A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

“No One Hired Us” Sermon on Matthew 20 September 18, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Sept. 20, 2020. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.
The texts were:
Psalm 145: 1-8
Philippians 1: 21-30
Matthew 20: 1-16

It is the eighth anniversary of my ordination in the ELCA at the end of this month. As I reflect on my journey to ordination, I am grateful for the joys, the blessings, the challenges, the learning, when it was bewildering and yes, even the times when it was just plain hard. I do know that I have been mostly lucky in my ministry calls so far, and yes I am using the word “lucky” intentionally. Let me tell you why. You see, getting immediately ordained after graduating from four years of graduate level training, yes four years and we only get a master’s degree, for most is a given. But not for all. In the spring of our last semester of seminary, my colleagues and I began the interview process with congregations. Well, some did. I had one interview for a youth and family pastor position, totally my wheelhouse with over 15 years of experience, where in the interview I was repeatedly asked questions about being a mother and a pastor at the same time. Ultimately, they chose someone with more experience they said. It turned out to be a 26 year old, white male. I discovered that even the Church isn’t fair. That was my only interview until later on that summer. My Rostered Minister Profile, clergy resume in the ELCA, went to several churches, but I didn’t get any interviews. One didn’t even open my file once they saw my name. But other colleagues had multiple interviews and were snatched up right away. What did they had in common? Honestly, being white, straight and male. But as I said, I was lucky, I interviewed at another church that summer and they did call me, part-time and drastically underpaid. But it was my only option for work, besides Starbucks. Don’t feel sorry for me, that’s not the point. I have siblings in ministry, women, femmes, Black, Indigenous, people of color, LBGTQIA, who waited years for a call. In these demographics, the average wait is over a year for first call. I have one friend who waited ten years because he is an out gay male. When you are waiting to receive a call from a congregation, you are frequently asked: Why has no one called you? The implication is that there is something wrong with us, that maybe we just don’t have the skills, the intellect, the interview acumen, etc. There is a reason that you are being passed by. And there is. There is something we are lacking. Often, it’s beyond our control. We can’t control our anatomy or skin color or biology.

When we do receive calls, they are often for lower wages, part-time and in less desirable situations. Not all the time, again, I’ve been lucky, as have a few of my colleagues. But I see those who are not lucky. Now, some would say that we’ve made great progress, after all we’ve had ordination of white women for 50 years, ordination of black women for 40 years and ordination of LBGTQIA people for 10 years. But really in the 2000 year history of the Church, we’re relative late comers to the professional work, although these populations have always been doing the work of the kingdom, just without official recognition and compensation. Many in these demographics just aren’t as desirable for congregations as they don’t fit the perfect picture of who should be in leadership in the church. Again, let me say, being a white, straight middle class woman, I am lucky.

But it shouldn’t depend on luck, Jesus says in our parable today. We often read these parables and think that they are about salvation or heaven when we die and I think that often we miss the point that Jesus says that heaven isn’t somewhere else, it’s here. What if here and now, today, in this life, we don’t pass some workers by? What if we hire everyone who wants to do the work regardless of our first impressions, biases or prejudices? What if we recognized that everyone, every ability, every skin color, every sexual orientation, every class, every gender, every body type, every one, has worth? But is that fair, we might ask? What if some can’t work as long, or don’t have the skills or simply don’t come from the same perspective on work as we do? What if we do more and they do less? Jesus is clear in this parable that God isn’t interested in fair. God is interested in justice.

Our challenge is that in our humanness we equate fair with justice and they are not the same. The workers who worked all day and received the same salary as those who came along later, grumbled, we read. They were mad that they were worth as much as the others. How is that fair? Shouldn’t they be worth more? No, Jesus says. Just because they were lucky and hired first, doesn’t mean that they have more skill or more worth. Their colleagues who came to the work later, didn’t necessarily arrive later out of their own doings. No one let them in until later, is that fair? Are they not worth as much as the all day workers? They too deserve to be paid their worth, not only for their time. The landowner is clear that he will pay what is right and that he can do with what he has as he pleases. We often think that the land owner represents God, but I wonder if Jesus is calling for us to see ourselves in the landowner and realize our own biases, and take a second look at people, do what is right and invite them in? We know that in God there is no male or female, Jew or Gentile, free or slave person, first or last, Republican or Democrat or Independent, Christian or Muslim, white or black, abled or disabled, straight or not, we know this. But we don’t act on this. All people belong in the kingdom, doing the kingdom’s work. All.
We have much work to do to be fully inclusive in the ELCA. We have repentance to ask for, we have reparations to make, we have risks to take, we have restorative healing to begin. And it’s not luck that will make this happen, it’s hard work, love, vulnerability, honesty, going out to the people who have been left to stand around alone all day. These are the people to whom Jesus went to, the poor, the tax collectors, the sick, the outcast, the criminals, the sex workers. He invited them in the kingdom of God as fellow workers and siblings. Jesus says that this is the kingdom, that is here, that is for you, and me and for all. We belong, everyone belongs, and we open our hearts to let people in. This is how we heal our world and our souls. This is how God’s justice reigns. Amen.