Sermon for Holy Cross Sunday

GOD’S SIGN OF FAITHFULNESS (Matthew 20:1-16, John 3:13-17)

It is not the workers’ fault that they had not been hired. They had been waiting all day. They were like the last people picked for the basketball team. You know the feeling, you wait and you wait and you wait and finally there’s no one left but you, and the two captains have to take you even though they clearly don’t want you.

So it was not their fault that the manager had chosen others as better workers first. So when they are picked, they are overjoyed. They have been included. The manager has seen their intention, their desire, their need. God sees the intention, the desire, the need. Thomas Merton says something like this: “Lord, we want to please you but we do not know how. Yet we believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.” So the late workers are being rewarded for their desire even though they hadn’t gotten work until late. We are all rewarded for our desire, when we put ourselves out there, out there with the fear of rejection, as the workers were rejected in the first few cuts.

When you have the intention and the desire to serve Christ, but there always seems to be someone better than you at doing the job, so they get the job and the rewards; that seems so unfair. They get the job when you want the job. They’ve got the talent when you want the talent. Then they get paid when you should’ve gotten paid if you had gotten the job you so wanted, which you were waiting in line for, only to be picked last for the team.

Jesus sees this. He sees our hearts that are full of desire to serve him, and he turns the tables on the world, and rewards all these desiring hearts – seeing not just the obviously talented or the ones the world sees and rewards. He sees the desire to work too.

The master asks the servants at the 11th hour: “’Why have you been standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘because no one has hired us.’”

Well, here’s someone finally who wants to hire them. Here’s somebody who sees your desire and talent and wants to take you on.

Then oh what joy we feel when we are paid like everyone else, when our hearts intentions are recognized like everyone else’s.

So when you come to church, late or early, come with hands outstretched with joy to receive his body, your food, your reward for coming. You might have come here all your life. You may have arrived more recently. Jesus may have moved in your heart in the market place early on. He may have moved in your heart more recently. Come anyway, and God will put you to work. And he will see your gifts and use them, and reward you and feed you with the same goodness with which he rewards and feeds all those who have come for many years.

Today we give thanks for the life of Alice Nolan, in whose memory the cross on the steeple is given. We give thanks for all those who gave to the capital campaign that did such a wonderful job recoppering the steeple. We also rededicate the children’s cross by which the kids will be led out to Sunday School every Sunday. We also rededicate the cross that stood at the top of the steeple for so many years. It now stands over the prayer desk at one end of the cloister, where we hold our healing services.

The cross stands for healing. The cross stands for inclusion. It says – here is where you can find healing. Here is where everyone and anyone can find welcome. Come to me all ye that are weak and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. And I will give you food. And I will give you fellowship. And I will give you ministry.

Today we also honor Deacon Ann on this, her last day with us. And it makes sense that we do it on this day when we dedicate the cross. For while the cross on the steeple says – this is the place to find healing – Deacon Ann is one who has taken that cross out into the world to bring people healing and to include then in God’s love, to say to them they are loved in so many ways. To me personally she has helped include me in the parish and taught me its customs and ways so I feel less a stranger, I who have been brought in at the eleventh hour. That is the deacon’s job, to be Christ in the market place, always trying to bring more people into the love of Christ, which Deacon Ann has done so admirably here in this church and in her prison work.

Last Wednesday was Holy Cross Day, which is why we dedicate the cross today as the nearest Sunday. The gospel for that day read:

“No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.

This is the Gospel of inclusion, not exclusion. It goes out to everybody just like the cross on the steeple can be seen by everybody. It starts by saying God so loved the world, not just one people, not just good people, not just the people who got picked first for the team. God loves everybody, rich and poor, gay and straight, black and white, Christian and non Christian, urban and rural.

So he gave his only Son, his very self, come into the world so he could teach the gospel of inclusion and love.

“So that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have everlasting life.” Just belief and trust is enough. Jesus is saying you don’t have to keep all the ritual laws first. Belief alone is enough. Trust alone is enough, not dotting a lot of I’s and crossing a lot of t’s. Perhaps in this interfaith age, he is saying that all of the laws of all the religions, including ours, are not necessary. Jesus keeps no one out. All we have to do is trust in him, is trust in Love.

Jesus is always saying the last shall be first and the first shall be last. So maybe the most able take the last place because Jesus sees the heart as well as the hands. Maybe the Christian takes the last place because others trust God even more.

But the Christian is allowed in too, and maybe the Muslim and the Jew and the Buddhist and the Hindu and the nonreligious; all those who trust. Maybe everyone is welcome into the kingdom of heaven, and not just the obvious ones.

But there is one emotion in the kingdom of heaven. That is joy; and hands outstretched to welcome the food of God into them, food that is given to all equally. Oh what joy. God loves us all in the same way, limitlessly, early and late comer alike.

That place can be found a little earlier than heaven. It can be found here; it must be found here, where God commands us to welcome all alike, with our Deacon Ann as our model, Ann who has gone to the least, the last and the lost, to the sick and the suffering, and welcomed them to this place, under the banner of the cross, where Jesus calls all people to his home.

Amen