– one learning, never to forget, from a long, hot, first summer in ministry —
It was June of 1972. I was the curate at Christ Church in Stratford, CT – the oldest parish in the oldest diocese outside of the British Isles. That was a mouthful to remember. June, July and August could be scorchers and that year they lived up to their reputation.
I was a bachelor, living directly across the street from the church in an 1801 former tavern. No AC and not a square corner in the place, nor a closet to be found, which proved interesting when after we wed, Barbara moved in and pointed out this anomaly to me. My clothes were still sort of in and out of my suitcase. After all, it was only a year and a month later that we married.
Three lessons sunk into my perspiring being that summer. One so speaks to last week’s gospel, about the workers in the vineyard — you remember, they all work a different number of hours and all get paid the
same — that I dare to share it here.
First then, the gist of the parable, there seem to be two key points.
One is; God’s ways are different than our ways. You have to find this parable at least a bit irritating, if not a lot, I do. Is this not just? It’s like when you count your items and you have exactly 10 and so you get in theten or less aisle, and the person in front of you has way more than ten. You want to cry, “foul,” hold up a red flag, and say, “What are you thinking?” God, where are you? Is there no justice?*
The other key point is that God keeps going back to the marketplace and bringing more workers into his vineyard. Those two points from the gospel came alive to me on my first pastoral assignment that hot summer in ’72.
The Rector sent me to visit Ben. He said that his wife had died not too long ago and Ben needed to go to a nursing home. My assignment was to get him ready to move.
When I arrived at Ben’s house and walked inside, I recall it was dark. All the blinds were pulled or closed, which helped with the heat I supposed. And it had a smell that wasn’t appealing, and from what I could see the place looked like a mess – but then I was a bachelor living in a huge old tavern and had only enough furniture for one of the many rooms and with no closets, well, so, neatness wasn’t exactly a priority for me either.
Anyway, Ben wasn’t much for conversation, so we got to the point quickly as I recall, “I don’t want to go to a nursing home.” He knew my mission, and he was clear and seemed to know his mind on this, and so I said, “I understand, and don’t see why you should.” Knowing that would not report well to my rector, I thought, I needed to find a plan B.
But what he said next, and my response, I can only, and most definitely, attribute to the grace and presence of God.
He told me that his wife had been a churchgoer and Christian. And that he was now sick and old, near death, and thought it was too late for him. That’s when this parable came to my mind, clear as a bell, hitting both points spot on!
I shared the parable and then simply invited him to receive Jesus – telling him it didn’t matter that he was late, he would be paid the same, and that God himself had gone looking for him to bring him into the vineyard. He embraced it with tears. God did it!
Well, for the rest of that hot summer, Ben and I had RSC (Reserve Sacrament Communion, as I was still a deacon) together on Sunday afternoons in his now not so dark and dank house, till one day later that very summer his Abba came and took him home, to his new home that Jesus had prepared for him.
I suspect he heard something like what God must have said to Enoch, “Its closer to my house than yours, why don’t you come home with me today.” Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him.Gen. 5:24
Don’t you love it when God’s word, his stories, come to life before your very eyes?
Blessings to you all!