Before I begin my sermon this morning I’d like to thank the
Dean and the staff and the Cathedral Chapter for giving us the wonderful
privilege coming from Massachusetts to worship with all of you this
morning. It’s a great honor for us to be here.

I’d also like to thank all the people from Massachusetts
who’ve come to worship today. Could you raise your hands if
you’re from Massachusetts? I’m told there are over 150 of us
from Massachusetts who’ve come to worship with you today. And some
would say that it’s a very very long distance these days from
Massachusetts to our Nation’s Capitol. See there are three things
you have to remember—those of you who are not from
Massachusetts—about our state. We are the bluest state! And
another thing about our state is that we train great Deans for the
National Cathedral! And a third thing about our state is we have a wide,
wide, wide, generous heart.

And that’s what I want to speak about today. I want to talk
about the heart of God.

I can’t imagine that there is any one of us in this
congregation today who’s never heard of that great contemporary
humanitarian, that doctor who cares for the poor all over the world, who
is the champion of those who cannot care for themselves, Dr. Paul

Dr. Farmer says that there is an old Haitian peasant proverb that
answers the question of how a just God could permit such great misery in
the world. The proverb is this:

A Haitian peasant in that very, very poor country would say, “God
gives, but God doesn’t share.” Farmer explains that what this
proverb means is that God gives us as human beings everything that we
need to flourish. But God’s not the one who’s supposed to
divvy-up loot. That charge of divvying up the loot is up to all of

And that, I think, is the problem in today’s parable in
Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus challenges the way the loot gets divvied
up. And those who had labored long and hard in the vineyard, those who
had borne the heat of the day, they don’t like it. They
don’t like it that they were hired at the very beginning of the
day, that they’ve been out there slaving in the vineyard, and that
that landowner hires people all through the day, and then when the
reckoning comes at the end of the day, everybody gets paid the same.

You know, this particular parable, the way that it’s told, is
absolutely unique to St. Matthew’s Gospel. So I just want to say a
few things about St. Matthew’s Gospel that will help us put this
parable in a context.

St. Matthew’s Gospel was written maybe 50 or 60 years after the
death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. It was written to some
little Jewish Christian churches, synagogues,
communities—we’re not quite sure what to call them because
the Church hadn’t really settled in by that time—, but
they’d been around for a while. They’d been around for maybe
as much as 50 or 60 years. And what happens is that some of the
people—maybe most of the people—are beginning to lose their
faith. The Messiah hasn’t come yet. And from Paul’s early
letters and from Mark, we know that the Messiah was expected any day.
And so they’ve started to think, well maybe he’s not coming
at all. And then they go to another level, and they think, well you
know, maybe, maybe all this Messiah stuff that we’ve been hearing
isn’t true. Maybe they’ve backed the wrong horse.

That’s one of the reasons why in Matthew’s Gospel, more
than in any other Gospel, we get all this Scripture. We get all this
Hebrew Scripture. Because what Matthew is trying to tell these early
Jewish Christians is, “Look, all through Hebrew Scripture, it talks
about this guy. It says that he’s coming, and this is what
he’s going to look like, and this is what he’s going to do.
And now you know from your own experience and from the stories that
you’ve heard, that he’s here, now. This guy is valid.”

But they’re losing heart. And there’s a lot of evidence
in Matthew’s Gospel that they’re going back to the old way
of praying. You know that other story that Jesus tells about the two
people going up to the Synagogue, up to the Temple, to pray. And one is
vulnerable, and he pours out his heart and tells God he is a sinner. And
the other one stands there and he says, “I pray. I fast. I’m a
pretty good person.” Matthew’s Gospel has to start telling stories
against those kinds of people because it’s beginning to creep back
into these little Christian Jewish communities. They’re losing

So what does the author of Matthew’s Gospel do? Well, we know
that he has all the stories from St. Mark’s Gospel, because we
know Mark’s Gospel was written along time before that. So
he’s got those before him. He’s heard those. And he’s
probably got some stories from other written sources as well. One that
maybe he shared with whoever wrote the Gospel of Luke. And then, of
course, he’s heard stories. You know, they’ve been passed
down from generation to generation. Maybe three generations since Jesus
died. So he’s got all this material in his mind. And he’s a
man that obviously prays a lot. And so he says I’m going to take
all these stories, I’m going to take every thing that I’ve
heard about Jesus, and seen written, and I’m going to arrange it
in a particular kind of Gospel. And it’s going to be a Gospel
that’s just there to build up community, to get people together,
to let them know how strong and vibrant a Christian community can be,
and how that Christian community can come together and change the

So he tells all these stories about Jesus that have to do with prayer
so people can learn again how they’re supposed to pray. He talks a
lot about how they’re supposed to give lots of money to this early
Christian community. You know, he’s been around long enough so he
understands something about the mystery of God, and how there’re
all kinds of things about God we don’t understand. And so he tells
stories in a way that make God seem kind of inscrutable, and we
can’t quite understand him—just the way God is for us.

He talks a lot about who’s supposed to be part of, or included,
in this community if we’re followers of the Messiah. And he talks
a lot about how we’re supposed to forgive one another if
there’s going to be such a thing as Christian community. He talks
about how we’re supposed to worship together, and he talks about
what our standard for justice and mercy and the generosity of God is
supposed to be.

Plain and simple, this whole Gospel is about church order.

Now, you might think that that’s self-serving. You might even
think that’s a little boring. But you know what Matthew wants to
do? He wants to give these people the heart of God back. He wants to
tell these little Jewish Christian communities—you know, you had a
heart once, and it was a heart just like God’s heart, and
that’s the heart that I want you to have again.

And he does that, he does that because he’s on fire with what
Christian community can do, how it can change the world, how it can
transform its individual members, how it can bring light to a violent,
confusing and devastated world.

In this particular parable today he’s challenging through the
landowner paying people the same at the end of the day, just how these
people in this community perceive the mercy and the justice and the
generosity of God, the heart of God. He’s saying that God’s
heart is bigger and bolder and wider than you imagine.

You know, I live in a monastery right near Harvard Square. And we
have a little Sunday congregation that comes. We like people to go to
their own parishes, their own Christian community. But we have some
people who come to the monastery every Sunday to worship with us. And
one of my favorite people who used to come to the monastery, she’s
died now, was a woman named Lucy. About twenty years ago I preached a
sermon on a Sunday morning about the prodigal son, you know the one who
goes off and sins and he’s welcomed back by the father. And then
there’s the elder brother there who’s somewhat resentful
because he never went off. He was always faithful to his father. And
he’d never had a party given for him. And I thought it was a
brilliant sermon I’d preached that morning. I thought I described
repentance and the prodigal son, and I thought I really captured the
nature of God welcoming a repentant back. And Lucy was coming to the
back of the church to greet me, as she was going out on that snowy
morning. And Lucy was a remarkable person. She’d raised a
wonderful family. She was a widow, but she’d had a great marriage.
She never missed church. She pledged to the monastery and to the local
parish church, and she was really a pillar, not just of the church, but
of the whole Cambridge community. And as she was going out the door she
looked at me in that unflinching way, and she said, “You know,
I’ve always rather identified with the elder brother.” She said,
“I happen to think he’s right.” And then she said, “And you know,
I don’t buy that parable in Matthew’s Gospel about the
landowner either.” She said, “I think they should have gotten paid
more.” And with that, she pulled up the shawl of her coat and she
wandered out the monastery door into the snow.

Well you know what it’s like when you have an inner spiritual
journey or God is awakening to something. I was walking back to my cell,
and I was thinking, “Well, Lucy doesn’t get it. She’s been
going to church all this time.” I think I probably even said “What a
hypocrite she is. She just doesn’t get it.” And then of course
after I got through that I started feeling a little hurt—because
clearly she didn’t think my sermon was worth very much. And then
after all that, God through the Holy Spirit gets you where you’re
supposed to be.

And where I was supposed to be, of course, was with Lucy. You know, I
can identify with those people who worked all day and got paid the same
as those who came at the end of the day. I can identify, a big part of
me, a lot of time with the elder brother, the one who stayed home, did
all the work. And I bet you can too.

You know, I know that you are all probably people who repent of your
sinfulness and know that you can do better, but I bet you are like me,
like Lucy. There’s a big part of you that identifies with those
who’ve labored all day, that are grumbling.

What Matthew wants us to know more than anything in the world is that
you have God’s heart, that you have a heart just like the
landowner, to pay everybody the same. And that every one of you has the
heart of the father welcoming back the son, that you have a heart like
Paul Farmer, that you have a heart like God’s heart. We know that
because every one of us is made in the image and likeness of God. And so
that means we have God’s generous heart. We have God’s heart
of justice and mercy in each one of us.

How do we get to that heart? How do we find it? How do we get beyond
the elder brother and those grumbling people that have labored all day

Matthew says, “It’s easy.” He says, “You know, it’s
really, really simple.” He doesn’t ever wave a finger at us and
say, “Well you just have to try harder,” or “You’ve got to really
work at this thing. You’ve got to look at yourself and work at
this thing.” Matthew never says that. He knows that our good works and
our will power only take us about one step forward and then seven steps

What Matthew says is “It’s easy. If you want to have a heart as
big as God, if you really want to live into who you are, all you got to
do is live in a Christian community.” I don’t mean a monastery
like I live in. I just mean a parish, a church, the kind of communities
that you come from, a place of faith. And he says, “You’ve got to
live there, and even if you get mad at somebody or the Rector,
you’ve got to forgive people seventy times seven.” And he says,
“Prayer is not a fancy thing. All you have to do is be vulnerable, show
God who you really are.” And he says, “You’ve got to give all that
you can give of your material wealth. And you have to come now with all
the answers, but to experience the mysteries and questions of God.”
Matthew has no faith in our will power, our resolutions, or our good
works. He only has faith in community. He says, “If you immerse yourself
in Christian community, your heart will be like the landowner. Your
heart will be like God. And you will divvy up the loot just like God
thinks we’re supposed to divvy up the loot.