Sermon +September 18, 2011
God Isn’t Fair
It’s not fair! I deserved the spot on the team, the higher grade, job, promotion, raise…
It’s not fair! I worked harder, I’ve been here longer, I’m wiser, smarter, older, better…
It does not matter whether we are reacting to the big things, or to the size of the piece of cake or pie, or love… we each view the world and what happens to us through our own “fairness” frame.
- We compare and judge what we’ve got versus what others get.
- We know what we deserve and we know what others do too.
- We judge fairness, favor and forgiveness through our selfish scales of justice.
And by God we know that we are right. We know what is fair. And we know that God is fair and God is on our side. But the reality is that God is the judge of what is fair, what is just and God, well God isn’t fair (at least by our standards).
Thankfully God is fair, God is just and God is love! Unfortunately, we struggle to understand the fairness frame God has, the justice scales God uses, the abundance and ability of God to love.
- We have failed to understand God’s economy
- We have grumbled about God’s justice system
- We have responded as if there is a deficit of God’s love
We live as if all of God’s story is as depressed as our own. Somehow we experience God’s fairness, justice and love as unstable as the stock market, as fleeting as employment security, as being in some kind of divine recession. All we have to do is look around us or at the texts this day to see that God is not fair.
+ + +
In the most powerful and wealthy nation in the world, where even those living at theU.S.poverty line are wealthy by world standards, we still want more. We see the glass as half empty, feel as if we are somehow being punished, that we living a life that isn’t fair. That God doesn’t bless America as much as God used to. Where when Jonah finally does what God asks sees that God is unfair, those people in Ninevah were sinful, they should have gotten what was coming to them. Where all those workers in the vineyard got the same pay, even though they all didn’t work as long or as hard… It’s not fair!
Life is not fair is a premise that many people believe, but God isn’t fair… God’s Word includes many examples of what the kingdom of heaven is like, or the way God sees, shares and desires fairness, justice and love for us and for our life with God, on earth as it is in heaven. God meets us and all people, the inequalities of this world with God’s own form of inequality—Grace. But we who see our recession lives full of unfairness, injustice, and little love, grumble atgrace in our depressed deficit focused life.
God invites us into stories to show us, to teach us, to invite us to live full and fair, joyful and just, and lavish and love-filled kingdom lives. We miss the point, we think we have to wait to die to experience the kingdom, that there is no heaven on earth, that life sucks and then you die. And you know what… you are right.
- We have to die to our “it’s not fair” living.
- We have to die to our focus on what’s fair and just from our perspective.
- We have to die to limiting our love and expecting God to do the same.
+ + +
God invites us to the kingdom through loving the Ninevites, through sending Jonah and you and I to share God’s story and invitation, and through sending Jesus to us and for us, forgiving that we might forgive, dying that we might live in kingdom ways and always. God wants us to move from insisting it’s not fair to forgive instead, from insisting it’s not just to instilling justice, from limiting our love to living in love, from grumbling about grace to gracing others.
The Jonah story is one our two Bible study groups have spent time with this summer. It is a story some recall as a fish tale about Jonah getting swallowed by a great fish. It is a story we can relate to…
- Knowing what God wants us to do, thinking it’s not fair and doing something else.
- Running away from what we are called to be and do, as far away as possible.
- Confronted with what we are to do, but still avoiding, denying, and stomping our feet.
And then when God has our undivided attention, when we are in crisis, when life doesn’t go our way… we go and do what we know is what is expected of us, usually dragging our feet and complaining it’s not fair. Our journeys are long and take us to unexpected places, to encounter people we don’t know or like, and share messages we don’t want to share, or news that is not fair, assistance that is not deserved. So we wonder…
- Why doesn’t God see what I see,
- Why doesn’t God punish those who deserve it,
- Why does God love those people… why God isn’t fair!
God says, “go to Nineveh, go to the neighbors you don’t like and tell them about me!” Jonah finally goes and begrudgingly tells the people, “In forty days you will be toast!” He heads out of town, parks on outside of town to watch them get what they deserve from a great ringside seat. But the judgment isn’t Jonah’s, the fireball of wrath doesn’t come, nothing happens and Jonah is crushed.
But something has happened, the whole city repented overnight, and God forgives, changes God’s mind, and calls off the destruction. Jonah is outraged that after everything God put him through, God is unfair and grants grace. “God, I knew this would happen,” says Jonah, “You are so unfair, I did everything you asked, finally those people were going to get what they deserved, and you… you wussed out, you got weak knees, you turned into a pushover, wishy-washy, open-wallet Santa Claus who didn’t give them what they deserved. It isn’t fair, you didn’t do what you said you would, they could of killed the messenger and what do I get?”
Jonah and you and I get a lesson that we have a good and gracious God,merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love! But Jonah and you and I want God to follow our fairness, justice and love means test. Jonah whines “It’s just not fair! You won’t follow the rules God. You make a promise, and then decide not to keep it. These people are evil and deserve to be destroyed.” But God responds to the whining of Jonah and you and I with God’s fairness, justice and love means test… grace. And we grumble about the grace given others.
+ + +
The whining continues in Matthew’s vineyard over fair labor practices, just compensation guidelines, and equitable granting of grace. It isn’t fair… and God says leave the means testing, fairness, justice and granting to me. Equality can sometimes seem unfair, unjust, unloving and unworkable in the world…
- A manager or coach would say God’s equality would lead to chaos in the workplace or sports field because the hardest working employees or players wouldn’t have it.
- A labor union boss would agree, pointing out that seniority, benefits, hourly and overtime pay all have to be assigned equitably based on contract rules.
- A teacher would say that lazy students might appreciate everyone getting “A’s” but hardworking students would complain as would school board and education agencies.
The kingdom of heaven is not about whining and grumbling about the blessings, circumstances and forgiveness of others. The kingdom of heaven is not fair by world standards. The kingdom of heaven is a radical abundance of blessings, forgiveness, and life that knows no ending.
- God is thankfully unfair, good and a gracious God, merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.
- God is thankfully on the loose, active in our lives and in the world, calling us to let our worldly understanding and expectations die.
- God is thankfully inviting and including us all in the kingdom story, forever forgiving, generously granting grace, and lavishing life and limitless love.
…For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen.