The View from the Back of the Line

A sermon preached by Dr. Brent Beasley at Rising Star Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas on November 19, 2017

An excerpt:

Notice: those who worked all day didn’t object to the grace the others received until they realized that they weren’t going to receive more. It wasn’t really what they received that they were upset about. Remember, they had agreed to that amount at the beginning of the day. From the beginning their deal was that they were going to get paid a denarius for a day’s work.

The problem was when those undeserving ones were made equal to them. That’s when their sense of fairness was violated. The problem was when they started comparing. They didn’t get anything extra for having worked so hard all day.

The late Henri Nouwen, Dutch priest and writer on the spiritual life, once said that the hardest thing for us to understand is how God can love all human beings with the same unlimited love, while at the same time loving each of them in a totally unique way . . . . Nouwen went on, Somehow, we think we can only fully enjoy our being loved by God if others are loved less than we are. (Lifesigns, p.46)

My son is in college now, but when he was growing up he played all the sports, and I coached or helped coach some along the way. The first team he ever played on was a T-ball team in Eagle Lake, Texas, which is small town where I served as Pastor of the First Baptist Church. Lynn Ellis and I coached the team together. After our first game, Kelly Al-Obaidi came running up to Lynn yelling, Miss Lynn, Miss Lynn, did we win?

And Lynn said, Kelly, everybody’s a winner in t-ball.

There isn’t a lot left for us to do in life where everybody’s a winner. You don’t have to live very long or do very much to know what it’s like to lose. To come up short. To fail. We talked yesterday at our men’s retreat about how all of us are broken in our own ways.

But in T-ball, everybody’s a winner. Do you know why everybody’s a winner in t-ball? Because they don’t keep score.

Most of the time sports are all about no second chances. There are clear winners and losers. There are the ones who start and play most of the time, and there are the ones who almost never get to play. There is the one who is picked first. And there is the one who is picked last.

Most of the time sports are all about no second chances. But t-ball is one sport that is all grace.

When you go up to bat, you can’t strike out. The rule is you keep going until you hit the ball.

An inning is over after three outs, or after everybody gets to hit.

Everybody plays—the whole game. I remember we had thirteen players out in the field.

And in t-ball, you don’t keep score. And when the game’s over. Everybody gets a snow cone.

Nobody knows the score. And everybody gets a snow cone. T-ball is all grace.

Not keeping score is hard for us. Think about the workers in Jesus’ parable who worked all day.

Are you envious because I am so generous? the owner of the vineyard asks. You bet we are. We stand at the back of the line stewing. Begrudging. Watching those people up front get a full day’s pay for an hour’s work. It’s not fair.

The view from the back of the line is a good one, though. You can see what’s going on. Jesus could have told this parable differently. You ever think about that? He could have had the ones who worked all day at the front of the line, getting paid first, what they had agreed to, and then leaving. I think that’s how I would’ve done it. Then they wouldn’t have had to
witness what the latecomers were receiving and
be offended.

But Jesus didn’t tell the parable that way. Because for those hired first, for those who had worked all day, he wanted them to see all of this unfold. He didn’t want them to miss
God’s scandalous generosity,
God’s scandalous refusal to keep score.
The back of the line offers perspective. Those of us standing at the back of the line need to see this.

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