Friday, September 22, 2017
Everything Is Gift: Reflections on Matthew 20.1-16 (RCL Proper 25A, 24 September 2017)
Everything Is Gift
Reflections on Matthew 20.1-16
RCL Proper 25A
24 September 2017
Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
In 1666 a twenty-four-year-old Cambridge mathematics and physics student by the name of Isaac Newton fled to his family home in Lincolnshire to avoid an outbreak of the plague in his university town. Although he was probably much concerned about the health risk, his mind, prior to his departure, had been focused on the question of the relationship of the moon to the earth. The movements of the moon had, of course, been the object of human scrutiny from prehistoric times, but these observations had yet to provide answers to the kind of questions young Mr Newton was pondering.
According to a popular story Newton was sitting underneath an apple tree in the garden of his family’s home. As he was sitting there, an apple fell, some versions say it hit him on the head, others that it landed in his lap. But all the versions of the story focus on one key element: in that moment Newton had an insight into the mathematics, the physics, of gravity. From this ‘windfall’ Newton began to forge theories and formulae that still are taught in contemporary physics.
What I take from the story is the wonder of divine serendipity, God’s windfalls, that bring about changes in our individual lives and often in the lives of others. For just a moment let’s take this story about Isaac Newton for ‘gospel truth’. A young man, whose brilliance was the product of both nature and nurture, flees the outbreak of a plague whose cause was still unknown in the seventeenth century. He does what many of us are tempted to do in times of trouble: return to the safety of our ‘home’, wherever that may be. His mind has been considering the mysteries of the kosmos, primed, we might say, to take a significant step forward. And the wind drops an apple, the coin drops, the last piece of the puzzle fits, and three hundred years later human beings land on the moon.
It is this combination of God’s gift, what the New Testament calls charis or ‘grace’, with human readiness and openness that gives rise to a ‘giant leap’ for humanity. Newton, for all his scientific knowledge and nurture in what has been called ‘the age of reason’, belonged to a society and culture that believed in God’s Spirit moving throughout creation. Like ships on the oceans waiting for a favourable wind, human beings are invited to open the sails of our hearts and minds in expectation that the ruach ha-kodesh, the ‘holy breath’ of God, will come upon us and inspire us.
There are many ways to interpret today’s gospel reading from Matthew. I have heard this parable interpreted as a manifesto for both socialism — ‘everyone gets what they need’ — and capitalism — ‘it’s my money; I’ll do with it as a please’. I have heard this parable interpreted as justification for ignoring the needs of whomever is identified as ‘the first’ in order to meet the needs of whomever is identified as ‘the last’. But today I want you to consider this parable as a reminder that all that we have begins with God’s charis, God’s windfall gifts, and that you and I are tasked with an obligation to use these windfall gifts to build one another up into our full humanity as images of God, agents of Christ, moved by the Spirit, who share with God in tikkun ôlam, the ‘healing of creation’.
Last week we celebrated the seventieth anniversary of the founding of Saint Faith’s. I am grateful beyond words for the generosity of the members of this Parish who gave of their time and their talents and their treasure to make the celebration so joyful and complete. Over the decades people have worked hard and sacrificially to make Saint Faith’s ‘a place of help, hope and home’. But we cannot forget, we dare not forget, that our ministry in the here and now is based on the gifts of ministry exercised by generations over two millennia who have spread their sails to catch the Spirit. Our ministry in the here and now arises from God’s self-giving love that gave life to all that is, seen and unseen, when the universe first came into being.
At the core of our worship life is the eucharist, a word which can be translated as ‘to say something good about a windfall’. Yes, human hands have prepared the bread and the wine, grown the grain and raised the grapes, but it is God’s good earth that gave the growth. In Jesus of Nazareth God chose to make God’s every self known to human beings not out of any other necessity than the necessities stirred by self-giving love. That love continues to reach out and to invite ordinary human beings to be partners in the work of repairing the tears in the fabric of creation, whether physical or emotional, universal or local.
Seventy years ago the wind dropped an apple into the lap of our predecessors. They had already hoisted their sails and used that gift to build a community of Christians to take care of this neighbourhood. We who form this ‘latest’ generation are as open as our predecessors to whatever windfall gift or gifts God may drop into our laps — windfalls that may take the form of new people, new opportunities for ministry, new resources to support on-going ministry. Everything is gift and God is ever-giving.