I write this blog post on Wednesday afternoon. Today in Bible Study*, sixteen participants and I had a great discussion of the Gospel text appointed for this Sunday, Jesus’ “Parable of the Generous Landowner.” In this story, a landowner goes out early in the morning to hire day-laborers to work in his vineyard. After agreeing with them on the usual daily wage, he puts them to work. Then the landowner goes out again at 9:00 and hires on another group, agreeing to pay them “whatever is right.” Again at noon and 3:00, he goes out and does the same. Finally, at 5:00, he goes out and tells those who have not yet been hired to also go into the vineyard. At the end of the day, in a surprising turn of events, all of these laborers are paid the same wage. Of course those who were chosen the earliest and worked the longest have a complaint against the landowner, to which he responds: “Are you envious because I am generous?” So it is with the kingdom of heaven, Jesus teaches us. “The last will be first, and the first will be last.”
In Bible study, the participants and I began envisioning that scene of day laborers, gathered together in one spot early in the morning, each hoping to engage in a day’s work for a day’s wage. It’s a scene that plays out all over the world, of course, including Sioux Falls. We imagined the relief and satisfaction that the early hires must have felt – knowing so early in the day that they would get the very thing they had hoped for – a day’s work, and a day’s wage. In this moment, the work that awaited them was received as a blessing! We imagined the tension building for the others who were idle as the day wore on. “This is not a fun kind of idle,” we realized, as the feeling of hopelessness and desperation would certainly set in for those who weren’t hired. They were preparing to go back to their homes, to their families, with…nothing. How very sad! What a tough day it must have been for those fellows, only to have it turned around by the surprising invitation and astonishing generosity of the landowner. Of course, those who found their joy early in the day realized that the others had received equal pay, and that’s when their work (which had once been a privilege) quickly turned into a burden. Has that ever happened to us in daily life, not to mention Christian life? You bet… and that’s what the sermon will be focusing on this Sunday as we hear once again of a God who is generous, and always gives us more than we deserve.
But I have to tell you, a funny thing happened today in Bible Study. One of the participants, Gene, couldn’t stop thinking about those day laborers. He wondered if day laborers in Sioux Falls began each day with enough to eat, to keep them going through a big day of work. “Wouldn’t it be nice,” he said, “if the church could show up with doughnuts for these workers?” “Well, yes,” I replied to Gene. “That is a very fine idea!” Heads around the room nodded in agreement. At the end of the study, Gene and four others – Betty, Doris, Barney, and Gloria – began making phone calls and plans, and as I write this, three cases of “First Lutheran water” (supplied by our Intern Pastor Jeff Backer) and dozens of doughnuts (funded by the pockets of these enthusiastic Bible study participants) are being delivered to People Ready on 37th and Main, where workers on Thursday and Friday morning will be treated to a surprise breakfast hosted by these friends of First Lutheran Church.
Will this become “a thing” in weeks to come? Who knows! Maybe it will become “a ministry,” or maybe it’s just a beautiful act of love and generosity that emerged from a really great Bible study. Either way, witnessing a group of Christians make surprising, unusual plans to bless others in the name of Jesus fills me with hope and joy – and reminds me of the surprising, amazing, generous God we serve.
And, if this idea sparks something generous in you, send me an email, and I’ll put you in touch with someone named Gene, Betty, Doris, Barney or Gloria.
*Did you know that we have an open Bible study that meets every Wednesday at 10 am? It’s held in the Gathering Room of our church, and the pastor who’s preaching on Sunday leads a discussion among a lively, diverse group of participants on the coming weekend’s assigned text. It’s a really great opportunity that some call our congregation’s “best kept secret.” Since no Bible study should be a SECRET, I thought I’d take this opportunity to promote it now. Anyone is welcome to attend anytime.