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Mt 20:1-16 · Php 1:21-30 · Ex 16:2-15 · Ps 105
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It Isn't Fair
Matthew 20:1-16


One day a rich young ruler came enthusiastically running up to Jesus and asked: "What must I do to be saved?" Jesus answered: Keep the law. "This I have done from my youth up," came the reply. Yet one thing do you lack said Jesus. Go and sell all that you have and give it to the poor. Then come follow me. We are told that the young man walked away sorrowfully, for he had great wealth. Concluded the Master: It will be hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.

The disciples had been watching the dynamics of this happening and they were quite disturbed. Jewish tradition had always taught that God had especially blessed rich men and that is why he was rich. In their way of thinking, if a wealthy man could not receive salvation, then how could a poor man have any hope? They asked of Jesus: who then can be saved?

It reminds me of the movie Fiddler on the Roof. The poor Jewish milkman who lives in early 1900's Russia sings what he would do "if I were a rich man." His wife reminds him: money is a curse. He immediately shouts up to heaven: curse me God, curse me. Jesus has just turned away a wealthy man, and in the Jewish way of thinking it doesn't make any sense. In fact, I am not sure how many Methodist preachers would have the courage to do it. My entire ministry I have been waiting for a sugar daddy to come along.

But it was Simon Peter who drew the question even more clearly into focus for us. He asked what is on the mind of every one of us, only we are too sophisticated to ask it and too self-righteous to admit that we even think it. Peter didn't have any problem with that. He simply laid his cards out on the table. He said, "Lord, we have given up everything, riches and all, to follow you." What then shall we have?" In others words, what's in this for us Lord. How do we stand to profit? Where's the payoff?

In response to Peter's question, Jesus told a story. It was the harvest time of the year...

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Leonard Sweet's Sermon

Prison Theology: Bait and Bail
Philippians 1:21-30

In a world more inclined to take up the sword than take up the cross, let's begin today with a recognition of the power of the cross, the most recognizable symbol of Christianity. When you think of Islam you think of a crescent, even though technically Islam does not have a symbol – the crescent is the symbol of Pakistan. But still, when you think of Islam, you think crescent. When you think of Judaism, you think star of David. When you think of Christianity, you think . . . cross.

The Logos has a logo . . . two lines that intersect to form a cross. Not a plus symbol. A cross, the symbol of the depths of human degradation and sin, but also the symbol of the heights of divine love and forgiveness. The cross is a paradoxical symbol of death that can be crossed out with life, a symbol of the crossing of opposites: transcendence and immanence, the vertical and the horizontal, a symbol that God does God's best in our worst.

This is glaringly evident in today's epistle lesson, part of the rich prison literature of the Christian tradition. Some of the most beautiful and exquisite literature ever written comes out of prison…think Cervantes, Voltaire, Diderot, Dostoevsky, Defoe, John Donne, Henry David Thoreau, Oscar Wilde, Jack London. Christianity's prison literature includes classics like Martin Luther's translation of the New Testament into German, John Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress," Dietrich Bonhoeffer's "Letters and Papers from Prison," Martin Luther King's "Letter from Birmingham City Jail," Nelson Mandela's "Conversations with Myself."

Today's text is from one of the "prison epistles" - Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon - so named because they were written by the apostle Paul during his incarceration in Rome...

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