Sunday, September 11, 2005

September 18, 2005 - Year A - Pentecost +18

Exodus 16:2-15 or Jonah 3:10 - 4:11
Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45 or Psalm 145:1-8
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

Privilege is an on-going question for people. We strive for it and and then get stuck on it. It becomes our "tar baby". Usually we are not as fleet of humility as Brer Rabbit and would pridefully prefer the tar baby to the briar patch. We will hold our own "entitlement" just as long as we can.

This week will challenge our usual ways of doing business and help us challenge business as usual from our prideful leaders lacking in expertise other than propaganda in its negative sense.


  1. Matthew 20:1-16

    Male, mostly Caucasian, heterosexual, educated, Protestant . . . . So run but a few of my privileges. Simply being born into this USofA culture brings a boatload of advantage baggage. In my case I can claim that I've been hard at work and persevered, so I am worthy of a little extra in my paycheck.

    Musically, Lou and Peter Berryman have yet another delightful song out explaining class differences, the refrain of which goes:
    "Hard work and perseverance,
    Grim determination of the soul.
    I'd say from your appearance
    You could use a little self-control!"

    I ought to get an extra star in my crown for this accident of birth and circumstance. No affirmative action in my life, thank you. No consideration of the accident of the birth and circumstance of anyone else - - particularly "ladies", "colored", "homos", "retards" or "non-Bible believers" . . . .

    The upshot of this is that I get first claim on what is fair or unfair and it is unfair to not get paid more than one of these johnny-come-latelies. Since God is supposed to be fair and my not getting paid more is not fair, God doesn't have the prerogative to lump us all together and pay us all the same. Because God is supposed to be fair, the first ought to be first and the last deserve to be last.

    Its a good thing we came along this early in the week to keep those with a tendency to a liberal bias on the straight and narrow of appropriate privilege -- progressive prophets deserve better than we get.

    Want another dose of class warfare -- check out responses to hurricane relief. Too little, too late (who's going to care), promise jobs for everyone (they're too dumb to do the math), pay workers below scale no matter how hard they work (Trent Lott needs to get a better house back than he lost so the Royal W can go visit), pin medals on incompetent cronies (we're first, they're last), "etc., etc., etc." as says another king.

  2. Philippians 1:21-30

    v.27 - Simply live as citizens of a new commonwealth, pointed toward GOD, as was Jesus, so, whether I am with you or not, come hell or high water, I will know we are striving together.

    Not so simple, this. Dual allegiances and survival issues cloud the issue, as do inherent privileges so difficult to cast off. Is it better to go and be with GOD or stick around and be with y'all? Is it my physical life or spiritual life that is at stake as a result of my behavior? Is it the privilege I currently have that I need to wrestle with or the privilege I still secretly desire that shapes my interactions?

    To have one foot in here and now and another in what is just, maybe, coming clear is a risky place for faith to be revealed.

    Given this reality among us, it is perhaps the Christ position -- astraddle choosing points which are charging off in all directions. All the while, mostly consistently, finding a story large enough or contrary enough to keep choosing the best from the past for a better tomorrow.

    Simple, no. Worth striving for, yes.

    Uniform, no. Together, yes.

  3. Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45 or Psalm 145:1-8

    When the longest working workers finally figured out that "others" who worked the shortest were getting the same as themselves, their breath was sucked from them as if they had been hit in the solar plexus. It dawned on them that they had just been first-lasted. It was as if Psalm 105:44 had been used against them: "God gave 'them' the lands of the nations, and they took possession of the wealth of the peoples."

    Whether real or not, what was felt is the equivalent of a loss. The ratio that keeps me entitled to have bragging rights that night had just been re-calibrated. I can't be the one to buy the drinks because all could have their own bottle.

    After doing the work in the vineyard of extolling and praising GOD all the day long, we find, when we turn to our neighbor, we have praise-fatigue. We've spent so much energy "loving" GOD so much that there isn't any left to rejoice with a neighbor who has received more than anyone might have reasonably expected. Our very praise gets in the way of our fellowship. How ironic. How sad and pitiful we are.

    So, recognizing this limitation we have, might we find ourselves being better union members. Whether we belong to the union known as AFL or CIO or CHURCH, may we refuse to go to work/praise without those left to fend for themselves. The difficulty with the first workers didn't begin with their recognition of equal pay at the end of the day, but the avoidance of solidarity in the matter of a right-to-work/praise at the beginning of the day.

  4. Exodus 16:2-15 or Jonah 3:10 - 4:11

    In the morning, when some were chosen to work and receive payment, those left behind, unemployed, muttered. No, it doesn't say that, so this is projection. "If only"s were thought and some were spoken aloud.

    In the morning, when some were not chosen to work and receive payment, those proceeding to the vineyard, employed, rejoiced. Again, projection. "Whew"s were thought and some were spoken aloud.

    In the evening, when payment was made to the last hired, the one-hour workers, there was rejoicing. "Wow"s were thought and some were spoken aloud.

    In the evening, when payment was made to the first hired, the twelve-hour workers, there was consternation. "Unfair"s were thought and some were spoken aloud.

    What comes around, actually came around.

    This same shifting ground is going on right now with refugees from hurricane Katrina and an "administration". It went on with the folks just starting a trek toward a "promised land" (Exodus) and those who saw their dream of being on the right side of a widening gap between peoples (Jonah). It is going on with you and with me if we pause to reflect rather than just react from one moment to the next.

    A part of the prophetic nature is to be curmudgeonly. We, too, see great value in returning to a previous value system (it is just that ours, when we are at our best, goes back further). We, too, talk about consequences of present behavior and preach change to avoid it (it is just that we, at our best, expect change to happen and rejoice when it periodically does).

    We can identify with the desert travelers and the reluctant warners. Hopefully, we are also able to move beyond simple identity to care for drowned charioteers and foreign citizens and others in need. This takes some preaching to the choir to keep one another alert to the compromises we make and to lift our eyes beyond our present situation, to lift our eyes all the way to the shift from first to last and back again.

  5. Philippians 1:21-30

    And I'm hard pressed to know whether to align myself with the lucky or the unfortunate. Do I place my bets on personal responsibility or place my trust a mercy wide enough to accept a death-bed confession? Am I living as though I have a job assured or in the insecurity of being a temp among temps as a “new earth and heaven” is revealed? Am I looking for short-term gain or long-term sustenance? If I had a choice would I choose to be a first worker for the security it gives or a last worker for its surprise ending? Should I rapture myself off to be with Christ or re-enter a mission field to be a Christ?

    All these, and more, lead us into the realm of the political, the land of communal decision-making. We are called to live our politics in a manner worthy of the good news of first and last being categories for fools. As soon as you have said "first" you have to deal with "last" and vice versa. This is sort of like reverse tag where it seems no one wants to be "it" and yet there is such joy in the reversal of roles.

    We are all caught in this same struggle for clarity of meaning, action and consequence, that goes beyond a linear assessment. In the end we need to work at what we know -- the gift of being a creature in the midst of a creation filled with mutuality. So, I remain and continue with all of you (and many others) for your progressive joy with the firm expectation that you are remaining so with me. In this we move beyond our vacillation between first and last and find the abundance of a moment between.

  6. Matthew 20:1-16

    Ahh, what a state of affairs -- you meant it for ill and I turned it to good (remember Sir Joseph of the Coat?) and. now, I meant it for good (mercy to all) and you turned it to ill (charges of "unfair!").

    Wherein lies the perspective that will free us from our knee-jerk speculations of what an event means? It seems we insist on making meaning even when none exists (unless you are one of those who asserts all things work for good, for whatever reason, or who assert that nothing works out, so Armageddon is constantly upon us).

    From what perspective might I find myself not relating things to previous states as a given?

    -- One benefit automatically means all subsequent events ought to be ever more beneficial and I crash when one isn't.

    -- Having been left behind so many times dooms me to being left behind forever and I fail the knocking opportunity when it arrives.

    Here the operative perspective is that of generosity. This is how we are to live our political lives. Here following the "General Rules" of early Methodism come in handy, as well as the "Use of Money".

    First, do no harm -- a generous act, in and of itself
    Second, do good -- seems self-evidently generous
    Third, attend to that which reveals GOD -- to which GOD, a generous GOD

    First, earn all you can -- that you might be more generous
    Second, be as frugal as you can -- that you might be more generous
    Third, give all you can -- that you might be more generous

  7. Matthew 20:1-16

    It is easy to get caught up in nuances between "minimum wage", "prevailing wage", "living wage", and other wage formulations.

    How might this story look through the lens of the arguments of the past several years of privatizing social security? Or the recently delayed (not good PR timing in the presence of a disaster) attempt to do away with estate taxes?

    These are only two of many USofA issues of privilege. I'd be glad to hear where this story, that caps that of the rich sorrowing away for their many possessions, hits home in other societies.

    How does this work in a market economy rather than a labor economy and how might it bring "good news" beyond the "happy news" in today's media/world?

    If you use this image as a jumping off place, what words do you put in Jesus' mouth? Is he talking to the disappointed left behind folk? Is he talking to the the disappointed first hired folk who didn't get more than they dreamed of? Is he talking to you?


Thank you for blessing us with your response.