Sermons

"Do You Have A Reservation?" Sermon for the 16th Sunday After Pentecost, Year A

"Do You Have A Reservation?" Sermon for the 16th Sunday After Pentecost, Year A

Sep 24, 2017

Passage:Matthew 20:1-16

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Robert Pace

Series: Pentecost

Category: Grace, Mercy

Keywords: anger, entitlement, grace, love, mercy

Summary:

In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus tells the parable of the Landowner and Vineyard to describe the Kingdom of Heaven. The Landowner hires workers at different times of the day, but at the end of the day, pays the same wage. This sermon helps us see where we all can be like the frustrated workers in this vineyard. But we have a greater role in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Detail:

In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Several years ago, we used to live on the east coast and would travel frequently to come see family here in Texas and Oklahoma. We drove back and forth on those trips, and that meant staying in a hotel along the way.

Sometimes we would simply drive until we were tired and find  a hotel.

On other trips, we planned ahead and made reservations in a specific hotel at our targeted halfway-mark city along the route.

We generally enjoyed these trips, but on one we had "the incident."

"The incident" had to do with one of these hotels where I had made reservations ahead of time.

Of course, planning ahead should have meant that our travel was going to be smooth and our stay delightful. But it was not meant to be.

I had researched what I thought would be a reasonable halfway mark for our drive (but, in hindsight, maybe I did push the envelope a little bit). In other words, maybe I did make that first day's drive a little too long, considering we had a three-year old at the time.

But even so, before the trip, I looked up the different hotels in the town, and I called and made a reservation for the night we were going to be there--June 20th.

The day our trip began, we set out on this long trek from Virginia to Oklahoma. We didn't get started as early as we had hoped (again, we had a three-year old in tow).

We drove and drove and drove. Finally, late that evening, we got to the town with the hotel. We were exhausted.

We found the hotel. The parking lot was packed. All we wanted was to get checked into our room. "Road-weary" does not do justice to how completely worn out we were.

Jill started wrangling Catherine's luggage and other toddler items. I grabbed two suitcases and headed in to the hotel lobby to get us checked in.

At the front desk, the young man asked, "do you have a reservation?"

I answered, "Yes I do." I handed him my identification and credit card.

As he typed a few things on his computer, Jill and Catherine hauled themselves wearily into the lobby, ready to be in the room.

The young man said, "I'm sorry Mr. Pace, I don't see a reservation."

Now, this is where I would like to say that I kindly smiled and showed him the love of Christ.

Instead, I lost it. I said, "what do you mean you don't see a reservation? Look again!"

He said, "We don't have a reservation under your name, and I'm afraid the hotel is all booked up for tonight."

Of course, being 100% positive I had made a reservation, I was clear what needed to happen next: I just had to get louder!

"Well you better look again! I made that reservation just a couple of days ago. I'm here with my wife and child and we are exhausted. We're not going anywhere until you put us in a room that I reserved!"

He answered, calmly: "Do you have your reservation confirmation number?"

I thought about it. Then I remembered. I had written the confirmation number down on a scrap of paper and put it in my wallet when I made the reservation phone call. So I said, triumphantly, "As a matter of fact, I do!" I handed him the scrap of paper.

He typed in the number on his computer.

Then he said, "Mr. Pace, I think I see the problem here. Today is June 20th. You made this reservation for July 20th. In fact, you even wrote on your paper here next to the confirmation, the date "7/20."

Of course, I had to apologize deeply. And we had to find a different hotel...

This story sticks with me. It is a reminder that I need to be careful. Even when I am 100% sure that I...AM...RIGHT... or that I am entitled to something that's being withheld... or that someone else is simply doing a terrible job--if only they could do things the way I wanted them to do them!

I went so quickly to that place of judgment and anger and frustration in that hotel lobby.

I imagine these are similar emotions felt by the laborers in Jesus' parable of the vineyard from Matthew's Gospel.

Jesus tells us a vision of what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. What's difficult about this story for us, and I imagine his original listeners as well, is we try to hear this parable with a focus of how we want justice to work out in every-day life. If we expect our reservations to be perfect at the hotel every single time, even if we only include the ones we don't screw up, this is going to be a difficult parable for us!

Jesus begins by saying that a landowner hires laborers early in the morning to work in his vineyard. The landowner goes back to the market at nine, noon, three, and five. Each time he finds people in need of work, so he sends them to his vineyard.  At the end of the day, the landowner pays all of them the same amount--the full daily wage--regardless of how long they had worked in the vineyard.

Of course, here's the conflict in story. Those hired at the start of the day, even though they had been promised the full day's wage, once they saw the latecomers getting that amount, believed they might receive more. When they did not, they start to grumble and even give the landowner the "evil eye."

I've got to admit, there's a huge part of me that sees the perspective of these workers. And if we were trying to create a "fair labor practice" system, following this example from this story is not the best model. I don't think any company or employee would think this is a good way of working out pay systems.

But Jesus isn't trying to set up a model for labor systems here. Jesus says this is how the Kingdom of Heaven works. That's quite different.

In the Kingdom of Heaven, God is like the landowner.

The landowner never ceases to journey out and find those in need of help. The landowner gives freely the gift of life equally to all, no matter how long it takes to find them. 

And here's the other part of the story. Those who receive this gift can either be grateful, or they can be envious of each other.

In the midst of this Kingdom, in comparing our position or situation to others, we can allow a sense of entitlement, or anger, or frustration, or envy to crowd in and cloud our path.

But Jesus reminds us the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.

And by virtue of our baptism, we are also grafted into the path of the landowner in this story.

As recipients of God's grace, we are called to continually seek out those in need of help to bring them light and life. We are to share God's grace and God's abundance. We do these things, not from a place of entitlement or superiority. But as the Body of Christ, we are called to always be in the world from a place of gratitude and humility.

So when we find ourselves staring at that hotel reservation clerk, frustrated by life, that's when we must pause. That's when we have to be grateful!

We are grateful because we know about God's love for us.

We are grateful because we know, like the landowner, God never gives up!

We are grateful, because every single day, we have the opportunity to recall this free gift of God's grace and God's presence--even when we find ourselves challenged and frustrated by life.

God is like the landowner who seeks us out to give us comfort and strength in the midst of our frustrations.

God is like the landowner who finds us when we are suffering from loss or grief, or when we struggle with broken relationships.

God is like the landowner who searches for us and brings us in when we are lost and cannot find our way.

That's what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. And when we share God's love with others, we help bring about that Kingdom here and now.

Amen.