2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Will you pray with me, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you O God our Rock and our Redeemer, Amen.
Growing up, I loved Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends. And now, I have started to indoctrinate my two young nephews, Noah age 3 and Milo age 1 into the world of Thomas. In fact, I pulled out my old VHS tapes and I slipped them into our VCR machine. Yes, we still have a VCR player. As I sat with Noah, I loved reliving those memories of the Island of Sodor, all the cute stories and adventures with Ringo Starr as Sir Topham Hatt and the life lessons of friendship, kindness, and the importance of hard work and helping each other.
Hard work, and helping each other are really important, and I am glad that Thomas teaches those lessons. They’re also pretty foundational to Christian faith. One example of each of these is, when God places Adam in the Garden of Eden, and the story of the Good Samaritan.
Right in the beginning, Genesis 2:15 states “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” This particular line refers to Adam in the Garden of Eden, but in a way, we are Adam, and this world is our Garden of Eden that we are supposed to take care of. And there is plenty of work for us to do, but I’ll leave that for another time.
To exemplify the importance of helping others, we will explore the parable of the Good Samaritan. In this parable, we are introduced to a man who on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho was attacked by robbers and left for dead. A Priest, and a Levite, who were traveling the same road, come upon this man, and walk by him. However, a Samaritan, now let me add here that Samaritans and Jews did not get along well, not only stops, but addresses this man’s wounds, brings him to an inn so that he can heal, and pays the innkeeper to allow the man to remain there until the Samaritan returns. Jesus shared this story to answer the question “who is my neighbor?”, and today we still struggle to answer this question, but regardless of who we define as neighbor, it is clear we are supposed to find ways to help each other.
At this past Monday night’s “Families Belong Together” prayer vigil at Newton City Hall, we heard the universal message of welcoming the stranger and neighbor. For when we welcome the stranger among us, we are welcoming God.
So, what’s not to like? As I was reading this week’s scripture passages, I realized something. While Thomas the Tank Engine does emphasize hard work and being helpful, it also sends a message that following orders, and hard work is the only way to be a “helpful and useful engine” and more importantly, your acceptance on the Island of Sodor, the home of Thomas and his Friends, depends on how “helpful and useful” you are.
But God and Jesus’ teachings go deeper. Our value in the eyes of God is not measured based on the work we do, but we are all equally loved and needed. This is nicely exemplified in The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard.
In this parable we are introduced to a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius[a] for the day and sent them into his fields. The landowner goes out again and hires more help at 9am, noontime, 3pm, and 5pm. At evening, he asks his foreman to call all the workers from his fields and the landowner gives each worker one denarius. The ones who had worked since the early morning were displeased to say the least. They did not understand why those, who worked only one hour, should receive the same payment as they who had worked all day. But the landowner says “I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you”.
We are told at the very beginning of this parable that the kingdom of heaven is like that of the parable of the landowner. Everyone’s contributions are needed and equal in the eyes of the Lord. All of us are helpful, useful, and valued.
This message is reiterated in today’s reading from Ezekiel. We are told rather repeatedly that the people of Israel will likely not pay attention to the words of the Lord as spoken by Ezekiel. Not only that, but that they are a rebellious people. However, God doesn’t give up on them, and in later chapters in Ezekiel we learn that God asked Ezekiel to bear the burden of their sins.
However, I know this is not the narrative we’ve been hearing these past few weeks. We hear a narrative that states immigrants, refugees, and our LGBTQIA brothers and sisters are not wanted or needed.
Fortunately, I know that is not the end of the story. As children of God, we are sent a message of hope, kindness, love, and that we are needed, just as we are. And I mean all of us.
In our reading from 2 Corinthians, we hear the words of Paul. He asks the crowd to stay and listen to him as he talks about how he will not boast, not even of his weaknesses. As he ends his recitation, he shares about the value God places on his weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities, and how useful they are.
And God believes the same for us. He needs all of us. We all have gifts and talents to be shared with the world. May each of us find a moment this week to appreciate that in God’s image of the world, we are all useful, needed, and most importantly loved. Thanks be to God. Amen