Don’t Give Up Hope

On September 24, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Don’t Give Up Hope Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Sept. 24, 2017 Let us dwell together in peace and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. Don’t give up hope. That’s the advice I believe the gospel is […]

Don’t Give Up Hope
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Sept. 24, 2017

Let us dwell together in peace and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen.

Don’t give up hope. That’s the advice I believe the gospel is giving us today.
When it comes to justice, to healing, to freedom…don’t give up hope.

We pray every week, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” If the world isn’t yet heavenly, then we have more praying to do, and more work to do until the world becomes a bit more heavenly.

A church just north of us has a sign that says, “PUSH: Pray Until Something Happens”

Of course, being prayed up helps us stay persistent. Prayer energizes us until things improve. Prayer keeps the vision of better days before us.
Prayer is the fuel that keeps us moving forward in the power of hope.

I’ve heard: Pray on it, pray over it, but most importantly, pray through it.

Prayer is the insulation, the shield, the storehouse, the well, and the engine that helps us follow Winston Churchill’s advice.

Churchill said: “If you’re going through hell, KEEP GOING.”

Pray through it.
Breathe through it.
Lift up your head.
And don’t give up hope.

About now, someone is thinking, “that sounds pretty good, but is that really what the gospel story is about?” Stay with me.

Before we tackle the Gospel parable, let’s recall another story. In Genesis 29, we see Jacob. He’s traveling and he comes upon a group of shepherds who are watering their flock. While he’s talking with the shepherds, his maternal uncle Laban happens along, with his daughter, Jacob’s cousin, Rachel. Jacob knew about Laban, but had never met him. And Jacob is instantly smitten with Rachel. Love at first sight.

Jacob stays with Laban and the family for a while and then decides to stay longer, not as a guest but as a contributing member of the family. He and his uncle negotiate what his wages will be for working for Laban, and Jacob thinks that what he wants isn’t cash, but a wife. He’ll work for love, specifically, for Cousin Rachel. Laban agrees. Work for me for 7 years, you’ll get room and board the whole time, and at the end of 7 years, you get a wife – Rachel (this is a time and culture where marriages were arranged).

Jacob thinks the wages and benefits are fair, he works for seven years, he walks down the aisle and says “I do”…only to discover that behind the wedding veil is not his beloved Rachel, but his other cousin Leah, Rachel’s sister! He’s been hoodwinked!

I’m sure he liked Leah well enough, but he didn’t agree to 7 years of indentured servitude for her. He’s been deceived, the victim of Laban’s perfidy. He has tasted the bitter tincture of mendacity. He’s angry. He’s heartbroken.

Laban says, “Take it easy…we can fix this. Just work for me 7 more years and then you can marry Rachel.” Crestfallen, Jacob agrees. And after 14 years of labor and waiting (and 7 years of less than warm feelings for Uncle Father-in-Law), Jacob and Rachel are finally married. Later on, there are a couple of other women brought into the household and Jacob has children with all four of them – but those details of biblical family values and the sanctity of marriage isn’t the point I want to focus on today. But you do see the inaccuracy of the claim that the biblical definition of marriage is one man and one woman.

The point I want to lift up is that Laban abused his privilege. He made a promise to Jacob, and he chose to renege on his commitment. He intentionally misled Jacob and exploited him and played with his deepest, most genuine feelings. Presumably, Rachel was hurt by his actions as well.

Laban had all the power, all the advantages, but Jacob didn’t give up. He confronted Laban, of course, but that didn’t change Laban. Where Jacob got satisfaction was by working harder, waiting longer, clinging to hope like a lifeline, and not giving up until his heart’s desire, his blessing was achieved. Jacob basically said, “there is good for me and I ought to have it, and Laban’s lack of integrity cannot keep my good from me.”

In Genesis 32 we’ll see Jacob wrestling with angel all through the night. He will not give up until the angel blesses him. It was a struggle and it took all night, but Jacob learned from his 14 years of waiting for Rachel, it may be a mistake to give up too soon.

Jacob’s descendant, Jesus, tells us a parable today, a fictional story meant to make a point. In the story, business people hire day workers. But they don’t treat them fairly. Some are paid way more than they earned which at first may seem generous, but there may be more to it.
No one was given less than they were promised, but those who worked in good faith for what they were promised were outraged to learn that people who did a fraction of the work got the same wages.

Traditionally, we hear this story as if the business owners represent God, and the extravagant wages for those who deserve them least are a symbol of grace, unmerited favor. I think that may be a misreading of the story. The employers in the parable seem a lot more like Laban than like God.

Jesus’ parables are meant to imagine how the world could be different.
Employers giving big bonuses seemingly arbitrarily to a few while other hard workers are ignored…well, that sort of lavish generosity with some but not all is how the world already works…that’s not the kin-dom of God.

No, God’s liberating grace is meant to uplift the down trodden…the day workers in the story have no power or privilege, they aren’t even really employed.
They are given a job only for the day. They are at the mercy of the person who hires them for the day.

The employer then states at pay time that the latest hires will be paid first. Why announce that? Why try to stir up strife and resentment among the workers?
Why make a point of telling people who worked longer that if chance had worked out differently for them, they could have worked a much shorter day without any loss of income? Are the surprise bonuses generous or manipulative?

The Hebrew bible, which Jesus knew well, says to not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy. So this story of the employer who lavishes gifts on some while paying others only to the penny what their contracted labor promised, and then making a point of letting everyone know that they were not treated equally doesn’t sit well with us. Yes, God’s grace is unconditional, God’s love is all inclusive, but none of that is communicated in a story about exploiting the desperate.

Equal opportunity and equal protection – that’s justice…
arbitrary extravagance for some rubbed in the face of those to whom it was denied is not grace, not the kin-dom of God.
The business owners’ actions caused discord, confusion, and did not lead to empowerment or healed relationships…that’s not grace, that’s not God.

But you know what…the workers…those who got an undeserved bonus, and those who worked hard without any special reward…they would have been back the next day looking for work again. A bad day wouldn’t cause them to give up.
They would keep working and waiting and hoping for better days. Like Jacob, they would acknowledge the injustices, try to change things, but in the meantime, they wouldn’t give up on their own dignity, their own dreams, their own vision of a fairer world. That’s the kin-dom of God…and we deserve it. Life isn’t always fair, and those are the times when we must not give up hope.
Indomitable hope…that’s the gift of the kin-dom of God, and this is the good news. Amen.

Dear God,
We all deserve opportunity and security.
When it seems to be denied…
Help me to not give up hope.

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