LOOKING FOR LOVE IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES
No one needs to teach to compete for love. Have you noticed that if the phone rings and you’re talking to someone, that’s the very time the kids get into things, or the toddler screams for your attention. Around the age of two, a child senses the threat of others even more strongly, to the point that some toddlers will hold and turn their parent’s face to attempt to hold their attention they believe is being given to someone else. Around three, many children become very aware of what they perceive to be “mine”, defensively guard toys when they think someone else might touch them or take them. Sharing isn’t easily caught or taught. Competition seems the name of the game.
We often kid in our families, “Who do you love best?” We tend to vie for the love of our parents, and while most of us can tease as adults about that during family gatherings, there are those who have always feared that perhaps what they thought to be true might really be true. The reply, “I love all of you equally,” is never a satisfying answer. When the rest are out of the room, the question persists, “Now you can tell me; who do you really love best?” “Am I your best friend?” Children and teens aren’t the only ones who hope to be number one, to be the one and only. Sharing the love of a special friend with someone else is rarely an occasion for celebration. It is rather like the loss of a special resource, a special relationship. A new friend, a third member to the group, is like an invading army. And if we’re the third added to the duo, how often have we felt like the useless “third wheel?”
There are times when marriages struggle and a spouse asks, “Why am I not enough for you?” “Why do you need to go out with your friends? Why do you spend so much time doing things I don’t want to do?” We wonder, “Am I not enough?” There are those times when our world caves in when we feel like we are not “everything” to the other. Since Cain and Abel, we’ve been looking for love in many of the wrong places, jealous of others, weighing the scales of fairness.
The parable about the laborers in the vineyard may well disturb us. Those who began at 6:00 AM, then 9:00 AM, up to noon have been working in the blistering sun. In walk others in the later portion of the day, even the last hour. When it comes time to settle up for the day’s wage, the owner orders his manager to pay them ALL of them the usual daily wage, starting with those who went out in the last hour. It doesn’t seem fair; unions would be in an uproar, there would likely be strikes. This owner doesn’t pay according to the amount of work put out; the owner pays what will meet the worker’s daily needs. It is an act of mercy rather than justice. What kind of gospel is this? What kind of reward for keeping one’s nose to the grindstone, so to speak, is this? Perhaps we really don’t know God like we thought we did. The question comes out – “Are you envious because I am generous?”
The disciples may well be thinking: “We left our families, gave up the comforts of our own homes, gave up jobs and security, gave up everything to follow you, Jesus. We’ve laid it all on the line, put ourselves in danger’s way and we want to know what we’re going to get in return, what’s in it for us?” Jesus responds, “Salvation, eternal life, a place in the kingdom of heaven.” BUT… there’s an AND – “And so will every other believer.” Everyone, no matter how much they have given to Jesus in their lifetime, will receive the same wage – salvation. Those who waste their time, sleep in on Sunday mornings, give when they feel like it and as little as possible, maybe stay away for years, and even those who on their deathbed come to accept Jesus as their Savior – they will receive mercy, forgiveness, and salvation – eternal life.
For those who are active and truly give themselves to God, this may seem unfair. To those who give regularly to support the work of the church, spend time in prayer and study of Scripture, serve on the Council, sing in the choir, this may seem unfair. You could be doing other things with your time, getting chores done around your home, enjoying some well-deserved recreation. You could save your money for your own wants and wishes. But perhaps you’ve seen a side of God you truly embrace. Our God is a God of generosity, a God of abundance rather than scarcity. Perhaps you’ve had an attitude adjustment about who God is and who and whose you are.
I had the pleasure of participating in a workshop with Dr. Eugene Grimm, pastor and ELCA Stewardship Specialist. He showed us how thoughts, including prayer, truly changes things. He showed us a slide of a drop of water. First, a pure source, next a polluted source. One is clearly defined in a shape similar to a snowflake. The polluted drop is murky with no definition. The pure drop was then exposed to heavy metal music and nearly disappears. Next it is exposed to the words repeated, “You make me sick, I will kill you.” It looks as those it splatters. The next source repeats over and over, “Hitler” and it becomes dark. Then it is exposed to classical music and it returns to its snowflake-like appearance. When it is exposed to the words, “Mother Theresa” there seems to be a glow around its edges. When the words “Thank You” are spoken, it shines. Finally when polluted water is blessed, prayed over, it returns to its snowflake, pure appearance. 65-67% of our body and 85% of our brain is water. If thoughts and prayers can do that to water, imagine what thoughts and prayers can to and for us! Think about how our attitude about generosity and giving when changed to positive thoughts and responses could change us, change our congregations, change us from seeing limits to seeing possibilities. Negative thinking generally bring negative results. Those who have positive outlooks on life and ministry tend to generate positive results. What do you expect? Do you see yourself as a child of God, a child God loves with abundance and blessing? Scarcity thinking is based on fear not faith, and our God is too small. Do we trust God to provide all that we need? Can we focus on God’s generosity and truly believe that God has given us far more than we either have earned or deserve. We need not vie for God’s love – God has already loved us – loved us to the very death of God’s son, Jesus Christ; loves us and promises us forgiveness, mercy, and salvation. Our giving back is a response to this love. Our giving is sacramental not sacrificial. Tithing – that 10th of all that we have been given – time, resources and talents, and yes, even our money – is a grateful and JOYFUL response to God. It is about a spiritual commitment. God gives us the opportunity to respond to the abundance and blessings that we have already received in our own baptism and in our own faith journey. Amen.
Jonah 3: 10-4:11
Psalm 145: 1-8
Philippians 1: 21-30
Matthew 20: 1-16