Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sermon: God is a Lousy Book Keeper! - Pastor Karen Siegfriendt

Reading: Matthew 20:1-16 Proper 20/A
By the Rev. Karen Faye Siegfriedt;
Trinity Episcopal Church, Sutter Creek, CA 9/21/14


Last month, I went on a spiritual retreat to write an icon of Mary Magdalene. About 20 of us were gathered together under the tutelage of a well-respected, Russian iconographer. He taught us the technique of egg-tempera in the painting of icons. The word icon means image. Icons depict figures or events from the Bible or Church history. As you might remember, Mary Magdalene was one of Jesus’ most faithful disciples. After Jesus healed her of her many infirmities, she became so grateful that she supported his ministry out of her own pocket. Mary stood at the cross weeping as her beloved teacher and friend suffered. She was the first disciple to witness to his resurrection. She was a woman of courage, integrity, and commitment. Indeed, her image is worth remembering!


What stands out for me in this icon is that it remains unfinished. Being a beginner, I did not have the time to complete it in the six days allotted. The background is a bit course and clumsy and the borders are absent. When I reflect on this unfinished icon, I think about my own life and how unfinished I still am. I know that am created in the image of God and I know that I am a beloved child of God. This knowledge gives me great solace and offers me hope for a transformed future.


And yet, God’s glory does not always shine through my life. Why? Because I am human and have been formed more by the wisdom of the world than by the wisdom of God. I am often driven by my biological programming instead of being led by the Spirit. I am sometimes plagued by the slings and arrows of the past that deplete my joy and affect my relationships with others.


So when I fall off the path of compassion, I look for grace and forgiveness. I try to get back on as quickly as possible and follow Jesus along the path that leads to abundant life. Sometimes this path of compassion is very challenging and I am hesitant to take the risk. Other times, the path of compassion seems to go against my idea of what is fair and practical. Today’s gospel is a case in point. Let’s take a closer look and see if we can gain a new perspective on God’s world.


In this story, we hear the parable of the workers in the field. A parable is a teaching story that highlights one or more principles. Its purpose is to activate our mind in such a way as to encourage us to grow in faith. For those of you who are business minded, practical, or in the corporate world, this gospel story might raise your hackles. Imagine paying a laborer a full day’s wage for one hour of work! It goes against our sensibilities of what is just and fair. It goes against well-established standard business practices that guide our economy. It has nothing to do with merit. No wonder the laborers who worked a full day under the hot sun grumbled, complained, and became envious of those who only worked one hour for the same pay.


Back in the early 1980’s, I had a similar experience. I was hired on by a national laboratory, having previously worked in a position with a city government. As you know, salaries in government jobs tend to pay less that those in the private sector. When I was hired, I was given $5000 above what I had earned in my previous position. While it was a modest sum, it was a fair wage and I was relatively satisfied. I was satisfied that was, until another person was hired on with a salary of $6000 more than mine. This new employee had less education, was just starting with the company, and yet she would be earning thousands more than me. So how did I respond? I grumbled and then took myself over to the personnel office to register my complaint. The manager reminded me that I had accepted the company’s offer when I was hired and that I had been given $5000 over my previous salary as an incentive to come. And likewise, this new employee who had been recruited out of the private sector had also been given an incentive.


With this new information in hand, I had a decision to make. I could remain envious and bitter about someone else’s good fortune, or I could appreciate what I had. In the end, I chose to embrace my work, go back to school (which by the way the company paid for) and work my way into a fulfilling position as a hazardous waste manager. In the end, I was rewarded for my efforts. Sometimes life is fair and sometimes it is not. Sometimes we have to work very hard for what we have and other times we are given a gift. The rain falls on the just and the unjust and  there is little we can do to change that. Where we do have a choice is how we respond to life’s ups and downs. Envy of another person’s good fortune, abilities, possessions, and social stature can cause us to diminish our own gifts and talents. Envy can prevent us from seeing the blessings that we have received. This is what happened to the laborers in the parable.


Today’s gospel is a call for us to see the world differently; to envision the world as God sees it and to work towards this new world order. Let’s take a second look at the parable: In 1stcentury Palestine, most laborers lived at subsistence level. A denarius was the usual daily wage, which could buy enough bread to feed a very small family for one day. This means that the laborers who were hired early morning would get enough wages to pay for another day’s food. If the laborers who were hired later in the day only got a portion of that daily wage, then it would not be enough money for them to feed themselves or their family. Is this just?


What we learn from this parable is the following:
- The landowner gives everyone in the story the chance to work.
- Each of the laborers (all unemployed) is given work with the promise of pay.
- The landowner shows no partiality among the early workers and the late arrivers.
- The landowner is more interested in a living wage rather than good business practices.
- Instead of keeping his eyes on the bottom line, the landowner has compassion for the latecomers and gives them above and beyond what is required by law or agreement.
- God (who is often represented as the landowner in the parable) is a lousy bookkeeper and CEO. This God loses money on the latecomers but has no hesitation to be generous.
- The kingdom of God is not the same as the kingdom of Wall Street. In God’s kingdom, the last will be first and the first will be last. {Mt. 20} Here, the underlying principle of economic development is the golden rule rather than personal profit; where CEOs manage their companies for the glory of God and for the good of the public welfare rather than simply to please stock holders. In God’s kingdom, the mighty will be brought down and the humble lifted up. The poor, the sorrowful, the merciful, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for righteousness sake are blessed. {Mt. 5} In this new world, healing and compassion become the dominant themes such that the blind see, the lame walk, the poor are fed, the oppressed are liberated, and all people are given the opportunity to live a full and dignified life. (Is. 35, Is. 65, Mt. 11) In this kingdom, there are no borders to protect or self-interests to fight for. There is no discrimination between Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, black or white, rich or poor, gay or straight. (Is. 2, Gal. 3)


Does any of this make sense to you? Maybe, maybe not. But on the other hand, does the kingdom of Wall Street make sense to you? Wall Street represents the wisdom of the world on steroids. There, the one with the most toys wins. Bigger, better, faster, and stronger is valued over quality, endurance, authenticity, and compassion. Numbers count, profits count, and the bottom line counts. But when it comes to making decisions about those who are struggling to feed their families, well, compassion doesn’t seem to enter into the accounting.


Looking back on my icon, I realize there is a lot of unfinished business, not just with the painting of this icon but also with the transformation of the human heart. As a society, we continue to struggle with economic issues like the minimum wage, treating migrant workers with dignity, and providing opportunities for employment. How do we vote on these issues? I guess it depends on how we interpret today’s gospel. We could look at this gospel as ‘the parable of the laborers in the field’ and become perplexed at the radical grace offered. Or we could look at this gospel as ‘the parable of the generous landowner’ and like him, err on the side of compassion and generosity. Which path do you think God is calling you to follow?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Rehearsals planned for the 15th Annual Festival of Carols

THE 15th ANNUAL FESTIVAL OF CAROLS is a benefit concert for the local Food Bank is scheduled for Saturday, November 22 7 pm and Sunday, November 23 at 3 pm. This year the concert will be held at Grace Fellowship, 8040 South Highway 49, Jackson, CA. 95642.

For music and recordings, visit, www.icchoirs.org

The Amador choir will meet on Tuesday evenings, locations TBA. For complete information, contact John Leggett at mr.john@icchoirs.org, or call 209 560-6403, or Shirley at 209 267-9017.

I have found some great music which I am sure you all will enjoy. Please take a look and listen on our website:


                                                            www.icchoirs.org


-Amador choir will meet on Tuesday evenings, locations to be announced. I liked going to the different churches last year a hope we can do that again. Please be in contact with me at mr.john@icchoirs.org. Let us start as soon as we are able. The phone will be ringing. You can call me at 209 560-6403, or Shirley at 209 267-9017.


Moriah Heights and Carmichael, choirs make up the main group of singers with a few key singers from Sacramento and Rocklin Churches. I hope more from Sacramento will be interested in singing this year. I hope at least the Sacramento group that sang up at Leoni Meadows would sing a few songs for our concert. Amen? Please contact me or help me with a name to contact. Bro Zic and or Trudie Balbach.  Would one of you please help me work out a possible Sacramento rehearsal and time. Thank you.


As usual we can have Saturday practices in Sacramento 1st Sabbath (this coming Sabbath), 2nd Sabbath in Carmichael, with 3rd and 4th practices in Moriah Heights.


Up on the www.icchoirs.org website is all the music so far: music and recordings. You are welcome to print out the music and get started.


As for music selection, thanks to many of you, I have programmed a great concert with a variety of interesting yet challenging music for us. Many of you wanted to learn and perform the second part of Messiah. I agree it is a good goal. But my suggestion is to learn just a few choruses for this year's Food Bank Concert and with solid participation we can sing the entire second part for the Passover week in the Spring. We would also like to repeat Messiah part one in late December at the Ione Methodist Church.


God bless. Please be in touch. It takes many people to pull this off every year. Especially the singer's dedication.


P.S. One of our pieces, Christmas Day by Gustav Holst has sections traditionally sung by children's choirs. If your church would like to participate with your children it would be fantastic. The music is simple traditional Hymns: Come ye lofty, come ye lowely. The First Noel. Good Christian Men Rejoice. Please get the music on the website and take a look. It is very easy to teach. And the kids like the music. I have done this piece many times. At the end it calls for a solo child's voice.


Please be in touch.

Blessings.

John Leggett