9/19/99 P17A

“Losers Win, Sometimes”
Matthew 20: 1-16

etting to youth group late one Sunday night I discovered our young people had started their own touch football game in the church yard. Walking up I asked, “Whoís winning?” But nobody seemed to know. The boys and girls had evidently chosen sides and were having a great time “touching,” so I assumed that there was a tie, or that nobody had scored yet. Feeling some obligation to get things organized I asked one of the older girls, “Where are the goals?” Her reply confused me more, “We donít have any goals!” I asked, “How can you win without goals?” Her reply contained a great lesson in it somewhere, “O, we are not winning, or losing, we are just playing.” Granted, that approach would not fly at the Georgia Tech versus Georgia annual football rivalry, but itís a pretty good approach to many things in life.

I think that this was the heart of why our Asa Candler family attached the stipulation to the millions that founded Emory University, nearly one-hundred years ago. As sanctified Methodists they believed that there was a higher purpose in life than indulgence in the various games that people play as an imitation of reality. Even beyond their business of producing that new product, Coca-Cola, they saw a higher purpose to life. Of course, they made a lot of money along the way and did a lot of good with their tithe, such as building this, our fourth Sanctuary, in 1903, but still, beyond these significant contributions, was a personal goal for all true followers of Jesus that overshadowed all else.

Now some of you are already thinking that this preacher does not practice what he preaches for he is a fan of many games. Iíll admit that I have tickets to two Braves/Mets games this week, and some Tech tickets too. I also made it a point to see Kevin Costnerís latest baseball movie on Friday afternoon; its opening night. What a great title for a movie that every baseball fan, player and former player will have to see, “For The Love of The Game.” Actually, in self-defense, the theme of the show is that there are things more important to real life than even, The Game.

Maybe some of this is at the heart of what Jesus was saying in his Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard. Perhaps in real life, winning and losing the skirmishes and contests is not as much the point as is Faithfulness. In the typical way that we pay wages to union workers this metaphorical landowner (God) does seem unfair. What was the hidden meaning in paying the last to be hired first, and in paying them a full dayís wages for just a few hours work? Naturally, anybody who had worked all day, or a major part of the day, would have been upset, and the workers who felt themselves treated unfairly came to the landowner and “grumbled against the landowner, saying, ĎThese last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and scorching heat.” (v.11-12)

For most of us the traditional interpretation of this parable still rings true: The Old Testament community represents the day-long workers and the Gentiles represent the latecomers, who are included in a New Covenant, and thus, receive full benefits from this new Kingdom that Jesus was gradually revealing to his followers. Still today this brings about enough of a controversy. The cover story in our “Faith & Values” section of yesterdayís “Atlanta Journal-Constitution” dealt with the conflict arising out of Messianic-Jews having such recent success in bringing traditional Jews to accept that Jesus is their long expected Messiah. This remains an open wound after 2000 years. They have worked in the sun all these years and now we come toward the end of the day and receive full benefits. The old saying really does not heal the wound very much that, “We are not trying to convert Jews, but to complete them.” The Christ is still a stumbling block that can cause divisions and there seems to be no easy way out of Jesusí meaning in this simple story.

However, there are additional shades of meaning in his metaphor, as there is in all of his parables. One very practical point that has been made is that oftentimes in our local churches we have folks who have been around forever who resent newcomers. Presidential candidate Spiro Agnew echoed this notion when he was asked about another candidate who had bolted the Democrat party to join the Republicans late in the campaign, “You donít join the church one Sunday and expect to be made Chairman of the Board the next.” I had an evangelism chairperson express resentment some years ago by asking, “Who are all these new people anyway?” Another Board Chair would often repeat that he had chosen that church as a young man because he preferred a “small church.” The message to those who had signed on late was clear. One of the most contagious things that visitors feel about Atlanta First is that our motto rings true, “The Folks Are Friendly!” Folks who join with us as laborers in the battle for truth, all feel like they have always belonged on this corner.

At one of my first churches I had a fellow who was a decorated veteran of WW I. He had many war tales. His ship was sunk on his first Atlantic crossing, and he almost did not make it to the battle at all. However, his voice would quiver as he told of how he was sent to the front lines, late in the war, and how those who had survived months in the foxholes were so happy to see fresh clean faces reinforcing the old-timers in battle. Not only did they bring fresh rifles, but they came bearing gifts of chocolates and coffee. The new soldiers brought hope that they would be able to finish the battle, to win the war, to prevail.

Since the landowner felt that he needed fresh new workers, even toward the end of the day, in order to harvest his valuable crop before it rotted on the vine, should the attitude of the work weary workers not have been one of welcome in that with these fresh recruits they all would be able to win the battle?

Perhaps Sears had the right idea when they made “shareholders” out of their employees so many years ago. The brilliant, and much copied, idea was to instill a sense of ownership within the hearts of the workers. Thatís the reason why the hundreds of Sears employees that I have known have had such a loyalty to “their” company--- they were owners, soldiers, all together trying to fulfill their mission. We too are included in as shareholders in Godís Great Kingdom. We are fellow workers reaping the harvest before the day is spent.

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor

9/19/99 P17A