Tuesday, September 23, 2014

If you're happy and you know it, shut your face

My sermon for this week was based on Matthew 20:1-16.

To download a podcast of my sermon, click here

There is a creepy twist of human nature that never ceases to disappointment me, not least when it occurs in me, which I admit it occasionally does.

That twist is this: people who are safe, comfortable, secure and having their needs met (if not grossly exceeded) criticizing others for getting their needs met.

Let me give you a few examples: this week I was listening to the CBC, and there was a call-in show to discuss the Canadian government's decision to deny refugee status and deport a Pakistani woman back to her home country where she faces the death penalty...for adultery, of all the stupid things.

Now, once I had overcome the shock over our government's appalling lack of judgement and mercy, I waited for the phone calls to flood in supporting this woman.

But most of the people who called in complained that "If you come to our country, you follow our laws or go home", and some such other similar bullshit.

(Let's ignore the fact that these people totally seemed to miss the point that this woman did NOT commit a crime in Canada.  She was employed at a diner, payed her taxes and was a contributing member of Canadian society)

Let's get to the other point: it is easy to pontificate when the justice system is working comfortably in your favour.  This is an easy statement to make when the justice system is not condemning you to death.

I have friends who occasionally make glib comments or post pithy little memes on Facebook to the effect of "If I have to get a drug test for my job, welfare recipients should have to get a drug test to receive welfare".

This is an easy statement to make when you have a full-time job, when you are paying the bills, and when you are not suffering the ravages of addiction.

I hear people complain that gay marriage means that gay people now have access to the same rights and privileges as heterosexual couples.

An easy complaint to make when you get the tax breaks, the baby bonuses and societal, legal, emotional, and spiritual affirmation and benefits of your relationship on a daily basis.

So to recap: if we are being treated fairly, if our needs are being met, if we are doing ok, why do we feel we have any reason to complain about the needs of others being met?

This gospel passage should be a slap in the face to us.  It tells the story of a landowner who goes out and hires some labourers in the market first thing in the morning.  Later in the day, he hires more.  Several more times throughout the day, he does this, until 5 pm rolls around, one hour before the end of the working day, and he hires a few more.

At the end of the day, he calls them all in, and he pays the men he hired at the literal eleventh hour a full days' wage.

The workers who were there first thing in the morning must have thought their ship had come in, reasoning that if he payed people who worked only one hour a full days' wage, they would be getting a HUGE pay.

But he pays them a days wage, what they had contracted for in the first place.  And they complain.

The landowner says, "Look, I have treated you fairly, haven't I?  I gave you a fair days' wage for a fair days' work.  If I chose to give these other guys a full wage, that is none of your business".

Are our needs being met?  Are we doing ok?  Did we eat breakfast this morning?  Did we get in a car and drive to a job?  Did we come home to a house, apartment or condo?  Do we have a few dollars left over at the end of the week to play around with?

Then we are already head and shoulders above a huge swath of the world's population.  There are people out there who do not and will never have any of those things.  And do we yet complain?

If we are being treated fairly and our needs are being met, the reality is that we may have every right to complain, but we have very little reason to complain.  Furthermore, most people don't want to hear us complain either.  They have their own problems.

And people being deported, living on welfare and facing discrimination (to cite just several examples) do not need our resentment and derision added on top of their burdens.

Perhaps the world would be better served if we cultivated the virtues of mercy, forgiveness, tolerance and justice for those in the world who are not as blessed as we are, rather than crapping on people who just need a little help and understanding.

Perhaps we would better serve ourselves and each other by cultivating gratitude for all the gifts we so often take for granted.

Perhaps we would be better off if we could just learn and decide to be happy.

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