By Rev. Heather J. Blais, Rector
There are many layers to the parable in our gospel lesson. Yet as we sit with this story today, I’d like us to try taking the story at face value. In doing so, the story becomes a poignant reminder of our Creator God’s spirit of abundance, generosity, and love for all of creation.
The parable begins with a landowner at a marketplace, looking to hire day laborers to work in their vineyard. Some laborers were hired and agreed to work for a denarius, the usual daily wage, which would have been enough to feed a family for 3-4 days.* The landowner then kept returning to the marketplace throughout the day - five times in all. On each of the return trips, when the landowner observed unemployed laborers, they hired them, saying:
“You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.”
At the end of the workday, the landowner instructed the manager to call the laborers over and pay them, beginning with those hired last. Each laborer was handed a denarius - in spite of when they began their workday. This felt like an injustice to those who had worked an entire twelve hour shift. After all, shouldn’t they be entitled to more pay, than those who had only worked one hour? Gently, but firmly, the landowner reminded them that they had been paid the agreed upon wage, and that the landowner’s generosity was actually none of their business.
Now, it was a bit unusual for a landowner to be doing the hiring themselves, let alone returning so frequently to hire more workers, but the landowners efforts emphasize how important it is to God that we love and care for one another and all of creation. In Jesus’ parable, the landowner was not concerned with doing what might be perceived as fair, rather, they were deeply concerned with doing what was right. The landowner understood that neighbors were in need of work in order to feed their families, and that they were in a position to employ more workers. The landowner embodied abundance, generosity, and love.
We tend to pay attention to the workers who feel they’ve experienced an injustice, but let’s instead imagine what it must have been like for those workers hired at the 11th hour, and still paid a full day’s work. Can you imagine such remarkable generosity? Or have you ever been the recipient of such abundant generosity? I can immediately think of three instances when I was personally on the receiving end of such unexpected and unwarranted generosity. It shakes us to attention, and helps us see the world and our neighbors differently. It is the kind of generosity that humbles us, transforms us, and inspires us to pay it forward.
Here at James and Andrew, we have been on the receiving end of such generosity and it is part of what makes today such a historic and important transition moment in the life of our parish. Today, we give thanks for the ministry of Molly, a beloved priest, pastor, and rector. We bid her farewell, for now, as she embarks on a new journey, sharing her gifts with a new community.
Clergy come and go from parishes, and it is you, the body of Christ here at James and Andrew, that endures. We influence the life of the faith community through our leadership in worship, liturgy, preaching, sacramental rites, pastoral care, teaching and so much more. Hopefully, for the better. In the healthiest of transitions, we move on, not because we want to go, but because the Holy Spirit has shown us it is time. She reminds us that we have shared our very best selves with the parish and that good work has happened in our time together. While we will now be on different paths, we remain together in our mutual trust and knowledge that Christ our Mother Hen is brooding over all of us, and that our Creator God is doing a new thing.
This is a particularly tender moment for our parish, and somewhat different from other clergy transitions. Molly played a unique and vital role in our journey to becoming Saints James and Andrew, as well as, in helping our community to grow in faith. She has consistently offered her grace and wisdom; her wonderful sense of humor and laugh; her gifts for process, asking hard questions, teaching, and incorporating liturgy that features expansive and inclusive language for God and Creation.
When Molly was called to former St. Andrew’s in Lent 2016, she was quick to love the community for who they were, while also asking important questions about sustainability. Meanwhile, former St. James had recently been through a program through the Episcopal Church Building Fund that had the community asking similar questions about how to adapt to a changing landscape. We began explicit conversations about the possibility of merger, understanding that combining the gifts, strengths, traditions and resources of the two congregations (including human faithfulness, energy, and creativity, as well as material and financial assets) had the potential to result in a faith community that was far stronger and more dynamic than the sum of the parts.The Holy Spirit was clearly at work, and if I do say so myself, She was in rare form. Because in a matter of four months, we had agreed to a gospel merger. This was not an ‘official merger’ model that existed. It was the result of asking ourselves how Christ would call two communities together. We felt the right thing to do was to come into this marriage as partners, just as we hope any newly married couple would. If our merger was to be successful, we felt it needed to be irrelevant who had more or less money, people, resources, energy, opinions, or anything else. What mattered is that we knew, with God’s help, that we would be better together.
So on April 23, 2017 the good people of former St. Andrew’s gathered in their beloved church building in Turners and began the first part of the service, while those at former St. James did the same. The folks in Turners then took cherished symbols of their life together - from the cross carried in the procession, Advent frontals, a flying dove, and more - got into their vehicles, and followed a police escort all the way to Federal Street School in Greenfield.
From there they got out of their cars, and in a procession, made their way to former St. James church, led by bagpiper, verger, crucifer, banner bearer, and acolytes along the sidewalk, while the folks in Greenfield stood on the lawn loudly singing in welcome. Then we went inside together and became a new body of Christ, a new faith community, the people of Saints James and Andrew.
I offered the sermon that day, and I ended it by saying,
Only God knows what ministry, mission, and spiritual growth will unfold
as we come together to become one new parish. Yet, I assure you, I have
never felt more joyful, more hopeful for our future than I do today. I
have never felt more respect, and admiration for your faith and courage
as the people of God.
I will say I believe and feel all of this ten times more today, than I did on Emerging Sunday. A sure sign of the Spirit.
When we walked through those doors together and entered into our new relationship, we did so with hope and trust that our Creator God was with us. Yet we had no idea what the future would bring as a new community, let alone the challenges faced by every community in the pandemic. At any point along the way, we might have chosen to operate from a posture of fear and scarcity, but instead we chose the abundance and generosity we see embodied by our Creator God throughout the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. Every day since, in times of great joy and complete uncertainty, you have persevered as a body of Christ. You have embodied Saints James and Andrew’s mission, where we affirm that:
We believe God is calling us to cultivate a community of love, joy, hope,
and healing. Jesus is our model for a life of faith, compassion, hospitality,
and service. We strive to be affirming and accessible, welcoming and
inclusive; we seek to promote reconciliation, exercise responsible
stewardship, and embrace ancient traditions for modern lives.
These last few months, like you, I have been thinking and praying about this transition for our community. Each time, I land in the same place. There is a very real and profound sense of sadness that this chapter of our life as a parish is coming to a close, yet there is an even greater sense of gratitude for ALL God has done in and through this community these last six and half years. Sometimes 1+1 = 2, but in our case 1+1 = 10. We have experienced the abundance of our Creator God again and again. We have become a beautiful mixture of former St. James, former St. Andrew’s, and only ever Saints James and Andrew. We have learned to recognize that change is healthy, a sign of life, and that new people with new ideas are a blessing to be welcomed. We have grown and deepened in our faith. We have doubled down in our outreach and mission. We have become leaders in our community for creation care. And we boldly proclaim God loves and welcomes all, no exceptions. Thanks be to God. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
So dear ones, let us give abundant thanks for the many ways we have been blessed, for Molly’s role in the life of our community, for all God has done here and continues to do, and for these new paths that lie ahead. Amen.
* See commentary by John Carroll at WorkingPreacher.org
** Readings: https://www.lectionarypage.net/YearA_RCL/Pentecost/AProp20_RCL.html
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