Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, September 14, 2014 at the marriage of Tom Gardner and Dennis Goffin at the 10 am Eucharist.
`Friend, I am doing you no wrong.”
`Friend, I am doing you no wrong.”
You might have noticed there’s something different about this Sunday.
Every Sunday is a celebration but this Sunday, we are celebrating that as a part of our life together, Tom Gardner and Dennis Goffin are giving themselves to each other in a specific covenant of love. And we are here to witness and bless this sacred union.
Now as I’ve done before on Sundays like this, let me press pause here just for a second and say a few words about that phrase: "sacred union."
We are always playing catch-up with God. It's human nature. Jesus holds up a beautiful vision for humanity ... a vision of total reconciliation of all people to God and each other ... and we always seem to fall short. We’re learning. We're growing toward Christ's dream for us, but we're not there yet.
And so, when we talk about the covenant Dennis and Tom are entering into today, we use the term “sacred union.” We use that term because as a church that has vowed to stay together and work out our salvation with humility, fear and trembling, as a whole body we aren't at the place yet where we can call this what it really is. And of course what this covenant really is … is marriage.
I know it's marriage.
You know it's marriage.
God knows it's marriage.
But as an Anglican Communion and certainly as the state of Missouri, we aren't all there yet. We’re living in this place of tension between believing that this is marriage and believing God binds us together in communion with people who believe just as passionately and very differently – and that we are responsible to one another in those relationships, too.
So even though we know it is marriage, we call it a “sacred union” because it is that, too. And we work for the day when we won’t have to play these word games that frankly are pretty insulting and beneath all of us. And providentially, God gives us a gift for that work this morning. A gift in the form of a parable. The parable of the landowner.
In this morning’s parable, we hear God compared to a landowner who paid laborers who worked the whole day the same as those who worked only a few hours. Jesus is pushing our buttons with this story. He’s trying to make us react the same way the full-day laborer does. He’s trying to offend our sense of justice, to make us scream: “That’s not fair!”
Jesus offends our sense of justice because he wants to expand our sense of justice. Take us beyond the simplistic “as ye sow so shall ye reap” to the paradoxical “last will be first and the first will be last.” Jesus wants to show us the difference between karma and grace and invite every single person into the dignity and joy that is the kingdom of God.
And so when the landowner replies to the offended daylong laborer, he’s really speaking to all of us. And he says “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?'
The landowner sees something that the daylong laborer does not. Because while the daylong laborer was working, the landowner was out scouring the streets for people who were out of work and bringing them into the vineyard. And to the last of thes, we hear him ask the question “why are you standing around idle” to which they answer:
“Because no one has hired us.”
Why are you standing around idle?
Not because we are lazy.
Not because we aren’t able to work.
Not because we don’t want to work.
We are standing around idle because nobody will hire us.
Can you hear the pain in their voices?
Can we hear it in this place? Can we hear it on our streets?
Some among us today are out of work. There are sisters and brothers among us who have been out of work for a long while, who are tempted into hopelessness, who maybe even have given up looking for work. Some among us fear losing our jobs or have experienced job loss in past year or two.
As we listen to these voices among us, there is chorus they sing in unison.
It’s not just about the wages. It’s about the work.
When we are out of work. When we fear being out of work, the crisis we face is not just financial. It is a crisis of purpose and meaning and dignity. It is why so many of us in retirement stay just as busy as we were when we were quote-unquote “working.” It is the central fact that people who scream about “welfare queens” and the “taker class” absolutely miss. That although we all love a vacation and although we might not love our current job, we want to work. We need to work. And when we descend into idleness it is usually because the right to work has been denied.
The truth of this parable, the truth of our lives is the work is as much a gift as the wage. Work gives us purpose. Work gives us dignity. We are created in God’s image, which means we are created to labor six days and rest one. Work is not punishment for which wages are a reward. Work is gift, and wages are grace upon grace. And the kingdom of God is when work and wages are offered in abundance to all.
Marriage is work.
Marriage is hard work. We all know this. Whether we are married or not, whether we have been married or not, we all know that keeping this covenant is hard work. It is why it wasn’t enough for Dennis and Tom to go across the river and sign a marriage license in Illinois. Like everything else about following Jesus, marriage is much too difficult and much too rewarding for us to do by ourselves. Marriage is hard work. It’s why Dennis and Tom aren’t the only ones who are making vows this morning. It’s why we also are making our vows to pray for them and support them in this labor of love all the days of their life.
Marriage is work. And that means the struggle for marriage equality is about the right to work as much as it is about the right to wage. Yes, it is about the many benefits of marriage - legal, societal, financial and otherwise - that come with the contract of the state. But it is about so much more than that. It is about the sense of purpose and meaning and dignity that comes from having the ability to give our lives in intimate, mutual, self-giving love to another person in all of its glory and all of its challenge until we are parted by death.
The struggle for marriage equality is about nothing less than this parable. It is about we as followers of Jesus proclaiming boldly the Gospel that all are created in God’s image and all have the right to express that blessedness in the work of marriage and that all deserve the full benefits, the grace upon grace that comes from marriage in this state and in this nation.
And it is also about we as followers of Jesus proclaiming boldly the loving Gospel truth that Jesus puts on the lips of the landowner. Because there are those among us who look at extending the right to the work of marriage and the right to the benefits of marriage to all and grumble and cry out as the full-day laborer does: “not fair!” as if allowing these benefits to Dennis and Tom or any two people who are willing and longing to do the hard work of marriage is somehow an injustice and an injury to those of us who have had that purpose and meaning and dignity and benefit all along.
This morning is not just for Dennis and Tom. This morning is not just for this Cathedral community. This morning, we are a people sent to those among us who would say that what we do here today is wrong, who would say that marriage is reserved only for the few and not for the all.
This morning, we are a people sent with the message Jesus gives us on the lips of the landowner, the words we believe God is saying this morning as we announce God’s blessing of the MARRIAGE of Dennis and Tom.
We are sent to seek out those among us who are offended and believe they are injured by Tom and Dennis’ marriage, who believe they are injured by our celebration today.
And the first thing we say is “Friend.”
We look one another in the eye across our differences and we say “friend.” We say “Friend” because there are no enemies in the Body of Christ. There are only hearts of friends longing to be converted by the love of Christ. Hands of friends reaching out to bring one another along on the journey into Christ. Lips of friends struggling boldly and lovingly to proclaim the Gospel of Christ as we greet one another with a holy kiss.
And as we bless and celebrate and pledge to share in the work of Tom and Dennis’ marriage, we say to those who would take offense or injury at that, “Friend, we are doing you no wrong.” “Friend, God is doing you no wrong.”
We say, “Friend, Dennis and Tom’s marriage does not injure you.” Do you not still have available the blessing, dignity and benefits that marriage brings? Is God not allowed to do what God chooses with the blessings of work and the blessings of love?
We say, “Friend, do not fear. Do not be envious because God is so generous. Let us not be divided in enmity and envy but let us be together in joy and love. Let us all come together and not fear that all are given the gift of labor and the benefit of wage. Let us all come together and rejoice that we have a God who loves us all without condition and without end. “
Dennis and Tom, will you please stand.
This day is long overdue. And to your everlasting credit, all of our everlasting benefit and God’s everlasting joy, you have done the work of marriage year after year without the benefit of the wages knowing that the work is its own reward. Far from injuring those like Robin and I who enjoy both the benefits of work and wage, you have inspired and built us up and made our marriage stronger by your witness.
Would the rest of us please stand as we are able.
Dennis, Tom, I’m asking all of us to stand because today we all stand with you.
We stand with you this day not asking God to bless something new but giving thanks for what God has been blessing all along.
We stand with you this day pledging that the work you do in your marriage. Work that is hard but that brings purpose, meaning and dignity is work that you do not do alone but that we share in this day and for the rest of your days.
We stand with you this day as a people sent to reach out in love to those who believe they are injured by your marriage and with bold love to say “Friend, God is doing you no wrong. Join with us in the labor. Join with us in the love.”
Dennis and Tom, sisters and brothers, we stand together this day. We stand together as a people united in the trust that we are loved by our creator God without limit and without end, and that our greatest challenge, our highest purpose, our deepest joy is to ensure that both the work and wage of that love is available to all.
And to that let the church say Alleluia.
Let the church say Amen.