares — whatever it is, let God use it. 

Let’s not just stay in the cozy family of like-minded, like-back grounded friends whom it is a delight to see in here once a week. We each have something that the world needs. Some might not value it highly. But compassion and generosity—are the starting points that matter 3.

 “bring what you have to Jesus and make it your offering.” The Christ in me serves the Christ in them.”

Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?

Yes, you are. Yes you are. 

Amen.

Attributions:

  1. story from Serena Beeks
  2. Tom Ehrich, Morning Walk 
  3. Tom Ehrich, Morning Walk

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