Worship Message Texts

I concluded my final interim pastorate in March 2016, so I am no longer preaching on a regular basis. I am available for pulpit supply and these sermon scripts and videos give a picture of my approach. For pulpit supply, I am happy to write new sermons targeted at specific concerns or needs of congregations, otherwise I will rework previous sermons based on the texts of the Revised Common Lectionary for that Sunday.

Friday, September 19, 2014

To Live Is … ?

Philippians 1:21-30; Matthew 20:1-16
September 21, 2014
© 2014
The Red Vineyard
Vincent Van Gogh
Paul wrote in Philippians 1:21 “For to me, living is Christ.” If you were asked to fill in the blank “To Live Is …” what would you answer?
You’ve probably heard the quote that is often attributed to Malcom Forbes, “The one who dies with the most toys wins.” Maybe you have seen posters or bumper stickers that evoke a grim smile but announce the truth, “The one who dies with the most toys is dead.”
While most of us would not say life is the pursuit of money, power and prestige, the daily pressures of working to pay the bills often do control life for us. Knowing it is not true, we sometimes say life is an avocation we particularly enjoy: golf, food, travel, sports, music. For centuries, thoughtful people have offered noble answers: To live is love, beauty, truth.
Porter Wagoner’s 1955 song “A Satisfied Mind” gives another answer and has been performed by many artists.
How many times have
You heard someone say
If I had his money
I could do things my way
But little they know
That it's so hard to find
One rich man in ten
With a satisfied mind
Once I was winning
In fortune and fame
Everything that I dreamed for
To get a start in life's game
Then suddenly it happened
I lost every dime
But I'm richer by far
With a satisfied mind
Money can't buy back
Your youth when you're old
Or a friend when you're lonely
Or a love that's grown cold
The wealthiest person
Is a pauper at times
Compared to the man
With a satisfied mind
When my life has ended
And my time has run out
My friends and my loved ones
I'll leave there's no doubt
But one thing's for certain
When it comes my time
I'll leave this old world
With a satisfied mind
How many times have
You heard someone say
If I had his money
I could do things my way
But little they know
That it's so hard to find
One rich man in ten
With a satisfied mind
When we bring Paul’s words in Philippians 1:21-30 alongside Jesus’ words in Matthew 20:1-16, we see that to live is to rejoice with Christ for everyone who receives the same generous grace God has poured out on us.
Rabbis in Jesus’ time told a story, which people may have known. A king had many laborers, but one was an especially good worker, so the King let him work just two hours and day and then set him off but receiving the same pay as those who worked the whole 10-12 hour day. When others objected, the King said, “This man has done more in two hours than you have done in the whole day.”
As he often did, Jesus may have evoked something familiar to people and then given it a surprising twist. Jesus had just told the Rich Young Ruler to give everything he had to the poor and follow him to have treasure in heaven. Peter said to Jesus, “We have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” To which Jesus answered, “Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” Then he told this story.
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 8When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.10Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Jesus’ story is not about our rewards but is a window through which we see the God of generous grace. To live is to rejoice with Christ for everyone who receives the same generous grace God has poured out on us.
Rick Morley, an Episcopal priest, and his wife have two daughters, 4 and 7. In his blog, A Garden Path, he tells about their keen, fully developed, uncompromising sense of fairness. They keep internal count of how many play dates they have in comparison with each other. If they perceive the slightest tip of the balance out of their favor, alarm bells go off. “It’s unfair!” The same goes for ice cream treats, new clothes, trinkets and toys. If only they knew that my wife and I would do anything in our power to show both our unconditional love. I imagine God doing the same thing. God lavishly rains down grace on us. Yes, God does have favorites. The trick is we are each God’s very favorite. So when God pours out love and favor on someone else, we need not worry. If we’d just look, we’d see that God is filling our cups to the brim and overflowing. When we see God’s favor extended to someone we disapprove, it’s time to grow up and look at people the way God does. Imagine what it is like for God to look at humanity and see nothing but your children for whom you’ve given everything, even the life of your Son. God must give a wry smile at our jealous envy when others receive generous grace.
For Paul to say, “to live is Christ,” was not a pious abstraction or static state. His desire to depart and be with Christ was balanced by confidence that he would remain to encourage the Philippian church’s progress and joy in faith, and to strengthen them to live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.
The interim journey between pastors naturally raises uncertainty about the congregation’s future. How will a new pastor change our church? Sometimes this is asked with apprehension and sometime anticipation.
The interim journey between pastors also prompts a renewed desire to reach out to new people and to grow. I assure you that you are not in competition with other churches for new members. Demographic studies show that about 2/3 of the people of Dallas have no church affiliation, despite the plethora of churches in town. If you doubt this, just compare the amount of traffic on Sunday morning with Monday. There are more than enough people for all the churches to reach out to. The greatest joy is introducing them to life in relationship with Jesus.
I know you as a church are excited about bringing in new people and continuing to grow. I know you want to find a new pastor who can lead you in bringing new people to Jesus as well as the church. I also know that new people inevitably change a church. Those who come from other churches inevitably bring history if not baggage. Those who are new to church life haven’t learned how it works and what’s expected. People who are getting to know Jesus for the first time in their lives will bring a whole different set of questions, perspectives, expectations and needs than churches are used to. Watching God pour grace generously on people you’re not sure get it can be unsettling, but watching their progress and joy in faith is the thrill that comes when we know that to live is Christ! To live is to rejoice with Christ for everyone who receives the same generous grace God has poured out on us.

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